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LINGUIST List 24.2915

Wed Jul 17 2013

Review: Language Acquisition; Psycholinguistics: Cabrelli Amaro, Flynn & Rothman (2012)

Editor for this issue: Rajiv Rao <rajivlinguistlist.org>

Date: 03-Jun-2013
From: Anna Krulatz <anna.krulatzutah.edu>
Subject: Third Language Acquisition in Adulthood
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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/24/24-348.html

EDITOR: Jennifer L. Cabrelli Amaro
EDITOR: Suzanne Flynn
EDITOR: Jason Rothman
TITLE: Third Language Acquisition in Adulthood
SERIES TITLE: Studies in Bilingualism
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2012

REVIEWER: Anna M Krulatz, University of Utah


“Third Language Acquisition in Adulthood” is a volume intended for researchers
and graduate students of applied linguistics. The two-part collection is
comprised of chapters that focus on various aspects of adult multilingualism,
ranging from psycholinguistics and sociolinguistics to morphosyntax, phonology
and the lexicon. The theme that unites all chapters is that the acquisition of
third (L3) and consecutive languages possesses unique properties distinct from
those of second language (L2) acquisition. Thus, the main goal of the volume,
as the editors Jennifer Cabrelli Amaro, Suzanne Flynn, and Jason Rothman point
out, is to not only present the current theoretical approaches to and research
of L3 and subsequent language (Ln) acquisition, but also to lay grounds for
the establishment of L3/Ln acquisition as a subfield of applied linguistics.
Part one of the volume consists of six chapters that address theoretical
issues in the study of L3/Ln acquisition, while the six chapters in part two
present the results of empirical studies.

The volume begins with an introduction that provides the rationale behind the
collection. The editors affirm the importance of drawing on evidence from
multiple theoretical perspectives in the study of L3/Ln acquisition, and
acknowledge that despite some important contributions in recent years, the
study of L3/Ln acquisition is still in its infancy. The introductory chapter
briefly outlines an agenda for the field, pointing out four major areas for
empirical research: (i) subject selection criteria; (ii) the issue of
comparative fallacy of native vs. non-native comparisons; (iii) creation of
independent measures of proficiency for multilinguals; and (iv) the potential
for contributions of L3/Ln acquisition to other fields of linguistics. The
chapter concludes with an assertion of the potential that exists in the study
of L3/Ln acquisition.

“L3 morphosyntax in the generative tradition. The initial stages and beyond,”
the first chapter in part one, contributed by María del Pilar García Mayo and
Jason Rothman, is devoted to third language morphosyntax research in
Generative Theory. The chapter briefly overviews the generative tradition in
the field of first (L1) and L2 acquisition, and argues that it should also be
applied in the study of L3/Ln acquisition. Next, it justifies teasing apart L2
and L3/Ln acquisition studies on the grounds that an L2 learner and an L3/Ln
learner differ in several significant ways. Finally, the chapter provides an
overview of sample L3/Ln acquisition studies in the generative tradition, and
concludes by outlining future directions for research.

The second chapter in part one, “L3 phonology: An understudied domain”,
written by Jennifer Cabrelli Amaro, focuses on L3 phonology. The chapter
outlines existing research, mainly in the areas of facilitation of additional
language learning and phonological transfer, and moves on to discuss
methodological and theoretical challenges in this subfield of L3/Ln studies.
It describes three generative L3 morphosyntax models, namely the
Cumulative-Enhancement Model (CEM), the Typological Primacy Model (TPM), and
Optimality Theory (OT), and proposes that the study of L3/Ln phonology could
make significant theoretical contributions to debates on language acquisition
in general. Finally, the chapter discusses methodological issues pertaining to
perception studies, the selection of properties to be studied, measurement of
proficiency, subject recruitment and languages studied, and data analysis.

In the third chapter in part one, Camilla Bardel and Ylva Falk discuss the
role of L2 status in the acquisition of consecutive languages, and the
distinction between declarative and procedural knowledge. The authors argue
that the strong impact of L2 on L3, and therefore, stronger transfer from L2
than from L1, can be explained by the degree of cognitive similarity between
L2 and L3 and by the role of declarative and procedural knowledge in the
acquisition of different components of the linguistic system. After a brief
review of the factors that contribute to L3 transfer, the chapter outlines a
model for L3 learning, discusses a neurolinguistic approach to L3 learning,
and finally, suggests directions for future research.

The fourth chapter in part one, contributed by Kees de Bot, entitled
“Rethinking multilingual processing: From a static to a dynamic approach,”
considers ways in which multilingual processing relates to the study of L3/Ln
acquisition. The chapter discusses existing models of multilingual processing,
briefly overviews Dynamic Systems Theory (DST), outlines the requirements for
a dynamic approach to multilingual processing, and finally, proposes a way in
which DST can be applied to the study of multilingualism and L3 development.

In the fifth chapter in part one, “Multilingual lexical operations. Keeping it
all together…and apart,” David Singleton addresses issues concerning the
lexicon of multilinguals. After a brief summary of how the notion of
cross-linguistic influence has developed, the author goes on to discuss
various aspects of cross-linguistic interaction and argues that mental
lexicons of multilingual speakers interact with each other in complex ways,
and that these interactions are affected by factors such as language
proficiency and language relatedness.

The last chapter concerned with the theoretical foundations of L3 acquisition
in adulthood is contributed by Roumyana Slabakova and is entitled “L3/Ln
acquisition: A view from the outside.” This chapter is primarily concerned
with four transfer hypotheses -- the Feature Reassembly Hypothesis, the
Interface Hypothesis, the Bottleneck Hypothesis, and the Interpretability
Hypothesis -- and the extent to which they are applicable to L3/Ln acquisition
studies. The author reviews data available from L3 acquisition studies, and
promotes the Modular Transfer Hypothesis, which states that the extent to
which linguistic features are transferred depends on their intrinsic

Part two of the volume comprises six articles that discuss empirical research
in the field of L3/Ln acquisition. The first article, entitled “Further
evidence in support of the Cumulative-Enhancement Model. CP structure
development,” and contributed by Éva Berkes and Suzanne Flynn, presents
results of a study that provide evidence for the CEM (Flynn et al. 2004). The
study compares the production of three types of relative clauses by speakers
of L1 German learning L2 English, and speakers of L1 Hungarian and L2 German
learning L3 English. The findings support the claim that the development of a
consecutive language is not affected negatively by the previously learned
language, thus verifying the strength of the CEM as a model that can account
for the development of language-specific knowledge.

The second chapter in part two of the book, “Acquisition of L3 German. Do some
learners have it easier?” by Carol Jaensch, presents the results of a study
rooted in the generative tradition that examines to what extent L1 (Spanish
and Japanese) and L2 (English) have a direct effect on the acquisition of L3
German. The linguistic features the study focuses on are gender assignment,
gender concord on articles and adjectives, and definiteness of articles. The
study also examines the effect of level of proficiency in L2 on the
acquisition of L3. The findings indicate that L2 and L3 learners may actually
have full access to Universal Grammar, and that higher proficiency levels in
L2 may enhance the acquisition of L3.

The third empirical study included in the volume, “Examining the role of L2
syntactic development in L3 acquisition. A look at relative clauses,” is
contributed by Valeria Kulundary and Alison Gabriele. This is a comprehension
study that focuses on two main research questions: (i) whether there is
facilitative transfer from L2 Russian to L3 English; and (ii) whether the
properties of L1 Tuvian influence the comprehension of relative clauses in L2
Russian and L3 English. The findings suggest a stronger influence from L2 than
from L1 in the domain of syntax, which is predicted by the CEM. However, the
differences in morphosyntactic properties between L2 and L3 are found to limit
the facilitation of L3 acquisition.

The next chapter, “Variation in self-perceived proficiency in two “local” and
two foreign languages among Galician students,” is written by Jean-Marc
Dewaele. The study investigates self-perceived proficiency (SPP) in four
skills (i.e. speaking, listening, reading, and writing) in multilingual
speakers of Spanish, Galician and English and/or French. The participants
ranked their proficiency on a scale of 1 (no proficiency) to 4 (fully
proficient). In the discussion, the effects of the following variables on SPP
are considered: monolingual vs. bilingual upbringing, monolingual vs.
bilingual schooling, gender and age, knowledge of more languages, language
attitudes, and contact with English and French.

In “Advanced learners’ word choices in French L3,” Christina Lindqvist
presents a study of advanced L3 French learners’ vocabulary acquisition. The
study compares words chosen to describe key objects, events, and people in
retellings of films in native and non-native speakers (intermediate and
advanced). The results suggest that the advanced non-native speakers tend to
use more general terms than the native speakers, and that the intermediate
learners display more cross-linguistic influence in their choice of vocabulary
than the advanced learners.

The last chapter in the volume, “Foreign accentedness in third language
acquisition. The case of L3 English,” by Magdalena Wrembel, is devoted to
sources of cross-linguistic influence on L3 phonology. More specifically, the
study examines sources of accentedness in multilingual speakers of
typologically unrelated languages: L1 Polish, L2 French, and L3 English.
Samples of L3 speech were rated by judges for degree of foreign accent,
intelligibility, and irritability. The judges were also asked to access the
level of certainty of their rating, and the speakers’ L1. Because the majority
of the speakers were correctly identified to be Polish, it is inferred that in
cases of typologically unrelated languages, L1 exerts a stronger influence on
L3 phonology than L2.


“Third Language Acquisition in Adulthood” is a very welcome publication which
provides an excellent anthology of readings in the area of L3/Ln acquisition.
The volume makes an important contribution to the field of L3/Ln research for
several reasons. First, and most significantly, it argues for the need to
treat L3/Ln research as its own subfield of applied linguistics that is very
different from that of L2 acquisition, and this argument resonates throughout
the chapters. Secondly, unlike many publications to date that focus on L3
English, the articles in this collection cover unique combinations of
languages such as: English, Portuguese and Spanish; Polish, French, English;
and English, German and Japanese.

The volume is also a valuable contribution to the field because it provides a
solid overview of several important theoretical considerations that apply to
the study of L3/Ln acquisition and, at the same time, presents up-to-date
empirical research in the field. The articles in the first, theoretical
section of the book explore a range of linguistic subsystems, from syntax and
morphology to phonology, and they assume various approaches to the study of
L3/Ln (e.g. the sociolinguistic perspective, the generative approach, and the
Dynamic Systems approach). The articles in part two, which is devoted to
empirical studies, present findings from research areas such as L3/Ln syntax
(e.g. acquisition of coordinate and relative clauses), individual learner
differences, the lexicon, and foreign accentedness. What unites these studies
is the interest in the extent to which the acquisition of subsequent languages
is affected by the existing linguistic system.

Finally, it is crucial to point out that the volume raises a number of
important questions that, as the editors Jennifer Cabrelli Amaro, Suzanne
Flynn, and Jason Rothman suggest, should guide the development of the field of
L3/Ln acquisition. Among these are: determining inclusion and exclusion
variables for participant selection; creating independent measures of
proficiency for L3/Ln learners; and exploring the ways in which the findings
from studies in the field of L3/Ln acquisition could shed light on other
subfields of linguistics.

Overall, the book provides an excellent overview of the field of adult L3/Ln
acquisition. It is not an introduction to the newly emerging field, and
therefore, is not recommended for novice students of linguistics. However, it
is a remarkable volume in that it marks the onset of the field of L3/Ln
acquisition as an independent subfield of linguistics, and provides a solid
overview of current research on adult multilingualism.


Flynn, S., Foley, C., & Vinnitskaya, I. (2004). The cumulative-enhancement
model for language acquisition: Comparing adults’ and children’s patterns of
development. International Journal of Multilingualism 1(1): 3-17.


Anna Krulatz is an Associate Instructor at the Department of Linguistics, the
University of Utah. She has just accepted an Associate Professor position at
Sor-Trondelag University College in Norway. Her main interests include
second/foreign language acquisition, interlanguage pragmatics, and
second/foreign language pedagogy.
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