Language Evolution: The Windows Approach addresses the question: "How can we unravel the evolution of language, given that there is no direct evidence about it?"
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Review of Selected Proceedings of the 2010 Second Language Research Forum
EDITORS: Gisela Granena, Joel Koeth, Sunyoung Lee-Ellis, Anna Lukyanchenko, Goretti Prieto Botana, and Elizabeth Rhoades TITLE: Selected Proceedings of the 2010 Second Language Research Forum: Reconsidering SLA Research, Dimensions, and Directions SERIES TITLE: Cascadilla Proceedings Project PUBSLISHER: Cascadilla YEAR: 2011
Otis Phillip Elliott, Jr., Department of Foreign Languages, Southern University at Baton Rouge
Since 1977, a Second Language Research Forum (SLRF) has convened to give scholars and graduate students a chance to share their research. This book comprises fifteen selected papers presented at the 2010 SLRF, held at the University of Maryland at College Park. The editors have chosen works that focus on second language (L2) instruction and learning, L2 testing, study abroad, working memory, heritage language acquisition, learner corpora, and L2 processing and acquisition of linguistic structures. As this brief categorization and the proceeding’s title suggest, there are many dimensions to second language research (SLR) and a growing number of directions that researchers are taking in their approaches to the study of second language acquisition (SLA). Due to word limitations, I have chosen 5 of the 15 papers to describe in some detail. Each paper in the collection, however, deserves a full review in its own right. In fact, the collection is a fascinating read for any student of SLA.
Wenhao Dao’s study, titled ‘Study Abroad, Participation and Turn Taking: A Case Study’, looks more deeply “into the nature of the interactions and quality of the experiences” (p. 2) of a study abroad (SA) participant in China, by analyzing (triangulating) conversational themes, turn-taking types, and SA experiences with native speakers (NS). The theoretical point of view taken is that of Lave and Wenger (1991), called Community of Practice (CoP), where newcomers (in this case, an L2 Chinese study abroad participant in China) must learn how to negotiate legitimacy with old timers (in this case, Chinese NS) in order to more fully participate in social activities within the communities. Through the author’s analysis, one sees that this young, motivated American college student broadened his roles, increased his range of social activities, and improved his linguistic abilities, in parallel, over the semester-long sojourn in China. In the end, he was able to be perceived and accepted by the local people as a foreigner interested in Chinese and invited to participate more fully in social activities. This change in roles and increase in the types of NS he interacted with paralleled his turn-taking development (increased self-initiated turns, allocated turns, and fewer requests for repairs), as measured by audio-recordings, transcriptions, and analyses of conversations the participant had with the author throughout the length of the study.
Mandy Faretta-Stutenberg and Kara Morgan-Short investigate whether unaware learning (unconscious mental processing) takes place (Williams 2005) or whether awareness (conscious mental processing) is necessary for language learning (Schmidt 1990), in their study called ‘Learning without Awareness Reconsidered: A Replication of Williams (2005)’. Nonce English determiners (‘gi, ro, ul, ne’) were taught to 30 undergraduate students, who then were tested on both trained and new items. They were also interviewed to discover whether they noticed or became aware of the rule governing determiner selection, which was +/- animacy. Performance on new items was generally poor across groups. Results suggest unaware learning did not take place in this study, but there were important differences between it and Williams (2005), which may explain the lack of corresponding findings: Williams (2005) included graduate students and those studying in linguistic fields, many with a knowledge of more than one L2 at the intermediate level, while the present study’s participants did not share in these features. Some correlation between years of education and level of awareness were found in the present study: older students with more education may be more adept at analyzing, seeking out and finding patterns and rules in language.
Kook-Hee Gil, Heather Marsden, and Melinda Whong consider the issues of first language (L1) transfer, negative evidence, and the poverty of the stimulus problem in the learning of the English word ‘any’ and its variants by a variety of L1 speakers (with a focus on Korean, Chinese and Arabic speakers), in their paper ‘L2 Acquisition of ‘any’: Negative Evidence, Negative Implicature and Negative L1 Transfer’. They pose the question whether L2 English learners can acquire the lexical properties of ‘any’ (that is, when it is licensed for use and when it is not). If a teacher explicitly explains the restrictions on use (ex: ‘You must not use ‘any’ in a progressive declarative, as in *‘Anyone is playing the guitar.’), does that improve acquisition? Does any similarity, or lack thereof, between the L1 equivalent of ‘any’ and L2 English ‘any’ influence acquisition? What is clear from the results of this study is that the L2 English learners had a difficult time in acquiring the lexical properties of ‘any.’ There was a tendency among all learners to reject the use of ‘any’ even in grammatical contexts, according to their performance on grammaticality judgment tasks that were contextualized within story lines. Support was found in this study for Giannakidou (1998)’s indirect licensing of ‘any’ in contexts with the word ‘only’ (‘Only John knew anything about this’) and with a verb like ‘regret’ (‘I regret that I said anything to him’). L2 English learners were better at judging the syntactic licensing of ‘any’ than at judging the indirect, semantic licensing of ‘any’. Suggestions for classroom instruction of ‘any’ based on the L1 of students are offered, including a more in-depth study of the lexical properties of words in the classroom, especially for students whose L1 is in a superset relationship (i.e. less restrictive than the L2) regarding the L2 language property under consideration.
Makiko Hirakawa and Kazunori Suzuki, in their article ‘Learnability and Modality Restrictions on Conditionals in L2 Japanese and English’, make predictions about whether L2 English conditionals (e.g., ‘If it rains tomorrow, please let me sleep late’) were easier to learn than L2 Japanese conditionals, given their superset/subset relationship regarding this particular language property. While there are few restrictions on the use of modality in English conditionals, there exist very specific ones in Japanese: Modality use in conditionals is prohibited with either ‘to’ or ‘ba’ with eventive verbs, and also with ‘to’ when stative verbs are present. Results from the intermediate and advanced learners of L2 English and L2 Japanese support this conclusion. L2 English learners performed better on grammaticality judgment tasks than did their L2 Japanese counterparts, with both patterning after but failing to meet the level of accuracy in judgments of the native speaker control groups. As predicted, L2 Japanese learners (who were L1 English speakers) had a difficult time correctly judging ungrammatical cases of ‘ba’ with eventive verbs. However, there was little difference in the performance between the intermediate and advanced L2 English groups, when a difference in performance was predicted.
Anna Lukyanchenko, William J. Idsardi and Nan Jiang examine the role of the L1 in processing prosodic constraints on primary word stress in the L2, from the perspective of parameter setting (Chomsky 1981) and a psycholinguistic approach to stress perception (Dupoux et al. 1997), in their article ‘Opening Your Ears: The Role of L1 in Processing of Nonnative Prosodic Contrasts’. Predictions are that when the L1 and L2 share the same parameter setting, then a feature copying mechanism can be used to set the L2 features. When this is not the case, learners will need to learn new rules to reset the prosodic features that differ from L1. Metrical parameters that may need to be reset include foot size, headedness, quantity sensitivity, and several others (eight in all). The authors examine the stress perception behavior of speakers of French, Russian and Persian (three typologically different languages). In French, word stress does not play a significant contrastive function, thus French speakers are predicted to have trouble processing stress that is contrastive in the L2. Russian has many patterns of word stress, and, therefore, the prediction is that its speakers will be more sensitive to, and better at, processing stress in the L2. Persian is much more like French but still has some contrastive stress patterns, so Persian speakers are predicted to perform somewhat in between the Russian and French speakers when processing word stress in the L2. The results of the two tasks of the study--a stress identification task with contrastive stress minimal pairs possible in all 3 languages: ‘fi-ki; fi-‘ki; ‘mi-pa; and mi-‘pa, and a SRT short-term memory task (word stress sequences), upheld the predictions. Russian speakers were faster and more accurate with the tasks and French speakers were slower and much less accurate. Persian speakers did fall somewhere in between the two, but still their performance was more like French speakers than Russian speakers. L1 prosodic features had a significant effect on the processing of L2 word stress.
As the title of these proceedings indicates, the research being undertaken in the field of second language acquisition is multi-dimensional and multi-directional, which allows for different ways of trying to come to grips with what SLA is. While the collection is a marvelous read, still, some critique may be offered. For example, the Faretta-Stutenberg and Morgan-Short replication of Williams (2005) begs the question whether it can be considered a true replication given that the participant pools differed in important attributes, namely those that the authors suggest may have accounted for the findings of Williams (2005). It may well be best to replicate the characteristics of the participants in the original study, especially those features that seem critical to the question posed by the replicating study.
Many of the papers in the collection, quite understandably, are concerned with the relationship between the first language (L1) and the second language (L2) and how that relationship influences L2 acquisition. Hirakawa and Suzuki, as well as Lukyanchencko, Idsardi and Jiang looked closely in their respective studies at the influences of the L1 on the L2. A considerable number of such hypothesis-testing research in SLA unfortunately (in my view) have had a tendency for their results to be as found as predicted. As a reader and student of SLA research, this verificationist approach to research is bothersome given the little we still know of second language acquisition. Nevertheless, the book overall is a wonderful read. It is absolutely fascinating to ponder the many approaches and findings, and the editors are to be congratulated for producing a fine volume.
Chomsky, Noam. 1981. Lectures on Government and Binding. Dordrecht: Foris Publications. Dupoux, Emmanuel, Pallier, Christophie, Sebastian, Núria & Mehler, Jacques. 1997. A destressing ''deafness'' in French? Journal of Memory and Language, 36(3), 406-421.
Giannakidou, Anastasia. 1998. Polarity Sensitivity as (Non)Veridical Dependency. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Lave, Jean, & Wenger, Etienne. 1991. Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Schmidt, Richard. 1990. The role of consciousness in second language learning. Applied Linguistics, 11, 129-158.
Williams, John N. 2005. Learning without awareness. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 27, 269-304.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Otis Phillip Elliott, Jr. teaches Spanish, English and Chinese at Southern University at Baton Rouge in the Department of Foreign Languages. Elliott holds a PhD in Second Language Acquisition and Teaching from the University of Arizona, a MA in Spanish from the University of Kentucky, and a second MA in English from the University of North Texas.