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A Dynamic Systems Theory approach to second language acquisition


In this article it is argued that language can be seen as a dynamic system, i.e. a set of variables that interact over time, and that language development can be seen as a dynamic process. Language development shows some of the core characteristics of dynamic systems: sensitive dependence on initial conditions, complete interconnectedness of subsystems, the emergence of attractor states in development over time and variation both in and among individuals. The application of tools and instruments developed for the study of dynamic systems in other disciplines calls for different approaches to research, which allow for the inclusion of both the social and the cognitive, and the interaction between systems. There is also a need for dense data bases on first and second language development to enhance our understanding of the fine-grained patterns of change over time. Dynamic Systems Theory is proposed as a candidate for an overall theory of language development.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Prof. Dr. Kees de Bot, University of Groningen, Faculty of Arts, Department of Applied Linguistics, PO Box 716, 9700 AS Groningen, the Netherlands E-mail:
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The authors are grateful to Paul Van Geert for his support, inspiration, and comments and for allowing us to quote excessively from his work, and to Diane Larsen-Freeman and Heike Behrens for comments on an earlier version. They are also grateful to three anonymous reviewers for their useful comments and suggestions and to Sybrine Bultena for her help with finalizing the manuscript.
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Bilingualism: Language and Cognition
  • ISSN: 1366-7289
  • EISSN: 1469-1841
  • URL: /core/journals/bilingualism-language-and-cognition
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