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LINGUIST List 24.4125

Sat Oct 19 2013

Review: Applied Linguistics; Language Acquisition: García Mayo et al. (2013)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <jsalmonslinguistlist.org>

Date: 15-Jul-2013
From: Achilleas Kostoulas <achilleas.kostoulaspostgrad.manchester.ac.uk>
Subject: Contemporary Approaches to Second Language Acquisition
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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/24/24-1219.html

EDITOR: María del Pilar García Mayo
EDITOR: María Junkal Gutierrez Mangado
EDITOR: María Martínez Adrián
TITLE: Contemporary Approaches to Second Language Acquisition
SERIES TITLE: AILA Applied Linguistics Series 9
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2013

REVIEWER: Achilleas I. Kostoulas, University of Manchester

This edited collection comprises eleven chapters outlining different
approaches to Second Language Acquisition (SLA). The chapters are flanked by a
foreword by Florence Myles, introductory comments by the editors and an
afterword by Jason Rothman and Bill VanPatten, where the multiple perspectives
presented in the volume are brought together.

Chapter 1: What is easy and what is hard to acquire in a second language: a
generative perspective (Roumyana Slabakova)

In the first chapter, readers are presented with the Bottleneck Hypothesis:
Drawing on Generative Theory, Slabakova argues that some linguistic properties
are universal across languages and therefore transferable from the mother
language to the second language, whereas others are subject to parametric
variation, and thus harder to acquire. The Bottleneck Hypothesis posits that
the most problematic features are those relating to the functional lexicon,
where most syntactic and semantic variation is morphologically encoded. By
contrast, acquisition of other linguistic features (e.g. syntax, semantics or
pragmatics) proceeds unproblematically once functional morphology is acquired.
The chapter reports on several experimental studies, which offer empirical
support for the Bottleneck Hypothesis. Although the chapter’s main aim is “to
explain the cognitive processes of language acquisition” (p. 6), Slabakova
also proposes that the Bottleneck Hypothesis appears to challenge the
pedagogical value of communicative language teaching. She further suggests
that teaching approaches which bring grammatical morphology to the forefront
and emphasise practice may be pedagogically beneficial.

Chapter 2: Systemic functional approaches to second language acquisition (Ana

Chapter 2 provides an account of SLA emphasising contextual influences on
language use. The chapter begins with an overview of Systemic Functional
Linguistics (SFL): this approach brings into focus the circumstances in which
language is used, with a view to accounting for both what language is and what
it is used for (Halliday & Matthiessen, 2004). In the next three sections,
Llinares presents empirical studies that illustrate how SFL can usefully
inform SLA research. For instance, SFL has been used to investigate language
use by very young learners who were being taught English as a Foreign
Language. Other studies have investigated the generic features of texts
produced in a foreign language by secondary school students. SFL has also been
productively applied to the investigation of content-based foreign language
instruction. The point is made that SFL can be fruitfully combined with other
approaches to SLA in ways that mutually complement their interpretative
strengths. In terms of pedagogical potential, Llinares argues that SFL can be
used to guide needs analysis, and as a framework that informs the teaching of
genre and register conventions in communication.

Chapter 3: From input, output and comprehension to negotiation, evidence and
attention: an overview of theory and research in learner interaction and SLA
(Teresa Pica)

In Chapter 3, Teresa Pica outlines the contributions of interaction theory and
research to understanding SLA processes. In a state-of-the-art review that is
impressive in scope, the author discusses theoretical constructs and presents
empirical research that goes back to the earliest formulations of interaction
theory in the 1960s and 1970s. After discussing foundational constructs, such
as input, intake, comprehensible input and output, Pica goes on to discuss
empirical work on learner interaction. Studies on negotiation of meaning,
negotiation of form, recasts, form-focused interventions and form-focused
instruction and output production and modification are presented in the
following sections. Next, readers are presented with research on learner
readiness and teachability, and -- after that -- with a discussion of the
theoretical underpinnings of Task-Based interaction and classroom research
that focuses on Task-Based work. The chapter concludes by pointing out the
synergistic links that naturally develop between teaching practice and
interaction research, and with a call for broadening the scope of interaction

Chapter 4: Skill Acquisition Theory and the role of practice in L2 development
(Roy Lyster & Masatoshi Sato)

Lyster and Sato’s contribution to this edited collection discusses how Skills
Acquisition Theory can inform SLA. In brief, Skills Acquisition Theory
postulates that a combination of practice and feedback in meaningful contexts
can gradually lead to faster and more accurate processing of the target
language. Key to this theory is the distinction between declarative and
procedural knowledge (knowing factual information, and having the ability to
do things respectively). The interplay between these two types of knowledge is
described as bi-directional: most obviously, repeated practice can lead to the
transformation of declarative knowledge into procedural knowledge, although
the reverse process is also possible in instructional settings. The authors
argue that practice (both guided and communicative) and appropriate feedback
can lead to the more efficient transformation of declarative into procedural
knowledge. In terms of pedagogical implications, Lyster and Sato argue that
practice activities constitute a necessary complement to input-driven teaching

Chapter 5: The Input Processing theory in second language acquisition
(Alessandro Benati)

In the fifth chapter, Benati discusses how input is processed by second
language learners. The chapter is broadly divided in three sections: First,
the main principles of VanPatten’s Input Processing Theory are presented
(VanPatten, 1996). It is suggested that learners tend to process input for
meaning before processing its formal features, and that the order in which
information is presented influences the way input is processed e.g., nouns
that are presented early tend to be perceived as agents. In the second
section, empirical data are used to support the main principles of the Input
Processing theory, and the various sub-principles which derive from them. The
last section discusses the implications of Input Processing Theory: readers
are presented with a succinct discussion of Processing Instruction, a
pedagogical model derived from the Input Processing Theory (), and its
effectiveness is demonstrated with reference to several target languages,
grammatical forms and structures. The chapter concludes with suggestions for
further empirical and theoretical work.

Chapter 6: Processability Theory: Explaining developmental sequences (Gisela

Chapter 6 examines the developmental sequences observed in second language
acquisition. The discussion begins by outlining Processability Theory
(Pienemann, 1998). That theory posits that morphosyntactic phenomena will
emerge in learners’ production according to an invariable order, which is
common across languages: e.g., tense suffixes will emerge before subject-verb
inversion. The validity of Processability Theory is established with reference
to empirical work carried out in several languages. Building on the premises
of Processability Theory, Håkansson then discusses the role of transfer, and
uses empirical data to show that developmental sequences are influenced by
learners’ stage in the developmental process, rather than by transfer from
their mother languages. The chapter includes a discussion of profiling, an
assessment procedure that measures language development in terms of
language-universal developmental stages, which is claimed to be particularly
useful for studying bilingual development.

Chapter 7: Sociocultural Theory and second language development: theoretical
foundations and insights from research (Gabriela Adela Gánem-Gutiérrez)

The seventh chapter treats SLA from the perspective of sociocultural theory
(SCT). The three main sections each discuss key theoretical insights,
alternating with an overview of related research. First, SCT is explicitly
positioned with reference to linguistic theory, and linkages are drawn to
cognitive linguistics and linguistic relativism. In the following section,
Gánem-Gutiérrez discusses SCT constructs pertaining to second language
acquisition, such as the Zone of Proximal Development (the gap between what
agents can independently achieve and what they can achieve with assistance),
collaborative activity and verbalization, gesture, internalization and
assessment. Next, readers are provided with a succinct overview of Activity
Theory, seen from the perspective of second language acquisition. The chapter
concludes with a brief discussion of implications, particularly for empirical
work in SLA.

Chapter 8: Investigating L2 spoken syntax: A usage based perspective (Regina
Weinert, María Basterrechea, & María del Pilar Garcia Mayo)

Taking a more focused view than preceding chapters, Chapter 8 looks into
spoken language, in an attempt to counter what is described as a pervasive
‘written language bias’ in linguistics (p. 153). In the first of the two
sections that make up the chapter, the authors discuss spoken language in
general: after listing some properties that differentiate it from the written
modality, they argue for a usage-based grammar that acknowledges the innate
and symbolic nature of language. Such a grammar, they argue, should fuse
morphology and the lexicon while preserving a psychological reality. This
section also discusses methods of researching spoken language. The second
section illustrates the issues raised by examining authentic examples of
informal conversation produced by native speakers and learners of English as a
Second Language. By focusing on the syntactic structures of the
participants’ output, the authors illustrate how subordination is given form
in actual discourse. On the basis of the data, the claim is put forward that
developmental processes can be best understood when the idiosyncrasies of
spoken language are explicitly addressed in the research design.

Chapter 9: Connectionist models of second language acquisition (Ping Li &
Xiaowei Zhao)
In Chapter 9, Li and Zhao approach SLA from a connectionist perspective. In
brief, connectionist theory argues that cognitive processes, including
learning, involve parallel operations of large cognitive networks, which give
rise to emergent phenomena. The chapter begins with a broad overview of
connectionism, concluding with its applications to bilingual learning and
language attrition. Following that, the authors present a psycholinguistically
realistic connectionist model (Developmental Lexicon II – DevLex II), that can
be used to simulate learning in multiple languages, including various
bilingual pairs. As the model is sensitive to Age of Acquisition effects, it
is argued that it can provide insights into the Critical Period Hypothesis.
Using data generated by the model, the authors claim that “bilingual
representation is the result of a highly dynamic and competitive process in
which early learning significantly constrains later development” (p. 194).

Chapter 10: Dynamic Systems Theory as a comprehensive theory or second
language development (Kees de Bot, Wander Lowie, Steven L. Thorne, & Marjolijn

In the penultimate chapter, de Bot, Lowie, Thorne and Verspoor make a
compelling case for viewing Dynamical Systems Theory (DST) as a unifying
theory that brings together many different perspectives that inform Second
Language Acquisition (or Development, as is their preferred term). DST
attempts to explain how the components of complex adaptive systems interact
with each other and with their context to affect to change over time.
Crucially, the theory accounts for recurrent patterns, which appear at
different temporal and spatial scales. As such, it lends itself to bridging
the gaps between theoretical perspectives that focus on the social level
(ecological, cultural-historical, sociocultural) and those that focus on the
psychological level (UG, cognitive linguistic theory, connectionism). The
authors suggest that these ‘middle-level theories’ focus on different
time-scales and different levels of granularity, but can be fruitfully brought
together under DST, since their foundational assumptions are compatible.

Chapter 11: Electrophysiology of second language processing: the past, present
and future. (Laura Sabourin, Christie Brien, & Marie-Claude Tremblay)

The final chapter reports on the use of Event-Related brain Potential (ERP), a
neuroimaging technique, as a way to understand the electrophysiological
processes of Second Language Acquisition. ERP is used to record the activity
of neurons as language is processed in real time, and therefore lends itself
to comparing how native languages and second languages are processed. The
authors review studies on a variety of linguistic phenomena, such as speech
perception, lexical processing and sentence processing, on monolingual,
bilingual and multilingual participants, with a view to generating insights
into the effects of linguistic proficiency, age of acquisition and
cross-linguistic similarity. Although our understanding of neurological
processing of language is still emerging, and conflicting data do not yet
allow firm conclusions, the authors suggest that by carefully controlling
factors, broadening the scope of research and looking at the relationships
between factors, research might enhance our understanding of SLA processes.

Afterword: On multiplicity and mutual exclusivity: the case for different SLA
theories (Jason Rothman & Bill VanPatten)

Rothman and VanPatten conclude with remarks aiming to situate the various
approaches presented in relation to each other. First, the multiplicity of SLA
theories is said to be legitimate, since each theory attempts to explain
different aspects of SLA. Next, the authors discuss differences in the ways
that the theories conceptualise the foundational constructs of SLA (i.e.,
non-primary languages, language and the acquisition process). The
differentiated role of context, as seen from various theoretical perspectives,
is also examined. The authors persuasively argue that the different theories
need not be seen as being in competition. Rather, a call is made for “the
necessity of the different theories working out the details of their
particular domains before there is assembly of these smaller theories into a
larger account of SLA” (p. 255).

This collection sets out to provide a broad overview of selected strands of
SLA research. The eleven main chapters present state-of-the-art reviews of
several different approaches, which range from established paradigms such as
Generative Linguistics, Interactionism and Processability Theory to emerging
perspectives, including Connectionism, Dynamical Systems Theory and
neurolinguistics. One should note, as the editors do, that a comprehensive
review of all the theoretical and empirical work which informs SLA is not
feasible, but the multiple contributions here showcase many of the most
salient approaches to SLA, and celebrate the diversity of the field. In
addition, the concluding chapter by Rothman and VanPatten, as well as the one
by de Bot, Lowie, Thorne and Verspoor (Chapter 10), hint at the ways in which
these multiple perspectives complement each other.

Despite the variety across the chapters, the volume coheres well, mostly
thanks to the consistent structure of its chapters. All the chapters provide
comprehensive overviews of the theoretical and empirical work carried out in
the paradigm they describe. This is often illustrated with reference to
specific contributions of the research strand to the field of SLA.
Implications for research and pedagogy (where appropriate) are also discussed
by all authors.

In summary, this intellectually stimulating volume showcases the
epistemological and methodological diversity of SLA in a rich, informative
way. At the same time, it hints at the emergent features around which the
field coheres. Such a collection would be especially valuable to two
audiences. For newcomers to SLA, the volume could offer a helpful starting
point for approaching the multiple perspectives that make up the field.
Although some chapters are perhaps less accessible than others, the collection
is a useful resource for relevant courses in SLA or related fields. More
experienced researchers might find the volume helpful for keeping abreast of
developments in approaches parallel to their own. The potential of such a
collection for stimulating interdisciplinary insights is also commendable.

Halliday, M.A.K., & Matthiessen, C.M.I.M. (2004). ''An introduction to
functional grammar'' (3rd ed. / rev. by Christian M.I.M. Matthiessen. ed.).
London: Arnold.

Pienemann, M. (1998). ''Language processing and second language development :
processability theory''. Amsterdam / Philadelphia: Benjamins.

VanPatten, B. (1996). ''Input processing and grammar instruction in second
language acquisition.'' Norwood, N.J.: Ablex.

Achilleas Kostoulas, MA TESOL (Manchester), BA English Studies (Athens), is a
postgraduate doctoral researcher at The University of Manchester (UK). His
doctoral research focuses on the way English Language Teaching is practiced in
Greece, and draws on complexity theory to describe how it is eclectically
shaped by the interplay of global and local influences. Previous employment
included designing and delivering courses in English as a Foreign Language and
Language Teacher Education at the Epirus Institute of Technology in Greece.
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