Diane Larsen-Freeman gave a keynote address at the 32nd annual Second Language Research Forum sponsored by Brigham Young University. The conference was held Oct. 31-Nov. 2.

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Emergent Complexity: On Iteration and Adaptation

Originating in the natural sciences, Complexity Theory is perfectly situated to address the theme of this year’s SLRF:  The Natural Phenomenon of SLA.  In this plenary, I will briefly discuss Complexity Theory and what insights it affords to those of us interested in second language development.  I will then suggest that two natural processes associated with Complexity Theory, iteration and adaptation, are dynamic processes responsible for the emergence of complexity in the developing language system of a learner. Iteration works in conjunction with self-organization to build a learner’s language resources. Adaptation of one’s language resources is about molding one’s language resources to a changing context. I will conclude by showing how variability and diversity are important to both processes. I will illustrate both processes with data from a study of Chinese learners of English.