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Language and Learning Seminar: Literacy Facilitates Ultimate Native Language Attainment: More Evidence from Turkish - Tan Gedik, FAU Erlangen-Nürnberg

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Location: Microsoft Teams

Speaker: Tan Gedik, FAU Erlangen-Nürnberg

Title: Literacy Facilitates Ultimate Native Language Attainment: More Evidence from Turkish

Abstract: Since the written form of language must be taught explicitly and is strongly influenced by prescriptivist notions, linguists often regard writing as an uninteresting add-on to spoken language. However, literacy, i.e., the availability of the written form, influences linguistic knowledge and its representation in the mind in profound ways. Literacy has been shown to affect phonological and semantic representations. However, there is surprisingly little research on how acquiring literacy influences representations of grammatical constructions. In this talk, I provide more suggestive evidence that the availability of literacy is quite important for ultimate native language attainment, especially for comprehension and production tasks that aim to elicit written language-biased constructions. Ongoing research shows that when illiterate speakers are compared against literate speakers, illiterate speakers extract fewer across-the-board generalizations — as spoken language contains fewer types-tokens of complex structures in comparison to written language, and show more individual differences in grammatical knowledge. Research on this topic has important implications for two reasons: first, it tells linguists a cautionary tale. Previously, formalist linguists asserted that adult L1 speakers converge on the same grammatical knowledge by age 3, 4 or 5. However, evidence shows that L1 speakers —both literate and illiterate alike— actually show many individual differences in their linguistic knowledge. The lack of written language results in even more individual differences, rendering the convergence hypothesis an unsound argument. Second, data from illiterate speakers provide a non-WEIRD perspective into language acquisition and help us make our language acquisition theories more inclusive. As such, more research investigating the linguistic abilities of illiterate speakers will provide more evidence to avoid arriving at incorrect overgeneralizations.


Gedik is a PhD candidate at the Chair of Language and Cognition at FAU in Nürnberg, Germany. He is also a visiting researcher at the Department of Psychology at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey. Gedik investigates the effects of print exposure and acquiring a writing system on linguistic knowledge in L1 speakers. He investigates individual differences in L1 speakers of Turkish and English using a variety of cognitive and linguistic tasks with leading researchers in the field.

Email Mingtong Li for a Teams Link.

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