Linguists tell us humans share an innate ability to learn language, demonstrated most clearly by the fact that children appear to acquire language automatically and effortlessly. Among adults, this ability varies on an individual basis. This lecture disputes this understanding, arguing that all language learning whether of one's first or of subsequent languages, requires five conditions in abundance: time, effort, desire, input, and possibilities for use. Literacy requires a sixth, instruction. Languages live and die according to the availability of these conditions. The difficulty of learning second and third languages is also determined by their presence or absence.
2012 Walter Mangold Visiting Fellow, Professor Mary Louise Pratt, of New York University explores and elaborates on these five conditions in relation to contemporary global phenomena of migration, indigeneity, and warfare, as well as language death, linguistic revival, and translingualism.