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Review of  Selected Proceedings of the 2009 Second Language Research Forum


Reviewer: Christos Pliatsikas
Book Title: Selected Proceedings of the 2009 Second Language Research Forum
Book Author: Luke Plosnky Maren Schierloh
Publisher: Cascadilla Press
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Syntax
Language Acquisition
Book Announcement: 22.4724

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EDITORS: Plonsky, Luke and Schierloh, Maren
TITLE: Selected Proceedings of the 2009 Second Language Research Forum
SUBTITLE: Diverse Contributions to SLA
SERIES TITLE: Cascadilla Proceedings Project
PUBLISHER: Cascadilla Press
YEAR: 2011

Christos Pliatsikas, School of Psychology, University of Birmingham, UK

SUMMARY

This volume presents a selection of the papers that were presented at the 2009
Second Language Research Forum (SLRF). It contains a diverse array of
methodologies and theoretical frameworks that investigate a variety of issues in
second language (L2) research. A brief summary of each of the papers is
presented in this review, followed by a general evaluation of the volume.

The volume starts with a paper by Jennifer Baker and Margaret Quesada, who
investigate how L2 learners of Spanish make use of adverbials in order to
interpret and select Spanish preterit and imperfect. Adverbials appear important
to Spanish learners with an L1 such as English, which does not provide
morphological marking of this aspectual distinction. The authors compared
English speaking intermediate and advanced L2 learners of Spanish to native
speakers of Spanish in an offline task. This included 10 cloze passages in which
the participants had to select between the imperfect or preterit form of the
target verbs. Half of the passages included adverbials, whereas in the other
half, the context would bias towards the selection of preterit/imperfect. Baker
and Quesada revealed that L2 learners were more influenced by adverbials in
their selection of aspect, compared to native speakers, and that this trend was
more profound in the case of intermediate learners; when adverbials were absent,
they were least likely to select the expected form. The authors attribute this
finding to classroom L2 instruction, and propose the limitation/elimination of
adverbials in order for students to develop their sense of aspect in L2.

Kimberly Geeslin and Aarnes Gudmestad explore variation in subject expression in
L2 Spanish via a sociolinguistic approach. Subject in Spanish can be expressed
in various ways, such as null subject or various forms of overt subject. The
authors investigated the forms chosen by L2 learners in sentences with ambiguous
verbs or contexts (whether the referent switches), as well as whether their
performance follows discourse-level variables, such as Referent Cohesiveness
(i.e. distance and function of the previous mention of a referent) and
Perseveration (i.e. continuity of the form across mentions of the referent).
They interviewed native and non-native speakers of Spanish, and monitored for
the subject forms that were used (e.g. pronouns, null pronouns, NPs, etc.). The
results revealed that increased distance from the original mention affects the
choice of the subject form of the referent, and also that the type of the chosen
subject (e.g. null vs. overt) perseveres and follows up on the original type of
subject. Importantly, these effects were common in native and non-native
speakers of Spanish, proving that non-native speakers are equally responsive to
discourse-level variables.

Turning to the domain of syntactic processing, Masahiro Hara investigates L2
processing of syntactic gaps, and how this is mediated by computational load. He
tested advanced L2 learners of Japanese, a language that permits syntactic
scrambling, with Korean or English as an L1. In a self-paced reading (SPR) probe
task, Hara presented sentences that were either canonically ordered (SOV) or
scrambled (OSV), with the latter posing a gap at the canonical position of the
object. These sentences were followed by a probe word and reaction times (RTs)
were collected. This task revealed that all groups reactivated the displaced NP
driven by the syntactic gap. Additionally, Hara used another SPR task, where he
monitored RTs in sentences that were either canonically ordered or included
short or long scrambling. In this task, Korean learners showed evidence of
processing the syntactic gap in the short-scrambling condition only, whereas
English learners did not provide any evidence for gap processing. Based on these
findings, Hara linked L2 performance to cognitive resource-limitations, since
Koreans processed the gap in the condition with a moderate computational demand;
on the other hand, Hara suggested that the absence of gap effects on English L2
speakers points to L1 transfer, as English does not feature scrambling.

Nam-Sook Jeong focuses on meaning negotiation in L2 via a computer-mediated
setting. He tested 24 Korean L2 learners of English, which he split according to
their proficiency (e.g. higher/lower), and created participant pairs of two
types, namely homogenous (e.g. higher/higher or lower/lower proficiency), and
heterogeneous (e.g. higher/lower). Participant pairs were instructed to conduct
a conversation on MSN Messenger text-chat in English, where three tasks were
performed in each of 11 sessions: a jigsaw task, a decision-making task and an
open-ended task. The topics of the chat were pre-defined (e.g. marriage,
cleaning, Christmas). The content of the electronic discussions was coded
according to standard models of Meaning Negotiation. The results suggested that
the type of task affected the quantity of meaning negotiation, as the jigsaw
task produced greater production than the other two. Additionally, the two types
of pairs did not differ in terms of the amount of meaning negotiation they
produced, albeit in qualitative terms. Overall, the homogenous group produced
more effective collaborative learning.

Kitaek Kim investigates processing of the copula ''be'' by Korean L2 learners of
English. ''Be'' has been shown to be overgenerated by L2 learners (e.g. She is go
home), and this has been suggested to be a topic marker or a functional category
(such as tense). Kim hypothesized that, in the case of Korean learners, the
overgenerated ''be'' starts off as a topic marker, which develops into a
functional category as a function of proficiency level in L2. Kim studied 23
beginner students of English divided into three proficiency groups. The
participants were given 20 topics and were asked to produce a writing sample in
English within 15 minutes. The collected scripts revealed that the participants
of lowest proficiency produced the overgenerated ''be'' more frequently compared
to the other groups, and also as a topic marker. This group was identified as
being in a topic-prominent (TopP) stage influenced by L1 typology. The most
proficient group produced the overgeneralised ''be'' as a verbal inflection, and
was identified as being in a subject-prominent (SP) stage closer to L2 typology.
Kim proposed a continuum that describes the development of ''be'' in learners'
interlanguage that goes from TopP to SP stages.

Jihye Lee investigates the acquisition of direction-giving in Korean L2. She
tested 30 learners of Korean, of three proficiency levels, and 6 native Korean
speakers. The participants saw several maps and were auditorily instructed to
give directions to a specific point on each map. They had 1.5 minutes for each
map and their responses were recorded. The data suggested that beginning and
intermediate learners rely on bare imperatives for their directions, whereas
advanced learners preferred bi-clausal imperatives. Additionally, advanced
learners and native speakers were found to use more mitigation in their
directions, such as external mitigation (i.e. reason) or syntactic mitigation
(i.e. if-clauses). Finally, advanced learners were found to be native-like in
their use of proper speech levels according to the recipient of their directions
(e.g. friend vs. someone superior), while all learners were found to overuse
polite and honorific suffixes compared to native speakers.

Eleonora Luzi starts off in a constructional framework to investigate whether
SLA takes place through the acquisition, strengthening, and exposure to language
constructions. She tested processing of Italian left-dislocation, where an
element is moved to the beginning of a phrase in order to be topicalised.
Left-dislocation can involve the subject or the direct object, where agreement
with the verb is compulsory, and the indirect object or any other
circumstantial, where agreement is not required. Luzi wanted to investigate
whether the various types of left dislocation are acquired in a successive
fashion. She tested 64 L2 learners of Italian divided into two proficiency
groups, B1 (low) and C1 (high). Discourse data were collected from both groups.
These extracts revealed that both groups produced all types of dislocations,
apart from B1, which did not produce indirect object ones. Therefore, the
construction complexity did not seem to influence the learners' performance.
However, the fact that any incorrect dislocations were absent in the C1 data,
suggests, according to Luzi, a continuum in the development of this
construction, from the ''rough'' grammar stage, which involves
constructualisation, to the ''fine'' grammar stage, with regular production of
constructions.

A. Kate Miller is concerned with the constraints that underlie L2 syntactic
processing, and whether these are due to gaps in L2 grammar or to L1/L2
processing differences. Miller conducted a cross-modal priming experiment in
which sentences in French were visually presented to intermediate and advanced
American L2 learners.nThe sentences included a structural gap created by the
displacement of a constituent further up the sentence. An auditory probe that
either matched or failed to match the antecedent (creating a 2x2 design) was
presented either at the site of the gap or at an earlier control position. The
task for the participants was to make an animacy decision on the probe. If L2
processing is structure-based, then it should permit the reactivation of the
antecedent at the gap position, and facilitate the response to the matching
probe, compared to the non-matching one. This was not proven the case for any of
the L2 groups, but the advanced learners showed faster reaction to the probe in
the gap position compared to the control position. Miller concluded that
advanced learners were more sensitive to structure, and that they are
potentially able to construct full syntactic representations in L2.

Lisa Pierce and Tania Ionin are interested in the acquisition of articles in L2
English, especially in cases where the L1 of speakers lacks articles. In these
cases, L2 learners tend to omit articles or substitute them inappropriately.
Recent theories have attributed these errors to constraints imposed by the L1
prosodic system. The authors tested two groups of L2 learners with L1s that do
not have articles but that do differ in their prosodic system, namely, Korean
(16) and Mandarin Chinese (14) speakers. They administered two tasks; first, an
acceptability judgment task with sentence pairs, where the second sentence
included an NP with either an article present (correct) or missing (incorrect).
Both groups were proven poor at detecting missing articles, with the Koreans
being more accurate. The participants also did a transcription of spoken
sentences including definite and indefinite articles in various sentence
positions. Both groups demonstrated errors in the form of omissions or article
substitutions, with the Koreans performing better. The authors concluded that
article acquisition is independent of proficiency level, and that the Koreans’
advantage may be attributed to the Korean rhythmic system, which facilitates
perception of articles in L2 English.

Claire Renaud investigates feature selection in the acquisition of L2 French.
She tested American learners of French at three proficiency levels, as well as
native speakers of French, in two online SPR tasks. In both tasks, a context
sentence preceded the target sentence, which was segmented into six parts, and
the participants had to respond as to whether the target sentence was a good
follow-up to the context sentence. The target sentences contained auxiliary
verbs that either agreed in person and number to the subject (grammatical), or
agreed in person only (ungrammatical). In the second task, the ungrammaticality
was demonstrated by sentences containing feminine participles in a masculine
context (and vice versa), which were compared to grammatical sentences. RTs were
collected from the auxiliary-containing segment and the following ones. The
results revealed that learners had good knowledge of the grammatical forms of
auxiliaries, even at low proficiency levels. On the other hand, learners of
lower proficiency were more accepting of feminine forms in a masculine context,
suggesting a failure in their interlanguage grammar. Advanced learners were
native-like in this task. In terms of RTs, all groups revealed similar effects
of ungrammaticality. Based on these findings, Renaud suggested that an L2 parser
guides the selection of the relevant features for the analysis of forms even
before lexical encoding.

Natsue Sugaya investigated L2 processing of Japanese inflection on the premises
of dual system theories (rule learning vs. associative learning). Japanese is an
agglutinating language with a complex inflectional system, including two types
of regular verbs, as well as irregular verbs. Sugaya tested 39 Mongolian and 2
Korean L2 learners of Japanese of various proficiency levels in two offline
cloze tests where verbs were missing from short sentences. In the first task
(nonce verb test), the participants had to choose among three candidates, which
were regularly inflected nonce verbs in Japanese, in four inflectional forms. In
the second task (real verb test) the participants were given the uninflected
form of a real verb and had to fill the sentence gap with the correct
inflection. Sugaya showed that the more proficient participants were more
successful in applying morphological rules to real and nonce verbs. Also, it was
found that the nonce verbs that resembled real ones in form were responded to
more accurately, giving evidence for associative learning. Sugaya concluded that
learning of complex inflectional systems in L2 requires both rule learning and
exemplar-based learning.

Malena Weitze, Jeremiah McGhee and C. Ray Graham examine the issue of L1 effects
in L2 acquisition, especially the acquisition of grammatical morphemes in L2.
They tested 760 learners of English of several L1 backgrounds in an elicited
imitation task. The participants were given sets of short auditory sentences
which they had to repeat within a given time. The sentences included morphemes
that have been shown to be acquired either early (e.g. -ing, -s (plural) and
articles) or late (e.g. regular past -ed and 3rd person singular -s), and the
participants were scored according to how accurately they produced the forms.
The results showed that L2 learners with an L1 that resembles English in
morphological structure (e.g. Spanish, Portuguese) were more accurate with
early-acquired forms than late ones, whereas Japanese and Korean learners of
English showed the opposite pattern. The authors suggested that L1 affects the
order of acquisition of grammatical morphemes; however, their results were
inconclusive because Chinese learners performed differently than the speakers of
morphologically similar languages (e.g Japanese and Korean).

German Zarate-Sandez looks at processing of syllabic structure by L2 learners of
English. More specifically, he tested phonological processing of diphthongs
(e.g. /i/ in the word ''avión'') and hiatuses (e.g. ae in the word ''traer'') in L2
Spanish in order to investigate whether native and non-native speakers of
Spanish follow the same strategies during syllabification of words with vowel
complexes. He tested 167 English learners of Spanish in three proficiency levels
(i.e. elementary, intermediate, advanced), and 22 native speakers of Spanish as
the control group. The task consisted of a questionnaire with 36 words
containing vowel sequences, and 17 words were L1-L2 cognates (e.g. ''historia'').
The participants had to cut each word into syllables, and they were scored
according to the number of the diphthongs they recognised. The results suggested
that L2 learners tended to treat hiatuses in Spanish as diphthongs, contrary to
native speakers, and this effect was largely driven by the influence of the
cognate stimuli. The proficiency level did not appear to interact with their
performance.

EVALUATION

This is a highly informative volume, containing papers on a range of
experimental fields from both established and emerging researchers; there are
studies on sociolinguistic aspects of L2 (Geeslin and Gudmestad, Jeong, Lee),
morphological (Sugaya, Weitze et al.), morphosyntactic (Baker and Quesada, Kim,
Renaud) and phonological (Zarate-Sandez) processing, as well as syntactic
aspects of L2 processing (Hara, Miller, Luzi, Pierce and Ionin). The presented
experiments were conducted with several online (e.g. self-paced reading) and
offline (e.g. cloze tests) tasks.

Of particular interest is the paper by Hara, who dismissed earlier suggestions
that L2 learners do not process abstract syntactic structures, and attributed
the absence of native-like effects to increased computational demands in L2
syntactic processing. This suggestion was in accordance with the findings by
Miller, who showed evidence that L2 learners, at least advanced ones, resort to
native-like structure-based syntactic processing. Additionally, and quite
interestingly, several studies in this volume appear to lower the importance of
proficiency level in areas such as the L2 processing of phonology in Spanish
(Zarate-Sandez), auxiliary verbs in French (Renaud), and article acquisition in
English (Pierce and Ionin), whereas in more syntax-related experiments
proficiency does appear important (Baker and Quesada, Luzi, Miller). This
distinction suggests that advanced proficiency level is not necessary for
efficient L2 processing, but may be beneficial for specific language domains,
especially syntax.

As such, the volume provides a good summary of the directions of ongoing
research in second language acquisition (SLA). The volume would benefit from
grouping papers into sections according to the subfield to which they are
relevant instead of the current, alphabetical order. Several papers are highly
relevant to each other, so it would be good if they were presented together.
This would make the volume more coherent and assist the readers in comparing and
contrasting relevant papers.

This volume is highly recommended to researchers in the fields of SLA and
psycholinguistics, as well as to students or any other parties that require an
up-to-date knowledge of issues in current SLA research. The diversity of this
volume guarantees that researchers from a variety of different fields in
psycholinguistics will find some interesting experimental findings and
suggestions, as well as use them as a starting point for future research.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER
 
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Christos Pliatsikas received his PhD from the Department of Clinical Language Sciences, University of Reading. His research interests are in the area of psycholinguistics and neurolinguistics. He has used behavioural and neuroimaging (fMRI) methods for the study of online morphological and syntactic processing, especially by late second language learners. He is currently employed as a Research Fellow by the School of Psychology, University of Birmingham

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