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Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00081

Plasticity, Variability and Age in Second-Language Acquisition and Bilingualism

  • 1French and Italian, University of Texas at Austin, United States

Much of what is known about the outcome of second language acquisition and bilingualism can be summarized in terms of inter-individual variability, plasticity and age. The present review looks at variability and plasticity with respect to their underlying sources, and at age as a modulating factor in variability and plasticity. In this context we consider critical period effects versus bilingualism effects, early and late bilingualism, nativelike and non-nativelike L2 attainment, cognitive aging, individual differences in learning, and linguistic dominance in bilingualism.

Non-uniformity is an inherent characteristic of both early and late bilingualism. This review shows how plasticity and age connect with biological and experiential sources of variability, and underscores the value of research that reveals and explains variability. In these ways the review suggests how plasticity, variability and age conspire to frame fundamental research issues in L2 acquisition and bilingualism, and provides points of reference for discussion of the present Frontiers in Psychology Research Topic.

Keywords: Second Language Acquisition, bilingualism, Plasticity and Learning, variability, Age Factors, individual differences, critical period, late bilinguals, Dominance

Received: 22 Jul 2017; Accepted: 18 Jan 2018.

Edited by:

Patrick Wong, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Reviewed by:

Debra Titone, McGill University, Canada
Mark Antoniou, Western Sydney University, Australia  

Copyright: © 2018 Birdsong. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: PhD. David Birdsong, University of Texas at Austin, French and Italian, 1 University Station, University of Texas at Austin B7600, Austin, 78712, Texas, United States, birdsong@austin.utexas.edu