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LINGUIST List 25.2303

Sun May 25 2014

Review: Applied Ling.; Lang. Acquisition; Ling. Theories: Marsden, Gil & Whong (2013)

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

Date: 15-Dec-2013
From: Alexandra Galani <algalanicc.uoi.gr>
Subject: Universal Grammar and the Second Language Classroom
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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/24/24-2981.html

EDITOR: Melinda Whong
EDITOR: Kook-Hee Gil
EDITOR: Heather Marsden
TITLE: Universal Grammar and the Second Language Classroom
SERIES TITLE: Educational Linguistics
YEAR: 2013

REVIEWER: Alexandra Galani, University of Ioannina

The book is a collection of twelve chapters, an editors’ introduction, eleven
chapters organised in three parts, and an index (pp. 249-252). It aims to
bridge the gap on how research on generative second language acquisition
(GenSLA) can be applied to classroom language teaching, show whether Universal
Grammar plays a crucial role in language acquisition and discuss other factors
(e.g. processing, practice) which might further influence language acquisition
and development. The book is addressed to researchers with backgrounds on
Generative Second Language Acquisition, on instructed Second Language
Acquisition (SLA) and it could be further used as a textbook for advanced
undergraduate and postgraduate students in second language acquisition and/or
applied linguistics.

Introduction (pp. 1-13)
This chapter introduces the fundamental issues in the volume, first
introducing the aims before offering a brief discussion of Generative
Linguistic Theory and Generative Second Language Acquisition. The editors
round off the discussion by outlining the volume and each chapter.

Part I: GenSLA applied to the classroom (pp. 17-114)
In Part I, authors discuss the problems raised in the acquisition of a wide
range of linguistic phenomena by various L1/L2 speakers. They conclude that
explicit teaching and highly qualified second language teachers play an
important role in language acquisition and development.

Chapter 2: “What research can tell us about teaching: The case of pronouns and
clitics” by Joyce Bruhn de Garavito (pp. 17-34)
Bruhn de Garavito discusses clitics and pronouns in Spanish, showing is a gap
in the way clitics and pronouns are presented in textbooks and, consequently,
how they are taught in class. She suggests that generative linguistics can add
valuable information e.g. as to how L1 and L2 learners learn languages, the
knowledge they carry from their L1 and how language works. She concludes with
remarks on what second language teachers should avoid in classroom teaching
and what they need to put emphasis on, when teaching Spanish.

Chapter 3: “L2 acquisition of null subjects in Japanese: A new generative
perspective and its pedagogical implications” by Mika Kizu (pp. 35-55)
Kizu examines null subjects in Japanese, specifically the choices L2 students
make in identifying the referent in 1st, 2nd and 3rd person constructions
depending on discourse agreement, following Hasegawa (2009). She first briefly
sketches previous analyses of null subjects in Japanese and then focuses on
Hasegawa’s analysis for which she brings experimental evidence. She finds that
the acquisition of null subjects by L2 learners is difficult not only due to
their syntactic nature but also due to their limited discussion in textbooks.
She suggests that the focus on form method (a method which focuses on the
grammatical forms of language features) should be followed in classrooms where
students are gradually introduced to structures on null-subjects depending on
their level of proficiency. For example, beginners can taught structures
including generalisations they can make on lexical items, whereas more
advanced students can be taught structures involving pragmatic factors.

Chapter 4: “Verb movement in Generative SLA and the teaching of word order
patterns” by Tom Rankin (pp. 57-76)
Rankin deals with the difficulties L2 learners face in acquiring English word
order, focusing on structures involving verb movement. He first offers a brief
overview on word order patterns in German and French and then presents studies
(e.g. Schwartz and Sprouse (1994, 1996)) on the acquisition of word order in
English by German, French and Norwegian learners. He shows that L1 grammar
causes problems for the acquisition of word order in English and suggests that
it needs to be explicitly taught. He proposes a grammaring approach to
teaching according to which students need to develop five skills: grammar,
reading, writing, speaking and listening. Students are encouraged to analyse
structures by combining form, meaning and use in order to formulate their own
rules. The advantages of this approach are that it is student-oriented (it
addresses students’ needs at different levels in different classroom
settings), can be guided by second language teachers, can be incorporated in
the syllabus and can be combined with various activities (e.g. vocabulary,
text production, editing, interactive tasks, oral communication).

Chapter 5: “Modifying the teaching of modifiers: A lesson from Universal
Grammar” by David Stringer (pp. 77-100)
Stringer discusses the acquisition of modifier word order in English,
specifically the acquisition of adjectival and prepositional multiple
modifiers by L2 Korean, Chinese, Turkish, Japanese and Arabic speakers. He
examines whether L1 plays a crucial role in the acquisition of these
structures in English and whether teaching materials and syllabuses need to be
implemented accordingly. Experimental results show that all L2 learners can
easily acquire the syntax of prepositional modifiers, suggesting that L2
learners have access to a universal hierarchy and, consequently, their
ordering need not to be taught in class. Nevertheless, he finds that the
acquisition of multiple modifiers’ order is more complex and different
adjectival groups require explicit instruction.

Chapter 6: “The syntax-discourse interface and the interface between
Generative Theory and pedagogical approaches to SLA” by Elena Valenzuela and
Bede McCormack (pp. 101-114)
The authors examine the interface of syntax with discourse by looking at the
acquisition of topic-comment structures by L1 English L2 Spanish speakers and
L1 Spanish L2 English speakers. They find that teachers’ knowledge of the
semantic notions involved in the realisation-interpretation of clitics plays
an important role in students’ understanding, as teachers may improve the
material taught in class (e.g. through appropriate use of examples). They also
find that students’ increased exposure to relevant structures may also improve
their performance.

Part II: GenSLA and classroom research (pp. 117-183)
In Part II, the authors discuss how effective explicit instruction is, by
presenting the results of empirical classroom studies.

Chapter 7: “Alternations and argument structure in second language English:
Knowledge of two types of intransitive verbs” by Makiko Hirakawa (pp. 117-137)
Hirakawa examines the acquisition of unaccusative and unergatives verbs by L1
Japanese L2 English speakers. She offers an overview of Burzio’s (1986)
Unaccusativity Hypothesis and Sorace’s (2000) Universal Auxiliary Selection
Hypothesis before presenting the results of her classroom research, showing
that teachers’ awareness of the linguistic differences of theme roles may help
students overcome overpassivisation errors. She finds that teaching of the
verbal categories benefits from explicit instruction.

Chapter 8: “Quantifiers: Form and meaning in second language development” by
Kook-Hee Gil, Heather Marsden and Melinda Whong (pp. 139-159)
The authors first discuss previous research on the acquisition of quantifiers
in a number of languages in the literature (e.g. Dekydtspotter et al. (2001)
for English speakers of French).The studies show that quantifiers are
generally hard to acquire and consequently this raises the question of whether
implicit instruction may help learners’ acquisition. Nevertheless, in their
pilot study (Chinese students of English), Gil et al. find no evidence for the
positive effects of explicitly teaching quantifiers. The authors, nonetheless,
identify the need for collaborative work between GenSLA and language pedagogy
as far as different methodological challenges in classroom research are
concerned (e.g. student numbers, attendance, background, etc.).

Chapter 9: “Explicit article instruction in definitess, specificity,
genericity and perception” by Neal Snape and Noriaki Yusa (pp. 161-183)
Snape and Yusa investigate the effectiveness of explicit instruction in the
acquisition of the indefinite and definite articles in English by L1 Japanese
speakers. The explicit instruction focused on the properties of definiteness,
specificity, genericity and perception. Results of a pilot study show that
explicit instruction has no significant results on the participants’
performance. Nevertheless, explicit instruction has positive results on the
perception of articles, which may lead to better article comprehension in the
long run.

Part III: GenSLA, the language classroom and beyond (pp.187-247)
In Part III, additional factors which may influence language acquisition and
development and which have not been extensively discussed in the generative
literature, are presented.

Chapter 10: “Whether to teach and how to teach complex linguistic structures
in a second language” by Roumyana Slabakova and María del Pilar García Mayo
(pp. 187-205)
The authors review previous studies in the literature to show that the
acquisition of meaning is easier than the acquisition of syntactic structures
or inflectional morphology because pragmatic and semantic meanings are
universal. They examine scalar implicatures and conclude that the more
students practice, the better understanding they have. Finally, they claim
that linguistic materials used in experiments can and should be used in
classroom activities to enhance student awareness of the structures.

Chapter 11: “Great expectations in phonology? Second language acquisition
research and its relation to the teaching of older and younger learners” by
Martha Young-Scholten (pp. 207-229)
Young-Scholten examines the factors which affect phonological acquisition. She
first discusses the influence of L1 phonology, the universal phonological
constraints and the results of longitudinal studies of post-puberty L2
phonology (e.g. Smith (1973), Rose (2000)). She concludes that several factors
influence L2 phonological acquisition,. varying from native-accented input to
age-targeted input and delayed orthographic input.

Chapter 12: “Applied Generative SLA: The need for an agenda and a methodology”
by Melinda Whong (pp. 231-247)
In the final chapter, Whong links the volume’s main points to general
questions concerning GenSLA and language pedagogy. She proposes that GenSLA
research should be applied to language teaching classrooms. GenSLA research
sheds light on difficult areas of linguistic acquisition and student learning
will benefit from teachers’ linguistic awareness (e.g. choose the right
examples, implement teaching material, explain complex structures, decide what
to teach and what not on different levels). GenSLA research should be extended
to issues raised in classrooms, not just theoretically oriented. GenSLA should
be further concerned with what can be learnt and what cannot as a result of
the influence of positive and/or negative evidence in teaching. Finally, Whong
addresses methodological problems raised in classroom research (e.g. students
background and experience, level of proficiency). She concludes that it may be
time to look at a new area in Applied Linguistics: the Applied Generative
Second Language Acquisition.

The editors bring together papers covering a wide range of phenomena,
explained concisely and generally well-exemplified. The theoretical
discussion, though, could have benefited from richer exemplification at
points. Despite the fact that the majority of the chapters examine syntactic
structures, chapters which treat interfaces (syntax, semantics,
discourse/pragmatics) as well as phonology are also included. The book mainly
deals with the acquisition of L1 and/or L2 English, Japanese and Chinese.
Nonetheless, the discussion is enriched by papers reviewing the acquisition of
English by Spanish, German and Arabic speakers, which helps the book cohere.

The chapters are well-organised and referenced, and there are good
cross-references. All chapters stress complexity, highlight problems second
language teachers face in classrooms and suggest whether or not explicit
teaching may contribute to knowledge. Readers have a chance to explore the
different tests and strategies used in experimental studies.

Central to the book’s value and strength is that it discusses the gap in
linking generative linguistics to language pedagogy, the need to make
(theoretical) GenSLA accessible to second language teachers. It shows how
findings from GenSLA can improve teaching and, consequently, language
acquisition and development.

This book will be of great interest to researchers in GenSLA, language
pedagogy and advanced students in linguistics. Second language teachers will
also benefit, although the theoretical discussion may be somewhat advanced for
those lacking a solid linguistic background. It can also be used as a
reference book. It shows the need for research combining GenSLA and
classroom teaching. It surely opens the field for interdisciplinary research
in all areas of linguistics and all areas of language pedagogy.

Burzio, Luigi. 1986. Italian Syntax. Dordrecht: Reidel.

Dekydtspotter, L. A. R. A. Sprouse and K. A. Swanson. 2001. “Reflexes of
Mental Architecture in Second-Language Acquisition: The Interpretation of
Combien Extractions in English-French Interlanguage”. Language Acquisition
9(3): 175-227.

Hasegawa, N. 2009. “Agreement at the CP Level: Clause Types and the ‘Person’
Restriction on the Subject”. In MIT Working Papers in Linguistics: Proceedings
of the Workshop on Altaic Formal Linguistics, vol. 5, pp. 313-152.

Rose, Y. 2000. Headedness and prosodic Licensing in the L1 acquisition of
phonology. Ph.D. dissertation, McGill University.

Schwartz, B. D. and R. Sprouse. 1994. “Word order and nominative case in
non-native language acquisition: A longitudinal study of (L1 Turkish) German
interlanguage”. In T. Hoekstra and B. D. Schwartz (Eds.), Language acquisition
studies in generative grammar, pp. 317-368. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Schwartz, B. D. and R. Sprouse. 1996. “L2 cognitive states and the full
transfer/full access model”. Second Language Research 12(1): 40-72.

Smith, N. V. 1973. The acquisition of phonology: A case study. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.

Sorace, A. 2000. “Gradients in auxiliary selection with intransitive verbs”.
Language 76: 859-890.

Alexandra Galani is a permanent member of the academic staff at the University
of Ioannina. Her main research interests are in morphology, its interfaces and
language acquisition.
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