I have been working on the topic of language attrition, on and off (but mostly on), for about twenty years now (oh dear, and in some way I still think of myself as a young researcher!).
I received my PhD from the University of Düsseldorf in 2000 for a study on first language attrition among German-Jewish refugees (the thesis was published in 2002). I then went on to a lecturer position at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and in 2007 and moved on to become a senior lecturer, and in 2010 a professor, at the University of Groningen (also Netherlands). Since 2013, I have been a professor in the Department of Language and Linguistics at the University of Essex (United Kingdom). Over those years I have become something of an attriter myself, of course.
Since 1999 I have collaborated closely with Barbara Köpke of the University of Toulouse. Together, we have organised a series of conferences (most recently in Essex in July 2016), edited several books and written numerous articles about language attrition. Our aims have always been to:
- Make the topic more visible in the overall area of research on bilingualism. When people investigate this, they almost invariably seem to focus on the second language – how it is learned, how the first language will influence it, why second language learners so rarely become ‘perfect’, and so on. We are convinced that studying what happens to the mother tongue when someone becomes bilingual is just as important.
- Create a commonly accepted structure for research. We have spent a lot of time, in various research groups and teams, trying to find out how research on language attrition should be conducted – and, more importantly, how it should not be conducted. A collection of research materials to help with this is available here.
- Raise consciousness and understanding for language attrition and language attriters. At present, anyone who experiences this phenomenon is likely to get a great deal of negative feedback. It is important that people understand that it is a natural process, that there is nothing ‘lazy’ about it, and that people should not be bullied because of it.