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Date: Wed, 7 Sep 2005 13:55:26 +0200 From: Gunna Funder Hansen <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: Second Language Writing Systems
EDITORS: Cook, Vivian J; Bassetti, Benedetta TITLE: Second Language Writing Systems SERIES: Second Language Acquisition PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters YEAR: 2005
Gunna Funder Hansen, Centre for Contemporary Middle East Studies, University of Southern Denmark
For those of us interested in foreign/second language (L2) acquisition across writing systems, a new book carrying this title is indeed good news: Established theories about reading in both native and foreign languages have been developed within a narrow European context and have traditionally been considered universal. However, recent research has revealed that reading processes take quite different courses according to the writing system applied. So far, research targeting this issue has been scattered and scarce. Likewise, the specific difficulties of learning to write a new script have received very limited attention, especially in terms of actual research based on empirical studies. Thus, a volume that brings these scattered efforts together is most welcome.
The book starts out with a general introduction to researching second language writing systems followed by 16 research papers divided into four parts dealing with each their dimension of the subject: writing, reading, language awareness and teaching. These include contributions by some of the most highly esteemed researchers within the field of biliteracy across writing systems, e.g. Keiko Koda and Nobuhiko Akamatsu.
In the introductory chapter, the editors lay out the background and aim of the book and provide an overall view of a range of concepts relevant to the subject – for instance the central terms "writing system", "script" and "orthography", the different types of mapping principles (morphemic, syllabic, and phonemic), the concept of phonological regularity (orthographic depth), writing direction, and orthographic constraints. Next, the editors address cross-writing- system differences in reading, writing and metalinguistic awareness. Before introducing the following 16 chapters of the book, Cook and Bassetti also present a list of relevant questions for future research.
In part one, the first chapter is by Nobuko Chikamatsu, who presents a study comparing Japanese kanji memory and retrieval in first language (L1) and L2 subjects using an innovatory "tip-of-the-pen" research technique inspired by the "tip-of-the-tongue" phenomenon used in psycholinguistics as an indicator of an intermediate state of lexical access. Next, Ans Van Berkel investigates Dutch learners' spelling in English, thus examining transfer of L1 spelling rules from a shallow/regular orthography to spelling in an L2 deep/irregular orthography. Based on a contrastive analysis of phonological spelling rules in Dutch and English, Van Berkel looks at the specific kinds of errors that occur in learners' writing in English the first years of secondary education, and with a comparison between first and second year students, she reveals some developmental issues. In the following chapter, Mick Randall looks at essentially the same phenomenon, but compares spelling in L2 English by learners with different L1 backgrounds, being Chinese or Malay – the latter being a language similar to Chinese regarding phonological and syntactic structures, but (in most cases) written in a highly shallow orthography using the Roman script. Interestingly, the logographic L1 group showed an advantage over the alphabetic L1 group regarding spelling accuracy in English. Harold Somers then treats a very different aspect of the matter: the question of handwriting. Based on a small corpus of handwritten L2 English by learners with Arabic L1 backgrounds, he discusses implications of using corpora for writing system research. Afterwards, Takeshi Okada presents a corpus-based study of spelling errors by Japanese learners of English. Okada argues that substitution errors in word-initial position and insertion errors in word- final position are due to transfer from the Japanese Romanisation system, romaji. In the last chapter of part one, Stephan Schmid presents a study of Italian-Swiss German bilingual children's spelling and pronunciation in Italian, demonstrating a link between spelling errors and specific difficulties with the differences between voiced vs. unvoiced obstruents and single vs. geminate consonants in the subjects' phonological system. An interesting aspect of this study is that the important parameter of standard vs. dialectal phonology is also considered.
In part two, Phil Scholfield and Gloria Shu-Mei Chwo seek to explore the effect of the L1 writing system and the method used for reading instruction. This is done through a comparison of subjects from Taiwan – where English L2 reading instruction is conducted according to the phonics principle – and Hong Kong – where the whole word approach is predominant. Scholfield and Chwo find that reading instruction methods do result in different L2 word recognition processes. In the following chapter, Nobuhiko Akamatsu investigates Japanese learners' reading in L2 English at different proficiency levels. Akamatsu finds that the effect of the learners' L1 writing system on their L2 reading is persistent, as increased proficiency does not change the fact that Japanese learners tend to rely on direct lexical access in word recognition. A quite different kind of contribution to the subject comes from Walter Van Heuven who discusses the characteristics of visual word recognition in bilinguals within a theoretical framework. The discussion focuses on computational modelling and the ability of such simulation models to replicate bilingual readers' performance in the real world. In the last chapter of part two, Miho Sasaki attacks the question of transfer from L1 writing systems with different levels of orthographic depth, using subjects whose L1 is either Italian or Japanese, and who are reading in English. The study supports the view that the readers' L1 writing system affects reading processes in L2.
In part three, Keiko Koda, like Van Heuven, contributes with a theoretical discussion. She presents a model which seeks to explain how metalinguistic awareness developed for the L1 is transferred into L2 reading. Then, Bernadetta Bassetti presents a study comparing L2- learners' and native speakers' word awareness in Chinese. The study indicates, that L2-learners, who are from English L1-backgrounds, have a quite different concept of Chinese words than the native speakers, and Bassetti argues that the difference stems from the L2- learners' knowledge of more than one writing system. In the last chapter of part three, Lily Lau and Susan Rickard Liow examine children with different L1-backgrounds (English, Chinese and Malay) spelling in English. Focusing on the subjects' skills in spelling words pronounced with a flapped voiced /d/ but spelled with a <t>, they find that the unilingual English-speaking children are the best spellers, and while the Malay-English bilinguals tend to over-rely on phonology when spelling in English, the Chinese-English bilinguals show a general limited phonological awareness.
In part four, Therese Dufresne and Diana Masny again bring us back to the theoretical level. They rightly make a general critique of the lack of ontological considerations when different kinds of methodology is applied in second language research and put forward a post- structuralist perspective on second writing system acquisition. In this view, learning a new writing system destabilises the learners' system of how writing systems work, and this creates a process, where the learner tries to regain stability by continuously testing and modifying constructions according to the new experiences drawn. Following the general discussion, Dufresne and Masny use two case studies to illustrate, how the post-structuralist perspective puts process before product. Next, Tina Hickey presents a study on encouraging extensive reading in Irish (L2) among children who acquired their first literacy in English – a group of learners who generally show poor decoding skills, interference from English orthography and reluctance to read. By using Taped Book Flooding – a procedure involving easy access to a lot of suitable reading material with tape recordings of the relevant material being read aloud and class hours devoted to reading – the learners improved both fluency, accuracy in reading aloud and attitude towards the Irish language. In the last chapter, Vivian Cook looks at some general aspects of learning a second writing system and examines how a specimen of coursebooks for English, Italian and French target this issue. Cook argues that the role of written language is not given close to enough attention in language teaching, and that written language is often used merely as a tool for teaching spoken language or as a kind of meta-language used as a device for giving explanations, thus rarely recognisable as authentic text types.
The book covers a wide range of interesting aspects of second language writing systems. The general introduction in Chapter 1 is of great importance, since the book covers research from a research field that is just emerging. Especially the attempt to state a set of definitions of the term "writing system" and related concepts is essential and valuable because – as the authors very rightly state: "Writing system researchers rarely agree on how these terms should be used". Although this reviewer almost entirely agrees with the final definitions stated, one could have hoped for more attention given to the very common confusions about the term "orthography" as discussed by e.g. Scheerer (1986). Many researchers tend to view orthography as the visual organisation of the writing system (e.g. Foorman 1994, p. 334) or as a broad concept covering all language specific aspects of the writing system (e.g. Seidenberg 1992, p. 85). And, as stated by Willows and Geva (1995, p. 356): "it is fairly common in the growing literature on orthographic processing for researchers to refer to orthographic processing as "visual/orthographic" as though these two terms were essentially synonymous".
In the presentation of the different types of writing systems, the reservation of the term "alphabet" for scripts representing all the phonemes in speech, thus excluding consonantal scripts, may be controversial among users of the Semitic (consonantal) scripts. Both Arabic and Hebrew speakers describe their sets of letters as alphabets, and it is in fact the first letters (Aleph-Bet) of a consonantal, Semitic script, that gave name to the alphabet.
The discussion of cross-writing-system differences in reading, writing and metalinguistic awareness is equally crucial as it puts down a frame within which the book's research papers are positioned in different ways. However, this could have been done in a more clear- cut way: A variety of research results is mentioned, and this gives a fine overview of the key issues at stake, but the motivation behind the selection of studies is not obvious. Furthermore, the theoretical framework laid out as a basis for explaining the presented results is quite narrow in focusing almost exclusively on the dual-route model. Connectionism is briefly mentioned as an alternative model for spelling only. Considering the status of connectionism and parallel distributed processing-models in today's research in both reading, spelling and language awareness, one could have hoped for an inclusion and discussion of this new theoretical approach related to the subject of the book – not the least because some of the chapters in this specific book (e.g. Van Heuven's) are actually presenting connectionist models.
The following 16 chapters are practically all relevant contributions to the research field and some of them provide very useful introductions to a specific writing system, a specific methodology, or specific theoretical aspects. The inclusion of the teaching perspective in the last part of the book is an appreciated initiative and a good point – much too often, the link between research and teaching in L2's is completely forgotten.
The setup of the book separating chapters about writing, reading, language awareness and teaching is at first sight logical, but as one reads through the book it becomes less obvious why the editors chose this formula. Obviously, the four fields are intertwined, and some of the chapters touch very explicitly upon more than one of them. Especially the fact that the theoretical chapters are scattered around the book results in a somewhat confusing structure. On the other hand, a collection of research papers is rarely read from the beginning to the end, so this issue might not be of great importance.
In general, this book is an important contribution to the emerging field of research in second language writing systems. All chapters might not be of interest to the same group of people: Researchers within general L2 literacy will find some of the chapters important, while researchers dealing with literacy across different scripts will benefit from other chapters. Teachers could benefit from the last part of the book and chapters that might involve the language they teach. For future work, it would be nice to see more focus on target languages other than English – especially languages using other scripts than the Roman alphabet. Japanese and Chinese are included in this book, but there are so many other languages taught and so many language teachers out there who need research based advice on how to teach L2 literacy.
Foorman, B. R. (1994). Phonological and orthographic processing: Separate but equal?, Kluwer.
Scheerer, E. (1986). Orthography and lexical access, Mouton de Gruyter.
Seidenberg, M. S. (1992). Beyond orthographic depth in reading: Equitable division of labour, Elsevier.
Willows, D. and E. Geva (1995). What is visual in orthographic processing?, Kluwer.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Gunna Funder Hansen is Assistant Professor at the Centre for
Contemporary Middle East Studies, University of Southern Denmark.
She holds a Ph.D. in foreign language acquisition and teaches Arabic
as a foreign language. Her research interests are reading processes
in different writing systems, especially writing systems using the
Semitic scripts, and reading in Arabic as a foreign language.