EDITORS: Han, ZhaoHong; Cadierno, Teresa TITLE: Linguistic Relativity in SLA SUBTITLE: Thinking for Speaking SERIES TITLE: Second Language Acquisition PUBLISHER: Multilingual MATTERS YEAR: 2010
Anne Marie Devlin, Department of French, University College Cork
The purpose of this volume is to bring together current research on linguistic relativity and Second Language Acquisition (SLA). It is a cross-linguistic collection with data from Spanish, Russian, Danish, German, English, Polish and Chinese. The volume explores the key area of motion as well as the lesser-studied concepts of definiteness and number. It aims to establish Slobin's (1996) thinking for speaking (TfS) hypothesis as a contending hypothesis in SLA research -- more specifically as a plausible explanation for the hitherto problematic areas of variable acquisitional outcomes and fossilization.
The volume consists of seven very different studies held together by a shared belief in the importance of the thinking for speaking hypothesis and a weak form of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.
Chapter 1 by Teresa Cadierno deals with the acquisition of manner of motion in Danish L2. It draws on Talmy's (1985, 1991, 2000) typological distinction of languages into 'verb-framed languages' (V-languages) and 'satellite-framed languages' (S-languages). Cadierno's study is concerned with the impact of typology on the acquisition of boundary-crossing events. The researcher concludes that inter-typological differences between L1 and L2 play a much bigger role than intra-typological differences and posits that L1 has an influence on thinking for speaking patterns. Cadierno concludes by raising the issue of the dual problem faced by L1 V-language speakers acquiring an L2 S-language -- namely the need: (1) to pay more attention to manner of movement and to discriminate among new manners and, (2) to be able to do so in an environment where manner is not salient.
Victoria Hasko continues the theme of motion and typology into Chapter 2. Hasko again focuses on Slobin's 'thinking for speaking' framework and Talmy's typology. However, she develops the theme to concentrate on intra-typological differences, i.e. the differing concepts in directionality between two 'S-languages' -- English L1 and L2 Russian. In so doing, Hasko rejects the universal view posited by Li and Gleitman (2002) that motion events are transferred in a straightforward manner as they are programmed into our biological nature and concludes that 'the expression of motion is a domain particularly resistant to change' (p. 56). Russian, as opposed to English, encodes (non)unidirectionality in motion verbs and Hasko argues that, in light of results which point to significant differences in patterns of use between L1 English speakers and L1 Russian speakers, that L1 English speakers require a 'more complex and elaborate system for expressing motion' (p. 56) and therefore need to reconceptualise their 'thinking-for-speaking'. She also points to the need for pedagogical intervention in the area of (non)unidirectional verbs and a general change in pedagogic orientation to make 'encoding in the conceptual domains in L1 and L2 visible to the learner' (pp. 57-58).
Gale Stam's study in Chapter 3 once more focuses on two typologically different languages -- English L2 and Spanish L1. In contrast to the preceding chapters, this study examines the possibility of bi-directional 'rethinking for speaking'. In this longitudinal study, Stam considers both spontaneous gestures and speech as indications of change in TfS in motion events. Changes in the realisation of path were noted in both language use and gesture. Changes to manner of motion were not recorded. From the perspective of gesture, the researcher found evidence of bi-directional change; however, linguistic change occurred only in the L2. This leads Stam to conclude that thinking for speaking in L2 changes both linguistically and gesturally for path. Stam likewise points to the possibility of an order of acquisition and states that 'learners may acquire first path then manner' (82).
Kenny Coventry, Berenice Valdés and Pedro Guijarro-Fuentes shift the focus from motion events to memory and spatial relations in Chapter 4. Findings are presented from three studies exploring conceptual shifts in the understanding of support and containment relations in learners of English and Spanish at different proficiency levels. The studies are conducted by means of visual discrimination tasks based on memory. English and Spanish were chosen as they differ in how the above relations are conceptualised. English separates support and containment linguistically; whereas, in Spanish, they are conceptualised through a single lexical unit. The studies failed to find any 'effect of language on immediate recognition of spatial relations' (99). This failure does not, however, lead the researchers to discard the thinking for speaking framework, but rather to question the methodology of the experiments.
In Chapter 5, David Stringer makes a thematic return to motion events. However, the focus moves from the experimental to the theoretical. Stringer rejects Talmy's notion of parameter setting in 'S' and 'V'-framed languages as a basis for TfS and, in its place, posits a lexical approach. He argues that conceptual difficulties arise, not due to differing typologies, but rather to the glossing of lexical items into L2 mismatches. Through a cross-linguistic study, Stringer argues against the notion of equivalence between lexical items by positing that lexical items are syntactically unique. Therefore a shift in TfS must happen at the lexical level and not necessarily at the typological level.
Thematically, the discussion is broadened by Monika Erkiert in Chapter 6. Erkiert moves away from the more traditional aspects of temporality, space and motion which are most studied in a TfS framework to include the concept of definiteness. The researcher also moves from TfS to thinking for writing. By examining the use of articles and the meanings attached to their use in L1 Polish speakers learning English, Erkiert was able to establish a slight thinking for writing effect at the level of referent identifiability conceptualisation.
ZhaoHong Han continues and expands the aforementioned theme into Chapter 7. Han, as in the previous chapter, focuses on +Art/-Art languages -- in this case English and Chinese respectively. However, she develops the theme by linking it to the acquisition of plural marking in English in the hope of shedding light on intra-learner variability. Results show concurrent target-like use, under- and over-use of both articles and plural marking despite the informant having not only extensive and intensive exposure to English, but also the necessary meta-linguistic awareness. These findings lead Han to conclude that this pattern has fossilized and can be explained by the fact that the 'subject's mind remains L1-relativised' (p. 181).
The various strands of this collection are brought together by a conclusion by Terence Odlin in which he explains key concepts and ideas. It includes examples drawn from the previous chapters as well as from additional material and concludes with a look at other approaches to linguistic relativity.
The volume succeeds in acquainting the reader with the theory of thinking for speaking; however, the content is slightly compromised by organizational and thematic issues.
The first 'section' -- chapters 1-3 -- is devoted to articles investigating 'thinking for speaking' in relation to motion events. The studies complement each other well with each adding more depth to the field. However, the following 'section' -- chapters 4 and 5 -- has organizational and thematic incongruities. Chapter 4 represents the only study focused on spatial relations. In a volume concerned with the need for 'thinking for speaking' and SLA, it is perplexing to find that the only paper dealing with such an important issue as reconceptualising spatial relations is one relating to an experiment that couldn't be carried out as the researchers (as they openly admit) failed to establish conceptual differences between the L1s. The paper is, of course, valuable but somehow its relevance is lost in the current volume as no counterbalance is provided.
The order of inclusion of Chapter 5 is puzzling. Chapter 5 focuses on motion events and, as such, seems strangely out of place coming directly after a discussion of spatial relations. The paper presents a more theoretical discussion of motion events and challenges the importance of Talmy's typology of S-framed and V-framed languages. It would seem that the relevance of this paper is lost due to its positioning in the volume. It could make a bigger impact if it immediately followed the first three. If so, the reader would be in a better position to make assessments of both approaches to 'thinking for speaking' and motion events.
After the incongruity of the previous two chapters, organizational and thematic harmony is restored in the final section, where both papers deal with +/-Art languages.
The second area of concern is the limited thematic scope of the volume. Despite the wide variety of examples of cross-linguistic differences in 'thinking for speaking', only two categories of differences are explored in-depth. They are motion and definiteness. Due to this, the volume does not succeed completely in acquainting the reader with the full scope of the field. It could have benefited from an inclusion of papers on temporality and a more compelling insight into spatial relations.
Finally, it is important to mention the relevance of TfS for SLA research. With the exception of Cadierno, all the studies concentrate on how inter-language differences act as a barrier to the successful acquisition of a language. Cadierno, on the other hand, shows how similarities can facilitate acquisition. This is a significant point to make as it provides compelling evidence that fossilisation is due to an incomplete processing of rethinking for speaking and not cognitive issues which would be universal to all learners regardless of L1. Hasko's study, however, does not address this issue as it compares only two languages. The reader is, therefore, left wondering if this difficulty is truly a result of linguistic relativity or if it is a cognitive/developmental issue common to all L2 Russian learners. A much more compelling argument could have been provided had the acquisition of (non)unidirectionality also been compared with a language containing this feature.
On another note, only two studies record a positive rethinking for speaking outcome -- Stam and Erkiert. However, different causes are suggested -- increased contact with the L2 and pedagogical intervention respectively. The possibility of a positive shift in TfS through pedagogical intervention is suggested by Cadierno; however, Han seems to suggest that, in the case of +/-Art in Chinese learners of English that no change is possible.
In conclusion, the volume provides valuable insight into the challenges for the TfS model and SLA research. Rather than seeing the disparities in outcomes as a negative, they should be seen as a call for more research in the area.
Li, P. and Gleitman, L. (2002). Turning the tables: Language and spatial reasoning. Cognition 83 (3), 265-294
Slobin, D.I. (1996). From 'thought and language' to 'thinking for speaking'. In J. Gumperz and S. Levinson (eds) Rethinking Language Relativity. Studies in the Social and Cultural Foundations of Language (Vol. 17, pp. 70-96). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Talmy, L. (1985). Lexicalization patterns: Semantic structure in lexical forms. In T. Shopen (ed.) Language Typology and Syntactic Description: Grammatical Categories and the Lexicon (Vol. 3, pp. 36-149). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Talmy, L. (1991). Path to realization: A typology of event conflation. In Proceedings of the 17th Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguists Society (pp. 480-519). Berkeley, CA: Berkeley Linguistics Society
Talmy, L. (2000). Toward a Cognitive Semantics: Concepts Structuring Systems (Vol.1). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Anne Marie Devlin is a PhD student at the University of Cork, Ireland. Her
dissertation treats the acquisition of sociopragmatic variation in highly
advanced non-native speaker teachers of English. She is particularly
interested in the role of time spent in the target language country and the
role of identity in the acquisition or non-acquisition of the above. Other
interests include sociolinguistics, second language acquisition theories,
language teaching -- she has been involved in ESL for the past 16 years --
and teacher training. In addition to this, she is passionate about the
Russian language and literature.