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Review of  The Acquisition of German

Reviewer: Susan C. Bobb
Book Title: The Acquisition of German
Book Author: Anne Vainikka Martha Young-Scholten
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Linguistic Theories
Subject Language(s): German
Issue Number: 23.1819

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AUTHORS: Anne Vainikka and Martha Young-Scholten
TITLE: The Acquisition of German
SUBTITLE: Introducing Organic Grammar
SERIES TITLE: Studies on Language Acquisition [SOLA] 44
PUBLISHER: De Gruyter Mouton
YEAR: 2011

Susan C. Bobb, Free-floater Research Group 'Language Acquisition', Universität
Göttingen, Germany

'The Acquisition of German: Introducing Organic Grammar' is the 44th volume in
Studies on Language Acquisition (SOLA). Aimed primarily at readers interested in
a generative explanation of German syntax, the book aims to provide a
syntax-driven account of language acquisition more generally, encompassing L1
and child and adult L2 learning. The 407-page book consists of eight chapters,
described below, as well as references and a limited subject index. Throughout
the book, the authors use footnotes and ''extension'' sections in each chapter to
provide additional information to the interested and more informed reader:
Footnotes are intended to address issues relevant to theory-internal debates,
while Extensions extend the arguments developed within the chapter.

Chapter 1 ('Introduction') lays the groundwork for the volume and also provides
an introduction to German inflectional morphology with respect to verbs.
Importantly, the authors delineate the 10 assumptions of their theory of Organic
Grammar, which forms the crux of the book and provides a '''practical'
alternative to Minimalism in terms of both syntax and acquisition'' (p. 25).
Under Organic Grammar, the acquisition of each new functional syntactic
projection corresponds to a different stage of acquisition, allowing the
mirroring of syntax and acquisition. The chapter ends with a helpful reading
guide, highlighting possible foci within the book depending on a reader's
specific interests.

Chapter 2 ('The Organic Syntax of Adult German') tests how well the theory of
Organic Grammar (OG) can account for (adult L1) German syntax. The authors begin
by describing the traditional analysis of German and its four word order
patterns. Under OG, the authors propose a two-tree solution, in which German
matrix clauses and embedded clauses have different structures: The
sentence-initial projection is actually head-initial, while all other
projections are head-final. They then reanalyze the data, showing how OG
resolves previous issues for both German syntax and acquisition, specifically
the proposal by Rizzi (1997) for a universally split CP (Complementizer Phrase).
The authors argue that with OG, a split-CP proposal is possible for German
without affecting the classic V2 analysis (i.e., that in German, the finite verb
of a main clause occurs in second position). Importantly, the new German tree
under OG allows stage-by-stage acquisition, unlike traditional syntactic analyses.

Chapter 3 ('Organic Grammar and L1 acquisition') reviews previous L1 acquisition
literature, and evaluates the explanatory power of OG in predicting traditional
stages of German L1 acquisition. The authors first evaluate the Strong vs. Weak
Continuity approaches, arguing that the Strong Continuity Hypothesis assumes all
structure to be present at the start of both first and second acquisition.
Consequently, in their view, the theory cannot address stages of acquisition. In
contrast, Weak Continuity approaches, including OG, propose that acquisition
begins with a syntactically reduced structure, but still assume syntax is
reflected by a child's early word combinations. In particular, the authors show
how OG can account for a VP (Verb Phrase) projection rather than a functional
projection at the earliest syntactic stage of development, which also accounts
for the presence of Root Defaults (i.e., head-final infinitives) in L1 German.
OG predicts the following order of acquisition, mostly consistent with Clahsen’s
views (e.g., 1991): a) head-final bare VP, b) NegP (Negation Phrase), c) TP
(Tense Phrase), d) AgrP (Agreement Phrase), and e) CP.

Chapter 4 ('Second language acquisition at the VP level') mainly considers adult
L2 acquisition of German, providing a rich description of current issues in the
SLA of morphosyntax. Using data from naturalistic L2 learners of German
(Vainikka and Young-Scholten 2003, “VYSA”), the authors show how under OG,
uninstructed L2 learners of German initially transfer word order from their L1
and start the acquisition process with a bare VP structure. In the Extensions of
Chapter 4, the reader is provided with emerging data on child L2A.

In Chapter 5 ('Second language acquisition at the IP level'), the authors
advance the strong view that functional projections under OG do not transfer,
unlike lexical projections. The authors argue quite convincingly that, similar
to child data presented in Chapter 3, adult L2 learners acquire projections in
the order proposed for the adult target language, regardless of their native
language. Because of the strong parallels between adult L2 learners and child L2
and L3 learners, the authors propose Universal Grammar (UG) involvement for
learners ''across the lifespan'' (p. 169), contra approaches such as Clahsen and
Muysken (1986) and Pienemann (1998). Based on evidence from the NegP projection,
Vainikka and Young-Scholten do allow the possibility of transfer for NegP.

In Chapter 6 ('Differences in triggering between children and adults'), the
authors discuss the role of triggers and parameters in moving child and adult L2
learners from one stage of their changing grammar to the next. Despite the
strong parallels in child and adult acquisition, children use different triggers
than adults in developing IP-level (Inflectional Phrase) projections. Much of
the chapter works out in detail what candidates may act as triggers for various
syntactic projections. While children appear to use bound morphemes as triggers,
adults are shown to use free morphemes.

Chapter 7 ('The second language acquisition of the CP projection') focuses on CP
development by native speakers of head-final and head-initial languages. The
authors pay special attention to the naturalistic VYSA L2 data from native
English speakers, and show that the CP projection develops after the learners
have acquired the AgrP projection. For these L2 learners, at the point at which
CP is projected, AgrP is head-initial and remains in head-initial position until
a later point of development, if at all. The authors outline several potential
sources of counterevidence against OG, and evaluate the available data to date
for each argument.

Chapter 8 ('Naturalistic learners and unsolved problems in SLA') considers both
cognitive and linguistic mechanisms in accounting for apparent differences in
how naturalistic and instructed learners move between stages of language
development. Vainikka and Young-Scholten show individual differences in the
development of meta-linguistic knowledge within their sample of naturalistic
learners. They propose that meta-linguistic knowledge allowed one of their
participants to show more advanced production of inflectional morphology, but at
a considerable cost: while the other two participants paralleled L1 acquisition
stages more closely, this participant showed a delayed switch in headedness of
the VP, and never switches the head-initial setting of the AgrP. On the basis of
these data, the authors argue for a set of language learning strategies they
term “Grammar Lite” that operates outside a UG-governed syntactic process.

The authors place Organic Grammar in the rich context of the history of
generative syntax. The reader is given an in-depth view of the field with a
detailed evaluation of other generative accounts of syntax. As the authors
advance their proposal for Organic Grammar, they pay careful attention to
ongoing debates within the field, noting both the extent to which OG addresses
these issues and its limits. It is important to note, however, that with the
exception of Chapter 8, which explicitly addresses cognitive mechanisms involved
in L2 acquisition, very few theories outside the generative tradition are
considered or even mentioned, despite their potential relevance to the topic of
L1 and L2 German acquisition. For instance, in discussing the possibility of L1
influence on the acquisition of functional projections (which is at odds with
OG), the authors mention generative views such as the Full Transfer-Full Access
Hypothesis (Schwartz and Sprouse 1996), but do not mention non-generative
emergentist or connectionist views of language acquisition (e.g., MacWhinney
1987, Bates & MacWhinney 1987).

The authors ostensibly aim to make their book accessible to even laypeople: on
p. 1, the authors address the 'reader completely new to formal or generative
linguistics', and on p. 59 'those readers with a non-linguistics backgrounds'
[sic]. However, beyond perhaps chapters 4 and 8, readers with limited
backgrounds in syntax will find the book a difficult read. The reader wishing to
use the volume primarily as a reference on the acquisition of German will need
to wade through technical language specific to generative linguistics and
evaluations of OG before finding more general information on L1 and L2
acquisition of German. Indeed, while the book is entitled 'The Acquisition of
German: Introducing Organic Grammar', I think a title such as 'Organic Grammar:
An Introduction' would have more accurately reflected the emphasis on OG.
Certainly the authors delineate the syntactic development of German by way of
OG. The focus of the book, however, is on OG, and the authors draw on many other
languages as well to make their case.

Perhaps the volume’s greatest contribution is in providing a developmental
syntactic theory -- a theory that explains the various stages of language
acquisition -- which crucially describes not only the syntactic stages of L1
acquisition, but also of (child and adult) L2 acquisition. While syntacticians
of a Minimalist persuasion may not buy all of the arguments made, Organic
Grammar provides an important modification to the Minimalist program that allows
strong predictions about acquisition. The volume also raises important
questions about the nature of L2 acquisition by providing rich data on what
Vainikka and Young-Scholten call “naturalistic” L2 learners, learners immersed
in the L2 during an exchange year in Germany without continuous explicit
instruction in the L2. Research on adult L2 acquisition has by necessity almost
exclusively focused on classroom instructed L2 learners, and the authors make a
compelling case that some of the discontinuity seen between L1 and L2
acquisition may stem from the nature of the input learners receive.

The publisher, unfortunately, has done the authors a great disservice by
providing poor copyediting and proofreading. The careful reader will be
distracted by references to subsections that do not exist (e.g., Section 1.5 on
p. 1), missing or extraneous words and punctuation (e.g., ''acquiring a second
language to the during a critical period'' p. 158), and the occasional
poor-quality image (like the syntactic tree on p. 134).

Bates, E. and MacWhinney, B. (1987). Competition, variation, and language
learning. In: B. MacWhinney (Ed.), Mechanisms of Language Acquisition, Erlbaum,
Mahwah, NJ, pp. 157-193.

Clahsen, H. (1991). Constraints on parameter setting: A grammatical analysis of
some acquisition stages in German child language. Language Acquisition 1: 361-391.

Clahsen, H. & Muysken, P. (1986). The availability of Universal Grammar to adult
and child learners -- A study of the acquisition of German word order. Second
Language Research 2: 93-119.

MacWhinney, B. (2008). A unified model. In: P. Robinson, N. Ellis (Eds.),
Handbook of Cognitive Linguistics and Second Language Acquisition, Routledge,
New York, pp. 341-371.

Pienemann, M. (1998). Language Processing and Second Language Development:
Processability Theory. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Rizzi, L. (1997). The fine structure of the left periphery. In Elements of
Grammars, Liliane Haegeman (ed.), 281-337. Dordrecht: Kluwer.

Schwartz, B. & Sprouse, R. (1996). L2 cognitive states and the Full
Transfer/Full Access model. Second Language Research 12: 40-72.

Vainikka, A. & Young-Scholten, M. (2003). MAD about LAD. Paper presented at the
AAAL conference, Arlington, Virginia, 23 March 2003.

Susan C. Bobb is a postdoctoral researcher at the Universität Göttingen, Germany. Her research interests include first and second language acquisition, bilingual language production and cognitive control. She is currently investigating grammatical development in German-speaking toddlers and the representation of dialects in High German and Konstanz German.

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