Multilingualism and theories of second language acquisition in Africa

Eyamba G. Bokamba

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article analyzes Multiple Language Acquisition (MLA) and functioning in Africa as a case study of multilingualism. It interrogates central aspects of the dominant L2 acquisition (SLA) paradigm that is predicated primarily on mother tongue (L1) monolingualism, and presents data that document high levels of individual multilingualism (3–8 languages), and the achievement of native to near-native proficiency in three to five of them. The article draws upon these findings to critique key tenets of SLA theories, focusing on the ‘Critical Period Hypothesis’ (CPH) and its extension to the acquisition of additional languages beyond L1; its use as an explanatory tool for the development of the so-called ‘interlanguage’ grammars by learners; and their failure to achieve the ‘ultimate attainment’ in L2, L3, and Ln. It is argued that CPH is inapplicable to L2, L3, and Ln, because it fails to predict native-like proficiency beyond L1. It concludes by offering an explanation for the achievement of ‘native-like’ proficiency in several languages by post-pubescent Africans.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)432-446
Number of pages15
JournalWorld Englishes
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Linguistics and Language


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