Thursday, September 15, 2011

D. Larsen-Freeman (2011) A Complexity Approach to Second Language Development / Acquisition

[This is one of the articles compiled for a class for my graduate students in the autumn/winter semester in 2011/2012.]

D. Larsen-Freeman (2011) A Complexity Approach to Second Language Development / Acquisition in Dwight Atkinson (ed) Alternative Approaches to Second Language Acquisition (Routledge) [Paperback,Kindle Edition ] (pp. 48-72)

Note: As my theoretical background in complexity theory is Niklas Luhmann's systems theory, I'll occasionally use his framework to examine this article by Larsen-Freeman. I also have to add that my description below is selective, for I cannot cover varieties of papers she quoted.

pp. 48-49

Q: Larsen-Freeman is extremely critical about experimental designs.

Experimental designs attempted to control for all factors except the one hypothesized as causal. Not only was such research of suspect ecological validity, it also rested on the questionable assumption that a single factor caused some effect. To me this denied the commonsense understanding that SLA processes were complex, situated, and likely multivariate. Then, too, aggregating findings across studies seemed impossible, given differences in how and where data were collected. (pp. 48-49)

Do you think this criticism is a valid one against epidemiology?

Q: Larsen-Freeman talks about "different levels of ecological scale":

In sum, I conclude that language, its use, and its acquisition are mutually constitutive, simply occurring at different levels of ecological scale -- individual through speech community -- and timescale. (p. 49)

Do you think we should distinguish different levels when we examine language acquisition and language use, as Luhmann, for example, distinguishes a psychic system (an individual mind) and a social system (an interaction, organization or society that is constituted by communication)?

Here's a definition of system in a Luhmannean way.

system (System). Luhmann is particularly interested in autopoietic and operationally-closed systems (see entry above). Such systems can be biological (cells, the immune system), psychic (the mind), or social (the economy, politics). As a social theorist, Luhmann focuses largely on social systems. Social systems consist of communication, not of people (see entry for “society” above). Within the social system as a whole there are numerous “subsystems” such as the mass media, the economy, and politics. These subsystems are function systems because they all have their specific function within society. The concept of the system is relative to the concept of an environment (see entry above). A system

Moeller, Hans-Georg (2011-04-15). Luhmann Explained: From Souls to Systems (Ideas Explained) (p. 226). Open Court. Kindle Edition.

Take a look at how Luhmann conceives different systems.

p. 50

Q: How is organized complexity different from disorganized complexity?

"what is different from problems of disorganized complexity, to which statistical methods hold the key, is that problems of organized complexity deal simultaneously with sizeable numbers of factors interrelated into an organic whole.  "

Cybernetics and systems theory are often synonymous.

The term cybernetics derives from a Greek word which meant steersman, and which is the origin of English words such as "govern". Cybernetics is the study of feedback and derived concepts such as communication and control in living organisms, machines and organisations. Its focus is how anything (digital, mechanical or biological) processes information, reacts to information, and changes or can be changed to better accomplish the first two tasks.
The terms "systems theory" and "cybernetics" have been widely used as synonyms. Some authors use the term cybernetic systems to denote a proper subset of the class of general systems, namely those systems that include feedback loops.

Q: How are a complex system and a complex adaptive system different? Read the following definitions.

A complex system is a system composed of interconnected parts that as a whole exhibit one or more properties (behavior among the possible properties) not obvious from the properties of the individual parts.

A system’s complexity may be of one of two forms: disorganized complexity and organized complexity. In essence, disorganized complexity is a matter of a very large number of parts, and organized complexity is a matter of the subject system (quite possibly with only a limited number of parts) exhibiting emergent properties.

Examples of complex systems for which complexity models have been developed include ant colonies, human economies and social structures, climate, nervous systems, cells and living things, including human beings, as well as modern energy or telecommunication infrastructures. Indeed, many systems of interest to humans are complex systems.

Complex systems are studied by many areas of natural science, mathematics, and social science. Fields that specialize in the interdisciplinary study of complex systems include systems theory, complexity theory, systems ecology, and cybernetics.

John H. Holland "Cas [complex adaptive systems] are systems that have a large numbers of components, often called agents, that interact and adapt or learn."

Holland, John H.; (2006). "Studying Complex Adaptive Systems." Journal of Systems Science and Complexity 19 (1): 1-8.

p. 51

Self-organization and autopoiesis are often treated as synonyms.

Self-organization is the process where a structure or pattern appears in a system without a central authority or external element imposing it through planning. This globally coherent pattern appears from the local interaction of the elements that make up the system, thus the organization is achieved in a way that is parallel (all the elements act at the same time) and distributed (no element is a central coordinator).

Autopoiesis was originally presented as a system description that was said to define and explain the nature of living systems. A canonical example of an autopoietic system is the biological cell. The eukaryotic cell, for example, is made of various biochemical components such as nucleic acids and proteins, and is organized into bounded structures such as the cell nucleus, various organelles, a cell membrane and cytoskeleton. These structures, based on an external flow of molecules and energy, produce the components which, in turn, continue to maintain the organized bounded structure that gives rise to these components.

An autopoietic system is to be contrasted with an allopoietic system, such as a car factory, which uses raw materials (components) to generate a car (an organized structure) which is something other than itself (the factory).

Though others have often used the term as a synonym for self-organization, Maturana himself stated he would "never use the notion of self-organization, because it cannot be the case... it is impossible. That is, if the organization of a thing changes, the thing changes."[3] Moreover, an autopoietic system is autonomous and operationally closed, in the sense that there are sufficient processes within it to maintain the whole. Autopoietic systems are "structurally coupled" with their medium, embedded in a dynamic of changes that can be recalled as sensory-motor coupling. This continuous dynamic is considered as a rudimentary form of knowledge or cognition and can be observed throughout life-forms.

An application of the concept to sociology can be found in Niklas Luhmann's Systems Theory, which was subsequently adapted by Bob Jessop in his studies of the capitalist state system. Marjatta Maula adapted the concept of autopoiesis in a business context.

[3]Maturana, H. (1987). Everything is said by an observer. In Gaia, a Way of Knowing, edited by W. Thompson, Lindisfarne Press, Great Barrington, MA, pp. 65-82, p. 71.

Q: Luhmann says that "autopoietic systems are operationally closed."  What is operational closure ?

operation (Operation). Operations are what systems consist of; operating is what systems do. Different types of systems consist of different types of operations. Psychic systems, for instance, think and feel, whereas living systems consist of biological operations, and social systems communicate. Your mind consists of the thoughts you think and the emotions you feel. Legal communication consists of what is said in the courtroom and what is written in legal documents. Autopoietic systems are operationally closed. No other system can interfere in their operations. They can only continue their operations by themselves. No one, for instance, can think or feel for you; there is no immediate external interference possible. The same is true, according to Luhmann, for social systems. You can only continue economic communication by further economic communication. You can only buy something by spending money, not by watching a commercial on TV or by making a political speech. Operational closure goes along with cognitive openness. By being operationally closed and differentiated from its environment, a system can have cognition of its environment. Once a system has reached operational closure, it can observe the environment in its own terms. Once the legal system has closed itself operationally, it can observe everything as being either legal or illegal.

Moeller, Hans-Georg (2011-04-15). Luhmann Explained: From Souls to Systems (Ideas Explained) (p. 223). Open Court. Kindle Edition.

Here's a brief explanation of isolated systems, closed systems and open systems.
Isolated systems are completely isolated from their environment. They do not exchange heat, work or matter with their environment. The only truly isolated system there could be is the universe, but even that is up for debate if the Big Bang is considered. Closed systems are able to exchange energy (heat and work) but not matter with their environment. A greenhouse is an example of a closed system exchanging heat but not work with its environment. Whether a system exchanges heat, work or both is usually thought of as a property of its boundary. Open systems may exchange any form of energy as well as matter with their environment. A boundary allowing matter exchange is called permeable. The ocean would be an example of an open system. 

Q: Prigogine is known for the concept of a dissipative system. How is the system related to self-organization?

A dissipative system is a thermodynamically open system which is operating out of, and often far from, thermodynamic equilibrium in an environment with which it exchanges energy and matter.

A dissipative structure is a dissipative system that has a dynamical regime that is in some sense in a reproducible steady state. This reproducible steady state may be reached by natural evolution of the system, by artifice, or by a combination of these two.

p. 52

Q: What is a chaotic system? What does the chaos theory say about determinism?

Chaos theory is a field of study in mathematics, with applications in several disciplines including physics, economics, biology, and philosophy. Chaos theory studies the behavior of dynamical systems that are highly sensitive to initial conditions, an effect which is popularly referred to as the butterfly effect. Small differences in initial conditions (such as those due to rounding errors in numerical computation) yield widely diverging outcomes for chaotic systems, rendering long-term prediction impossible in general. This happens even though these systems are deterministic, meaning that their future behavior is fully determined by their initial conditions, with no random elements involved. In other words, the deterministic nature of these systems does not make them predictable. This behavior is known as deterministic chaos, or simply chaos.

Chaotic behavior can be observed in many natural systems, such as the weather. Explanation of such behavior may be sought through analysis of a chaotic mathematical model, or through analytical techniques such as recurrence plots and Poincare maps. 

Q: What is a nonlinear system? How is this related to a chaotic system?

In mathematics, a nonlinear system is a system which is not linear, that is, a system which does not satisfy the superposition principle, or whose output is not directly proportional to its input. Less technically, a nonlinear system is any problem where the variable(s) to be solved for cannot be written as a linear combination of independent components.

Q: What is emergence?

In philosophy, systems theory, science, and art, emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions. Emergence is central to the theories of integrative levels and of complex systems.

Q: How is emergence related to spontaneous order or self-organization?

Spontaneous order, also known as "self-organization", is the spontaneous emergence of order out of seeming chaos. It is a process found in physical, biological, and social networks, as well as economics, though the term "self-organization" is more often used for physical and biological processes, while "spontaneous order" is typically used to describe the emergence of various kinds of social orders from a combination of self-interested individuals who are not intentionally trying to create order through planning. The evolution of life on Earth, language, the Internet and a free market economy have all been proposed as examples of systems which evolved through spontaneous order. Naturalists often point to the inherent "watch-like" precision of uncultivated ecosystems and to the universe itself as ultimate examples of this phenomenon.

Spontaneous orders are to be distinguished from organizations. Spontaneous orders are distinguished by being scale-free networks, while organizations are hierarchical networks. Further, organizations can be and often are a part of spontaneous social orders, but the reverse is not true. Further, organizations have someone who created the organization and controls it, more or less, while spontaneous orders are created, controlled, and controllable by none.

Spontaneous order is also used as a synonym for any emergent behavior of which self-interested spontaneous order is just an instance. 

Q: Larsen-Freeman defines complex systems as follows:

In sum, complexity theory seeks to explain complex, dynamic, open, adaptive, self-organizing, nonlinear systems. [Emphasis added by me] (p. 52)

She further says:

Language, its use, its evolution, its development, its learning, and its teaching are arguably complex systems. Thus, complexity theory offers a way to unite all these phenomena. [Emphasis added by me] (p. 52)

Do you think these phenomena are of open systems?

Do you think these phenomena can, or should, be united in explanation? [In my opinion, language and language use are entirely different because the former can be, according to Chomskyan understanding, quite individual, whereas the latter involves language users in plural in a particular context; the evolution of language and the development of language are very different, first,in timescale and, second, in the number of humans involved; learning and teaching are related (the latter is dependent on the former) but categorically different. Given these differences, I wonder whether these are to be united in explanation.]

Q: Would you agree with Larsen-Freeman when she says "No longer must we decontextualize, segregate, idealize, and atemporalize language (Larsen-Freeman, 2008)"? Read the following remark by a generative linguist.

I should state right away, to avoid bitter disappointments in my readers, that we will treat language (and other cognitive capacities of ours, like music, mathematics, vision, etc.) as a natural object, fit for scientific inquiry. We will not focus on all the ways in which we use language (and the rest of our minds) in daily interactions with others. Instead we will focus on our unconscious knowledge of language, that which gives us the ability to form an infinite range of expressions, and at the same time exclude countless other ways of expressing ourselves. This focus of investigation turns out to be the only way to make progress. If you know a little bit about the history of the more established sciences (physics, chemistry, biology), this should not surprise you. The way science progresses is by first acknowledging the complexity of the world, and immediately admitting the futility of attempts to provide a full description of it. Once humbled by this recognition of the vastness of the problem, the best way forward for the scientist is to extract a small corner of the problem, make a few simplifying assumptions, and attempt to gain some understanding of that small part of the world.

Cedric Boeckx (2009) Language in Cognition: Uncovering Mental Structures and the Rules Behind Them (p. xii). Wiley-Blackwell. Kindle Edition.

p. 53

Michael Tomasello has his official homepage, which contains a lot of downloadable papers.

Larsen-Freeman cites Tomasellos's Constructing a Language: A Usage-Based Theory of Language Acquisition on p. 53.

Below are some excerpts from Chapter 1 of the book. The first is the part where Tomasello expresses that Skinner vs. Chomsky paradigm (Read Chomsky's A Review of B. F. Skinner's Verbal Behavior) is to be overcome with two general findings in recent cognitive sciences. Tomasello argues that children can get from 'here' (= the poverty of stimulus) to 'there' (= language acquisition) without the help of universal grammar.

But much has happened in the last two decades in developmental psychology, linguistics, and cognitive science which suggests a re-evaluation of the situation, that is, which suggests that children can get from here to there, and that they can do it without the aid of any hypothesized universal grammar. There are two fundamental points: (1) children have at their disposal much more powerful learning mechanisms than simple association and blind induction; and (2) there exist plausible and rigorous theories of language that characterize adult linguistic competence in much more child-friendly terms than does generative grammar-which makes the endpoint of language acquisition seem much closer.

Michael Tomasello. Constructing a Language: A Usage-Based Theory of Language Acquisition (p. 3). Kindle Edition.

The points (1) and (2) are explained as follows:

The first point is that modern developmental psychologists and cognitive scientists no longer think of children's learning as isolated association-making and induction, but rather they think of it as integrated with other cognitive and social-cognitive skills-in ways that Skinner and the Behaviorists (and Chomskv in his critiques) could never have envisaged. Two sets of such skills are of particular importance for language acquisition. The first set comprises various skills of intention-reading (theory of mind, broadly conceived).

Michael Tomasello. Constructing a Language: A Usage-Based Theory of Language Acquisition (p. 3). Kindle Edition.

The other main set of skills is those involved in various kinds of pattern-finding-categorization, broadly defined.

Michael Tomasello. Constructing a Language: A Usage-Based Theory of Language Acquisition (p. 4). Kindle Edition.

Thus, Tomasello proposes a theory of language acquisition without nativism: usage-based theory.

But in recent years a new view of language and human linguistic competence has begun to emerge. This view is represented by a group of theories most often called cognitive-functional linguistics but sometimes also called usage-based linguistics to emphasize their central processing tenet that language structure emerges from language use (e.g., Langacker, 1987a, 1991, 2000; Croft, 1991, 2001; Goldberg, 1995; Givon, 1995; Bybee, 1985, 1995, 2002; see Tomasello, 1998a, in press, and Barlow and Kemmer, 2000, for similar approaches). Usage-based theories hold that the essence of language is its symbolic dimension, with grammar being derivative. The ability to communicate with conspecifics symbolically (conventionally, intersubjectively) is a species-specific biological adaptation. But, in contrast to generative grammar and other formal approaches, in usage-based approaches the grammatical dimension of language is a product of a set of historical and ontogenetic processes referred to collectively as grammaticalization. When human beings use symbols to communicate with one another, stringing them together into sequences, patterns of use emerge and become consolidated into grammatical constructions-for example, the English passive construction, noun phrase construction, or -ed past tense construction. As opposed to conceiving linguistic rules as algebraic procedures for combining words and morphemes that do not themselves contribute to meaning, this approach conceives linguistic constructions as themselves meaningful linguistic symbols-since they are nothing other than the patterns in which meaningful linguistic symbols are used in communication (for example, the passive construction is used to communicate about an entity to which something happens).
Michael Tomasello. Constructing a Language: A Usage-Based Theory of Language Acquisition (p. 5). Kindle Edition.

Q: What would be the implications of Tomasello's argument for language teachers? Discuss.

Below is his essay on the New York Times in 2008. You may see his emphasis on social aspects of human cognition.

You might think that human beings at least enjoy the advantage of being more generally intelligent. To test this idea, my colleagues and I recently administered an array of cognitive tests -- the equivalent of nonverbal I.Q. tests -- to adult chimpanzees and orangutans (two of our closest primate relatives) and to 2-year-old human children. As it turned out, the children were not more skillful overall. They performed about the same as the apes on the tests that measured how well they understood the physical world of space, quantities and causality. The children performed better only on tests that measured social skills: social learning, communicating and reading the intentions of others.

But such social gifts make all the difference. Imagine a child born alone on a desert island and somehow magically kept alive. What would this child’s cognitive skills look like as an adult ? with no one to teach her, no one to imitate, no pre-existing tools, no spoken or written language? She would certainly possess basic skills for dealing with the physical world, but they would not be particularly impressive. She would not invent for herself English, or Arabic numerals, or metal knives, or money. These are the products of collective cognition; they were created by human beings, in effect, putting their heads together.
Tomasello, M. (2008). How are humans unique? New York Times Magazine, May 25, 2008

Take a look at his other books as well.

p. 55

Larsen-Freeman mentions Mihail Bakhtin.

Q: Read the following sections of Wikipedia. Explain his concepts such as unfinalizability, others, polyphony, heteroglossia, dialogism.

Problems of Dostoyevsky’s Poetics: polyphony and unfinalizability

The Dialogic Imagination: Chronotope, Heteroglossia

Q: What is fractal? Would you agree with Larsen-Freeman when she says "language is fractal"? (Larsen-Freeman, 1997)? (What is recursion?)

p. 56

Q: What is connectionism?

p. 57

Larsen-Freeman quotes Ema Ushioda in Motivation, Language Identity and the L2 Self.
Here's the extended quotation from my Kindle version.

Let me summarise then what I mean by a person-in-context relational view of motivation. I mean a focus on real persons, rather than on learners as theoretical abstractions; a focus on the agency of the individual person as a thinking, feeling human being, with an identity, a personality, a unique history and background, a person with goals, motives and intentions; a focus on the interaction between this self-reflective intentional agent, and the fluid and complex system of social relations, activities, experiences and multiple micro- and macro-contexts in which the person is embedded, moves, and is inherently part of. My argument is that we need to take a relational (rather than linear) view of these multiple contextual elements, and view motivation as an organic process that emerges through the complex system of interrelations.

Ushioda (2011) "A Person-in-Context Relational View of Emergent Motivation, Self and Identity" in Dornyei, Zoltan; Ushioda, Ema (2011-09-09). Motivation, Language Identity and the L2 Self (Second Language Acquisition) (Kindle Locations 4815-4820) [presumably p.218 in the print version]. Channel View Publications. Kindle Edition.

Ushioda continues to argue about the issue of self-reflectivity (or self-reference)

As they point out (Sealey & Carter, 2004: 205), it is a distinctive characteristic of human beings that we have reflexivity that is, we have the ability, through self-consciousness, to attain a degree of objectivity towards ourselves in the world, and to make decisions among a range of possible choices, rather than simply be determined by the world and our instincts (or, we might add, by our componentised subpersonal parts).

Ushioda (2011) "A Person-in-Context Relational View of Emergent Motivation, Self and Identity" in Dornyei, Zoltan; Ushioda, Ema (2011-09-09). Motivation, Language Identity and the L2 Self (Second Language Acquisition) (Kindle Locations 4848-4851). Channel View Publications. Kindle Edition.

Q: Do you think Larsen-Freeman's version of Complexity Theory sufficiently deals with self-reflexivity (or self-reference)?

p. 58

Q: Larsen-Freeman introduces criticism against her version of Complexity theory. What do you think of the criticism?

Some have criticized the extension of complexity theory -- a theory originating in the natural sciences -- to human endeavors such as language acquisition. They have pointed out that self-organization may not be inevitable in human processes due to agency and volition, which can override any inevitablity characterristic of naturally occuring complex systems. (p. 58)

Compare the notion of agency and volition above and the notions held by neuroscientists below.

David Eagleman (The Brain on Trial. The Atlantic)

Benjamin Libet (my summary)

(Or read the metaphor of a boy on an elephant.)

Varela, Thompson, and Rosch (1991) The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience. I still remember the excitement when I read this book about 20 years ago. There is a Japanese translation as well.

p. 61

Gregory Bateson is a great thinker. I never pretend I undersand him well: This is why I want to read his books again and again.

Q: What is retrodiction?

p. 63

Q: What is contingency?

p. 66

Q: What is your opinion of the quotation from Cilliers (2008, p. 48)? Read the section of radical constructivism in the article of constructivist episitemology and discuss.

p. 67

Larsen-Freeman quotes Kramsch (2009, p. 247):

Complexity theory, which originated in the physical sciences, has been used as a productive metaphor in SLA to stress the relativity of self and other, the need to consider events on more than one timescale and to take into account the fractal nature and unfinalizability of events.

Q: What do you think of the expression "a productive metaphor"?

Larsen-Freeman herself concludes this article as follows.

Above all, complexity theory argues for epistemological modesty. To understand L2 development more completely, we must resist the arrogance of certainty and premature closure (Larsen-Freeman, 2002b). Indeed, complexity theory "should ... be seen not as aiming at a new 'synthetic theory' of complexity of any kind, but a cross-disciplinary field of research and a meeting place for dialogue" (Emmeche, 1997, in Cilliers, 2001, p. 137).

Q: What do you think of this concluding remark?

Here are other works by Larsen-Freeman on complexity.

Complex Systems and Applied Linguistics

Language as a Complex Adaptive System

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