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We further discuss the role of WM in SLA in Chapter 5, reflecting the emerging
consensus that WM capacity influences L2 learning when the learner has some
awareness of learning and knowledge (Roehr, 2008; Williams, 2012).
A further concern about emergentist approaches has been whether they can
account for the absence of ‘wild’ grammars in L2 development. Recent attempts
to address this are producing some promising results, with testable suggestions
such as the associative learning principles of statistical pre-emption and
attention blocking, and learner-internal processing limitations. L1 acquisition
research has demonstrated statistical pre-emption and the effects of children’s
limited analyses of the input on learners’ subsequent productions. These
advances will hopefully feed into similar work in SLA research, and facilitate
fuller accounts of L2 developmental routes, or the acquisition of highly complex
linguistic phenomena.

4.4.4 The view of the language learner
‘Innate cognitivists’, like the linguists reviewed in Chapter 3, are concerned
primarily with the individual. Although comprehension of the input, and,
therefore, interaction with other speakers, is seen as critical for learning, these
researchers do not view the learner first and foremost as a social being. Also,
they are generally interested in the learner’s mind as an implicit processor of
regularities, rather than focusing on the detail of the linguistic information
it contains. However, recent work has paid more attention to the language
representations in the mind, using methods to elicit intuitions and implicit
knowledge, such as reaction times, ‘act out’ tasks, acceptability judgements and
semi-spontaneous oral production tasks.
The role of individual differences in the innate cognitive mechanisms discussed
here requires significant research. The focus in this chapter has been on
mechanisms that are thought to be innate and to drive L1 learning (as well as
L2). So, such mechanisms cannot rely primarily on resources that differ between
individuals, as all individuals learn a critical core of a language system. O’Grady
makes it clear that his proposed computational processor in WM is constant
across humans: ‘The right [computational] choices will be made by any brain
with a computational system sensitive to the burden on working memory,
regardless of how “smart” it is’ (2005, p. 206).
Nevertheless, there is some evidence that statistical learning ability is variable.
So, it is tempting to ask whether an L2 learner with a more efficient processor
would be less likely to transfer an L1 computational routine even when the
L2 computational routine is more costly. Similarly, it is clear that adults’ WM
capacity is much greater than that of child L1 learners. In principle, this
could undermine the claim that L2 learners will always adopt the least costly
routine (be it the L1 or the L2 routine), and challenge the relevance of the
Efficiency-Driven Processor for adult L2 learning. A related issue is how far