LINGUIST List 15.794

Sat Mar 6 2004

Review: Lang Acquisition/Socioling: Kreyer (2003)

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  1. Rolf Kreyer, Information Structure and the Dynamics of Language Acquisition

Message 1: Information Structure and the Dynamics of Language Acquisition

Date: Sat, 6 Mar 2004 16:10:18 -0500 (EST)
From: Rolf Kreyer <>
Subject: Information Structure and the Dynamics of Language Acquisition

EDITOR: Dimroth, Christine; Starren, Marianne
TITLE: Information Structure and the Dynamics of Language Acquisition
SERIES: Studies in Bilingualism 26
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2003

Announced at

Rolf Kreyer, University of Bonn

The thirteen articles in this volume focus on the impact of
information structure on language acquisition, taking into account a
vast range of natural first and second language acquisition data. In
particular, the authors investigate into ''the impact of the interplay
between principles of information structure and linguistic structure
on the functioning and development of the learner's system''
(p. 1). The scope of the volume is remarkable, examining acquisition
data from different languages, such as English, German, French and
Italian, and different first-language (L1) backgrounds of second-
language (L2) learners (for instance Turkish, Polish, or German). As a
'testing ground' for the respective impact of communicative and
structural forces on the acquisition process, two empirical domains
are considered, namely the expression of finiteness and scope
relations at the level of the utterance and the expression of
anaphoric relations at the level of discourse.


The papers in the volume fall into two groups based on the two
empirical domains named above. The first section, 'Finiteness and
scope relations', focuses on two main aspects: the precursors of
verbal morphology at early stages in L1 acquisition and their
development at later stages of the acquisition process, and the
integration of scope bearing elements into the utterance.

The first four articles in this section are concerned with the first
aspect. Schlyter's paper analyses the development of verb morphology
and finiteness in learners of French. Her data are drawn from ten
Swedish-speaking adult L2 learners and four bilingual Swedish-French
children who learn French as their first language. The author starts
off by discussing the question as to when a learner can be said to
have acquired finiteness and employs a set of criteria that includes
morphological as well as syntactic criteria, such as inflection of
copula and auxiliaries, or postverbal negation. Her analysis of the
bilingual children shows that these, exhibiting no evidence for
morphological and syntactic finiteness at a first stage of learning,
''acquire morphology and syntax simultaneously, and perhaps use local
cues like morphology to build up their syntactic structure [...]'' (p.
40). Adult learners, in contrast, seem to have some access to
syntactic finiteness already at the first stage of learning. However,
''their verb morphology is strongly deficient, variable and irregular,
until very late in the development'' (p. 40). Adults can rely on their
L1 knowledge of syntactic categories and structures but still need to
learn the specific forms of L2.

Haberzettl studies '''tinkering' with chunks'' (p. 45) in the speech
production of two female six-year-old Turkish learners of German. She
focuses on the interlanguage phenomenon exemplified below:

 Ein Junge ist die Fu�ball spielen. 
 A boy is the football play-INF 
 'A boy is playing (with the) football.' (p. 45)

The pattern combines the auxiliary or copula 'ist' and a lexical verb
which is usually used in the infinitive but may also be realized by a
participle; the lexical verb is preceded by a direct object. The
author claims that this pattern does not serve to mark imperfective or
perfect aspect but suggests a ''form-oriented explanation'' (p. 57):
the pattern NP-'ist'-NP-V is a result of a combination of two more
basic patterns that the learner is familiar with, namely NP-NP-V and
NP-'ist'-NP. This non-target pattern, in Haberzettl's view, serves as
a precursor to target-like constructions with split verb forms, which
will be learned later in the acquisition process. Furthermore, this
pattern seems to corroborate the claim that ''L2 learners first
concentrate on detecting patterns in the input which are used as
automatized routines, allowing for fluent production of utterances''
(p. 62). Such patterns, however, are not merely reproduced but
combined to construct new utterance schemes. On the whole, L2
acquisition by children seems to show a prevalence of form over

Dimroth et al. compare the development of finiteness marking in L1
learners and L2 learners of Dutch and German, with special
consideration of the semantic operation of ''linking'', which
''validates the state of affairs expressed in the utterance [...,
i.e.] expresses that this state of affairs is indeed true for the
particular temporal- spatial anchorpoint talked about'' (p. 65). This
validation, according to the authors, is achieved by different means
at different stages of L2 acquisition. The first of these stages, the
holistic stage, is characterized by the use of Dutch 'ja' and 'niet',
Dutch 'nee' and German 'nein' and their positive counterparts as
''modal operator with scope over the clause structure as a whole''
(p. 72). On the next stage, conceptual ordering, validation is
achieved through a closed class of lexical items. These appear in a
fixed position between the initial topic and the final predicate and
consist of either modal or assertive expressions (e.g. Dutch 'kanwel',
'doettie' or German 'soll', 'kann') or adverbial elements (e.g. Dutch
'eve', 'graag', or German 'auch', 'noch'). At the finite linking
stage, the validation of the relation between topic and predicate is
grammaticalized: auxiliaries are used to express aspect and
illocutionary force and the grammatical relation between auxiliary and
predicate have been established, i.e. ''the finite verb has come to be
used as a grammatical linking device functioning as the head of a
head- complement structure'' (p. 90). Furthermore, the ''acquisition
of morphological person/number agreement with an external argument is
evidence of the acquisition of a specifier-head relation between the
NP and the auxiliary'' (p.86). The three stages of validation are
strikingly similar in L1 and L2 acquisition.

In the last article on the aspect of finiteness in language
acquisition Gretsch investigates into the means of expressing 'topic
time' among L1 and L2 learners of German, in particular the
exploitation of morphology and adverbials. It is usually assumed that
in expressing topic time L1 learners choose an 'early-morphology'
strategy, i.e. temporal anchoring at early stages of learning is
expressed through tense and aspect marking and is supplemented by the
use of adverbials later in the acquisition process. L2 learners, on
the other hand, are generally assumed to use adverbials at early
stages of acquisition and only later exploit morphological means. The
author's analysis of data from the European Science Foundation corpus
of second language acquisition (ESF) and three longitudinal corpora of
child language and material from the CHILDES database indicate that
''this coarse picture of opposing developments'' (p. 95) needs to be
refined: while L2 learners ''exhibit a sharp bias towards the
adverbial option'' (p. 115-16), both the morphological and the
adverbial option are available to children. The two strategies,
therefore, ''do not constitute separate routes of development but form
an acquisitional continuum within which children and to some extent
also adults can find their individual paths [...]'' (p. 114).

In the first article on scope relations, Guilano investigates into the
acquisition of negation and verbal morphology, and how these two
domains interact in two Spanish L2 learners of French and two Italian
speaking learners of English. In regard to negation, the author finds
that the acquisition process consists of three major phases: a
nonverbal nominal stage, where the learner exploits the pattern
'negator + noun/adjective/adverb'; a non-finite verb stage, which is
marked by the appearance of uninflected lexical verbs and preverbal
negators, as expressed in the pattern 'negator + non-finite lexical
verb + (indirect object)'; and a finite verb stage with the replacing
of preverbal negation by postverbal/post- auxiliary or discontinuous
negation: 'auxiliary/copula + not'; 'don't/doesn't + verb'; '(ne) +
verb + pas'. Interestingly, the third stage is closely linked to the
development of verbal inflection: ''finite (or relatively finite)
relational predicates always go along with postverbal negation''
(148). The author proposes a pragmatic explanation for this finding:
relational predicates ('be'/'�tre' and 'have'/'avoir') mark the
topic time of the utterance, i.e. the time span for which an assertion
is made. Accordingly, relational predicates may not fall within the
scope of the negator since ''the non- validity of a prepositional
content must necessarily be asserted for a given time span'' (150);
the negator must therefore follow the relational predicates. The
lexical verb, however, since it shows no clear reference to topic time
may fall within the scope of the negator and is therefore preceded by

The paper by Bernini discusses the use of the copula 'essere' in L2
Italian on the basis of acquisition data from one adult Eritrean
learner. The author finds that the development of copula functions
encompasses three stages: the copula is first used in an equational
function and then employed as an auxiliary together with a past
participle form in the formation of the compound past. In both these
functions the copula serves as ''an explicit link to finiteness with
lexical elements which cannot incorporate finiteness as inflected
verbs in the target language do'' (175). At a third stage the learner
has extended this use of the copula to a non-target auxiliary function
''with any other verbal elements which in the learner variety cannot
yet incorporate the expressions of finiteness [...]'' (175). On the
whole, the copula is exploited by L2 learners of Italian to establish
finiteness at early stages in L2 acquisition when full verb morphology
is not yet available.

Benazzo explores the interaction between the development of verb
morphology and the acquisition of a particular class of temporal
adverbs, namely ''temporal adverbs of contrast such as again, already,
still, yet [...]'' (187). It is usually assumed that the use of this
particular kind of adverbs is a characteristic feature of the L2
production of advanced learners, and the supposedly late acquisition
of these adverbs is ascribed to their cognitive complexity. The
author, however, suggests a reassessment of this general statement due
to the findings of her analysis of longitudinal data of eight L2
learners of English, French and German. While it is true that temporal
adverbs of contrast are not used at the prebasic state, iterative use
of adverbs (such as 'again' in 'at 10 John was sleeping again') is
already attested in L2 production at the basic stage of L2
acquisition. With the emergence of finite verb morphology at the
postbasic stage, reference ''to the actual time span of the event
talked about'' (207) can be signalled by the verb phrase, which leaves
temporal adverbs of contrast free to ''make reference to alternative
(previous) time spans of the same event'' (207). Cognitive complexity,
the author contends, does not explain this order of
acquisition. Rather, ''[t]he reasons for the observed acquisitional
sequence are to be found in the constraints governing the learner
system at a given time and in the discourse functioning of the items
in question [...]: internal factors concerning the grammaticalization
process observed in learner production seem to be better candidates
than cognitive factors [...]'' (208).

Hulk compares the acquisition and use of French 'aussi' and Dutch
'ook' in the production of a bilingual French/Dutch girl to
acquisition data from one monolingual child for each of the two
languages. In respect to the semantics and pragmatics of 'ook' and
'aussi' the author does not find any difference between the use of
these particles in the bilingual child and the monolingual
children. Both 'ook' and 'aussi' are used as topic- and focus
particles, regardless of mono- or bilingual acquisition. In contrast,
slight differences in the syntax were observed: the bilingual child,
for instance, used 'ook' in ways that are not found in the monolingual
learner of Dutch, ''they are ''un- Dutch'', more ''French- like''''
(228). Similarly, the bilingual girl, in comparison to the monolingual
French leaner, used 'aussi' more frequently at the end of the
utterance and less frequently at the beginning or
utterance-internally. So while an intra-individual cross- linguistic
influence on the acquisition of 'ook' and 'aussi' can be assumed for
the level of syntax, there is no indication of such an influence for
the semantic and pragmatic level.

Becker and Veenstra in their paper on French-related Creole prototypes
as basic varieties address the question as ''to what extent the
grammatical properties of Creole languages can plausibly be attributed
to what we know of the process of L2 acquisition of their lexifier
languages'' (233). In particular, the authors focus on inflectional
morphology since it has been shown that both in Creole prototypes and
at a specific stage in L2 acquisition (the basic variety) inflectional
morphology gets marginalized and minimalized. In L2 acquisition of
French, the basic variety shows two formal variants of lexical verbs,
namely a short form 'verb-/0/' and a long form 'verb-/e/'. It is
important to note that this distinction does not have any functional
value, the two forms occur in free variation. The functional
differentiation of the two forms only emerges in the post-basic
variety. Interestingly, the formal distinction of long and short forms
is present in some French-related Creoles but serves functions that
are different from those that are found in French and may vary between
different Creoles. The authors therefore conclude that the genesis of
French-related Creoles proceeded in two distinct stages: at first, the
dominated group of African slaves had sufficient access to the target
language French, which led to a sequence of Creole development that is
similar to L2 acquisition. However, due to an increase in the number
of slaves in the colonies, the availability of the target language
model decreased. Because of this reduced access to the original target
language French, a target shift occurred. Henceforth, ''the new target
was the Basic Variety'' (255). This basic variety, in turn, was
expanded by first and second generation Creole speakers, which
eventually led to the Creoles as they are known today.

The second part of the volume focuses on the expression of anaphoric
relations in the discourse. Caroll and Lambert explore the factors
that determine information structure in narratives. In particular,
they focus on ''the extent to which adult learners succeed in
acquiring the principles of information structure of the target
language'' (267). In an analysis of data from a group of advanced and
near-native French and German learners that had to re-tell the content
of a film, the authors find that ''[t]he barriers to near-native
competence are not cultural but grammatical in nature'' (285). As far
as coding of information structure is concerned, L2 learners do not
start from scratch. Thus, universal principles such as 'assign topic
status' are associated with a particular set of grammatical means,
which are, however, L1-specific. L2-specific ways of coding
information-structure still have to be uncovered. That is why
''native-speaker narratives sound native-like and those of second
language learners, though formally correct, do not'' (285).

Murcia-Serra explores how advanced Spanish learners of German acquire
the linkage between syntactic, semantic and informational roles in
narratives. His analysis, also based on data drawn from learners re-
telling a film, focuses on the way the learners use the subject in
their narrative. The author claims that German and Spanish exhibit
''differences of conceptualisations for the same state of affairs''
(300): while Spanish children learn to focus on Actor entities, German
children learn to pay particular attention to ''the global topic
entity of a series of events'' (301), i.e. the protagonist in a
narrative. This focus on the protagonist (and its coding as the
subject of clauses) contributes to the coherence of the
discourse. Spanish speakers, on the other hand, leave ''the
establishment of cohesion to communicate inferences'' (301). These
differences in conceptualisation pose problems for Spanish learners of
German. Even at advanced stages of learning the Spanish learners of
German ''keep to the conceptualisation patterns of the Spanish
language'' (304), although formal means for a more target- like way of
conceptualising, namely the German passive construction, are at the
learners' disposal.

Gullberg's paper examines the use of gestures as a cohesive means in
learner discourse on the basis of data from five Swedish learners of
French and five French learners of Swedish. The author shows that
''spoken learner varieties come with particular gestural profiles that
are related to the characteristics of spoken varieties in non- trivial
ways'' (312): learners, for instance, make an excessive use of full
NPs to refer to previously established referents. Similarly, referents
are usually accompanied with particular 'anaphoric gestures',
disregarding their referential status as given or new. Native
speakers, in contrast, use such gestures only when a referent is newly
introduced or reintroduced. Given referents, which would be referred
to by pronouns or other means of reference, are not accompanied by any
gestures. Two explanations for this and similar findings are discussed
by the author. Firstly, psycholinguistic evidence has shown that the
over-explicitness of referring expressions in learner language may
lead to ambiguity rather than clarity. Anaphoric gestures may be
explained as a strategy on the part of the learner to disambiguate
speech through the use of unambiguous gestures. Secondly, anaphoric
gestures could be regarded ''as a reflection of speakers' (and
learners') cognitive efforts to construct utterances (323); gestures
might be an reflection of idea units and planning units, and the
over-use of gestures could then be interpreted as ''a reflection of
learners' L2 speech planning proceeding by smaller units'' (324).

Watorek, in the final paper of the volume, investigates into the
development of anaphoric means to refer to space and entities in 18
intermediate and advanced Polish learners of French on the basis of
data drawn from a spatial description task. Not surprisingly, it is
found that the advanced learners ''use locative expressions which
encode more complex spatial concepts'' (332). The author finds
acquisitional sequences of spatial reference that are akin to those
found in previous research on L2 and L1 acquisition: intermediate
learners show a higher proportion of topological relations, such as
inclusion, exclusion, or neighbouring, in spatial
description. Advanced learners make more frequent use of projective
relations, i.e. spatial localisation on the basis of a
three-dimensional orthogonal axis system. The author's explanation for
this acquisitional path involves pragmatic complexity: ''[a]
topological expression [...] is in principle less complex to use than
an expression that encodes the projective relations where the speaker
must make calculations based on his origio'' (353).


Christine Dimroth and Marianne Starren have compiled a very
interesting selection of papers for all those who are concerned with
the acquisition of language. By concentrating on the two domains of
finiteness/scope relations at the utterance and anaphoric relations at
the discourse level, the editors have chosen two important fields of
language acquisition, which allow them to explore learner production
from very early to very advanced stages. Furthermore, the number of
languages and the range of varieties that are analysed will make this
volume an interesting read for researcher from diverse backgrounds. It
has to be pointed out, however, that the number of articles that
explore L1 acquisition is low in comparison to those that are
concerned with L2 learning. This imbalance is most strongly felt in
regard to the second part of the book, which is concerned with the
expression of anaphoric relations: one or two articles on the
development of this aspect in child language would definitely have
been welcomed by the reader. Unfortunately, part 1 also emphasizes L2
acquisition, so that this volume will not prove to be as stimulating
for the researcher interested in L1 acquisition as it will turn out to
be for those whose interest is with the acquisition of L2. A final
remark may be made as to the rather small number of informants that
underlie most of the analyses. Although the volume presents a
considerable amount of quantitative data, the question as to the
representativeness of these data arises. It would no doubt be helpful
if some of the findings presented in this volume were put on a
statistically sounder basis in future research. Nevertheless, the
volume is highly stimulating. The papers are, in general, of high
quality, both in regard to content and style. In addition, the
proof-reading turns out to have been almost perfect. Only a very few
errata remains (for instance, ''may provide futher impetus for
change'' on p. 284, ''or has at same time'' on p. 290).

Rolf Kreyer is a Research Assistant in the English Department of the
University of Bonn/Germany. He holds a degree in English and
mathematics and is currently working on his PhD thesis, a corpus-based
analysis of inverted constructions in modern written English. His
research interests include syntax, text linguistics and corpus
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