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Review of  The Resilience of Language


Reviewer: Annette E. Hohenberger
Book Title: The Resilience of Language
Book Author: Susan Goldin-Meadow
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Psycholinguistics
Language Acquisition
Language Family(ies): Sign Language
Book Announcement: 15.683

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Review:
Date: Tue, 24 Feb 2004 14:06:01 +0100
From: Annette Hohenberger <hohenberger@cbs.mpg.de>
Subject: Resilience of Language


AUTHOR: Goldin-Meadow, Susan
TITLE: The Resilience of Language
SUBTITLE: What Gesture Creation in Deaf Children Can Tell Us About How
All Children Learn Language
PUBLISHER: Psychology Press (Taylor and Francis)
YEAR: 2003

Annette Hohenberger, Max-Planck-Institute for Human Cognitive and
Brain Sciences, Department of Psychology, Munich


INTRODUCTION

In this monograph, Susan Goldin-Meadow explores the "resilient"
properties of language, i.e., those properties which are robust and
flexible enough to occur universally (across the languages of the world)
in individuals under vastly varying acquisitional scenarios. The
"language-making skills" (rather than language-learning skills) of young
children can access grammatical forms and constructions implementing
these properties easily in normal as well as extremely unfavorable
learning situations.

In order to identify the resilient properties of language, Susan
Goldin-Meadow studies deaf children of hearing parents who have neither a
sign nor a spoken language model from which they could derive the
properties of human language. Despite this lack of a language model,
these subjects come up with a language system that has all the hallmarks
of natural language.

What exactly are resilient properties? Susan Goldin-Meadow calls those
properties of language resilient whose development is resistant to
changes in the environmental conditions under which languages are
learned: "To the extent that a property of language is UNAFFECTED (in
italics in the original, my remark, A.H.) by a given manipulation, it can
be said to be developmentally RESILIENT - its developmental course is
impervious to the change in input conditions." (p 19) The opposite of
resilient properties are "fragile" properties "whose development is
sensitive to changes in input conditions." (p 20)

The question of what language children would develop if they were
deprived of language has its historical antecedents in the search for the
proto-language of mankind. It is historically bequeathed that several
emperors, namely the Pharaoh Psammetic, the Staufer King Frederic II and
the Scottish King Jacob IV arranged for rigorous experiments on newborns
which they had deprived of any language and human companion in order to
find out what language they would develop. This language should then be
considered the human proto-language. These experiments all failed: the
poor infants either died (as in Frederic II's case) or uttered only some
sparse proto-words (which, however, led Psammetic to conclude that
Phrygian must be the proto-language and Jacob that it was Hebrew). Thus,
the most basic condition which must be met for any language-learning to
be possible at all is human companion and the willingness to communicate,
i.e, "human and humane contact." (p 48) This is the case for the subjects
Susan Goldin-Meadow studies. They live under normal social and emotional
conditions except that they do not have a language model because (1)
their hearing parents cannot sign and (2) they want them to acquire an
oral language, spoken English. As a result neither the parents get what
they want - a speaking child - nor do the children get what they need -
a(ny) language model, signed or spoken. The study therefore qualifies as
a "deprivation study" conducted under the only ethically acceptable
condition - that it be not deliberately created by the experimenters.
Rather, the author came across these children in their specific situation
which she identified as offering "a unique and powerful way to isolate
properties of language that are resilient..." (p 51)


SUMMARY

The book is organized into three main sections:

In the first section (chapters 1-5) the author lays out "The problem of
language-learning". In this section, she covers the common developmental
sequence children go through despite cross-linguistic differences,
despite differing circumstances of acquisition, and despite different
modalities (aural-oral for spoken languages; visual-gestural for sign
languages).

In the second section (chapters 6-15) she explores in depth the situation
of "Language development without a language model". This section is the
core section which covers a wealth of empirical data and very thoroughly
carried-out studies on the structure and use of gestures which the deaf
children in her study create in the absence of any model of language.
Furthermore, she compares the gestures of the hearing parents with those
of their deaf children and also the gestures of deaf children from
another culture/language, namely children from Taiwan whose surrounding
spoken language is Chinese. Those comparisons should factor out any
influence of the parents' gestures and of the culture and show which
properties are really resilient and which can be modified by gestural
input and cultural impact.

In the four chapters (16-19) of the final section "The conditions that
foster language and language-learning" she generalizes her findings with
respect to the question of how language-learning proceeds in children in
general and what role the resilient properties of language and the
language-making abilities of children play. She also studies
gesture-creation experimentally in hearing adults. From all these studies
she derives a new perspective on the longstanding and hotly-debated
question whether language is innate by shifting the emphasis from
genetics to developmental resilience.

This book, according to the author, aims at students of linguistics at
the upper level undergraduate courses and introductory graduate courses.
It can be used for teaching, though not as a stand-alone textbook but in
combination with more traditional textbooks on language acquisition. The
book can be read (and taught) in a modular way. The sections and
individual chapters can be read independently of each other. Especially
the first section is a concise introduction into the fundamental problems
of language acquisition research and discusses the various theoretical
approaches on the background of a wealth of empirical findings. Readers
already acquainted with the main paradigms, problems, and puzzles of
language acquisition may rehearse their knowledge by reading this section
before concentrating on the central second section. In each of the
chapters in the second section, particular aspects of the deaf children's
gesture system are discussed. In class, they can be supplemented by the
more detailed original studies they are taken from and which have already
been published as independent papers. In the last section, conclusions
are drawn from the empirical studies, conventional language acquisition
is revisited in the light of the present findings, speculations on the
evolution of gestural and oral languages are sketched, and the relation
of gesture and speech in language is discussed.

The book is supplemented by 17 movies which show in real-time the
gestured words and sentences of the deaf children which are referred to
as examples in the book. The movies are available at
<http://www.psypress.com/goldinmeadow>.

There are a few typos which are hardly worth mentioning ('manipulatable'
on p 63 and 'old' instead of 'odd' on p 70). What should be corrected in
the next edition is a mislabelling in the legends of two figures. In
Figure 17 (p 139) the 'distal events' should be in white and the 'object
& action knowledge' in black. In Figure 23 (p 174) the 'American
children' should correspond to the black bars and the 'Chinese children'
to the striped bars. Everything is fine in the diagrams themselves, only
the legends are incorrect.

At the heart of this monograph is the description of the gesture system
of 10 US deaf children of hearing parents from 1;4 (earliest session) to
4;6 (latest session) years of age. All utterances were scored according
to a coding-system which was developed for the deaf children's utterances
and which was also used for the other groups with which the original
subject group was compared later. The coding-system consists of three
categories, namely "deictic (pointing) gestures" which function like
nouns (N) and pronouns and denote persons/objects/locations, "iconic
gestures" which denote actions and events (either transitive or
intransitive), and "marker/modulator gestures" (e.g., headnods,
headshakes) which convey mode (affirmation/negation/doubt/want) (chapter
6). The meaning of these gestures was determined on the basis of their
form. Inter-rater reliability was sufficiently high (87-100%). Gestures
were elicited from the young subjects by an experimenter in interactive
play sessions.

The gestures the children created and used are clearly organized as parts
of a language system. This language system displays all signs of a
natural language. It includes a lexicon in which words - nouns and verbs
- are stored as stable lexical entries relating form and meaning in a
systematic way, a morphological component which creates paradigmatic
contrasts of e.g., handshapes and movements, predicate frames specifying
"who does what to whom", and, finally, a syntactic component with
recursive capacities, serving all the functions natural language is used
for: making requests and comments in the here-and-now, referring to
non-present objects and events, making generic statements, telling
stories, talking to one-self and, last, serving meta-linguistic purposes.

Some forms and meanings seem to be more easily accessible in language
acquisition than others. The most compelling of those are "ergative"
constructions, a recurring theme throughout the book (see also
Goldin-Meadow 2003a). The deaf children focus primarily on patients and
on the result of actions as they are evidenced by the equally high
production probabilities of intransitive actors and transitive patients
in the deaf children's data as opposed to the low production probability
of subjects of transitive verbs. Underlying this pattern is "a tendency
to see objects as affected by action rather than as effectors of action."
(p 106) As in ergative languages, where intransitive actors and
transitive patients are marked alike morphologically, the deaf children
group them together by means of the same probability of occurrence.
Furthermore, they are also treated on a par with respect to word order:
both transitive patients and intransitive actors precede the acts, as in
"snack EAT" and "Susan MOVE-OVER". Transitive actors, if they appear at
all, occur post-verbally. From these results one can deduce that the
spontaneously emerging word order for the majority of the deaf children
is OV(S) and that they have acquired an ergative language. Not only the
deaf American children show this pattern, but also deaf Chinese Children
who grow up under comparable conditions of language deprivation (chapter
15). Hearing adult subjects, too, come up with ergative (and
figure-ground) word order if asked to describe scenes by means of
gestures only (chapter 17). The pervasive ergative pattern may result
from more general cognitive factors in parsing events into units of
speech or sign (see below). Languages can and do override this initial
option which is part of a "gold standard" (p 173) in acquisition and
processing. Multiple factors, cognitive, linguistic, communicative,
interact in explaining word order and event packaging in a given
language. Lacking any language model, the deaf children show this gold
standard in its pure form. Carrying the gold metaphor a little further,
they can be said to have spun straw into gold - the proven structure- and
worthless gestural input of their parents (chapter 14) into a natural
language.

Susan Goldin-Meadow summarizes the resilient properties of language she
found in her deaf child subjects in chapter 16, Table 6 (p 186).
Resilient properties of words are their stability in form, their
segmentation and combination into morphological paradigms consisting of a
limited set of categories (handshapes and movements), the arbitrariness
of the form-meaning pairing (despite a certain degree of iconicity) and
their differential functioning as nouns, verbs, and adjectives. The
resilient properties of sentences are underlying predicate frames with
consistent production probabilities of particular theta-roles, word order
(OV), inflections, recursion, and redundancy reduction. In Table 6, words
and sentences are taken as domains in which resilient properties of
language manifest themselves. Making this point even stronger, one might
consider morphemes, words, and phrases themselves as resilient units of
language which emerge in a predictable way through processing and
acquisition. The resilient functions of language comprise here-and-now
talk, displaced talk, generics, narrative, self-talk, and meta-language.
In the same vein, she identifies language-making skills that do not
require a language model, as summarized in Table 7 (p 190). Processes
which are available despite a missing language model are segmenting
(words into morphemes, sentences into words), constructing
(morphological) paradigms and constructing syntactic sequences. Thus,
segmentation and combination (on the vertical and the horizontal axis)
are so basic that they can occur de novo in the course of language
acquisition. Structures which can be attained without a language model
comprise multiple argument predicate frames, the grammatical categories
of nouns, verbs, and adjectives, and ergative constructions. The overall
acquisition path of the deaf children is also comparable to those of
children with a language model, namely from the whole to the parts
(chapter 9). They start out with unanalyzed word forms which represent
primarily the gesture-world relation. Once they have stored a critical
mass of entries in their mental lexicon, they start breaking down these
forms, extract morphemes and recombine them, thereby creating paradigms
of systematic contrasts which are now governed by gesture-gesture
relations, i.e., by language-systematic aspects. As for syntax, they
start out with single gestures, then combine them into two-gesture
sentences (1;6-2;5) and, finally, at the age of (3;1-3;11), they produce
complex sentences. In this process of "building a system" (chapter 12)
they re-analyze or "redescribe" their representations, to speak with
Karmiloff-Smith (1992). Evidence for that also comes from their shifting
from semantic notions such as agents and actors to notions of grammatical
functions such as nouns and verbs. One deaf child's development was
monitored in particular in this respect. He started out with a
semantically-based correlation of objects with nouns and actions with
verbs. Before the age of 3;3 nouns and verbs were marked strictly
formally in that nouns were always deictic gestures and verbs iconic
gestures. After 3;3, this equivalence relation was resolved stepwise. As
a first interim step, he then expressed nouns with iconic gestures, too,
but never used the same gesture for both nouns and verbs. This amounts to
a lexical strategy. Finally, nouns and verbs became truly grammaticized
notions. He then used the same iconic gestures for nouns and verbs but
distinguished them by morphological markings. Susan Goldin-Meadow argues
that there is a developmental nexus of grammaticalization of semantic
notions, the emergence of morphology (derivational and inflectional) and,
maybe, also the symbolic use of gestures for non-present objects (chapter
12). Apart from these compelling parallels in the developmental
trajectories of children with and without language models, there are also
differences. Not surprisingly, the development of the latter is somewhat
delayed and their sentences remain shorter, in general.


EVALUATION

"The resilience of language" is a book which takes us back to the very
roots of language in terms of acquisition and evolution. It attempts at
answering a question which is as old as our reasoning about our own
nature: What is at the very heart of our human language faculty?

Susan Goldin-Meadow's methodological approach is sound and sharp and
therefore allows her to establish reliable and valid evidence with
respect to her research question. She adheres to the following rationale:
"We first establish an equivalence between the deaf children's systems
and the linguistic systems developed by children learning conventional
languages. We then make inferences about how language is learned in
general from the fact that the deaf children display certain properties
of language in their systems but fail to display others." (p 123) She
proceeds very carefully in trying to exclude possible intervening
hypotheses. By showing that the gestures of the deaf children's speaking
parents have no language-systematic properties at all, she excludes the
reasonable assumption that the parents' gesturing may have fostered their
children's gesturing (chapter 14). By showing that another group of deaf
children who grow up in Taiwan (whose parents speak Chinese) show the
same syntactic patterns than do their US counterparts, she proves that
neither culture nor the surrounding language has any influence on the
structural patterns which emerge in deaf children without a language
model (chapter 15). By showing that English speaking and Chinese speaking
peers do show salient differences in overt realization of arguments of
underlying predicate frames, she identifies those aspects of language
which can only develop given a particular language model (chapter 15).
These properties are the "fragile" properties of language. By showing
that adult speakers, if asked to rely on gestures only in describing
dynamical scenes, resort to the same word orders and event packaging
strategies as the deaf children did, she identifies a common cognitive
substrate for these recurring phenomena (chapter 17).

The properties summarized in table 6 and 7 are called "resilient
properties of language" and resilient language-making skills,
respectively. The question is: Are they really resilient properties of
language or are they resilient properties of cognition? If the former is
true, then these properties are specific to language and do not show up
in a different cognitive domain. If the latter is true, then these
properties hold for cognitive development in general. Thus, the question
is if what Susan Goldin-Meadow has identified phenomenologically is
resilient with respect to language or resilient with respect to cognition
in the domain of language or, even wider, communication. Are there
general (developmental) cognitive schemas and strategies which, if
applied to the task of communication, produce the phenomena at hand?

In order to examine this possibility, let us exemplarily come back to the
prominent ergative pattern. I would like to adduce evidence from findings
in cognitive and developmental psychology which are strongly reminiscent
of  this pattern. In cognitive psychology, it is well-known that the
(anticipated) results of actions play a key role in the perception,
planning, and control of actions. This focusing on the results or goals
of actions has been dubbed the "action-effect" principle (Prinz 1997). In
developmental psychology, too, it has been shown that infants pay special
attention to salient action effects on the objects involved in human
action (Jovanovic et al. submitted). In both domains, human action and
language, there seems to be a common bias for the encoding of results/end
states/patient properties of events.

Likewise, for the other resilient properties and processes, one wonders
if they are cognitive in general or language-specific. Susan
Goldin-Meadow discusses this central question (chapter 16, p 191f) when
she asks why the deaf children co-opt for specific processes, namely
segmentation and combination of units into paradigms and syntactic
sequences, thereby following underlying predicate frames, and introducing
recursion. In particular, she asks why the deaf children did not
grammaticize e.g. Euclidean-geometric concepts such as distance, size,
contour, angles, etc. which would be natural given the spatial nature of
their gesture system. Instead, they grammaticize the very same notions as
do all natural languages. She concludes: "That the children choose to
co-opt the particular combinatorial processes listed in Table 7 over
others is therefore significant. Even if we are completely comfortable
saying that these processes reflect general cognitive operations (as
opposed to specifically linguistic operations), we still need to explain
why THIS SET (in italics in the original, my remark, A.H.) has been
co-opted." (p 192) In her answer she invokes the task requirements of
language itself: "It may be that the communicative situation itself
demands not only segmentation, but also combinatorial processes of this
sort - ..." (ibid.) The task of transmitting information requires that
our "knowledge must go through a discrete filter and, as a result, its
representation ends up looking discrete." (p 191) However, this answer is
only partially satisfying as there is no (and can be no) causal
explanation of how these task requirements shall result in grammatical
structures. They can only define the problem and set the goal, here: how
to get one's thoughts into the head of someone else and vice versa. There
must be processes and structures ready for implementing this task. It is
these processes and structures the child co-opts. Thus, we are back where
we started.

If what the children developed on their own is a result of their general
cognitive abilities, then what is specific to language as a module (if
one does not want to deny its status as a cognitive module altogether)?
In order to answer this question, one might look at what properties the
deaf children did not develop but which are considered crucial for
language, though. What comes to mind first, is phonology. Susan
Goldin-Meadow says nothing about the analysis of gestures into the three
(or four) phonological parameters of conventional sign languages, namely
handshape, movement, place of articulation (and hand-orientation). Her
deaf children use the first two of them, handshape and movement, for
decomposing words into their constituent morphological components.
Implicitly, phonological features must be accessible to them, but maybe
only via morphology. She says nothing about systematic phonological
contrasts of the other two features. Either there is too little evidence
for them in the data or the gestures really have not been analyzed
phonologically. Given that phonology is a defining characteristics of all
natural languages, it is hardly conceivable that they haven't. A
phonological analysis might even require more time to develop in
acquisition (and evolution) than a morphological analysis, given the
whole-part strategy mentioned above. The hearing adults in the "gesture
creation paradigm" also neither developed a morphology nor a phonology.

In the domain of syntax, too, the deaf children did not come up with a
full-blown syntactic system. Susan Goldin-Meadow grants them the very
basic property of recursion. Thus, they combine phrases to complex
sentences, although they cannot show their full recursive capability of
multiple embedding, given the overall shortness of their sentences. The
lack of complementizers and hypotactic subordination is probably also due
to this basic limitation. There is, however, one property missing which
cannot be explained away along these lines. Of the two basic operations
of syntax they have Merger but not Move. Move relates to the basic
property of displacement and formation of chains which is common to all
natural languages (at least from a generative perspective). The three
basic layers of a phrase marker, the thematic layer (VP), the
propositional layer (IP), and the modal layer (CP) are related to each
other by movement of constituents and creation of chains. There is no
evidence in the data of the deaf children that they, for example,
topicalize a constituent by fronting it. It is hard to conceive how they
should figure out such a possibility, lacking any language model.
However, dislocation is an 'essential' property of language.  Maybe it is
even a resilient one, but one which might need more time to develop, and
a wider range of application.

It might be helpful to not only contrast 'resilient' with 'fragile'
properties but also with 'essential' and 'emergent' properties of
language. 'Essential' properties of language would be those which are
specific to and constitutive of language, e.g., features like TNS or
processes like Move which have no counterpart in any other cognitive
system. Essential properties of language may or may not be resilient. I
would suggest to distinguish those resilient properties which are
domain-unspecific from those which are domain-specific. If it turned out
that there exist only domain-unspecific resilient  properties of
language, this would be tantamount to the connectionist claim that there
are no language-specific properties at all. If there were
language-specific resilient properties, however, this would be strong
evidence for those aspects of UG which are data-insensitive. It is hard
to clear the notion of 'resilience' from being 'essential', 'most basic',
or 'most important' in language. It may turn out that essential
properties of language are never resilient and manifest themselves only
in connection with input whereas more general cognitive strategies are
responsible for the resilient properties. Note that this scenario would
not be incompatible with a theory of UG which holds that UG only defines
the boundary conditions, i.e., the possible format of human language and
not the set of linguistic primitives per se, namely "if units of
representation are allowed to emerge from the accommodation of actual
data according to general principles of the representational system."
(Bierwisch 2001: 299)

Structures may also arise in a process of 'emergence' rather than
learning from a model. 'Emergent' properties are novel systemic
properties which arise spontaneously ('de novo') on a macroscopic level
in the course of (language) development, due to local interactions of
elements on a microscopic level. Morphemes, words and phrases as
recurrent and stable units of language, N and V as grammatical
categories, and word order, are good candidates for emergent structures.
Resilient structures might therefore be emergent ones.

Truly fragile properties are branching direction (left or right, see
chapter 11) as an example of a classical parameter in the sense of the
Principles-and-Parameters Theory. They can be easily fixed by limited
experience but a minimal amount of experience must be available. A single
person cannot be the creator of language and provider of evidence for
him-/herself at the same time, as correctly pointed out by Susan
Goldin-Meadow. This would amount to an absurd bootstrapping task. In
order for language to fully bloom other conditions must be met, as in the
felicitous case of the emergence of Nicaraguan Sign Language (NSL) which
she discusses in chapter 19. First, there must be a sufficiently large
number of members of the language community who are willing to
communicate, second, there must be the opportunity to see the system as a
whole which is true for new members who enter this community, and, as a
third requirement, they must be of a sufficiently young age. Of all these
preconditions, only the last is true for the deaf children of the present
study. They did the best they could and got as far as possible in their
given situation.

Susan Goldin-Meadow also discusses other accounts of language creation in
similar situations in order to clarify her own account of developmental
resilience (chapter 5). Similar evidence for the language-making skills
of children come from Bickerton's (1999) creole studies. He invokes a
"bioprogram" operative in young children which enables them to enrich the
pidgin they receive as input and to develop it into a structurally
complex creole language. One might be tempted to simply subsume the
resilient properties of language under the innate language bioprogram.
There are two main differences between the two accounts, though. First,
Susan Goldin-Meadow's methodology and data are even more radical and
therefore also more evidential for the identification of the resilient
properties of language than Bickerton's data. Second, whereas Bickerton
readily resorts to nativism as an explanation, Susan Goldin-Meadow is
much more cautious in this respect. She carefully avoids any direct
claims of innateness or biological anchoring of the human language
faculty. This abstinence makes her approach especially valuable as a
concept that can be shared by different learning approaches - innatist,
connectionist, environmentalist - which she outlines in chapter 2. Rather
than defining "innate" as genetic she suggests "that the definition is
more usefully anchored in the notion of developmental resilience."
(chapter 18, p 215) With developmental resilience, she means
developmentally "buffered against a large number of both environmental
and organic variations." (p 218) Language acquisition can succeed under a
vast range of differing conditions, even under conditions of no input at
all. Some aspects of language are more affected by these environmental
variations than others. The latter are "central to humans - so central
that their development is virtually guaranteed, not necessarily by a
particular gene but by a variety of combinations of genetic and
environmental factors. In this sense, language is innate." (p 220) Her
account of innateness in terms of developmental resilience is suited to
relax the ongoing innateness controversy (Elman et al. 1996) in that it
avoids the paradigmatic dispute between the various theoretical camps but
focuses more on the content of what is claimed to be innate. She has
provided a detailed catalogue of resilient properties of language based
on a thoroughly cared-out empirical study of a group of language learners
under the most hostile conditions one can think of. Even without any
model of language, the developmental path is not random but runs along
the same general trajectories as in any other group of language learners.
Language development is "equifinal" (p 218) although it obviously is not
equi-initial or equi-liminal (Hohenberger 2002), i.e., it can start out
from very different initial states and take different possible pathways
from the initial to the steady state. Susan Goldin-Meadow has shown how
substantial variation can be in the initial conditions and still all
these trajectories lead to a single stable solution within an overall
dynamical language system - due to the resilient properties of language.
Some of these properties may take more or less time to become manifest.
Some pop up de novo in a single generation, others may take considerably
more time to develop and transcend the ontogenetic time-span. In chapter
17 she speculates on the role of time in the manifestation of resilient
properties. Time, however, is also confounded with linguistic evidence.
The next generation would be provided with the evidence built up by the
previous generation. Linguistic features emerge through the iterated
process of mapping external data on internal representations (grammar).
The longer this process operates, the subtler and more "fragile" these
features will be. All features, resilient and fragile ones, are licensed
by the same conditions of the human language module but have differing
developmental onsets. The author has explored the very beginning of this
process, the first few iterations of a dynamical process in an
ontogenetic time-span. Language develops on various time-scales at the
same time - evolutionary, phylogenetic, ontogenetic, microgenetic.
Resilience manifests itself on all these scales but not necessarily for
the same properties at the same speed.

Susan Goldin-Meadow shows that gesture can develop into language if it
assumes the full burden of communication (chapter 17), as it does in the
case of her young deaf subjects and also in the acquisition of a
conventional sign language (chapter 4). Gesture serves a quite different
function in oral languages, namely the imagistic function. In every
language both functions - the systemic and the imagistic function - have
to be covered. Usually, this happens in a division of labor between the
modalities: in sign languages the oral modality is used for gesturing, in
spoken language it is the gestural modality. Susan Goldin-Meadow has also
explored into this division of labor and has found that in spoken
language acquisition the visual-gestural channel can provide valuable
insights into the developmental state of a child acquiring a spoken
language. Sometimes the child expresses knowledge in the gestural channel
which it cannot yet expressed in the oral channel, as in the case of
gesture-speech "mismatch". Gesturing is therefore helpful in the overall
cognitive development. In her book "Hearing gesture: How our hands help
us think" (2003b) Susan Goldin-Meadow gives a comprehensive account of
the diverse roles that gesture assumes in spoken language. Both
monographs supplement each other in an obvious way and witness the deep
involvement of the author in the interdisciplinary field of gesture
research.

It is the merit of Susan Goldin-Meadow's book(s) to focus our thinking on
the deep and still unresolved puzzles of language acquisition by showing
us what the very foundations of language are. Her preoccupation with
these fundamental questions for the last 25 years presents us with a
highly unique, original, and comprehensive treatise in the field of
language acquisition and cognitive development.

The only drop of bitterness I had to swallow in reading this insightful
and thought-provoking book concerns the fate of the young subjects. While
Susan Goldin-Meadow as the objective scientist is silent on any ethical
or moral implications, the burning issue to me is: Were these fine young
children eventually redeemed from their deprivation and allowed to
immerse into a full language model which, no doubt, ideally would be a
sign language? The deaf children did the best they could - now it is up
to their environment to provide them with what is a human right: to have
a full natural language.


REFERENCES

Bickerton, D. (1999): Creole languages, the language bioprogram
hypothesis, and language acquisition. In W.C. Ritchie and T.K. Bhatia
(eds.), Handbook of child language and acquisition (pp. 195-220). New
York: Academic.

Bierwisch, M. (2001): Repertoires of primitive elements. Prerequisite or
result of acquisition? In: J. Weissenborn & B. Hoehle (Eds.), Approaches
to bootstrapping. Phonological, lexical, syntactic and neurophysiological
aspects of early language acquisition. Vol. 2, 281-307. Amsterdam,
Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Elman, J., Bates, E., Johnson, M, Karmiloff-Smith, A., Parisi, D. and
Plunkett, K. (1996): Rethinking innateness. A connectionist perspective
on development. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Goldin-Meadow, S. (2003a): Thought before language: Do we think ergative?
In D. Gentner & S. Goldin-Meadow (eds.), Language in mind: Advances in
the study of language and thought. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Goldin-Meadow, S. (2003b): Hearing gesture: How our hands help us think.
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Hohenberger, A. (2002): Functional categories in language acquisition:
Self-organization of a dynamical system. Linguistische Arbeiten 456.
Tübingen: Niemeyer.

Jovanovic, B., Királyi, I., Elsner, B, Gergely, G., Prinz, W. &
Aschersleben, G. (submitted): The role of effects for infants' perception
of action goals.

Karmiloff-Smith, A. (1992): Beyond modularity. A developmental
perspective on cognitive science. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Prinz, W. (1997): Perception and action planning. European Journal of
Cognitive Psychology 9, 129-154.
 
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER


My research interests are (i) first language acquisition, where I put
forward a dynamical account of the acquisition of syntax (ii) language
processing, where I compared slips of tongue and hand (iii) sign
language, especially processing and acquisition, and (iv) the development
of cognition and action as a broader framework relating (i-iii) to human
action.


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