Language Attrition Research Archive

AILA'99 12th World Congress of Applied Linguistics. Tokyo, Japan. August 5, 1999. Lynne Hansen & Dorit Kaufman (Chairs). Language attrition: Retrospection and future directions.

           The widespread phenomenon of language attrition has been systematically studied only in the past two decades. During this time a considerable body of knowledge has been accumulated on the L1 loss of immigrants and on the L2 loss of returnees and of classroom learners subsequent to their L2 instruction. The focus of this symposium was on the former: language loss by immigrants and by returnees. Contributors to the study of language attrition around the world joined together to assess past accomplishments and look ahead to directions for the new millenium.
           Focusing first on Japanese returnee children, Emiko Yukawa (Notre Dame Women's College)  discussed three longitudinal case studies of the temporary L1 attrition of two subjects while living abroad and their rapid regaining of the language upon their return to Japan. In addition to describing the general profiles of the syntactic and lexical attrition in the three cases, Yukawa's studies focused on the effects of age and proficiency, and they captured attrition phenomena in terms of processing the intact linguisitc knowledge (retrieval failure).
           Machiko Tomiyama (International Christian University) then reviewed her longitudinal research on the attrition process of Japanese returnee children's L2 English. During four years of observation of a single subject Tomiyama found that productive skills in vocabulary, morphology, syntax, and discourse differentially eroded with time. She examined effects on the rate of attrition of age, proficiency and literacy attainment.
          The focus then shifted to adult returnees, with a summary by Lynne Hansen (Brigham Young University, Hawaii) of her research on the L2 Japanese loss of 200 Americans back in the United States after a period of residence in Japan. Attrition profiles of 40 years show the deterioration of fluency, listening comprehension and specific syntactic and semantic systems such as negation and numeral classifiers. Variables significantly related to retention included literacy attainment, gender, and time in Japan.
         Turning from returnees to immigrants, Dorit Kaufman (State University of New York) discussed her research on the attrition of Hebrew among pre-puberty Israeli immigrant children in the United States. Her work has shown that despite pervasive literacy practices and multiple opportunities for L1 rejuvenation in this community, attrition is rampant. Loss of L1 was illustrated through examples from productive use with a focus on the fragmentation of the L1 verbal system.
        The presentation section closed with a discussant, Elite Olshtain (Hebrew University of Jerusalem) who presented an overview of what has been gleaned from previous work on language attrition and proposed future research directions. This was followed by a general discussion.