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Review of  Cross-Linguistic Structures in Simultaneous Bilingualism

Reviewer: Carmen Silva
Book Title: Cross-Linguistic Structures in Simultaneous Bilingualism
Book Author: Susanne Dopke
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Issue Number: 12.3160

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D�pke, Susanne, ed. (2001) Cross-Linguistic Structures in
Simultaneous Bilingualism. John Benjamins Publishing Company,
hardback ISBN 1-55619-953-8, x+258pp, $77.00, Studies in
Bilingualism 21

Carmen Silva-Corvalan, University of Southern California

This volume includes an introductory article penned
by the editor and ten articles written by a group of well-
known researchers interested in studying the
simultaneous acquisition of two languages in early
childhood. It is Volume # 21 in the John Benjamin's
Studies in Bilingualism series edited by Kees de Bot and
Thom Huebner. The volume contains an author index
and it ends with a very useful subject index.
The contributions are organized by the language
combination and the linguistic aspect studied. The
language combination names first the minority language
or the home language followed by the majority language
or by the language of the community outside the home
(e.g., Spanish-English in the case of Los Angeles,
Catalan-Spanish in Catalonia).
The introductory article, "On the Status of Cross-
Linguistic Structures in Research on Young Children
Growing Up With Two Languages Simultaneously",
written by Susanne Dopke (SD), summarizes the general
issues examined in the book as well as the specific
studies of each of the contributors. One of the focal
questions addressed in this collection is what
crosslinguistic structures produced by bilingual children
can tell us about the process of bilingual first language
acquisition and about whether these children
differentiate or not the two structural systems of the
languages they are acquiring. Interestingly, SD notes
that the researchers agree that "even the earliest
grammatical structures of bilingual children indicate that
their two languages develop along the language-specific
lines which are to be expected for each language." (p. 2)
This notwithstanding, crosslinguistic structures which
appear to be the outcome of some sort of influence from
one language onto the other are indeed produced by
children. The aim of the contributors is not to ignore
these structures nor treat them as evidence against the
separate development hypothesis, but rather to examine
their occurrence and their absence in order to throw light
on the cognitive processes involved in the simultaneous
acquisition of two languages.
SD also delves into the issue of the frequency of
occurrence of the structures which may be the focus of
study in language development. By their very nature,
crosslinguistic structures in bilingual language
development may be very infrequent, "experiments"
which do not receive any positive evidence from the
environment. But just a few examples, however, could
be very revealing of the processes involved in
acquisition and should not be disregarded. Further
problems are posed by individual differences across
children and by the fact that some language
combinations may have shared features that cause more
structural ambiguities. These problems make it almost
impossible to predict where crosslanguage influences
are likely to occur, but are offset by the fact that
precisely because bilingual children produce more
unexpected structures than monolingual children, the
study of bilingual language development may contribute
a great deal to our understanding of the transition from
"no language knowledge to the ability to structure
complex sentences." (p. 6)
The first article, "Language Mixing as a Challenge
for Linguistics", by Rosemarie Tracy (RT), is an
invitation to reflect on such problems as the
identification of the switch point (especially when
languages are very similar), the determination of a
possible base language, the categorization of the
language elements switched, and the directionality of
mixing. Contrary to Weinreich's (1953:7) belief that
mixed utterances must belong to a definite language, RT
defends the appealing idea that "there may well be
utterances without "a definite language" but rich in
multiple representations instead."
Elisabeth van der Linden, "Non-Selective Access
and Activation in Child Bilingualism: The Lexicon",
discusses crosslinguistic influences in lexical choices in
the speech of a French-Dutch bilingual child growing up
in the Netherlands and compares it with similar
phenomena in adult bilinguals. Research has shown that
when bilingual adults activate one language, the other
language is not completely suppressed but remains
partially activated, suggesting mixed lexical storage. It is
natural to expect, then, that complete inhibition of one
system when communicating in the "other" is not
possible either in bilingual children, but this should not
be interpreted to mean that these children do not
differentiate the two languages. Van der Linden suggests
that the bilingual child needs to acquire first the
pragmatic knowledge that s/he is exposed to two
different languages before being able to develop lexical
differentiation and later on syntactic differentiation.
Beyond the third year, the author suggests that
"crosslinguistic language use becomes more similar to
that of adult code switching behaviour." (p. 54)
Aafke Hulk, "Non-Selective Access and Activation
in Child Bilingualism: The Syntax", investigates the
speech of the same French-Dutch bilingual child as van
der Linden, and concludes as well that the syntactic
system of one language is never completely inhibited
when the bilingual child is communicating in the other
language. With respect to XP_V orders, when the Dutch
and the French input partially overlap in that both
languages allow this order but with different pragmatic
restrictions, the bilingual child produces a higher
frequency of XP_V orders in French than monolingual
speakers, a fact that appears to reflect indirect influence
from Dutch. This observation agrees with what has
already been shown for adult bilinguals with respect to
the possibility of interlanguage syntactic influence,
namely that what is transferred or borrowed across
languages is not syntax, but lexicon and discourse-
pragmatics (Silva-Corvalan 1993, 1996).
The subject of indirect interlanguage influences is
taken up in the next article, "The Interplay Between
Language-Specific Development and Crosslinguistic
Influence", by Susanne Dopke, based on longitudinal
data from four German-English bilingual children (ages
2;0 to 5;0). Most of the unusual structures identified in
the bilingual children's data are also present in
monolingual children's speech, albeit with a higher
frequency, as observed as well by the two preceding
authors. The aspects examined are "the base position of
the verb in the verb phrase, the position of verbs in
relation to negation and modal particles, the
development of finiteness, and the use of non-finite
verbs in positions reserved for finite verbs in German."
In this well-argued paper, the author resorts to the
Competition Model (MacWhinney 1987) to explain the
motivation for the occurrence of non-target structures
and, indeed, "for the full spectrum of variation in the
acquisition paths of bilingual children [] as well as for
monolingual children's path of development." (p. 100)
The next article, "Negation as a Crosslinguistic
Structure in a German-English Bilingual Child",
authored by Christina Schelleter, examines negation
structures in the English of a bilingual child between the
ages of 1:11 and 2:9. The author argues that the child's
German-like negation structures in English (e.g. *I
climb not, p. 116) result from the analysis of negation
"as a lexical category that has the status of an adverbial,
rather than a functional category." (p. 119)
Ira Gawlitzek-Maiwald, ""I Want a Chimney
Builden". The Acquisition of Infinitival Constructions in
Bilingual Children", is concerned with the interesting
question of explaining asynchronies in the development
of the two languages of three English-German
bilinguals. In the case of bilinguals, different
developmental paths could not be due to different stages
of cognitive development, but rather to differences
either in the languages involved (the explanation favored
by Gawlitzek-Maiwald) or in the type of exposure to the
two languages.
A new language combination is introduced in "The
Search for Cross-Linguistic Influences in the Language
of Young Latvian-English Bilinguals", written by Indra
Sinka, who examines data from two bilinguals between
the ages of 1;3 to 2;5. Sinka addresses the question of
whether crosslinguistic structures may be less frequent
when the two languages concerned do not share parallel
structures: Latvian has a freer word order than English
and is morphologically more complex. This is
comparable to the Spanish-English combination that I
have studied in Los Angeles (Silva-Corvalan 1996),
where I have found that given a more syntactically
restricted and morphologically simpler majority
language, transfer of word order and morphology into
the minority language is absent or unidentifiable.
Likewise, Sinka finds that crosslinguistic influences in
the speech of the two Latvian-English bilinguals are
The contribution by Johanne Paradis, "Beyond "One
System or Two?". Degrees of Separation Between the
Languages of French-English Bilingual Children",
proposes that the question whether bilingual children
have one language system or two is too simplistic. Since
recent empirical findings have demonstrated that there is
in fact early differentiation, the degrees of separation
and interaction between the languages being acquired by
bilinguals have become a more interesting issue to
examine. The author conducts this examination in data
selected from studies of French-English bilingual
children's acquisition of morphosyntax and from studies
of their phonological processing. Her careful review of
these studies (of which she has been author or co-author)
leads her to conclude that different subcomponents of
language (e.g. morphosyntax, phonology) are affected
by crosslanguage interaction in different ways. The
bilingual children studied are acquiring verb movement
and classification of pronominal subjects according to
the patterns established for monolingual children. By
contrast, the bilinguals showed some evidence of
crosslanguage influence in the experimental study on
phonological processing. Paradis considers two possible
explanations for this discrepancy: one concerns the
difference in methodology; the other takes into account
the language pair involved.
Ulrike Gut, "Cross-Linguistic Structures in the
Acquisition of Intonational Phonology by German-
English Bilingual Children", finds no evidence of
crosslanguage influence in her detailed study of the
acquisition of intonational phonology in the speech of
two German-English bilinguals (the same bilinguals
studied by Gawlitzek-Maiwald).
Elizabeth Lanza's concluding remarks, "Language
Contact - A Dilemma for the Bilingual Child or for the
Linguist?", close the volume. This author underlines the
recurring message that the child differentiates the
languages from very early on and that, consequently, the
issue of one or two systems is no longer of interest.
Rather, the remaining challenging tasks concern the
development of valid methodologies and the question of
how the child utilises language contact in the process of
acquiring two languages. These are precisely the issues
addressed by the articles in this collection and reflected
upon by Lanza, who makes the important observation
that mixed utterances do not constitute evidence of a
dilemma for the child. On the contrary, "the use of
mixed utterances rather illustrates the resourcefulness of
the bilingual child." (p. 237). This conclusion agrees
with Baker's (2000:28) observation that children find the
process of acquiring two languages simultaneously
"relatively straightforward, painless and effortless".
Lanza's contribution ends with a call to look for
explanations for bilingual language acquisition structural
phenomena beyond "a preferred theory", because the
motivations for these phenomena are most likely to be
found in the convergence of psycholinguistic,
sociolinguistic/pragmatic, and cognitive factors. This
call may be provoked by the disappointing fact that none
of the studies in the volume examines the sociolinguistic
dimension of mixed utterances. The perspective taken is
psycholinguistic and/or generative.
Be that as it may, the articles are all highly
accessible and contribute a great deal to the
understanding of bilingual language development. The
consistent focus on crosslinguistic structures makes this
a coherent and important anthology which should be
obligatory reading for linguists interested in
bilingualism. Furthermore, several of the articles stand
as excellent models of research reporting in the field,
which makes them especially appropriate for
supplemental readings in post-introductory graduate
The articles are based on longitudinal studies of
small numbers of children, a non-experimental
methodology which is more likely to result in reliable
descriptions and valid conclusions. They provide a solid
base-line for further efforts to build a comprehensive
picture of the complex process of bilingual first
language acquisition.

BAKER,COLIN. 2000. A Parents' and Teachers' Guide
to Bilingualism. Clevedon, Boston, Toronto, Sydney:
Multilingual Matters Ltd.
MAC WHINNEY, BRIAN. 1987. "The Competition
Model". Mechanisms of Language Acquisition, ed. by
B. MacWhinney, 249-308. Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence
permeability of grammars: Evidence from Spanish and
English contact". Linguistic Perspectives on the
Romance Languages, ed. by W. Ashby, et al., 19-43.
Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Contact and Change: Spanish in Los Angeles.
Oxford: Clarendon.
WEINREICH, URIEL. 1953. Languages in Contact.
1968 edition. The Hague: Mouton de Gruyter.

Carmen Silva-Corvalan is Professor of Spanish and
Linguistics at The University of Southern California.
She is currently conducting research on bilingual and
trilingual simultaneous language acquisition.