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LINGUIST List 24.55

Tue Jan 08 2013

Review: Language Acquisition; Psycholinguistics; Syntax: Biller et al. (2012)

Editor for this issue: Monica Macaulay <monicalinguistlist.org>

Date: 29-Nov-2012
From: Phaedra Royle <phaedra.royleumontreal.ca>
Subject: BUCLD 36
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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/23/23-2902.html

Editor: Alia K. Biller
Editor: Esther Y. Chung
Editor: Amelia E. Kimball
Title: BUCLD 36
Subtitle: Proceedings of the 36th annual Boston University Conference on Language Development
Publisher: Cascadilla Press
Year: 2012

Reviewer: Phaedra Royle, Université de Montréal

INTRODUCTION

These two volumes contain 55 papers presented at the 36th Annual Boston
University Conference on Language Development (BUCLD) held November 4-6, 2011.
The annual BUCLD conference is organized by students in the Linguistics
Program at Boston University, and attracts papers from leading researchers
over the world as well as emerging new researchers, and represents a wide
range of theoretical and methodological approaches to the study of language
acquisition.

Due to the number of papers presented at this conference, only the keynote
speaker's and a number other papers that were of particular interest are
reviewed. Because of space limitations, little with respect to theoretical
aspects is presented here. Interested readers are encouraged to read the
original texts for a more in-depth understanding.

SUMMARY

Excluding the plenary talk, published as the initial article in the
collection, all chapters are organized alphabetically by author. The complete
table of contents can be seen on the Cascadilla Press web site.

The first paper is the plenary address by Cornelia Hamann, entitled “Bilingual
Development and Language Assessment” (pp. 1-28). This paper presents a review
of work undertaken by Hamann and colleagues as well as other members of the
COST (European Cooperation in Science and Technology) Action IS0804 (S.
Armon-Lotem, PI, http://www.bi-sli.org/) on bilingualism and specific language
impairment (SLI), and the role bilingualism plays in evaluation of language
disorders. The author makes a principled distinction between different types
of bilingualism from the onset (i.e., simultaneous / successive; within
successive: adult / child; within child: early / late) and points out that
bilingualism is the norm rather than the exception in the world and quite
common in Europe, even in smaller cities. The author highlights the fact that
SLI is over-diagnosed in bilingual children, and points out a few subtle
differences that emerge between L2 and SLI profiles. A case study of two
bilingual Russian-German children is presented, where details of one child's
abilities and disabilities point to a diagnosis of SLI, while the second seems
to show normal patterns of delay related to L2 learning that should resolve in
time. However, the details of the evaluation are based on analyses of
spontaneous speech and thorough syntactic analyses, which are not always
favoured by speech language pathologists, due to their time-consuming nature
(and probably also to the need to be comfortable basing one's syntactic
analyses on target language vs. L1 influences). One answer to this problem is
to develop more cost-effective approaches, which are ongoing in the COST
Action IS0804. A preview is presented of research in progress in these
domains. Parental questionnaires, tasks investigating morphology, syntax and
computational semantics as well as working memory and executive function are
being developed for different languages (and language pairs) by this team.

Of the other fifty-five chapters in the collection -- covering topics on
theoretical and methodological approaches to research on language acquisition
and cognitive development -- a number that grabbed my attention are described
here.

Almeida et al. (pp. 42-52) present a paper entitled ''Prosodic Influence in
Bilingual Phonological Development: Evidence from a Portuguese-French First
Language Learner''. This research on a single speaker investigates early
cross-linguistic influences on the acquisition of phonological segments and
structures (i.e., codas and branching onsets) in a Portuguese-dominant
simultaneous Portuguese-French bilingual. The data appear to support the
acceleration of the acquisition of branching onsets in Portuguese due to the
influence of French, concurrently with a delay in the acquisition of French
word-medial codas due to the influence of Portuguese. These data question
language dominance impacts on bilingual language acceleration / deceleration
effects.

Armon-Lotem and Chiat (pp. 53-62) present data on L2 non-word repetition (NWR)
in Hebrew and Russian. In order to test whether NWR is different in L1 and
sequential L2 learners, whether it differs within the L1 and L2 of sequential
L2 learners and whether word-likeness and phonological complexity affect NWR
similarly in L1 and sequential L2 learners, they control for word length and
morphological structure (derivational types) in the languages studied. They
show that, contrary to what has been reported before, L1 and sequential L2
learners showed similar abilities on NWR, in that both groups showed more
difficulties on long vs. short NWs, while long Hebrew NWs were more difficult
than long Russian NWs for both groups. This last effect was explained by the
fact that quadrisyllabic Hebrew NWs were created using a less frequent
morphological process (abstract words in the pattern hitCaCCeCut, acquired
after age 5) than Russian NWs of similar length (lad [stem] -av-och-k
[derivational suffixes] -a [fem]) which are not abstract. This study showed
the usefulness of using these tasks with polyglot children, if one can create
comparable stimuli across the child's languages.

Arunachalam et al. (pp. 63-73) present a study of verb acquisition in
interaction with the adverbs 'slowly' and 'nicely' in English children aged
2-2;5 using a preferential looking paradigm. They show that the manner of
motion adverb 'slowly', but not manner adverb 'nicely', promotes verb learning
in these children (contrary to previous results from the same group with
similarly-aged children, but in that case no adverb was used, and no effects
were found) even though children normally do not use this specific adverb at
this age. Since only two adverbs were used, two explanations are suggested for
the difference between results on 'slowly' vs. 'nicely': 1. Semantic
properties of the stems 'slow' and 'nice' or 2. The higher frequency of
'slowly' as compared to 'nicely'. Future studies controlling these properties
will be able to distinguish these two explanations.

In ''Performance Factors Trump Representational Deficits: Perception and
Production of English Inflections by L1 Mandarin Speakers'', Bonner and
Martohardjono (pp. 74-86) present a study on the perception and production of
English inflection by L1 Mandarin speakers learning English as an L2. High and
low intermediate speakers of English recruited in Beijing took part in
experiments on the perception and production of past tense and plural English
morphemes, in simple nouns and in sentences. Equal numbers of syllabic (Vd/Vz)
and non-syllabic (t/d, s/z) contexts were created. In perceptual tasks no
effects were found for 1. inflection type, 2. participant group, 3.
syllabicity. Only one effect of voice was found (d > t). Within sentences,
inflection type showed effects while participant group did not. Syllabic
suffixes were better recognized than other types. Within non-syllabic
structures opposite patterns for voice are found where d > t but s > z.
Results on production tasks show slightly different performance where no
effects were found on single word production and only one effect of inflection
type was found where Vz < z. These data show that perceptual difficulties do
not preclude accurate production of inflection (or vice versa) and that
production difficulties in L2 learning are probably not due to
representational deficits.

Cantiani et al. (pp. 114-125) present what I expected to be exciting data
comparing off and on-line (event related potential, or ERP) data on
inflexional morphology in children with developmental dyslexia (DD) and
children with DD in addition to language impairment (DD+LI). This paper is
discussed further in the Evaluation below.

Culbertson and colleagues (pp. 139-151) present a neat artificial language
learning experiment where they manipulate pattern majority/minority status as
well as two-word (Noun-Adj) and three-word (Det-N/Adj-N) orderings based on
universal typologies that have been argued to be constrained by innate
preferences. Generally the results confirm that language speakers prefer
'harmonic' typologies where both Adj and Det precede or follow the N,
independently of the input statistics.

Fleischhauer and Clahsen (pp. 164-176) investigate verb form generation while
controlling for age, frequency, and working memory in German-speaking
children. They show that frequency effects are stronger on irregular verbs
(low-frequency ones being produced more slowly than high-frequency ones), and
that regularity and frequency show paradoxical interactions where irregulars
are produced faster when they are frequent, while regulars are produced faster
when they are lower frequency. This is almost impossible to explain from a
connectionist perspective. This result is also specifically linked to STM
scores in adults and all their child data, supporting their interpretation
that the paradoxical effects are linked to competition between memory-based
and decomposition processes competing in regular word production.

Grüter et al. (pp. 213-225) present eye-tracking data in a study of object
clitics in Spanish children and adults. They also investigate whether children
who omit clitics can still process them. Their data show that this is not in
fact the case: 4-year old Spanish speakers who do not produce clitics do not
use clitic information when anticipating object nouns in depicted scenes.
These results were not expected on a production-only hypothesis, nor a
representational deficit where output is expected to be variable but
comprehension good.

Hopp (pp. 226-245) also presents eye-tracking data, but on gender and number
integration in late L2-speakers of German. He shows that at advanced levels of
L2 learning, these speakers can integrate gender and number information
rapidly and incrementally, just as L1 speakers do, although they might show
slight delays (in terms of milliseconds) in this ability. Furthermore, the
division of participant groups into variable vs. consistent producers of
correct gender agreement shows that only the second group uses gender marking
predictively in eye-tracking.

Maguire et al. (pp. 328-338) study object-noun and action-verb identification
using event related potentials (ERPs) in adults and children aged 8-9 using a
picture-word matching paradigm. They present data they argue supports a
feature-based distinction between objects and verbs, as an early signal
related to semantic coherence (the N300) shows larger effects of congruence
(visual/word match) for verbs than nouns in adults, and only effects for noun
incongruency in children.

In ''The Acquisition of Distributivity in Pluralities'', Pagliarini et al.
(pp. 387-399) present a study on the interpretation of definite plural noun
phrases in close to 200 children aged 4 to 13 years old. They evaluate the two
possible interpretations of sentences like 'each boy is building a snowman'
and 'the girls are building a snowman', where there are one or two snowmen
(under their hypotheses that children tolerate degraded distributive readings
of definite plural NPs). Their data show that both sentences with 'each' and
with definite plural NPs were accepted as having collective (e.g., each boy is
building a single snowman) or distributive (e.g., each girl is building a
different snowman) readings, by younger children. Only older children
understand that the use of 'each' specifically implies distributional readings
and thus pragmatically disallows it for definite plural NPs.

Parr and Breheny (pp. 427-436) show that the use of bare NPs in child language
corpora correlates with the type of utterance the child is using. They find
that bare NPs correlate with Manifest Events (MEs, descriptive, present
objects, etc.) but not Complex Events (CEs, which can be INTentional or
RESultative), which in turn are more highly correlated with complex DP
production. The authors argue that the need of the child to communicate
intentions clearly make the INT events particularly important for the
development of complex DPs and VPs.

Pirvulescu et al., in ''Clitic Production across Tasks in Young
French-Speaking Children'' (pp. 461-473), present data supporting the optional
nature of accusative clitic production in French, by keeping context constant
while varying output demands (production of clitics in the 3rd person singular
and 2nd person singular present, or imperative mood). They show that task
modulations influence the number of clitics a child will produce in
elicitation, with the 2nd person singular condition being the most congenial
one for clitic production.

Poepsel et al. (pp. 474-486) show in ''Context, Mutual Exclusivity, and the
Challenge of Multiple Mappings in Word Learning'' that while multiple meaning
mappings for the same word form can be difficult to learn, specific contexts
promote their learning. In tasks with adults, they show that presenting
different word-visual pairings with different voices, different voices and
accents, or explicit instructions, promote the ability to learn multiple
mapping in similar ways.

Tanner et al. (pp. 594-606) present an ERP study on L1 and late L2 learners of
English (Spanish L1) checking noun-verb agreement processes with intervening
'attractor' nouns. They show the ERP waves are modulated by the type of
structure in which the attractor noun is located (PP or Relative Clause) and
that, although L2-speakers show weaker effects than L1-speakers, these
interactions are the same in both groups. Ungrammatical structures elicit late
positivities (P600 in both groups) that are stronger for singular attractors
than plural ones and stronger for attractors in RC versus PP structures.

Vasić et al. (pp. 646-659) study gender acquisition in both L2-Greek and Dutch
by L1-Turkish children using a self paced listening task. They show that
target language morphological transparency impacts strongly on the child's
ability to master and integrate the system.

Wen & Schwartz (pp. 673-685) argue in their paper that task demands can
strongly influence our understanding of language processing in L2 speakers. In
a structure-focused self-paced reading task they find that Chinese-L1
English-L2 speakers are able to process morphosyntactic agreement and are also
sensitive to subject-verb agreement errors, contrary to what has been found in
content-based (semantic verification) tasks.

Yu et al. (pp. 686-697) present ''Electrophysiological Correlates of
Picture-Word Processing in Three-to-Seven Year Old Non-verbal Children with
Autism'' using a picture-word (auditory) presentation paradigm. They show that
non-verbal children with autism do not show typical negativities (N400) to
visual-auditory mismatches, while typically developing children do. In
addition, a sub-group of the children with autism who do have some vocabulary
do show these N400s. All children showed early auditory (P1) visual peaks
(P2), indicating that sensory disorders were probably not the cause underlying
the absence of N400 effects.

Many more papers are presented in the two volumes, dealing with vast domains
of inquiry ranging from theoretical aspects of language acquisition to
computational modeling of language acquisition and processing. In addition, a
large number of languages are studied including French, German, Greek,
Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Portuguese, Spanish, Turkish and others.
Different learning profiles including early bilingualism and late L2-learning,
dyslexia, SLI and sign languages are also addressed.

EVALUATION

Linguists and psycholinguists, speech-language pathologists and others
interested in the development of phonology, morphology, syntax and semantics,
in monolingual, bilingual and language-disordered populations, will find a
wide variety of research articles in these BUCLD 36 volumes.

The methodological approaches and theoretical assumptions are quite varied in
the papers, thus making the papers extremely variable in their scope and
coherence with the rest of the volume. They are written as ‘stand-alone’
papers, and thus the reading of a given paper does not oblige the reader to
read others. The most interesting aspect of these is that they report on very
recent research, which is often not yet available elsewhere (with a few
exceptions which seem in fact to have already been published at least in
part). Chapter quality is quite variable, with some research still ongoing,
some methodologies questionable, or theoretical assumptions not explicit. In
particular, statistical analyses can be quite intricate and well thought-out
(using multiple regression analyses, for example), while others are extremely
poor. Some analyses (whether on response, reaction-time or even ERP data) do
not respect the basic tenet that if you do not find an interaction of effects,
you cannot break down analyses into different partitions (Nieuwenhuis et al.,
2011). Some papers do not even bother to check this assumption. For example,
the ERP data by Cantiani et al. (pp. 114-125) are not appropriately analyzed.
They discuss differences in ERP patterns between their three groups (children
with no impairment, children with developmental dyslexia, DD, and children
with DD in addition to language impairment, DD+LI). However, they never show
any statistics on group differences or interactions in ERP waves that motivate
their subsequent individual group analyses. Furthermore, the data are hard to
interpret, as the experimental items used in off and on-line tasks are
different (that is, novel plurals and novel word formation -- verb
participles, and derivational processes--, versus grammaticality judgment of
subject-verb number agreement, respectively). However, in general, the quality
of the papers is quite high, with clearly presented theoretical assumptions,
methodologies, analyses and results.

It is possible to link up themes in the papers, as hot topics tend to pop up
throughout them. In this year's BUCLD proceedings, I noted the frequent use of
cutting-edge dynamic techniques for the study of language (eye-tracking, self
paced-reading, ERPs), quite detailed approaches to L2 learning (e.g.,
different L1 backgrounds, different levels of L2 attainment, acceleration vs.
deceleration effects) and a strong interest in agreement processes. Other
readers will make links between other topics that are of specific interest to
them.

The editing work on these volumes is better than it used to be: there is much
less variability between papers in terms of language quality, typos, and
reference style. However, I have previously commented on the fact that too
many citations are to conference presentations that are not available in print
(http://linguistlist.org/issues/19/19-750.html). The editors should require
authors to only cite articles or manuscripts that are readily available (on
personal websites, for example), or ask the authors to make them available if
they wish to cite them.

The papers in these volumes are directed at researchers and graduate students
in language acquisition and language learning. Because of the short length of
the articles, a strong background is necessary to be able to appreciate their
contents. However, undergraduates could also benefit from these papers,
especially if put in the context of other readings providing more context for
the understanding of theoretical and methodological issues. Their short length
also allows these articles to be used as discussion papers in seminars and for
undergraduate courses.

REFERENCES

Nieuwenhuis, Sander, Birte U Forstmann & Eric-Jan Wagenmakers. 2011.
''Erroneous analyses of interactions in neuroscience: a problem of
significance.'' Nature Neuroscience 14: 1105-07.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER:

Phaedra Royle holds a Ph.D. in Linguistics from the Université de Montréal and
pursued postdoctoral studies at the School of Communication Sciences and
Disorders at McGill University. Her interests lie in psycholinguistics,
neurolinguistics, language disorders, language acquisition, morphology,
morpho-phonology and morpho-syntax, and processing of complex noun phrases in
French populations with and without learning challenges (SLI, Cochlear
implants, Bilingualism, Ageing). She is a professor at the School of Speech
Language Pathology and Audiology at the Université de Montréal, and is a
member of the Centre for Research on Brain, Language and Music.
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