abstract Jan Hulstijn

Jan Hulstijn (Universiteit van Amsterdam, the Netherlands)

Basic Language Cognition: The syntax of Dutch native speakers’ spontaneous speech as a function of level of education and profession

BLC Theory (Hulstijn, 2015) brings together a sociolinguistic and a cognitive view on the knowledge and use of a first and second language. The construct of BLC (Basic Language Cognition) refers to the knowledge of a language that all adult native speakers of that language share. The question of how big or small BLC is, is crucial (i) in the debate between generative and usage-based explanations of language acquisition and (ii) for the definition of the notion of native-like L2 proficiency, playing an important role in the critical-age of L2 acquisition literature. In this presentation, I will report on a recent investigation aimed at defining the size of BLC in terms of syntax. Syntactic analyses will be reported on speech-production data (a speech corpus of approximately 12 hours of speech, 80,000 words) collected from 98 native speakers of Dutch, differing in age (18 - 76 years old) and level of education and profession (high vs low). The analyses pertain to clause length, central embeddings, relative clauses, sentence-initial subclauses of various types, NPs with heavy pre-nominal adjuncts, verb phrases consisting of three or four verb forms, and use of the passive. The findings are claimed to be potentially relevant to any theory of language acquisition aiming to explain (i) why it is that the syntactic knowledge of the patterns produced by (almost) all participants (and not knowledge of other patterns) is acquired by all native speakers and (ii) how the acquisition of these shared patterns can be accounted for in terms of learning mechanisms (nature) and exposure (nurture).

Reference: Hulstijn, J.H.  (2015). Language proficiency in native and non-native speakers: Theory and research. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.