Friday, July 19, 2013

Dwight Atkinson (2011) A Sociocognitive Approach to Second Language Acquisition: How mind, body, and world work together in learning addtional languages.

[This is one of the articles compiled for a class for my graduate students]

Dwight Atkinson (2011) "A Sociocognitive Approach to Second Language Acquisition: How mind, body, and world work together in learning additional languages." in Dwight Atkinson (ed) Alternative Approaches to Second Language Acquisition (Routledge) [Paperback, Kindle Edition] (pp. 142-166)

p. 143

Q: Discuss implications of Schelling's phrase "Mind is invisible nature, while nature is visible mind" (or, according to Wikipedia, "Nature is visible Spirit; Spirit is invisible Nature." (Ideen, "Introduction"))

Q: What does the author mean when he says "cognition is a node in an ecological network comprising mind-body-world -- it is part of a relationship."

Q: [For those who like philosophy only] What is the "brain in a vat" argument?

Wikipedia's brief explanation.

In philosophy, the brain in a vat is an element used in a variety of thought experiments intended to draw out certain features of our ideas of knowledge, reality, truth, mind, and meaning. It is based on an idea, common to many science fiction stories, that a mad scientist, machine, or other entity might remove a person's brain from the body, suspend it in a vat of life-sustaining liquid, and connect its neurons by wires to a supercomputer which would provide it with electrical impulses identical to those the brain normally receives. According to such stories, the computer would then be simulating reality (including appropriate responses to the brain's own output) and the person with the "disembodied" brain would continue to have perfectly normal conscious experiences without these being related to objects or events in the real world.

The simplest use of brain-in-a-vat scenarios is as an argument for philosophical skepticism and solipsism. A simple version of this runs as follows: Since the brain in a vat gives and receives exactly the same impulses as it would if it were in a skull, and since these are its only way of interacting with its environment, then it is not possible to tell, from the perspective of that brain, whether it is in a skull or a vat. Yet in the first case most of the person's beliefs may be true (if they believe, say, that they are walking down the street, or eating ice-cream); in the latter case their beliefs are false. Since the argument says one cannot know whether one is a brain in a vat, then one cannot know whether most of one's beliefs might be completely false. Since, in principle, it is impossible to rule out oneself being a brain in a vat, there cannot be good grounds for believing any of the things one believes; a skeptical argument would contend that one certainly cannot know them, raising issues with the definition of knowledge.

The brain in a vat is a contemporary version of the argument given in Hindu Maya illusion, Plato's Allegory of the Cave, Zhuangzi's "Zhuangzi dreamed he was a butterfly", and the evil demon in Rene Descartes' Meditations on First Philosophy.

Here is Hilary Putnam's argument from Reason, Truth, and History, chapter 1, pp. 1-21 (Cambridge University Press: 1982)

p. 144

Q: Discuss what the author means by saying "human cognition is first and foremost adaptive intelligence -- it exists primarily to help us survive and prosper in our ecoscocial worlds. Instead of a serial computer, cognition is therefore an open biological system designed by evolution and experience to align sensitively with the ambient environment."

p. 145

Q: What is "extended mind"? Please read my article on Clark and Chalmers (1998)

Q: Which do you think is peculiar, the idea of "extended mind" or that of "disembedded mind"? (You may replace the term "disembedded mind" with "disembodied mind" or "decontextualized mind")

Q: What are "mirror neurons"?

Wikipedia says:

A mirror neuron is a neuron that fires both when an animal acts and when the animal observes the same action performed by another. Thus, the neuron "mirrors" the behavior of the other, as though the observer were itself acting. Such neurons have been directly observed in primate and other species including birds. In humans, brain activity consistent with that of mirror neurons has been found in the premotor cortex, the supplementary motor area, the primary somatosensory cortex and the inferior parietal cortex.

p. 146

What is "joint-attention"? (The text mentions "joint-action," but "joint-attention" is a better known concept)

Here is what Wikipedia says:

Joint attention is the shared focus of two individuals on an object. It is achieved when one individual alerts another to an object by means of eye-gazing, pointing or other verbal or non-verbal indications. An individual gazes at another individual, points to an object and then returns their gaze to the individual. Scaife and Bruner were the first researchers to present a cross-sectional description of children's ability to follow eye gaze in 1975. They found that most eight- to ten-month-old children followed a line of regard, and that all 11- to 14-month-old children did so. This early research showed it was possible for an adult to bring certain objects in the environment to an infant's attention using eye gaze.

Subsequent research demonstrates that two important skills in joint attention are following eye gaze and identifying intention. The ability to share gaze with another individual is an important skill in establishing reference. The ability to identify intention is important in a child's ability to learn language and direct the attention of others. Joint attention is important for many aspects of language development including comprehension, production and word learning. Episodes of joint attention provide children with information about their environment, allowing individuals to establish reference from spoken language and learn words. Socio-emotional development and the ability to take part in normal relationships are also influenced by joint attention abilities. The ability to establish joint attention may be negatively affected by deafness, blindness, and developmental disorders such as autism.

Other animals such as great apes, orangutans, chimpanzees, dogs, and horses also show some elements of joint attention.

p. 147

Q: What is Goodwin (2000) about? Below is the abstract.

Charles Goodwin (2000)

Action and embodiment within situated human interaction

Journal of Pragmatics

Volume 32, Issue 10, September 2000, Pages 1489-1522


A theory of action must come to terms with both the details of language use and the way in which the social, cultural, material and sequential structure of the environment where action occurs figure into its organization. In this paper it will be suggested that a primordial site for the analysis of human language, cognition, and action consists of a situation in which multiple participants are attempting to carry out courses of action in concert with each other through talk while attending to both the larger activities that their current actions are embedded within, and relevant phenomena in their surround. Using as data video recordings of young girls playing hopscotch and archaeologists classifying color, it will be argued that human action is built through the simultaneous deployment of a range of quite different kinds of semiotic resources. Talk itself contains multiple sign systems with alternative properties. Strips of talk gain their power as social action via their placement within larger sequential structures, encompassing activities, and participation frameworks constituted through displays of mutual orientation made by the actors' bodies. The body is used in a quite different way to perform gesture, again a class of phenomena that encompasses structurally different types of sign systems. Both talk and gesture can index, construe or treat as irrelevant, entities in the participants' surround. Moreover, material structure in the surround, such as graphic fields of various types, can provide semiotic structure without which the constitution of particular kinds of action being invoked through talk would be impossible. In brief it will be argued that the construction of action through talk within situated interaction is accomplished through the temporally unfolding juxtaposition of quite different kinds of semiotic resources, and that moreover through this process the human body is made publicly visible as the site for a range of structurally different kinds of displays implicated in the constitution of the actions of the moment.

p. 149

Discuss Sociocognitive approach's five implications for learning. Can you give examples which match them?

(1) learning becomes dynamic adaptivity to -- or alignment with -- the environment;

(2) if cognition extends into the world, then so must learning;

(3) learning primarily involves the thickening of mind-world relations rather than their progressive attenuation;

(4) learning enables action in, more than (abstract) knowledge of, the world; and

(5) we learn through environmental action.

Q: How do you respond to the author's question?

A key sociocognitive claim is that we learn as we live -- that learning and being are integrated processes. As we continuously adapt to our environments, something of that adaptation is retained -- that is, we learn by experience. If this point seems too obvious to mention, then why does mainstream learning theory, including in SLA studies, insist on separating acquisition from use? (p. 149)

p. 150

Q: What is "noncomputational learning" (or "non-representational learning")?

The most sociocognitively promising noncomputational learning research to date is anthropological. This research suggests that learning is not so much extraction of meaning from the environment as increasing (and increasingly meaning-full) participation in it. (p. 150)

p. 151

Q: Defend the following position. (Quote Wittgenstein if you can).

A crucial point here is that learning/teaching/understanding takes place in the world: It is publicly enacted and publicly available. Far from being locked away in cognitive space, learning is effected in the hybrid, partly public forum of sociocognition. (p. 151)

pp. 156-157

Q: What do you think of the following emphases of sociocognitive approach?

1. Emphasis on particularity

2. Emphasis on process

3. Emphasis on holism, integrativeness, and relationality

4. Emphasis on variation

5. Emphasis on concrete experience and performance

6. Emphasis on extended cognition

7. Emphasis on action as inter-action

Related pages:

Atkinson (2010) Extended, Embodied Cognition and Second Language Acquisition

Clark and Chalmers (1998) "The extended mind"

From monotheistic reductionsim to dialectic synthesis -- My thoughts on sociocognitive approach to SLA

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Gabriele Kasper and Johannes Wagner (2011) A Conversation-Analytic Approach to Second Language Acquisition

[This is one of the articles compiled for a class for my graduate students]

Gabriele Kasper and Johannes Wagner (2011) "A Conversation-Analytic Approach to Second Language Acquisition" in Dwight Atkinson (ed) Alternative Approaches to Second Language Acquisition (Routledge) [Paperback, Kindle Edition] (pp. 117-142)

p. 117

Q: The authors say "Sense-making draws on social orderliness, and social order is -- at the level of interaction -- achieved through participants' action and practices. (p. 117)" What is sense-meaning?

p. 118 Q: What is interaction order? Below is a quick introduction.

The authors say that interaction order is found in in the "methods" (procedures/practices) that social members recurrently and systematically use to achieve, maintain, and restore intersubjectivity in their practical activities. (p. 118)

Here is what Goffman said (1983: 2): "My concern over the years has been to promote acceptance of this face-to-face domain as an analytically viable one - a domain which might be titled, for want of any happy name, the interaction order - a domain whose preferred method of study is micro analysis." (Taken from

Q: What is interactional competence? Explain in your own words.

See the definition according to SIL International: "Interactional competence involves knowing and using the mostly-unwritten rules for interaction in various communication situations within a given speech community and culture. It includes, among other things, knowing how to initiate and manage conversations and negotiate meaning with other people. It also includes knowing what sorts of body language, eye contact, and proximity to other people are appropriate, and acting accordingly." (taken from

Q: Sometimes, the fifth area of "interaction" is added to the traditional four areas of "reading, writing, listening, and speaking" in theories of language teaching. How would you justify the addition? Use the concepts of "interaction order" and "interactional competence" in the justification.

The authors say that nteractional competence cannot be reduced to an individual, intrapsychological property; nor can it be separated from "performance" (p. 118). Why not?

p. 119

Q: Some people say that using a language IS learning a language. Try to justify this position by using the authors' argument on interactional competence as "both a fundamental condition for and object of learning." (p. 119)

Q: Explain the interrelation of interaction and grammar: (1) grammar organizes social interaction; (2) social interaction organizes grammar; and (3) grammar is a mode of interaction. (p.119)

p. 120

Q: The authors say that "CA relocates cognition from its traditional habitat in the privacy of people's minds to the arena of social interaction" and that a motivate for participation in interaction is "not a matter of volition but a system constraint of interaction." (p. 120) Explain.

pp. 121-122

Q: How is the concept of identity in CA different from that in poststructuralist theories or that in the cognitivist SLA theories?

p. 122

Q: What is the empirical advantage of CA identity study over poststructuralist identity research?

Q: Explain why CA takes an agnostic position.

p. 123

Q: Read the section of Data Quality and summarize the research methods of CA. (Use terms such as "data-driven," "naturally occurring," and "nonlinguistic behavior."


Q: Explain the following passage: "language learners seem to have a licence to do things others speakers rarely do, for example produce hesitant and delayed turns, code shift, or ask for help and explanations. The behaviours are accountable for L1 speakers and reflexively create the identity of a L2 learner. In other words, identity as a learner can be made relevant -- or not." (pp. 126-127)

p. 137

The authors suggest that CA should develop a relationship with ethnomethodology and discursive psychology.

Here is a quick explanation of discursive psychology from Wikipedia.

Discursive psychology (DP) is a form of discourse analysis that focuses on psychological themes.

Discursive psychology starts with psychological phenomena as things that are constructed, attended to, and understood in interaction. An evaluation, say, may be constructed using particular phrases and idioms, responded to by the recipient (as a compliment perhaps) and treated as the expression of a strong position. In discursive psychology the focus is not on psychological matters somehow leaking out into interaction; rather interaction is the primary site where psychological issues are live.

It is philosophically opposed to more traditional cognitivist approaches to language. It uses studies of naturally occurring conversation to critique the way that topics have been conceptualised and treated in psychology.


Discursive psychology was developed in the 1990s by Jonathan Potter and Derek Edwards at Loughborough University. It draws on the philosophy of mind of Ryle and the later Wittgenstein, the rhetorical approach of Michael Billig, the ethnomethodology of Harold Garfinkel and the conversation analysis of Harvey Sacks.


Discursive psychology conducts studies of both naturally occurring and experimentally engineered human interaction that offer new ways of understanding topics in social and cognitive psychology such as memory and attitudes. Although discursive psychology subscribes to a different view of human mentality than is advanced by mainstream psychology, Edwards and Potter's work was originally motivated by their dissatisfaction with how psychology had treated discourse. In many psychological studies, the things people (subjects) say are treated as windows (with varying degrees of opacity) into their minds. Talk is seen as (and in experimental psychology and protocol analysis used as) descriptions of people's mental content. In contrast, discursive psychology treats talk as social action; that is, we say what we do as a means of, and in the course of, doing things in a socially meaningful world. Thus, the questions that it makes sense to ask also change.