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Review of  Bilingual Acquisition: Theoretical Implications Of A Case Study


Reviewer: Marina Tzakosta
Book Title: Bilingual Acquisition: Theoretical Implications Of A Case Study
Book Author: Margaret Deuchar Suzanne Quay
Publisher:
Linguistic Field(s): Psycholinguistics
Neurolinguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Spanish
Book Announcement: 12.2989

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Review:

Deuchar, Margaret, and Suzanne Quay (2001) Bilingual Acquisition:
Theoretical Implications of a Case Study. Oxford University Press,
paperback ISBN 0-19-829973-7, x+163pp, $18.95.

Marina Tzakosta, University of Leiden Center for linguistics.

"Bilingual Acquisition: Theoretical Implications of a case study" is an
introduction to the study of bilingualism and is intended for readers
who have some basic knowledge of linguistics. The basic aim of the book
is to explore the degree to which bilingual children have one or two
distinct linguistic systems. For this reason the authors (henceforth
D&Q) turn to the phonological, syntactic, and semantic components of
grammar in order to find answers to the above issue.

CONTENT
Chapter 1 introduces the authors' main aim, which is "... to explore
the implications for linguistic theory of a case study in bilingual
acquisition" (p.1). Their theoretical questions concern, on the one
hand, the acquisition of phonology, syntax and semantics and, on the
other hand, the implications of a longstanding question in Linguistics,
namely "whether a bilingual child has one or two linguistic systems
from the very beginning (p.1)". In the remainder of their chapter the
authors give the reasons why they adopt the "case study approach", in
order to account for their findings, but they also mention the main
defect of a case study, that is the "complexity, which prohibits
researchers of making linguistic generalizations" (p. 3). Furthermore,
they 'present' the subject (M) and her linguistic environment, the
circumstances and conditions under which she was exposed to each
language. Finally, they provide the readers with detailed references on
earlier studies of bilingual acquisition.

Chapter 2 is dedicated to the methodology of data collection and
transcription. The authors give exhaustive records concerning the data
collection (diary records, audio and -video recordings, transcriptions,
use of CHILDES), which are absolutely essential for the readers to
evaluate the results of the case study.

Chapter 3 turns to the acquisition of phonology and is concerned with
the question of whether a bilingual child has one or two phonological
systems. In the first part of the chapter, D&Q examine the segmental
aspects of English and Spanish, i.e. they pay attention to the way
consonants and vowels are acquired by monolinguals and they compare it
with their findings from their bilingual subject. They consider M's
segmental inventory only at the age of 1;10 without taking
developmental stages into account. They don't explain why they consider
data only from that age and, consequently, the selection of this
specific period of time in the child's development seems rather random.
Another disadvantage is that after providing the readers with the
segments found in M's inventory they make very general claims such as
"the sounds that are common to both languages...seem to be acquired
earlier than sounds that are English specific or Spanish
specific...certain types of sounds are acquired earlier than others
cross-linguistically...stops appear earlier than fricatives (p.32)"
without a discussion of why these patterns should emerge and not
others. It would lead D&Q to more certain generalizations if they
actually examined more concrete phonological units such as the shape of
the syllables where consonants and vowels emerged instead of referring
to them in isolation. It would furthermore be more practical if the
authors gave statistical results about the emergence of certain
segments in M's inventory in both languages, since generalizations
would be clearer in this way (seen for instance in Grijzenhout and
Joppen 1998 for German). It would also be much more practical for the
reader to be provided with the (most important) data in the text
instead of an appendix. In the second part of the chapter they examine
the acquisition of voicing in utterance initial stops. The authors'
choice to examine this contrast is successful since initial stops have
different phonetic realization in English and in Spanish. Even though
the data are sparse in some cases, the discussion of voicing is
complete, accurate and thorough based on data coming from different
stages of development. The closing comment of the chapter is that D&Q
are not able to choose on the basis of the data whether the bilingual
child has one phonological system or two, which is rather a pity.

Chapter 4 introduces a related question concerning whether bilinguals
"have one or two lexical systems from the beginning ... (and) ... how
early developing bilinguals are able produce two words with the same
meaning, one from each language (p. 47)". D&Q give extended and very
interesting examples of English and Spanish equivalents in M's
vocabulary but they are again restricted to data between the age of
0;10 and 1;10. With respect to the issue of a twofold lexicon D&Q
assume that the emergence of synonyms shows that the 2 system approach
might not be valid. Wapole (2000), on the other hand, who uses M's
data, when studying the existence of one system or two in bilingual
children, is led to more certain conclusions than D&Q and comments that
"children are very proficient at separating the two languages from the
beginning (p. 187)". Wapole argues that M doesn't employ a lot of code
mixing which is evidence, according to her, for the 2 lexicon approach.

Chapter 5 focuses on the acquisition of the syntactic component of
grammar by M. D&Q argue that syntax begins in child language when two-
word utterances are produced (p. 68). Consequently, they try to answer
the question of one vs. two systems by looking at "mixed utterances",
that is two word utterances "consisting of one word from one language
being acquired by the child, juxtaposed with a form from the other
language (p. 70)" as well as "same-language two word utterances"
(version 1) and the emergence of language-specific morphology (version
2). They examine mixed utterances in the English and the Spanish
language context by checking the extent to which the child's vocabulary
allowed her to choose between a word from one language and one from the
other, and if she had a choice to what degree the word selected matched
the language in which the child was being addressed. D&Q come to the
conclusion that "mixed utterances in both the English and the Spanish
context can mostly be attributed to the lack of a contextually
appropriate lexical item where she (the subject) could, and, where it
was not available, using what lexical resources she had available ...
the mixed utterances are thus not evidence for a single initial system
..." (pp. 74-75). With respect to same-language two-word utterances in
English and Spanish D&Q find that M tends to match the context "when
lexical resources allow, with a few exceptions (p. 79)". They argue
that two -word utterances - apart from some cases where utterances
consist of just one noun- mainly have a syntax consisting of the
juxtaposition of two words, an argument and a predicate.

As far as the emergence of morphological marking is concerned (gender
marking, verb and noun inflection), D&Q provide convincing evidence
that by the age of 1;11 utterances can be classified as either English
or Spanish on the basis of language specific morphology. D&Q finally
draw on the conclusion that only when language specific morphology
occurs can we find evidence for the existence of two distinct syntactic
systems in M's data. D&Q's account of syntax, even though it is focused
on rather general topics, is more complete and reaches more concrete
conclusions compared to the one dealing with phonology.

Chapter 6 pays attention to language choice. On the basis of two-word
utterance data under the age of 2, show that the child can make
appropriate language choices before the age of 2. The main virtue of
this chapter is that D&Q investigate the role of the environment
(language of the interlocutors, location, setting etc.) in language
production and the proportion of English words found in the Spanish
context and vice versa. Nevertheless, the study of language choice is
rather general and preliminary, something that the authors don't
hesitate to admit.

Chapter 7 is the final chapter, which constitutes an overview of the
study. D&Q also include the set of data used for their study in
appendices. The first appendix includes the recordings used in the
analyses reported in the book. Appendices 2 and 3 include one-word and
two-word utterances produced by M respectively.

OVERALL EVALUATION
The first impression that the book gives is that it doesn't make
concrete assumptions about the universal factors governing bilingual
acquisition, even though this is suggested by the title ("Theoretical
implications of a case study"). Furthermore, D&Q don't adopt a certain
position towards the question of whether bilinguals have one or two
linguistic systems, even though this is the authors' second aim (contra
Romaine 1989, Wapole 2000) as claimed in chapter1, and the book is
rather inconclusive as to an answer to this question. Also, the data we
are presented with stop at the age of 2;3, but phonology and especially
syntax can give more information about development after this age. As a
result, the findings cannot be as valid or general as they would be if
the study covered a longer period of M's linguistic development.
Moreover, it would be useful (if not necessary) for the readers if the
authors reported on the specific stages M went through during the
course of her linguistic development. This would, again, lead to
concrete generalizations and clear comparisons with other studies. In
general, the authors should have made use of more clearly sketched
research paths in order to come to more definitive answers to their
questions. Nevertheless, what is very positive about the book is that
it provides the readers with extensive references to cross-linguistic
studies and findings on bilingualism. Another positive aspect is that
D&Q don't forget to mention the role the language context can play in
the child's course of development, something that is often ignored in
theoretical studies of language acquisition. Generally speaking, D&Q's
book is an interesting contribution to the ongoing debate on
bilingualism.

REFERENCES
Grijzenhout, J., and S. Joppen. 1998. First Steps in the Acquisition of
German Consonants: Minimal Constraint Demotion. To appear in Kager, R
and W. Zonneveld (eds.). Fixing Priorities: Constraints in Phonological
Acquisition. CUP.

Romaine, S. 1995 [1989]. Bilingualism. Oxford: Blackwell

Wapole, C. 2000. The Bilingual Child: One System or Two? In Clark, E.
V. (ed.). The Proceedings of the Thirtieth Annual Child Language
Research Forum. Stanford: CSLI, pp. 187-194.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Marina Tzakosta is a Ph.D. student in the University of Leiden Center
for Linguistics. Her project is focused on the acquisition of Stress in
Modern Greek in an Optimality Theory framework. Her interests also
include child and adult second language acquisition and bilingualism.


 
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