LINGUIST List 13.2593

Thu Oct 10 2002

Review: Psycholing: Skarabela, et al. (2002)

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  1. Laura Buechel, Proceedings 26th Boston U Conference on Language Development

Message 1: Proceedings 26th Boston U Conference on Language Development

Date: Wed, 09 Oct 2002 23:15:48 +0000
From: Laura Buechel <>
Subject: Proceedings 26th Boston U Conference on Language Development

Skarabela, Barbora, Sarah Fish and Anna H.-J. Do, ed. (2002)
Proceedings of the 26th Annual Boston University Conference on Language
Development, 2 vols. Cascadilla Press, 804pp, paperback ISBN 1-57473-072-X,

Book Announcement on Linguist:

Laura Loder Buechel, Paedagogische Hochschule Zuerich, Switzerland


These two volumes contain sixty-nine out of the ninety-nine papers
presented at the 26th Annual Boston University Conference on Language
Development (BUCLD) held in November 2001. The BUCLD was started in
1976 and touches on areas such as theoretical approaches to language
acquisition, cross-cultural language development, second language
development, language disorders, and literacy development. The papers
presented come from leading researchers from all over the world,
representing a myriad of findings, perspectives and languages within
the realm of first and second language development and
acquisition. For more information about this conference, please go to

Linguists and psycholinguists as well as those interested in the
development of phonology, morphology, and semantics, among many other
topics, will find plenty of specialized research within these two
volumes. Due to the number of papers presented at this conference, the
keynote speaker's paper and a selected cross section of the rest of
the papers, based on the interests of the reviewer will be
overviewed. For a full listing of all the papers included in these
volumes, please go to


The collection of papers is organized alphabetically by author, but
starts (pp. 1-23) with the paper 'A Reconsideration of Children's
Phonological Representations' presented by keynote speaker, Dr. Daniel
Dinnsen, Indiana University. This paper discusses whether optimality
theory, as opposed to derivational theories, can account for
children's errors - namely overgeneralization and complementary
patterns. He contends that 'yes', optimality theory can indeed account
for overgeneralization and complementary errors without restricting
children's underlying representations. Optimality theory, then, can
perhaps offer 'additional new insights about acquisition (p. 22)'.

Otherwise concerning phonology, we find many papers in these volumes
which address questions such as: why children acquiring a second
language (L2) can produce native-like utterances in the L2 better than
adults (Baker, Trofimovich, Mack, and Flege, pp. 36-47), why bilingual
Spanish-English children have an error pattern of substituting the /l/
sound instead of other sounds (Barlow, pp. 60-71), if phonological
decoding has the same usefulness in regards to French as it has in
English (Ducharme and Mayberry, pp. 187-196), in what situations can
childhood experiences in L2 provide later advantages in the same (Oh,
Au, and Jun, pp. 464-472), whether speech and gestures are independent
or dependent systems (Ozyurek, pp. 500-509), and whether the frequency
of words or the commonality of words with similar counterparts are
related to errors (Storkel and Gierut pp. 665-676).

Regarding morphology, Batman-Ratyosyan and Stromswold (pp. 793-804)
examined whether word order, inflection and discourse context affected
the way Turkish children acted out various sentences. Soderstrom,
Wexler and Jusczyk (pp. 643-652) address infant sensitivity to verbal
inflection apropos of the third person singular. Swift and Shanley
(pp. 689-700) look at the contextual lack of inflection of verbs by
Inuit children and White (pp. 758-768) discusses whether, due to the
rich inflections in Turkish, a native speaker of Turkish shows greater
accuracy in English than a native speaker of the Chinese, in which
language, inflection is not as rich.

Although there were many papers coming from the perspective of
semantics, two stood out to the reviewer. Using verbs derived from
nouns in the simple past, Bandi-Rao (pp. 48-59) studies whether adult
language learners have the same learning mechanisms available as child
first language learners or whether they rely more on probability or
other general learning mechanisms. Naigles, Bavin and Smith
(pp. 417-428) examine whether 2 year old children can generalize novel
verbs from the transitive to the intransitive state. Their findings
support their hypothesis, that yes, this is so, but it was also found
that the children could not do the reverse - signifying that verbs and
frames are independent and that some verbs are simply harder to learn
than others.

The reviewer found the following three papers to be of specific
interest. Harris, Pardallis and Frangou (pp. 290-301) investigated
whether the 'grammars of two languages, learned in early childhood,
can become intertwined' (p. 290). Through a comparison between
monolingual speakers of Greek and bilingual Greek-English speakers,
the authors found that early bilingualism does indeed involve the
transfer of strategies to and from each grammar. Moreover, this
bilingual acquisition can interfere with native-like acquisition
because learners may take the strategy of what is more 'important'
(e.g. word order vs. agreement) in one given language and apply it to
the other, even it is less common in the other language.

In the second paper of interest to the reviewer, Goldfield
(pp. 232-242) proposes that children's comprehension of language may
not always precede production, but be rather more or less simultaneous
with it. While previous studies suggest that production is based on
having a 'vocabulary bank', Goldfield takes the opinion that other
conditions, such as auditory or articulator systems, could account for
a child's choice of what is produced. Through a study following 25
children's production and comprehension using the MacArthur
Communicative Development Inventory for approximately five months,
Goldfield found that yes, comprehension precedes production, but that
the words produced were not 'a simple subset of words previously
understood (p. 240)' but could be related to these other conditions or

In a third engaging paper, Perry and Harris (557-566) put forth the
notion that perhaps there are several sensitive periods in acquiring
native-like proficiency in an L2, as opposed to the majority of the
research which has looked at one sensitive period or critical age for
achieving or acquiring native-like proficiency. As the latest age of
acquisition for acquiring native-like proficiency, before a downward
trend, in which language acquisition become more 'difficult', the
authors found the age of 7 for phonology, 12 for morphology, and 9 for
syntax. These ages correlate directly to the sensitive periods in
brain development. Moreover, and what has also been much ESL
literature, is that once past the sensitive period in regards to
phonology, 'phonological ability is concretized to an extent that is
not seen in syntax or morphology (p. 564).' This study has many
implications for the teaching of languages in the elementary school as
well as for how to cater better to the needs of second language
learners of different ages.

Within these two volumes, other topics such as language impairments,
the acquisition of arguments, theory of mind, logic and sarcasm are
touched upon, to name a few. The papers are up to par with the latest
research and the latest theories in optimality theory and language
sensitivity, brain research and bilingualism.


The fact that only a selected choice of papers was presented above
does not intend to discredit the merit of the other papers presented
at this conference. By first having read through the majority of
papers presented, the reviewer found a high standard of methodology,
organization, and precision throughout that of the majority of the
papers. The quality of the papers presented was fairly uniform, with
few exceptions. Most of the research had a well-developed research
plan. However, much of the research was based on a small sample size
and there were many case studies, therefore putting reliability in
question in some cases. However, the longitude of most of the studies
augmented the credibility and authors were honest in their analyses
and discussions.

One major critique is in regards to readability. As papers are
introduced in alphabetical order by author, finding papers relevant to
personal interests or topic of research is deemed difficult. An index
would be extremely helpful in locating papers relevant to the
reader. Grouping of articles according to theme would also help the
reader focus on his or her specialization. Moreover, a comprehensive
list of references at the end would also help the reader identify
relevant papers. These volumes do not lend themselves to being read
through from beginning to end, so some better organization would be

These volumes are not for those without background knowledge in these
fields although they could possibly be used in graduate level courses
to support individual research or specific topics taught. The papers
presented are not only relevant for cognitive linguists, theoreticians
of translation and psycholinguists, but also those interested in
language development such as school teachers, foreign language
teachers, speech therapists and perhaps translators, keeping in mind
that they should have an academic background in the field. As so much
of the research presented at conferences in the US in applied
linguistics comes from English speakers, one merit of the papers
selected for these proceedings is that many languages are touched upon
- Inuktitut, German, Dutch, Swahili, Spanish, Korean, Italian,
Japanese, Sesotho, not to mention those referred to in the overview.

With such a short review, it is impossible to present the amount of
work contained within these two volumes. The range of topics
presented, insights found and background research discussed deems it
difficult to present a full picture of the richness contained
within. The value of these proceedings is unquestionable and leaves
the reader with many good ideas for future research.


Laura Loder Buechel is teacher trainer in the field of Content and
Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) in regards to the introduction of
English into Swiss primary schools. She also works at Wall Street
Institute in Winterthur, Switzerland where she is, among other things,
responsible for curriculum design and academic progress of
students. She completed her M.Ed. in Bilingual Education from Northern
Arizona University in 2000. Her research interests include the
advantages of simultaneous first and second language acquisition and
Computer Assisted Language Learning to facilitate bilingualism.
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