Rethinking Second Language Acquisition in Terms of Relationship with the Different from Oneself through Human Birth Theory


In the study of Language Acquisition, the dynamics of acquisition of the mother tongue (L1)in the child and of other languages (L2) in the adult learner are widely investigated from different perspectives, with the primary purpose of understanding the best way to teach foreign or second languages (both usually referred to as L2). In this research field, fewlinguists have dealt with the human-specific dimension of affects, and their attempts did notlead to a full comprehension of the deep connection between affects and language.A significant breakthrough in this direction was undertaken by John H. Schumann (1978),who, based on the theorisations of Erwin Stengel (1939), Alexander Z. Guiora (1972), RobertC. Gardner (2005), and Orval Hobart Mowrer (1950), outlined four fundamental affective factors influencing Second Language Acquisition: language shock, culture shock, egopermeability, and motivation. A close view of the psychoanalytic foundations from which these factors have taken shape, however, reveals that they can overall be traced back to a fundamental dynamic of identification: the authors assume that native language acquisition in children occurs through identification with their mother, their father and the ideals of the society in which the child grows up until they become adults. Hence, when applied to second language learning, the affective factors have been developed around the learner’s ability to identify with the target language’s (TL) native speakers and culture. This lead to critical implications in terms of diversity perception: the confrontation with a different language and culture was thought to cause a shock for the learner, thus constituting a threat to their identity, and therefore learning would only be possible as a process of identification of the individual with those who provide the TL.Nevertheless, the increasingly widespread use of the term “other languages” to refer to all the languages (foreign and/or second) learned by a speaker after acquiring their mother tongue suggests the need to conceive the process of teaching and of learning a language that differs from the native one as a relationship with the different, other than oneself. Building on this suggestion, the Human Birth Theory (Fagioli, 2017; 2011; 2012; 2013) provides the opportunity to entirely renew the paradigm of affective factors, for it identifies the matrix of

the development of identity and knowledge in the relationship with the different, as well asit conceptualises the dimension of affects and inter-human relationships as an intrinsicreality of the verbal language, defining its creativity and specificity.This research paradigm was applied through an experimental study to the concrete reality of multilingual relationships to investigate the dynamics of second language acquisition in the context of relationships between speakers of different native languages. The investigation aimed to understand how people learn a language when they fall in love with someone different (on many levels) from themselves; when affects and language, together, take on their utmost meaning in the fulfilment of one’s own identity in the relationship with the other.Moving from this specific kind of relationship towards a universal perspective of language acquisition dynamics as seen through the eyes of the Human Birth Theory, the process of

learning a second language appears neither inevitably based on identification nor shock-inducing for those who undertake it. Instead, we can think of it as a dialectic relationship

between the learner’s identity and the different, representing the language giver, the target language itself, its native speakers, and the target culture. Consequently, motivation in language learning can be redefined in terms of needs and requirements of the language learner. Moreover, the affective reality of the learner, contextualised in the relationship, canbe rethought as a reaction to the confrontation with the different: a reaction of crisis, desire, or interest in what is new and can lead to new self-fulfilment. Massimo Fagioli’s theorisations have led to a radical paradigm shift in all fields of knowledge. In Language Acquisition, the Human Birth Theory allows us not only to comprehend what drives human beings to learn a language that differs from their native one but also to rethink the affective factors involved in Second Language Acquisition from aperspective that acknowledges the relational, affective, and human dimension of language, which appears to be vital to its deep understanding.


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