The Role of Multiword Building Blocks in Explaining L1–L2 Differences

Inbal Arnon*, Morten H. Christiansen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

83 Scopus citations


Why are children better language learners than adults despite being worse at a range of other cognitive tasks? Here, we explore the role of multiword sequences in explaining L1–L2 differences in learning. In particular, we propose that children and adults differ in their reliance on such multiword units (MWUs) in learning, and that this difference affects learning strategies and outcomes, and leads to difficulty in learning certain grammatical relations. In the first part, we review recent findings that suggest that MWUs play a facilitative role in learning. We then discuss the implications of these findings for L1–L2 differences: We hypothesize that adults are both less likely to extract MWUs and less capable of benefiting from them in the process of learning. In the next section, we draw on psycholinguistic, developmental, and computational findings to support these predictions. We end with a discussion of the relation between this proposal and other accounts of L1–L2 difficulty.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)621-636
Number of pages16
JournalTopics in Cognitive Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank Harald Baayen, Adele Goldberg, and several anonymous reviewers for their comments on previous versions of this paper. This work was partially supported by BSF grant number 2011107.

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2017 Cognitive Science Society, Inc.


  • Chunking
  • First language learning
  • Multiword units
  • Second language learning
  • Usage-based models


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