The Role Of Consciousness In Language Acquisition English Language Essay

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Second Language researchers were for long debating the issue, whether second language acquisition is bond with learner's awareness and consciousness (the incidental learning) or has something to do with unconscious process of abstraction (the implicit learning issue). In this Article we will try to find a key to solve this case. To prove if Instruction is anyhow going to involve the 'noticing'.


The role of conscious and unconscious processes in second language learning was long debated and still pointed as a controversial issue among linguists, to many conscious learning means the process of noticing and turning the input into intake which results in accurate production regarding understanding the forms. Schmidt (2001) claims that the concept of attention is necessary for understanding the development of IL over time and variations within IL at particular points in time, it is apparent that the kind of attention he is referring to is awareness at a very low level. However many others oppose this aspect and consider the learning a process of unconscious and a latent learning, Seliger has claimed that 'obviously, it is at the unconscious level that language learning takes place.

While there is no concrete approach, focusing on the role of consciousness in second language learning or opposing it, there seems to be a necessity to draw your attention to an explicit review of the words consciousness and unconsciousness.

Consciousness is variously defined as subjective experience, awareness, the ability to experience "feeling", wakefulness, the understanding of the concept "self", or the executive control system of the mind. It is an umbrella term that may refer to a variety of mental phenomena. But altogether we can define it as a mental state in which awareness would provide a consequent stimulus. Philosophers note (e.g. John Searle in The Oxford Companion to Philosophy):

"Anything that we are aware of at a given moment forms part of our consciousness, making conscious experience at once the most familiar and most mysterious aspect of our lives." (Schneider and Velmans, 2007)

In the same web archive, Unconsciousness is defined as loss of consciousness or lack of consciousness, which is a dramatic alteration of mental state that involves complete or near-complete lack of responsiveness to people and other environmental stimuli. Being in a comatose state or coma is an illustration of unconsciousness. Fainting due to a drop in blood pressure and a decrease of the oxygen supply to the brain is an illustration of a temporary loss of consciousness. Loss of consciousness must not be confused with altered states of consciousness, such as delirium (when the person is confused and only partially responsive to the environment), normal sleep, hypnosis, and other altered states in which the person responds to stimuli.

The study of Unconscious, subconscious and consciousness is deeply rooted in the science of psychology, and however Learning or better to call it acquisition is nothing apart from a psychological process, as it involves the "Self".

Psychology and Linguistics Meeting In Agreement

As the two definitions above notices, the psychological approach toward these both statues is involving two major keywords "the Stimuli and response". You may well remember the repetitive usage of these terms; they might ring you a bell, yes, Freudian doctrine, or maybe chomsky's.

"The views of Freud and Chomsky have been especially influential in the field of Conscious and unconscious. Freud's most general claim, that unconscious mental processes are complex and ubiquitous (Freud 1915), is widely accepted and is clearly supported by contemporary research in cognitive psychology (Bowers and Meichenbaum 1984; Kihlstrom 1984). In the second language field, strongly influenced by Chomsky (1965, 1980, 1986), it is virtually an article of faith that what is acquired is an implicit (i.e. unconscious) mental grammar that is most clearly reflected in learner intuitions about sentences, less directly in learner performance, and least directly in learners' conscious beliefs and statements about their use of language (Coppieters 1987; Bialystok and Sharwood Smith 1985; Liceras 1985)."

Freud has been for long working on the implicit Nature of human being, dividing the "self" to three segments the "ID", "Ego" and "super Ego". "ID" as the Latin word stands for the same self, Defines the aspect of human's Hidden nature, well described as Unconscious. Freud started examining the inner part of everyone's Personality Formed basically with the response one gives to a particular stimulus. In his cases he realized one's true abilities are more tractable and adjustable and Chomsky brought the issue in the field of linguistics, and called for the correction system, along with the grammar perception in Acquisition.

"The psycholinguist Noam Chomsky argued that human language was mediated by 'deep' grammatical structures which are inaccessible to conscious introspection, and can be known only by inference. Clinical psychologist Nathaniel Branden talks of this in a different way: the sub cognitive aspects of thinking. What happens in those few hundreds of milliseconds between a person asking a question and receiving an answer? This is a refractory period in which no apparent conscious thought is taking place, however much is going on, as can be revealed with special skin resistance meters, EEG equipment and brain scans. The thought that comes into a person's mind at the end of that period, a thought that is eventually communicated with a greater or lesser amount of editing, is a final product of a long chain of processes that are essentially unconscious."

Let's get the subject narrowed by pointing the differences which Identifies the Learning acquisitions differences in L1, L2 Learning Comparing the Genuine ability of a child in learning the basis of a language and an adults procedure in his way to master another languages.

Noam Chomsky and Unconscious: The Universal Grammar

During the first half of the 20th century, linguists assumed that language learning, like any other kind of learning, could be explained by a succession of trials, errors, and rewards for success. In other words, children learned their mother tongue by simple imitation, listening to and repeating what adults said.

For Chomsky, acquiring language cannot be reduced to simply developing an inventory of responses to stimuli, because every sentence that anyone produces can be a totally new combination of words. When we speak, we combine a finite number of elements-the words of our language-to create an infinite number of larger structures-sentences.

Moreover, language is governed by a large number of rules and principles, particularly those of syntax, which determine the order of words in sentences. The term "generative grammar"refers to the set of rules that enables us to understand sentences but of which we are usually totally unaware. It is because of generative grammar that everyone says "that's how you say it" rather than "how that's you it say", or that the words "Bob"and "him" cannot mean the same person in the sentence "Bob loves him." but can do so in "Bob knows that his father loves him." (Note in passing that generative grammar has nothing to do with grammar textbooks, whose purpose is simply to explain what is grammatically correct and incorrect in a given language.


Triggers the parameters in UG


Yields Knowledge of particular Language

"John Ate the Apple"

Sets value for the head parameter

To "Head" First

Produces knowledge of English phrase

Structure: "Head comes before complements In VPs, PPs, APs and NPs"

Acquisition in the UG Model, VP: verb Phrase, PP: Preposition Phrase, AP: Adjective Phrase, NP: Noun Phrase

Even before the age of 5, children can, without having had any formal instruction, consistently produce and interpret sentences that they have never encountered before. It is this extraordinary ability to use language despite having had only very partial exposure to the allowable syntactic variants that led Chomsky to formulate his "poverty of the stimulus" argument, which was the foundation for the new approach that he proposed in the early 1960s.

In Chomsky's view, the reason that children so easily master the complex operations of language is that they have innate knowledge of certain principles that guide them in developing the grammar of their language. In other words, Chomsky's theory is that language learning is facilitated by a predisposition that our brains have for certain structures of language.

But what language? For Chomsky's theory to hold true, all of the languages in the world must share certain structural properties. And indeed, Chomsky and other generative linguists like him have shown that the 5000 to 6000 languages in the world, despite their very different grammars, do share a set of syntactic rules and principles. These linguists believe that this "universal grammar" is innate and is embedded somewhere in the neuronal circuitry of the human brain. And that would be why children can select, from all the sentences that come to their minds, only those that conform to a "deep structure" encoded in the brain's circuits.

Universal grammar

Universal grammar, then, consists of a set of unconscious constraints that let us decide whether a sentence is correctly formed. This mental grammar is not necessarily the same for all languages. But according to Chomskyian theorists, the process by which, in any given language, certain sentences are perceived as correct while others are not, is universal and independent of meaning.

Thus, we immediately perceive that the sentence "Robert book reads the" is not correct English, even though we have a pretty good idea of what it means. Conversely, we recognize that a sentence such as "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously." is grammatically correct English, even though it is nonsense.

A pair of dice offers a useful metaphor to explain what Chomsky means when he refers to universal grammar as a "set of constraints". Before we throw the pair of dice, we know that the result will be a number from 2 to 12, but nobody would take a bet on its being 3.143. Similarly, a newborn baby has the potential to speak any of a number of languages, depending on what country it is born in, but it will not just speak them any way it likes: it will adopt certain preferred, innate structures. One way to describe these structures would be that they are not things that babies and children learn, but rather things that happen to them. Just as babies naturally develop arms and not wings while they are still in the womb, once they are born they naturally learn to speak, and not to chirp or neigh.

Observations that support the Chomskyian view of language

Until Chomsky propounded his theory of universal grammar in the 1960s, the empiricist school that had dominated thinking about language since the Enlightenment held that when children came into the world, their minds were like a blank slate. Chomsky's theory had the impact of a large rock thrown into this previously tranquil, undisturbed pond of empiricism.

Subsequent research in the cognitive sciences, which combined the tools of psychology, linguistics, computer science, and philosophy, soon lent further support to the theory of universal grammar. For example, researchers found that babies only a few days old could distinguish the phonemes of any language and seemed to have an innate mechanism for processing the sounds of the human voice.

Thus, from birth, children would appear to have certain linguistic abilities that predispose them not only to acquire a complex language, but even to create one from whole cloth if the situation requires. One example of such a situation dates back to the time of plantations and slavery. On many plantations, the slaves came from many different places and so had different mother tongues. They therefore developed what are known as pidgin languages to communicate with one another. Pidgin languages are not languages in the true sense, because they employ words so chaotically-there is tremendous variation in word order, and very little grammar. But these slaves' children, though exposed to these pidgins at the age when children normally acquire their first language, were not content to merely imitate them. Instead, the children spontaneously introduced grammatical complexity into their speech, thus in the space of one generation creating new languages, known as creoles.


In this paper we examined an important question for Language Acquisition theory, namely, the role of consciousness in a new Language acquisition. This question was examined in order to determine whether or not explicit instruction in grammar is advantageous during this process.

We first compared the definitions of consciousness and unconsciousness in order to Link the idea to the formation of Freudian psychology and how they share with linguistics

We next looked at how Chomsky developed his idea of the practicality of unconsciousness in learning first of second language which led to an explanation of Universal Grammar and the foundations of His theory, as a prove to what Chomsky has claimed; we followed to evidences which spots the main abilities of children which predispose them to acquire a complex language. I whish this article would have been a key to solve the debated question of how one would acquire a new language unconsciously.