Analysis of “Variables in Second Language Attrition”

Subject: Linguistics
Pages: 8
Words: 2321
Reading time:
9 min
Study level: PhD


David Stringer and Kathleen Bardovi-Harlig are part of the faculty in Indiana University. They have specialized in the Department of Second Language Studies and have written several articles together. According to Stringer, his primary area of focus is concerned with the question of how common elements of meaning shape the forms of grammar in human languages. This paper is a critical review of the article offering analysis of the subject matter and the various changes that have occurred since the article has been published.

In only 3 hours we’ll deliver a custom Analysis of “Variables in Second Language Attrition” essay written 100% from scratch Learn more

Article Summary

The article is basically a review of literature on language attrition. The authors look at the aspects of language attrition considering both first language attrition and second language attrition. According to Bardovi-Harlig & Stringer (2010) language attrition refers to the loss of language in communities and individuals due to interaction with majority languages in both pathological and non-pathological settings (2). The article first look at the various theories presented about native language loss, L1 attrition. The authors look at the most recent contributions in literature about L1 attrition and some of the contentious issues.

The article then focuses on L2 attrition and the variables utilized in L2 attrition studies. The main focus is the previous studies dome on this subject, main theories and hypothesis that have been postulated by other writers, and the array of possible attrition or acquisition processes in diverse populations.

In the article, the authors identified six main hypothesis applied concerning the nature of L1 attrition. The first hypothesis is the regression hypothesis. This hypothesis holds that the course of attrition is the mirror image to that of acquisition (3). According to the article, there is very little evidence for this particular hypothesis. Apart from this, various studies have provided empirical evidence to doubt the legitimacy of this hypothesis.

The second hypothesis identified is the threshold hypothesis. This hypothesis holds that what is retained the longest is not what is learned first but that which is learnt best. The hypothesis argues that is a particular threshold of use is attained, a language maybe less prone to or even immune to attrition. However, according to Paradis (2007), the threshold hypothesis is inherently flawed due to several factors. The main important weakness of this hypothesis is that in the case of L1 attrition, children usually acquire perfect and consistent levels of the principles of syntax and phonology. This however does not mean that they are immune to attrition thus negating this hypothesis.

The interference hypothesis holds that attrition occurs due to the increasing influence of new competing and more dominant language. This hypothesis is also referred to as the inter language hypothesis. The hypothesis postulates that after a long period without any input from the first language (L1), learners start to unconsciously interpret L2 input as constructive indirect evidence thus causing them to adopt L2 rules with the complex L1 rules. This hypothesis however depends on experiments that had not yet been carried out at the time the article was written thus had no sound proof.

The fourth hypothesis in L1 attrition has been termed as the simplification hypothesis. Bardovi-Harlig & Stringer (2010) note that this is not truly a hypothesis rather it is a catch phrase that describes a number of processes that have been noted to occur when there is a lack of input, in respect to both L1 and L2 attrition. Two processes have been identified: simplification of morphology and loss of register control. In general, this hypothesis holds that language attrition usually occurs when the use of languages is restricted.

Academic experts
We will write a custom Linguistics essay specifically for you for only $16.00 $11/page Learn more

The fifth hypothesis is the markedness hypothesis. According to the article, the process of L1 attrition may entail the reversion of set parameters to their default values due to lack of input. This hypothesis has however been criticized as various regression analysis studies do not support this hypothesis. The final hypothesis is the dormant language hypothesis which holds that loss of representation and access to a particular language may be responsible for language attrition. This hypothesis has received much attention and is seen as one of the most promising hypothesis on L1 attrition.

The article also delves in the issue of attrition and retention. They investigate various issues top determine whether attrition entails difficulty of access or loss of knowledge. They consider the drastic attrition that occurs after childhood adoption, the reactivation of dormant linguistic knowledge under hypnosis and relearning a ch9ildhood language in adulthood.

Another major area of focus in the article was the general hypothesis regarding the nature of L2 attrition. In L2 attrition, the regression hypothesis prominent in L1 attrition is the most discussed hypothesis. Most of the L2 attrition studies have looked on the issue of skill maintenance and the relationship among skills in attrition and retention. Recent studies have looked on the issue of speech rate, fluency and repletion with respect to attrition and retention (Ecke, 2004).

Having considered the general hypotheses that have been raised on language attrition, the article looks at the various research methods that have been applied in this subject. According to the study, the main design feature in attrition studies is the comparison of knowledge at peak attainment and that during and after attrition. The article looks at the various forms of studies that have been taken and considers a wide array of studies as its subjects. The article looks at the tasks involved in attrition studies and how they affect the final result of the studies. The authors have identified several tasks common in attrition studies that include self assessment, oral tests, written tasks and background questionnaires.

After this, the article looks at the various ways in which variables used in attrition studies are measured and selected. The authors analyzed 47 L2 attrition studies and found out that only half of these studies analyzed language samples and an even less percentage conducted language analysis. Issues of accuracy and fluency of the test is also considered in this section.

From the study, several findings were discovered. The authors discovered that just like in L1 attrition, L2 attrition does not uniformly affect all systems of the inter-language system. The article divides the findings into two, those discussed broadly in literature and those that have been scarcely mentioned. First, production skills like speaking and writing are more prone to attrition than receptive skills such as reading and listening.

The second finding from the study is that literacy impedes attrition while promoting retention. Third, older children retain more than the younger ones since they have L2 literary skills. Fourth, grammar has been found to be less likely to be affected by attrition than lexicon. Some lexical structures such as formulas and emotional items have been found to higher levels of retention.

15% OFF Get your very first custom-written academic paper with 15% off Get discount

Fifth, Motivation is important both during attrition and learning. The study also found out that there is a decrease in fluency which has been discovered by various studies. In attrition, the study also found out that there is a decrease in vocabulary which may relate to access or size. Finally, Education helps in retention while illiteracy can lead to both L1 and L2 attrition.

The main objective of the study was to find out the current state of knowledge of L2 attrition. This was carried out so as to develop a general model of investigation to aid in future studies in this subject. By considering a review of the main hypothesis of L2 attrition, an overview of the most appropriate research design to be utilized in attrition studies was provided.

From collected findings, the authors conclude that the best way to represent populations of studies in L2 attrition is as a set of features, the altering values which may be followed as these populations pass through distinct time periods in a general process of acquisition and attrition.

Critical Reflections

The main purpose of this article was to provide the reader with a comprehensive research technique to carry out future attrition studies, by drawing from past studies and considering their respective weaknesses and strengths. The different hypotheses that were analyzed by Bardovi-Harlig & Stringer (2010) represent a list of the main hypothesis applied in most studies including their criticisms and support.

Bardovi-Harlig & Stringer (2010) derive their research model by analyzing various studies that had been previously carried out in attrition studies. According to Bylund (2009), attrition studies mainly fail due to poor research design and lack of meaningful methods of analyses. Bardovi-Harlig & Stringer (2010) begin by identifying the most common hypothesis, methods of measuring variables, the research design mostly utilized and analysis data and technique applied. The collected data is supported by research references and many samples were studied to ensure that the results were not tainted and offered a valid assessment.

Bardovi-Harlig & Stringer (2010) study is very thorough and considers different variables in delivering its findings. The authors agree that research design in L2 attrition studies are weak and thus they develop a good method that will further this field. The study is formal and targeted to scholars and students that understand this field well. The article is devoid of emotional language and mainly uses facts supported by reasonable evidence to prove a point or to analyze a previous study.

Cook (2003) notes that unlike L1 attrition, L2 attrition is quite complicated and unexplored thus the normal research techniques that are applied to this type of studies may be misleading. The issue of this article’s objectivity is not under question as the authors do not deviate from the goal of their study by providing emotional sentiments and personal opinions. All the data presented in the article comes from previous studies and texts and the analysis is done by comparing these studies using the appropriate analysis methods.

Get your customised and 100% plagiarism-free paper on any subject done for only $16.00 $11/page Let us help you

The article seeks to generate a method of research and the authors have looked at different studies and approaches to select the most appropriate method. The design of this method is carried out with high regards to the elements of research such as accuracy and consistency. The authors selected the various aspects of importance from previous studies and modified them to reach this particularly objective. This, together with the in-depth research carried out and the formal mode of data presentation, has promoted the acceptability and understanding of the information presented in the article.

Further Research

Bardovi-Harlig & Stringer (2010) findings are congruent to that of Kopke (2007) and Paradis (2007) who hold that language attrition is mainly as a matter of language disuse. A study by Kopke (2007) reports that most studies carried out in the field of language attrition have identified four areas of competency, grammar, lexicon, fluency and vocabulary.

The article by Bardovi-Harlig & Stringer (2010) is very recent no important study of the same kind could be identified. The main idea of the study was however visible and various similarities and differences were identified. Keijzer (2002) carried a cross-linguistic investigation of the regression hypothesis. According to Guasti (2002), cross-linguistic studies are rare and quite accurate. The method employed by Köpke (2007) is not limited by literature studies but is much more investigative testing the regression hypothesis in a controlled empirical study.

The article identifies several elements required for the new model of attrition study to be effective. One of the most important was considering populations as a changing set of variables. Schmid & Dusseldorp (2010) employed a qualitative analysis in a multivariate study to look at language attrition. They utilized various variables connected with language attrition carry out their study. Similar to the current article under review, Schmid and Dussedorp discovered that several variables are at play both at the individual and sub group level of the population being studied. They thus recommended that in order to understand the nature of attrition, it is important to track the various variables and note how they interact with each other.

The focus on the various hypothesis employed in language attrition has always been of interest. A study carried out by Montrul (2009) looks at the various hypotheses employed in language attrition. Unlike the current article, the main focus of Montrul (2009) study was to identify and expound on the various hypothesis employed in language attrition and their importance in this field.

Though very little studies have dealt with the analysis of literature on language attrition, similarities can be found in most language attrition studies. Despite different cultural and language backgrounds, several factors have been identified that play a major impact on language attrition and studies connected with this phenomenon. Fujita (2002) looked at language attrition in children in Japan and found out that several factors are important in the rate and level of attrition including age of exposure to the new language environment, Length of exposure, return age to previous L1 environment and proficiency levels in the first language. These factors are common in many studies and play a significant role in this article.


Bardovi-Harlig & Stringer (2010) present a comprehensive analyses on various studies dealing with language attrition with the aim of developing a suitable model to carry out future studies in this subject. The main goal in their article was to identify the various hypothesis utilized in many language attrition studies, then look at the various research designs used in order to developed a better model that meets all the requirements and provides better results. Since the article focused mainly of previous literature and past studies, the article is well referenced and has a sound theoretical base that can appeal to a large group of scientific readers.

The article was published only recently and a search in various databases has shown that its proposals have not yet been put in place. The article expertly draws from previous studies, looking at the weaknesses and developing their strengths in order to come up with a better model for future studies. The authors findings are sound and the modeled proposed is sufficient and much better than those used in the past.


  1. Bardovi-Harlig, K & Stringer, D (2010). Variables in Second Language Attrition: Advancing the State of the Art. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 32: 1-45
  2. Bylund, E. (2009). Maturational constraints and first language attrition. Language Learning 59(3): 687-715.
  3. Cook, V. (2003). The changing L1 in the L2 user’s mind. In Vivian Cook (ed.), Effects of the second language on the first (pp. 1–18). Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
  4. Ecke, P. (2004). Language attrition and theories of forgetting: A cross-disciplinary review. International Journal of Bilingualism, 8 (3): 321–354.
  5. Fujita, M. (2002). Second Language English Attrition of Japanese Bilingual Children. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, Vol.6, No.1: 29-47.
  6. Guasti, M. (2002). Language acquisition: The growth of grammar. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  7. Keijzer M (2002) First Language Attrition: A Cross Linguistic Investigation of Jakobson’s Regression Hypothesis. International Journal of Bilungualism, 8(3): 389-393
  8. Köpke, B. (2007). Language attrition at the crossroads of brain, mind and society. In Köpke, B., Schmid, M. S., Keijzer, M., and Dostert, S., (Eds.). Language attrition: Theoretical Perspectives, Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 9-37.
  9. Montrul, S. (2009). Re-examining the fundamental difference hypothesis. Studies in Second Language Acquisition 31: 225-257.
  10. Paradis, M. (2007). L1 attrition features predicted by a neurolinguistic theory of bilingualism. In Köpke, B., Schmid, M. S., Keijzer, M., and Dostert, S., editors.
  11. Language attrition: Theoretical Perspectives. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 121-33.
  12. Schmid, M. S. & E. Dusseldorp. (2010). Quantitative analyses in a multivariate study of Language attrition. Second Language Research 26(1): 16-45.