From emigrant to expat: Changed perspectives on first language attrition in a digital era

Keijzer, M., 2015.

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperAcademic

L1 attrition is the (partial) language loss that is found in healthy individuals who stop routinely using their L1 after moving to an L2 environment. Over the years, the phenomenon has attracted much interest, from the general public who have (directly and indirectly) experienced attrition, but also from researchers who see it as “promising for the exploration of links between the brain, mind and external factors that are also of interest for research in multilingualism” (Köpke, 2007: 10). Occupying a special niche, attrition can shed light on theoretical issues such as the behavioral ecology of bilinguals (Green, 2011): attrition incurs a sudden shift from a single to a dual language context and the resulting changes in language and cognitive control can thus be uniquely studied. The L1 vs. L2 dynamic in attrition has become even more interesting in recent years, as the populations targeted in attrition research have changed: whereas the earliest studies looked at immigrants who were mostly isolated from their L1 environments, speakers these days have (social) media, inventions like Skype, and cheap airline tickets to ensure that they are never truly cut off from their L1 environments. With that, the population label has changed too: from immigrants to expats. And yet - despite the shift - attrition continues to be observed. A plausible explanation lies in inhibition mechanisms: in the first stages of moving abroad, the L1 needs to be strongly inhibited to accommodate the L2, irrespective of whether or not the L1 is still being used. This effect holds for all speakers shifting from a single to dual language environment. On a local level, studies have shown that naming (words) in the L2, especially in initial L2 acquisition stages, can hinder subsequent L1 retrieval (Levy et al., 2007; Linck et al., 2009). On a more global level, the theory of catastrophic interference – whereby the sudden introduction of new information deeply impacts on earlier stored representations (McClosky & Cohen, 1989) also impacts on L1 attrition: learning an L2 has repercussions for the L1. In this paper, which is theoretical rather than empirical, the changed population that forms the basis of attrition research is explored in more detail, and the future of the field of also explored. This will be done by providing a brief overview of the field so far, and focusing particularly on (recent) psycholinguistic work in the realm of retrieval induced forgetting to sketch a new outline of the timeframe of attrition, using expats as the main source of information.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2015
EventAILA Europe Conference - ZHAW Zürcher Hochschule für Angewandte Wissenschaften Departement Angewandte Linguistik, Winterthur, Switzerland
Duration: 10-Sep-201512-Sep-2015


ConferenceAILA Europe Conference


AILA Europe Conference


Winterthur, Switzerland

Event: Conference

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ID: 28068194