Language Attrition

The details
Colchester Campus
Postgraduate: Level 7
Thursday 08 October 2020
Friday 18 December 2020
04 June 2020


Requisites for this module



Key module for


Module description

Investigations of bilingualism usually focus on the development of the second language (L2) and the way in which the pre-existing native language (L1) impacts on this process. In this module it will be shown that there is as much to be gained in terms of the understanding of the human language capacity by the changes that take place in the first language of speakers who become bilingual. In the first instance, theoretical models of language and language learning will be considered, and it will be discussed what predictions they make for language attrition. Secondly, we will focus on changes and developments that can be seen at different levels of language (phonetics, morphology, syntax, semantics) and to what extent extralinguistic factors, such as the age at which the speaker became bilingual or the amount of use s/he makes of the L1, can impact on the degree of attrition. We will then consider different research designs and elicitation strategies that are commonly used in language attrition research and show to what extent they are suitable for revealing the subtle processes that govern attrition.

Module aims

The first half of this module will familiarize students with current research on language attrition. In the second half, we will focus on the research methods, experiments and designs commonly employed to study this topic. We will give consideration to how to arrive at specific research questions relating to attrition and how to find the best way to answer them.

The module will give students an understanding of the kinds of changes that may happen in the first language of a bilingual as well as the factors which may accelerate or delay this process.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of this module you will have an understanding of the way in which bilingual development and the acquisition of a new language can trigger often subtle changes to the native language. You will know
- how to study these effects
- what kinds of data to investigate for attrition at different levels of language processing and language use
- what experimental designs are appropriate to study different types of attrition effects

You will conduct a small-scale case study on data from a language attriter and present this in class. You will also design and describe a possible research project on a study of language attrition and present this by means of an in-class presentation and a project description (3,000 words).

The module will be assessed through three pieces of coursework:
1. in-class report of case study (10 min), powerpoint and summary to be submitted through FASER.
Learning Outcome: understanding how bilingualism can change the native language and how to study these effects
2. in-class presentation (10 min), powerpoint to be submitted through FASER. Learning outcome: understanding of how to design and present a research project suitable for a PhD investigation
3. project proposal (3,000 words) for a study of language attrition
Learning Outcome: understand
• how to study attrition
• what kinds of data to investigate for attrition at different levels of language processing and language use
• what experimental designs are appropriate to study different types of attrition effects

Module information

No additional information available.

Learning and teaching methods

A two-hour class each week. In weeks 6 and 10 students will give a presentation.


  • Schmid, Monika S.; Köpke, Barbara. (2017-12-31) 'The relevance of first language attrition to theories of bilingual development', in Linguistic Approaches to Bilingualism. vol. 7 (6) , pp.637-667
  • Schmid, Monika S. (2011) Language attrition, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Montrul, Silvina. (2010-03) 'Current Issues in Heritage Language Acquisition', in Annual Review of Applied Linguistics. vol. 30, pp.3-23

The above list is indicative of the essential reading for the course. The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students. Further reading can be obtained from this module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Weighting
Coursework   In Class Presentation    10% 
Coursework   In Class Presentation: Powerpoint     20% 
Coursework   Project Proposal: 3000 Words    70% 

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Prof Monika Schmid, email: mschmid@essex.ac.uk.
Monika Schmid
Monika S. Schmid, 4.326, 01206 872089, mschmid@essex.ac.uk



External examiner

Prof Ianthi Maria Tsimpli
The University of Cambridge
Chair of English and Applied Linguistics
Available via Moodle
Of 633 hours, 0 (0%) hours available to students:
633 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s).


Further information

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