3.2.5 Rules as Patterns in the Mind (2)



Rules-as-regularities and rules-as-regulations are stored in different memory systems

In the next section we will return to the problem of grammar rules in L2 learning. But here let’s complete our extended discussion of Barbara’s first language acquisition by examining in a bit more depth the relationship between the two types of rule she comes to know. To do this, we’ll focus on how memory is organized in the brain.

The kinds of regularities in the ‘object language’ that individuals detect through experience of usage are associated with one kind of memory format, unconscious and efficient, whereas the kinds of prescriptive regulations that get taught as part of the ‘language subject’ are associated with another kind of memory format, which is not best suited for usage.

  • Figure 3.14: Hard disk computer memory

    [Source: Ed g2s]


    Figure 3.15: DRAM computer memory

    [Source: Cyberdex]

Memory comes in different kinds. Some are more permanent (like hard disk computer memory); others are used during an event and fade when the event is over (like DRAM computer memory). Some kinds of memory are used for facts and others for processes: basically ‘knowing what’ (declarative memory) and ‘knowing how’ (procedural memory). It is these two types of memory which are key to understanding the difference between the two things we call ‘language rule’ in the mind. A rule in declarative memory is something we ‘know about’—we can say it in words and apply it consciously to the process of stringing words together. A rule in procedural memory is something we just know—it is used automatically and involuntarily to guide our normal language usage.



When we use language fluently, we’re automatically accessing regularities in procedural memory

In the process of speaking and hearing English, learners are retrieving units (such as words and more complex multi-unit constructions) stored in declarative memory. As experience accumulates, the more frequently-used units lead to the extraction of general patterns, and these come to be stored in procedural memory, where they can be accessed automatically and unconsciously. These patterns are described by linguists as grammatical rules, and account for users’ unconscious knowledge of how their language works. The shift from declarative to procedural memory is called automatisation, and plays a central role in both first and second language acquisition (Ullman, 2015).

   In Depth

For a more detailed account of this process, watch the video clip in Fig 3.16 below.

Figure 3.16: Declarative and procedural knowledge of English



 Reflection 3.1

A major conclusion we reached in the video clip on declarative and procedural knowledge of English is that ‘what [L2] learners are taught is not what they will come to know and use in any real communicative sense’. What do you think? Were you convinced by the neuropsychological account? Record your thoughts and read those of others here.