LINGUIST List 15.1479

Mon May 10 2004

Review: Lang Acquisition/Psycholing: Lust & Foley(2004)

Editor for this issue: Naomi Ogasawara <>

What follows is a review or discussion note contributed to our Book Discussion Forum. We expect discussions to be informal and interactive; and the author of the book discussed is cordially invited to join in. If you are interested in leading a book discussion, look for books announced on LINGUIST as "available for review." Then contact Sheila Dooley Collberg at


  1. Suzie Bartsch, First Language Acquisition: The essential readings

Message 1: First Language Acquisition: The essential readings

Date: Mon, 10 May 2004 14:15:24 -0400 (EDT)
From: Suzie Bartsch <>
Subject: First Language Acquisition: The essential readings

EDITOR: Lust, Barbara C. & Foley, Claire
TITLE: First Language Acquisition
SUBTITLE: The essential readings
SERIES: Linguistics: Essential Readings
PUBLISHER: Blackwell Publishing
YEAR: 2004
Announced at

Suzie Bartsch, Freie Universit�t Berlin, Germany


To say it from the outset: This volume is undoubtedly an outstanding
compilation of classical papers on first language acquisition, the
most of them produced in the period from the late 1950s up to the late
1980s and having ever since exerted lasting effects on the
field. There are, however, two main points to discuss. The first of
them is the editors' underlying Chomskyan orientation compromising the
representativeness of the compilation. Secondly, there are some formal
editorial shortcomings.

This review has become very long, although I have tried to be as
concise as possible. If I had abbreviated the contents more, the
comprehension would have been compromised. There were 29 papers to
review. Moreover, reviewing this book I was dealing with two great
passions: first language acquisition and history of linguistics, so I
could not resist making some epistemological remarks. Since it is my
very first review, I am grateful for all remarks concerning
inaccuracies of any sort which despite all my carefulness are surely
present in the text below. But remember that it is not a mistake to
think differently from the mainstream, above all when this different
thinking relies on the findings of a huge corpus of research. Some
statements concerning the form-function and the nature-nurture
controversies, inescapable in discussions on first language
acquisition, may sound polemical for some. To say it from the outset,
I surely am rather sympathetic to usage-based than to generative
approaches, and the reason is that the former often posit central
assumptions which seem to me psychologically plausible because of
their empirical basis, whereas the latter often has an axiomatic way
to posit their central assumptions resulting often in a somewhat
'biased' view of the things. But above all I am sympathetic to rather
'convergentist' approaches because this is what the body of research
of several decades seems to point to, regardless of the underlying
theoretical persuasion. And this is also what many papers of the
compilation under review seem to point to. Against this background, I
am surely saying nothing new when I say that fundamentalism and
ideological conflict make even lesser sense in science than in
religion or politics.


This is the fourth volume of the Blackwell series ''Linguistics: The
Essential Readings'' which already includes volumes on phonology
(Goldsmith 1999), formal semantics (Portner & Partee 2002), and
sociolinguistics (Paulston & Tucker 2003).

For the volume under review (xi+442 pages), the editors have selected
29 papers organized in three parts, ''Theory of Language Acquisition''
(chapters 1-5), ''The Nature-Nurture Controversies'' (chapters 6-17),
and ''Areas of Language Knowledge'' (chapters 18-29). The papers are
framed by a table of contents, a section ''Acknowledgments'' with the
bibliographical description of the papers, an index including subjects
and persons' names, as well as the editors' introduction.

As stated in the editors' introduction, the aim of the compilation is
''to collect in one place a set of groundbreaking works which provide
the foundation for the field of first language acquisition'' (1). For
this purpose, they used the selection criteria of (a) ''pathbreaking''
character regardless of the ''particular perspective on linguistic
theory''; (b) high citation rates in subsequent work; (c) ''enduring
value'', the texts being originally published not after the late
1980s; and (d) the target audience: ''beginning students'' and
''established scholars''(1). There is a fifth criterion of
''linguistic approach'': the editors ''have intentionally selected
papers which are illuminated by linguistic science, i.e., which make
crucial use of the insights and findings of linguistics'' (2f.)
regarding some major ''features of human language'' (3). In the
introduction, the editors highlight the main conclusions of each
paper, often mentioning some more recent work done on similar lines
(3-8), and conclude by emphasizing the necessity of more ''comparative
cross-linguistic approaches'' on the study of child language
acquisition (8).

Part I, ''Theory of Language Acquisition'', with which the editors aim
to provide ''a sense of the theoretical foundations of the field'' (3)
provides the opportunity to contrast the generative and the
cognitivist/constructivist theories of language acquisition, where the
late gives an idea of what a 'convergentist' approach may look like.

Two papers by Chomsky open the volume and the theoretical section. The
first of them, ''Knowledge of Language as a Focus of Inquiry'',
extracted of his (1986) ''Knowledge of Language: Its Nature, Origin,
and Use'', one of the classics on generative grammar in its
government-binding (GB) or principles-parameters version, can surely
dispense with major presentations. However, I would like to remark
that the reader surely shall find it interesting to (re)read how
Chomsky himself posited the axioms which characterize the generative

Chomsky's second paper is his (1959) withering review of Skinner's
(1957) ''Verbal Behavior'' at full length. In this paper, Chomsky not
only questioned Skinner's ''functional analysis'' of ''verbal
behavior'' understood in terms of notions as stimulus, reinforcement,
and deprivation. He also developed his axioms in great part in
contrast to Skinner's conclusions. I think this paper could by no
means be missing in the compilation because it gives the opportunity
for an epistemological contemplation of how paradigm changes can take
place. Nowadays, we seem to be living again in such a time of
paradigm change in which a revision of central axioms of the Chomskyan
paradigm takes place leading to more 'convergentist' views (for a
review, see e.g. Tomasello 2003, Elman et al. 1996, Marcus 2001).

But 'convergentist' proposals were already being developed in parallel
with behaviorism and long before the advent of generativism, as can be
seen in chapter 3 consisting of extracts from the chapter ''The
Semiotic or Symbolic Function'' of Piaget's & Inhelder's (1969)
classical work ''The Psychology of the Child''. This chapter provides
the occasion to recapitulate how the Piagetian cognitivist approach
seems to unify nativism (the emergence of the symbolic function
independent from experience) and empiricism (the behavioral
manifestations of the symbolic function, amongst them the language, as
based on imitation/experience), the great difference between the two
paradigms being Piaget's symbolic function as concerned with
domain-general cognitive abilities.

Chapter 4, ''Language and Learning: The Debate between Jean Piaget and
Noam Chomsky'', consists of excerpts from the book of the same name,
edited by Piattelli-Palmarini (1980). Here again the reader has the
occasion to (re)read more about Piaget's 'convergentist' view of the
nativism-empiricism controversy, leading to his epistemological and
constructivist theory, which refuses both innateness of (domain-
specific) cognitive structures and learning mechanisms in the
behaviorist sense, but accepts both the structuralist character of
transformational grammars and the notion of (innate) domain-general
abilities of categorization. This chapter gives also the occasion to
ascertain how Piaget seems to have partially missed the mark with his
emphasis of the epistemological argument instead of stressing the
symbolic function. Chomsky objections to Piaget's constructivism are
based on the argument from input deficiency, as well as on the notion
of Universal Grammar (UG) as being comparable to physical organs of
the body, from both phylogenetical and ontogenetical
perspectives. Very interesting are also Chomsky's comments on some
aspects of the generative framework which have ever since been
criticized, as the focus on English language or the secondary role of
empirical data leading to the subordination of observations to
theoretical hypotheses.

The theoretical section is closed by a two-pages chapter consisting of
short extracts from Hermine Sinclair[-deZwart]'s (1995) paper
''Comparative Linguistics and Language Acquisition'' held in the II
Coloquio Mauricio Swadesh (Mexico, 1990). This is the most recent
paper in the compilation and serves as a sort of conclusion pointing
to differences and commonalities between Piaget's and Chomsky's
paradigms. She expresses a desideratum, namely that more empirical
work on developmental psycholinguistics must be done within the
constructivist/cognitivist framework, which can be seen as being
fulfilled -- see e.g. the work of Michael Tomasello and associates in
the Max-Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, to
give only an example.

With Part II, ''The Nature-Nurture Controversies'', the editors aim to
provide ''issues related to fundamental mechanisms of language
acquisition'' (3). It is interesting to note that 10 of the 12 papers
selected for this section were produced within the generative
framework or were often used by it as corpus of evidence. But even
more interesting is the observation that several of these papers
present views of the nature-nurture debate which, though at different
grades, could be called 'convergentist', regardless of their
theoretical persuasions.

The first chapter in this section (chapter 6 in the book), ''Language
in the Context of Growth and Maturation'', is a short extract from
Eric Lenneberg's (1967) ''Biological Foundations of Language''. The
paper is a good occasion to recapitulate Lenneberg's ethological
approach according to which a ''language-specific maturational
schedule'' is posited and input has a merely triggering role, but is
necessary to actualize innate ''potentialities of behavior''.

Chapter 7, ''Language and the Brain'', is a paper by Norman Geschwind
(1972). Geschwind's paper is a representative of the localizationist
approach to language-brain relationships. On the basis of the study of
language disorders and postmortem examination of the brain in aphasic
patients, Geschwind presents some assumptions which would come to be
known as the Wernicke-Geschwind model of language
processing. Important from the point of view of lateralization was
also his discovery of an asymmetry located in a region adjacent to the
Wernicke's area which might be inborn.

The next chapter prolongs the discussion on lateralization. It is a
short excerpt from Michael Gazzaniga's (1970) ''The Bisected Brain''
which is concerned with split-brain patients. In the excerpt Gazzaniga
reports on intermodal association studies in which such patients were
requested to match visual and tactile, invisible stimuli and to name
them. The fact that the patients were not able to name the objects,
when the information was to be processed by the right hemisphere, even
though they were able to match visual and tactile objects, is amazing
and really seems to corroborate the notion of language left dominance.

Chapter 9 closes the set of papers dealing with language acquisition
in extreme situations and leads over to the next set of papers
concerned more directly with linguistic data. It is ''The Linguistic
Development of Genie'' by Susan Curtiss and associates (1974). Curtiss
and colleagues had been studied Genie's linguistic development since
her discovery in 1971, and this is undoubtedly one of the seminal
papers on language acquisition under social isolation. Curtiss et
al. worked within the generative framework (even though not mentioning
the nativism topic at all) and with this in mind, it is interesting to
observe here how the syntax-semantics dichotomy seems to have
sometimes hindered the authors from drawing conclusions which would be
otherwise at least plausible, even though in other cases they seem to
rely on more functional and/or cognitive properties. Also revealing is
the authors' attitude of confusion, divided between empirical work and
the axiom that performance does not reflect competence.

Chapter 9, ''Derivational Complexity and Order of Acquisition in Child
Speech'' by Roger Brown and Camille Hanlon (1970), provides what is
perhaps the most flagrant example of this perplexity in the volume
under review. This paper deals with the acquisition of tag questions,
and it is painful to read how Roger Brown, the great Roger Brown, who
has innovated the research on first language acquisition, hesitatingly
presents 'anti-Chomskyan' conclusions which he then discards. It is
equally painful to read how Brown seems to justify not only for doing
empirical work, but also for relying on naturalistic data, and not on
experimental data.

Chapter 10 reads wholly differently. It is Charles Ferguson's (1978)
paper ''Talking to Children: A Search for Universals''. Ferguson
relies in this paper without remorse on performance input data and
comments cheerfully the ''embarrassment'' of ''most linguists'' with
the subject. Ferguson's self-assured conclusions refute the axiom of
poverty of stimulus and the notion of domain-specificity and
species-specificity nature of universals influencing human languages,
even though without denying the issue of biological adaptation.

Biological adaptation is also the topic of chapter 12, the article
''Learning by Instinct'' by James Gould and Peter Marler (1987) which
send us back to the ethological starting point of the section. The
authors, students of the behavior of bees and birds, offer a sort of
'convergentist' perspective in that they posit that in many animals
the way stimuli are used for learning is guided by instinct. In the
whole article (18 pages) there is a half-page section to ''Speech
Learning in Humans'', in which some assumptions related to speech
perception in the infant and grammatical structures of human languages
are raised.

Chapter 13, consisting of extracts from Barbara Landau's & Lila
Gleitman's (1985) ''Language and Experience: Evidence from the Blind
Child'', maintains the role of experience issue. On the basis of
experiments on the acquisition of lexical semantics of sighted
vocabulary in comparison with tactile vocabulary in the blind child,
the overall conclusion is that experience is necessary, but not
sufficient for language acquisition. The authors posit a sort of
poverty of stimulus problem relying on Quine's (1960) notion of
referential underdeterminacy and offering an innate constraints
approach conceived of as a sort of syntactic bootstrapping mechanism
to account for their findings.

The next two chapters (14 and 15) deal more directly with
bootstrapping mechanisms. It is two relatively short papers by Steven
Pinker from his (1984) ''Language Learnability and Language
Development'' and his (1989) ''Learnability and Cognition: The
Acquisition of Argument Structures''. In these works Pinker posited
his interesting semantic bootstrapping hypothesis which seems not only
to ascribe the input a more relevant role than perhaps expected, but
also to at least neutralize the syntax/semantics dichotomy. Pinker
himself classifies the issue as ''subtle and controversial'' and ''not
without problems''. The issue of innateness and universals is found in
the suggestion that ''children innately expect'' semantic-syntactic
correlations in the perceptual input and in the assumption that these
correlations also exist in human languages as substantive universals,
which sounds very 'convergentist'.

Chapter 16 consists of only a paragraph from Hermine
Sinclair-deZwart's (1973) paper ''Language Acquisition and Cognitive
Development''. Relying on Piaget, the author posits that linguistic
structures may be symptoms of (domain-) ''general, universal cognitive
structures''. Note that Piaget would perhaps not say ''cognitive
structures'', but rather (innate) cognitive abilities or functions.

The section on the nature-nurture controversy is closed by a paper in
which the question is supposed to be avoided but seems to be actually
decided favoring the 'convergentist' position. Chapter 17 consists of
extracts from Dan Slobin's (1973) paper ''Cognitive Prerequisites for
the Development of Grammar'' in which Slobin posits ''inherent''
''language-definitional universals'' on the basis of cross-linguistic
studies on performance data. The ''cognitive prerequisites'' are:
relations between linguistic and cognitive-semantic universals,
general cognitive-perceptual strategies along with processing
limitations, and ''preliminary'' (=innate?) formal linguistic
''operating principles'' as playing a role in the scanning of input
(not seen thus as uninformative).

Part III, ''Areas of Language Knowledge'', aims to provide ''a basic
introduction to acquisition in each of the core components of language
knowledge (i.e., morphology, phonology, syntax, semantics and
pragmatics)'' (3). This section includes again only few
representatives of approaches not fitting into the Chomskyan paradigm
(3 of 12 papers) and prolongs partially the nature-nurture issues.

The first chapter in this section is the seminal paper ''The Child's
Learning of English Morphology'' by Jean Berko [Gleason] (1958), in
which she presented her ''Wug test''. Somehow this paper has
resemblances to Chomsky's review of Skinner (1957) since only two
mutually excluding alternatives are supposed to explain the problem of
language acquisition, namely linguistic rules or rote
memorization. Berko [Gleason]'s results pointed to the first
alternative and have somehow contributed to reinforce the UG notion,
even though the study relied strongly on (experimental) performance
data and the author herself did not draw any explicit conclusions at
all about the issue of innateness and role of input. Note also the age
of the tested children (4-7 years).

Such a contribution was also provided by several conclusions of Roger
Brown in his (1973) ''A First Language: The Early Stages'', this
seminal work on the study of Adam, Eve, and Sarah, as showed in
Chapter 19, ''The Order of Acquisition'', a short extract of this
book. Brown observed an amazing constancy in the order of acquisition
of grammatical morphemes in the three children. An important
methodological outcome in this work is also the predictive power of
the index Mean Length of Utterance (MLU) developed by Brown.

After two chapters on morphology, a set of four chapters on
phonology/phonetics follows. The first of them is the paper on
''Speech Perception in Infants'' by Peter Eimas and associates (1971)
which concluded that infants are capable of distinguishing acoustic
cues underlying adult phonemic distinctions by means of categorical
processes of perception which are assumed to be biologically
determined universals.

Universals, more exactly phonological universals, but not seen as
innate, is also the topic of chapter 21. It is Roman Jakobson's ''The
Sound Laws of Child Language and their Place in General Phonology'',
written originally for the Fifth International Congress of Linguists
in Brussels (1939), the oldest paper in the volume under review. It is
very interesting to recapitulate in this text some methodological and
substantive aspects of the classical structuralism of the School of
Prague in opposition not only to the posterior generative tradition,
but also to the previous 'old' historical linguistics and the
neogrammarians, as well as to the Saussurean structuralism. The most
impressive aspects are perhaps field work (and the reliance on
performance and input data), as well as the notion of functionality of
language, reminding the reader of B�hler's (1934) ''organon model of

After Jakobson's functionalist paper we have in chapter 22 a paper
produced in a more generativist spirit. It consists of extracts of the
article ''Universal Tendencies in the Child's Acquisition of
Phonology'' by N. V. Smith (1975). The contrast could not be
greater. While Jakobson relied on data from some 18 languages, Smith
relies on one child's data to posit universals. While Jakobson begins
his paper by an eulogy of the observation of linguistic behavior,
Smith is from the outset somewhat 'distressed' about the
competence-performance dichotomy. And of course, Smith's ''universal
tendencies'' are ''pre- programmed'' in the child.

The innateness notion is openly assumed by David Stampe (1969) in
chapter 23, ''The Acquisition of Phonetic Representation''. Stampe is
a precursor of the natural phonology which posits on the basis of
cross- linguistic inquiry an innate system of phonological processes
which is permanently revised by each new phonetic opposition learned
by the child, in a process that reminds the reader of Piaget's
''assimilation'' and ''accommodation'' as also Brown (paper in Part I)
noticed for grammatical acquisition in the child.

The innateness issue is also found in chapter 24, even though in a
more indirect manner. It is selections of the curious article ''The
Problem of Serial Order in Behavior'' by K. S. Lashley (1951) cited by
Chomsky in his review of Skinner (1957). His main claim is that
''behavior is the result of interaction of [a] background of
excitation with input'', and in order to understand the effects of
input it is necessary to define the general features of this
''background of excitation'', where ''background of excitation'' seems
to be tantamount to something like innate ideas. A main feature of
''verbal behavior'' is ''the occurrence of 
predetermined, orderly sequences of action'' ''which cannot be
explained in terms of succession of external stimuli'', where
''sequences of action'' may concern words in sentences or also sounds
or letters in words.

Chapter 25, ''The Study of Adam, Eve, and Sarah'' from Brown's (1973)
''A First Language'' already cited above, is concerned more directly
with acquisition of syntax. The main methodological features of the
longitudinal studies with these three children are presented here, as
the index of Mean Length of Utterance (MLU) and Upper Bound (UB), as
well as the big job of transcription. Again we see Brown, this great
empirical researcher, struggling with the competence-performance

The issues of syntactic acquisition and competence-performance
asymmetry are continued in chapter 26, ''Syntactic Regularities in the
Speech of Children'', a paper by Edward Klima and Ursula
Bellugi[-Klima] (1966), who belonged to Brown's research group. The
paper, dealing with the acquisition of negative and interrogative
structures, typically begins by a discussion on the issues of
competence-performance asymmetry and 'noisy' input which the authors
accept axiomatically. Subsequently, they provide a formal notation of
the rules found.

The last paper of the set of generative papers on syntax is chapter
27, ''The Reduction Transformation and Constraints on Sentence
Length'' from Lois Bloom's (1970) ''Language Development: Form and
Function in Emerging Languages''. Bloom posits a reduction
transformation in the derivation of the child's reduced surface
structures from the underlying structures. Interestingly, the author
emphasizes the necessity of evidence in the output data of three
children, without struggling with the competence-performance
axiom. But she typically bases her inquiry often on formal categories
failing sometimes to draw conclusions which could be otherwise at
least plausible.

Two papers by Eve V. Clark, selected to represent the areas of
semantics and pragmatics and written in a spirit wholly different from
the preceding chapters, close the section and the compilation. The
first of them, ''The Young Word Maker: A Case Study of Innovation in
the Child's Lexicon'' (1982), deals with semantics of word formation,
dealing ultimately with lexical acquisition and lexical morphology, on
the basis of cross-linguistic data. As Berko [Gleason] (chapter 18),
Clark discusses the possibility whether or not rules constitute the
basis of lexical innovation processes. But contrarily to Berko
[Gleason], Clark does not contrast rote memorization with rule use,
but analogy with rule use where these both processes are conceived of
as lying on a continuum. As Landau & Gleitman (chapter 13), Clark also
posits constraints in lexical acquisition. But contrarily to Landau's
& Gleitman's underlying referential indeterminacy, Clark's claims are
related with the necessities of communication and her constraints are
rather ''conventions of language use''. This notion of functionality
of language is explicitly discussed in the Clark's second paper,
''Strategies for Communicating'' (1978), in which she intends to show
''why it is important to keep the communicative function of language
in mind as we study what children say'', and how ''this point has
often been lost sight of in the study of language acquisition''.


There are many reasons why this book should be recommended for a part
of the intended audience, namely for advanced students and established
scholars. First of all, we have to thank the editors for making
available so many seminal papers on first language acquisition, the
presence of each of the 29 papers in this anthology is thus wholly
justified. Secondly, the compilation provides the opportunity for some
epistemological contemplation across texts concerning the work done
within diverse frameworks developed in the 20th century (classical
structuralism, behaviorism, generativism, as well as more cognitive-
functional approaches); the editors contribute to this by means of
information about more recent work done on similar lines, building
thus a sort of historical-epistemological link, which is
unquestionably one of the merits of the editorial material. Another
plus point of the editorial material is the convincing and non-trivial
- as well as revealing -- overall conclusion about the necessity of
more ''comparative cross-linguistic approaches'' on the study of child
language acquisition, in order to ''allow researchers to dissociate
language-specific and universal developmental patterns'' (p. 8).
Finally, for advanced students the compilation is a treasure-house of
ideas and suggestions for their own researches, concerning
methodological as well as substantive issues.

There are nevertheless two points to discuss, concerning the editorial
work as a whole, namely some formal editorial shortcomings and the
more substantive issue of representativeness of the collection as a

Beginning by the less polemical formal aspects, there are numerous
entries either entirely missing or whose occurrences in the volume are
not complete. This is problematical for the reader aiming to make the
mentioned connections of epistemological relevance across texts, as
well for the quick consulting, because it concerns authors' names,
languages, and terminologies. In view of the fact that the target
audience also includes ''beginning students'', it would have been,
from didactic point of view, helpful to have more detailed
introductions to each chapter, placed for instance before the
respective papers. Additionally to a more comprehensive account of
the contents of the respective paper, such introductions could have
included purely editorial clarifications concerning omissions
relatively to the original publication (as the editors did for the
papers by Slobin and Brown & Hanlon), as well as the editorial context
in which the papers were originally produced. The editorial
information about Jakobson's paper, for instance, concerns solely the
publications of the English translation (1971, 1990) and not the
original French text (1939). Finally there are some inconsistencies
in the reference lists of some chapters. Sometimes, authors are
mentioned in the chapter which do not appear in the references,
sometimes it is the other way round.

The second discussion point is a more delicate one. In my opinion, the
editors' underlying Chomskyan orientation seems to compromise the
representativeness of the compilation as a whole. In a preliminary
version of this review, I had spoken in this context of a ''Chomskyan
bias''. A reader of this previous version called my attention to the
problem of characterizing a theoretical persuasion whatsoever as a
bias in a review for the Linguist List and I have since being
struggling with this word ''bias''. But after reading Christian
F. Hempelmann's review of Glenn (2003)
<>; in which Glenn's
approach is characterized not only in terms of ''functionalistic
bias'', but even in terms of ''mistake'', I see no reason 
why I could not employ the word ''bias'' myself, particularly since it
seems to correspond to the facts.

Thus, the editors' criterion ''linguistic approach'' exposed in the
introduction seems to be ultimately an underlying Chomskyan bias since
the major ''features of human languages'' they present as ''identified
by linguistic science'' are clearly concerned with crucial assumptions
of the Chomskyan tradition. Two related implicit assumptions, or
rather meta-assumptions, are the assumptions that Chomskyan
assumptions are not assumptions, but ''discoveries'' or ''findings'',
as well as the assumption that the Chomskyan paradigm itself is
tantamount to THE linguistic science. Such a view compromises the
representativeness of the compilation, compromising ultimately the
editors' aim of collecting papers ''which provide the foundation for
the field of first language acquisition''. Such a view contradicts the
seeming objectivity of the selection criteria and makes the
compilation not adequate for beginning students since it has several
gaps. These gaps are concerned with some sub-biases the Chomskyan bias
includes, as the general theoretical, the syntactic, the monolingual,
the spoken language, the Anglophone biases.

To begin with, not only the great majority of the selected papers was
produced originally within or fitting into the generative paradigm,
but already the presentation of the volume is revealing. Two papers by
Chomsky open the volume what might remind the reader of the Genesis
book. The cognitivist approach (older than the generative one) is
represented mainly by rather short extracts from late
works. Vygotsky's (1934) socioculturalist approach is wholly
missing. Missing are also the work following and expanding Piagetian
and Vygotskyan premises done since at least the 1970s (for a review,
see e.g. Tomasello 1992, 1996). Moreover, the temporal limitation for
the original publication of the papers excludes from the outset
cognitive-functional, connectionist, and even generative approaches of
the last two decades pointing to 'convergentist' conclusions (for a
review, see e.g. Tomasello 2003, Elman et al. 1996, Marcus 2001, and
Jusczyk 1997).

Secondly, the dominance of papers dealing more or less explicitly with
formal (morpho)syntactic issues is striking but not really surprising
since it reflects some generative axioms, as primacy of syntax and the
separation of form (syntax) and meaning/function (semantics,
pragmatics). Approaches to the acquisition of morphosyntax and
phonology in which semantics and pragmatics are integral parts of the
theoretical explanatory background are missing (for a review, see
again Tomasello 2003 and, for phonology, the papers in Broe &
Pierrehumbert 2000).

Similarly, it is true that the absence of papers dealing explicitly
with bi-and/or multilingual language acquisition is not realistic vis-
�-vis the fact that monolingualism is rather the exception, but it
is wholly consistent with the classical ideal speaker-listener
abstraction. For a review on the research of bilingual acquisition,
see e.g. Lindholm (1980), Redlinger (1979), and De Houwer (1996).

Also related to the ideal speaker abstraction is the absence of papers
dealing with literacy acquisition. For a review, see e.g. Treiman
(2001), Gillen (2003), and the papers in Nunes & Bryant (2004); for
multilingual contexts see, for instance, the papers in Barnard & Glynn

Finally, it is a great merit of the selection to include a relatively
great number of papers done explicitly on the basis of
cross-linguistic comparison when one considers that the generative
program evolved in great part on the basis of the study of the English
language only. But it is striking to observe that these studies were
produced by pre- Chomskyans (Lashley, Jakobson), non-Chomskyans
(Ferguson, Clark), or 'non-orthodox' Chomskyans (Slobin).

To conclude this evaluation, I want to state that I can imagine how
difficult it is to select papers from the huge body of seminal papers
and issues accumulated in the field of first language acquisition. A
such compilation could never be complete, it could at most have the
pretension to some representativeness. And, to repeat, I do not
contest the selection of any of the papers present in this
anthology. But perhaps some of these papers could have been discarded
in order to accommodate others representing crucial approaches and
issues which are wholly missing; or the editors could at least have
discussed these approaches and issues in the introduction and
explained their exclusion; or, as my review's reader pointed to, they
could at least have made their orientation explicit in the title.

As it stands, I think I can say without much exaggeration that the
selected papers unfortunately do not provide ''the foundation for the
field of first language acquisition'', as aimed by the editors, but
the or a Chomsky-oriented foundation. Or putting it in other words: I
cannot emphasize sufficiently that this is undoubtedly an outstanding
compilation of papers on first language acquisition -- from the
Chomskyan perspective.


Aronoff, M. & Rees-Miller, J. [eds.] 2001. The Handbook of
Linguistics. Malden & Oxford: Blackwell.

Barnard, R. & Glynn, T. 2003. Bilingual Children's Language and
Literacy Development. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Broe, M. & Pierrehumbert, J. [eds.] 2000. Papers in Laboratory
Phonology V: Acquisition and the Lexicon. Cambridge University Press.

B�hler, K. 1934. Sprachtheorie. Jena.

De Houwer, A. 1996. Bilingual Language Acquisition. In: Fletcher &
MacWhinney [eds.], 219-250.

Elman, J. & Bates, E. & Johnson, M. & Karmiloff-Smith, A. & Parisi, D.
& Plunkett, K. 1996. Rethinking Innateness: A Connectionist
Perspective on Development. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Fletcher, P. & MacWhinney, B. [eds.] 1996. The Handbook of Child
Language. Oxford et al.: Blackwell.

Gillen, J. 2003. The Language of Children. London et al.: Routledge.

Glenn, P. 2003. Laughter in Interaction. Cambridge University Press.

Goldsmith, J. [ed.] 1999. Phonological Theory: The Essential Readings.
Malden, MA : Blackwell.

Jusczyk, P. 1997. The Discovery of Spoken Language. Cambridge, MA: MIT

Lindholm, 1980. Bilingual children: Some interpretations of cognitive
and linguistic development. In: Nelson, K. [ed.], 215-66.

Marcus, G. 2001. The Algebraic Mind: Integrating Connectionism and
Cognitive Science. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Nelson, K. [ed.] 1980. Children's Language. Vol. 2. New York: Gardner

Nunes, T. & Bryant, P. [eds.] 2004. Handbook of Children's Literacy.
Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Paulston, C. B. & Tucker, G. [eds.] 2003. Sociolinguistics: The
Essential Readings. Malden et al.: Blackwell.

Portner, P. & Partee, B. [eds.] 2002. Formal Semantics: The Essential
Readings. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Quine, W. 1960. Word and Object. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

Redlinger, W. 1979. Early developmental bilingualism: A review of the
literature. The Bilingual Review/La Revista Biling�e, 6, 11-30.

Skinner, B. F. 1957. Verbal Behavior. New York: Appleton.

Tomasello, M. 1992. The social bases of language acquisition. Social
Development, 1, 67-87.

Tomasello, M. 1996. Piagetian and Vygotskian approaches to language
acquisition. Human Development, 39, 269-276.

Tomasello, M. 2003. Constructing a Language: A Usage-Based Theory of
Language Acquisition. Cambridge, MA & London: Harvard Univ. Press.

Treiman, R. 2001. Linguistics and Reading. In: Aronoff & Rees-Miller
(eds.), 664-672.

Vygotsky, L. 1934. Thought and Language. Cambridge MA: MIT Press


As a student at the Freie Universit�t Berlin I am currently working
on my M.A. thesis on the acquisition of argument constructions in a
bilingual child within a usage-based framework. My research interests
include first language acquisition, multilingualism, cognitive
science, developmental psychology, as well as history of linguistics.
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue