The Reacquisition of Languages: Some Hypotheses

There is a significant gap in the acquisition literature, namely, how to regain one's competence in a native or a non-native language. Several hypotheses characteristic of the reacquisitional process are proposed. They are derived from the reacquisition of L2 English by three German siblings. They learned their English for the first time during a six-month stay of the entire family in California in 1975 when they were aged between 4;0 - 8;0. 23 months after their return to Germany they had forgotten (most of) their English. In 1977 the family went back to the same location for six weeks. At the end of that period the children were back at where they left off before and they may even have gone further. The data suggest that for both periods of exposure the developmental structures and their developmental sequencing parallel each other; fewer developmental structures occur during reacquisition than when the language was acquired for the first time; for those structural areas that have been affected by attrition reacquisition is like L2 acquisition even if the language to be re-acquired is the speaker's L1; reacquisition proceeds much faster than either L1 or L2 acquisition. It is claimed that at least certain structural aspects of natural human languages once learned cannot be lost in the sense of getting discarded from memory. It appears that reacquisition is primarily a process of revival by regaining access to the language rather than re-learning it.

Proceedings of the VIIIth International Congress for the Study of Child Language. San Sebastian, 12-16 July 1999. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press (i.Dr.)