Only Connect: The Interface Debate in Second Language Acquisition

  • Michael Sharwood SmithEmail author
Part of the Second Language Learning and Teaching book series (SLLT)


One commonly used term in recent second language acquisition literature is interface. It is used in different senses. Even for those who have adopted a generative linguistic approach to second language (L2) development, there are alternative views. Frequently, the focus is on interfaces that mark the boundary between the inner core of language that is governed by cognitive principles that are unique to language and those areas which lie outside. Here, the talk is, for example, of the syntax/pragmatics or syntax/discourse interface or the syntax/phonetics interface (cf. Sorace 2010). It is often stated that sources of difficulty characteristic of L2 acquisition may not be located within the core area, but rather in how it connects with structures outside, i.e. across the relevant interfaces. For example, while learners whose L1 requires grammatical subjects to appear in all contexts, may rapidly acquire the empty subject position of null subject languages like Polish, they have persistent difficulties in identifying what, pragmatic or discourse factors dictate their use in certain contexts rather than in others. However, there are also approaches that explain interfaces somewhat differently, namely those inspired by Jackendoff’s proposals concerning the language faculty (Jackendoff, 1987, 2002; Carroll, 2001, 2007; Truscott and Sharwood Smith, 2004; Truscott and Sharwood Smith, forthcoming). Such approaches add a badly needed processing dimension to the debate. There are also emergentist approaches that do without interface-based distinctions, such as O’Grady’s (2005), which require interface problems to be explained in different ways.


Language Acquisition Conceptual Structure Language Faculty Universal Grammar Phonological Structure 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Academy of Social SciencesWarsawPoland
  2. 2.Heriot-Watt UniversityEdinburghUK
  3. 3.University of EdinburghEdinburghUK

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