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Review of  Trends in Bilingual Acquisition

Reviewer: Mitsuyo Sakamoto
Book Title: Trends in Bilingual Acquisition
Book Author: Jasone Cenoz Fred Genesee
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Phonology
Issue Number: 13.1918

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From Fri Jul 12 18:57:57 2002
Date: Fri, 12 Jul 2002 10:10:36 -0400 (EDT)
From: Mitsuyo Sakamoto
Subject: Cenoz & Genesee (2001) Trends in Bilingual Acquisition

Cenoz, Jasone and Fred Genesee, ed. (2001) Trends in Bilingual Acquisition. John Benjamins Publishing Company, viii+288pp, hardback ISBN 90-272-3471-X (Eur) / 1-58811-099-0 (US), $54.95, Trends in Language Acquisition Research Volume 1.

Mitsuyo Sakamoto, The University of Western Ontario

This book is an official publication of the International Association for the Study of Child Language (IASCL). This volume, dedicated to issues pertaining to recent research on bilingualism, is the first in a new series: "Trends in Language Acquisition Research".

The book begins with an introduction by the editors, Fred Genesee and Jasone Cenoz, followed by nine chapters and a conclusion by Brian MacWhinney. The book is described as diverse in terms of theoretical and methodological approaches, the languages studied, as well as the geographical and academic backgrounds of the contributors (p. vii).

The first chapter is entitled, "The simultaneous acquisition of two first languages: Early and subsequent development of grammars" by Jürgen Meisel. He examines the unitary language system hypothesis (e.g., Volterra & Taeschner, 1978) by thoroughly reviewing and synthesizing findings from extensive recent works pertaining to language differentiation. His review leads him to ultimately reject the unitary language system hypothesis, arguing in favour of the autonomous language development hypothesis for young simultaneous language learners.

The second chapter by Ludovica Serratrice focuses on the lead-lag pattern in bilingual acquisition of verbal morphology. The hypothesis examined here is that the verbal morphology of a language with rich verbal inflections (in this case Italian) will emerge earlier than the not-so-inflected language (i.e., English). However, the study reveals that the strategy used by bilinguals to acquire these items is similar for both languages.

The third chapter by Laura Bosch and Núria Sebastián-Gallés reports on the speech discrimination of 4- to 5-month-old infants who are exposed to Spanish and Catalan. The study shows how bilinguals, much like their monolingual counterparts, are able to differentiate between maternal and non-maternal languages. However, interestingly it was found that the bilingual infants in the study required less time to differentiate languages compared to the monolingual infants. For this reason it is suggested that language-relevant acoustic abilities are shaped very early in life for bilinguals.

The fourth chapter by Diane Poulin-Subois and Naomi Goodz also examines the babblings of bilingual infants. Much like the comparative studies of adult speakers of French and English (de Boysson-Bardies et al. 1992), the infants also showed similar patterns in terms of consonants produced, the stops in speech, and the frequency of labials. The authors argue that the infants do differentiate languages and babble in a dominant language.

The next chapter by Margareta Almgren and Itziar Idiazabal focuses on the syntactic development of Basque-Spanish bilingual. The authors found that the child's Spanish contained more imperfective and perfective more prevalent in Basque, reflecting a similar pattern found in adult input which the child received.

Elena Nicoladis examines the acquisition of first words by bilinguals in a study focussing on a Portuguese-English bilingual child. The child's interaction with his parents was video taped twice a week, and his parents were requested to provide a weekly report on his vocabulary acquisition. The study lasted for six month. It was found that the child's early words were likely to come from ends of utterances. The child was exposed to more English, and as the researcher predicted, the child therefore produced more words in English than in Portuguese words. The author then compares parental input with the vocabulary produced by the infant. Despite the occurrence of more nouns in English at the end of the utterances and relatively the same frequency of nouns and verbs at the end of utterances in Portuguese, the child interestingly displayed a similar ratio of nouns in both English and Portuguese and likewise for the verbs.

In chapter 7, Suzanne Quay provides an intriguing paper on early trilingual development. Here, she gives an unique study involving the child of an American mother and German father, all residing in Tokyo, Japan. It was hypothesized that the child would produce more English output as he spent most of his time with his English-speaking mother. However, the child showed his preference for Japanese. Quay attributes this to the socializing process of the child, whereby the child's parents acknowledged the child's L3 output (in this case Japanese) as valid and worthy dialogic contribution.

In the next chapter Elizabeth Lanza also focuses on parent-child discourse. By introducing an English-Norwegian bilingual's interaction with her parents as an example, Lanza depicts and categorizes various discourse strategies parents use. The author argues how bilingual children's linguistic development needs to be understood with respect to process involved in their language socialization process.

Lian Comeau and Fred Genesee address the use of bilingual children's use of repair strategies. They suggest that young bilingual children are sensitive to the linguistic proficiency of others, and can adjust their language use in accordance with their perception of the language proficiency level of the interlocutor (p. 233). In order to examine this hypothesis, they examined the strategies used by 18 French-English bilingual children between the ages of 3 and 5. The researchers filmed the individual child's interaction with an experimenter who only used the child's non-dominant language. Their results showed that, overall, bilingual children are capable of matching the language used by the experimenter, although a comparison of the results indicates that the older children displayed considerably less communication breakdowns than the younger children. The children inferred the causes of the communication breakdowns and amended their output accordingly without explicit feedback given by the experimenter.

Finally, Brian MacWhinney provides a concluding chapter. He delineates the groundbreaking research that has been conducted in the area of early childhood language learning, specifically in the area of language differentiation. He calls for a new vision of bilingualism by bringing three different research traditions - sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics, and infancy research - together. He suggests that a bilingual child possesses two distinguishable, complex language systems, and calls for further research to unveil the complex issues involved in language processing.

This book is an interesting collection of recent linguistic studies on bilingual and trilingual language development. The overarching theme of all of the studies is the notion of language differentiation and role input plays in the simultaneous language acquisition of young bilinguals. The book presents an appealing exploration of bilingualism with respect to various language combinations (i.e., English-French, English-Portuguese, English-German-Japanese, Basque-Spanish, English-Norwegian) in different contexts. In particular, the notion of language learning as a socialization process in which it is not so much the quantity but rather the quality of input and input-in-context is intriguing.

Unlike some works on bilingualism which focus on cognitive and linguistic benefits unique to bilinguals per se, the focus of this book is on the investigation into language processing, looking at child bilingualism "as a way of further explicating the nature of language learning, social interactions, and the human mind" (p. 264). For this reason, this book might be of interest to not just researchers in SLA and bilingualism but also those in the area of first language acquisition.

Despite its appeal, however, I did not find the book to be as "diverse" as the editors claimed it was. The methodological approach taken in all studies is largely quantitative and micro, possibly contributing to a one-sided view of the complex phenomenon of bilingualism. For example, rich experiential, narrative accounts of bilinguals and parents raising bilinguals, as well as the connection between micro interaction and macro social structures, which would have complemented the insights this book provides, are missing from this book.

The book also focuses on the early bilingual development of infants and children, which, although insightful, interesting, and enlightening, can only provide the reader with a limited understanding and appreciation of what learning two languages entails. In short, this book only provides trends in bilingual acquisition involving young bilinguals and studies involving adult and advanced bilinguals are regrettably missing.

After reading this book, the notion of autonomous language development in simultaneous language learning comes across as a sound argument, but when we reexamine the issue in light of the notion of language development as largely socio-domain-specific (Grosjean 1989: p. 6), the argument for autonomous language development, where both languages are claimed to follow the developmental path much like that of monolinguals, needs to be questioned.

On a minor point, the book also caters to seasoned linguists as it incorporates certain linguistic jargon and terminologies which would be foreign to non- theoretical linguists. Therefore this book has a particular audience in mind and is not meant as an introductory text in bilingualism.

Then again, as the aim of the book is not necessarily to provide a comprehensive view of bilingualism but rather to give an up to date, in-depth account of early simultaneous language processing, it successfully achieves its aim.

de Boysson-Bardies, B.; Rough-Hellichius, L.; Durand, C.; Landberg, I.; and Arao, F. (1992). "Material evidence of infant selection from the target language: A cross linguistic phonemic study". In Phonological Development: Models, Research, Implications, C. Ferguson, L. Menn and C. Stoel Gammon (eds), 369-391. Timonium, MD: York Press.

Grosjean, F. (1989). Neurolinguists beware! The bilingual is not two monolinguals in one person. Brain and Language, 36, 3-15.

Volterra, V. and Taeschner, T. (1978). "The acquisition and development of language by bilingual children". Journal of Child Language, 5: 311-326.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER Mitsuyo Sakamoto is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures at the University of Western Ontario, Canada. Her areas of research interest are bilingualism and bilingual education, specifically sociolinguistic aspects of language learning and maintenance.