Multicompetence and First Language Attrition: Where Do We Draw the Line?

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Erica Won-Jing Lowe


Cook’s (1992) model of multicompetence not only contributes to our understanding of second language learners as L2 users, but also offers one of the first attempts in looking at how a speaker’s L2 affects the L1. Before the notion of multicompetence emerged, almost all changes happening in the L1 of a fluent L2 user were regarded as attrition. For example, competent L2 users sometimes find themselves struggling with finding the right words in their L1, or using L2 syntax when speaking in their L1, and they often are regarded as individuals undergoing first language attrition. However, according to Cook, multicompetent individuals, that is, those who have two or more languages in their minds, have different knowledge of their L1s than monocompetent individuals, that is, those who only have one language in their minds. How, then, can we categorize the changes in the proficient L2 users’ L1? Do we regard these changes as natural results of multicompetence, or do we regard them as signs of first language attrition? In light of Cook’s multicompetence model, I will examine studies of multicompetent individuals whose L1 (English) is undergoing changes.

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