Since its inception in the late 1960’s, the field of Second Language Acquisition (SLA) has undergone many transformations. As pre-existing theories have been expanded upon and new theories introduced, researchers and practitioners have come to a deeper understanding of the second language (L2) learning process. The past two decades, in particular, have seen a shift in the way that L2 learning is conceived. Ever since Diane Larsen-Freeman published her seminal article on complex systems and L2 development (Larsen-Freeman, 1997), the theory known as Complex Dynamic Systems Theory (CDST) has brought a new orientation into SLA discourse. Since then, researchers have transferred their attention from acquisition to development, linearity to nonlinearity, and stability to variability. It is this shift that provides the impetus for this special issue of the Teachers College Working Papers in TESOL and Applied Linguistics.
In this issue, four studies apply CDST concepts and various methods of data analysis to a single, naturalistic dataset, which consists of an asynchronous, dyadic written e-mail interaction between a native speaker (NS) and non-native speaker (NNS) of English. The findings within the different studies are varied and together provide a complex, yet not entirely complete, view of intercultural interaction and developing interlanguage as dynamic systems.
This introduction will provide some historical background for CDST, followed by a discussion of the characteristics of dynamic systems. Prior empirical research within the CDST framework will also be discussed. Finally, the context of the special issue will be described in more detail along with a brief summary of the four studies that comprise this special issue.