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Review of  EUROSLA Yearbook

Reviewer: Libby M Gertken
Book Title: EUROSLA Yearbook
Book Author: Leah Roberts Gabriele Pallotti Camilla Bettoni
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Language Acquisition
Issue Number: 23.608

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EDITORS: Leah Roberts, Gabriele Pallotti, Camilla Bettoni
SUBTITLE: Volume 11 (2011)
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2011

Libby M. Gertken, Department of French and Italian, University of Texas-Austin

This volume contains a range of perspectives on second language (L2) acquisition
in the form of 11 papers originally presented at the EUROSLA 20 conference in
Reggio Emilia in 2010 and the EUROSLA 2009 conference in Cork. Within the broad
theme of L2 acquisition, the contributions of this volume address language
testing, the lexicon, morphosyntax, and the syntax-discourse interface. The
first five papers represent non-traditional approaches to L2 acquisition, while
the latter six are more conventional in their topics, methodology, and (mostly
generative) theoretical framework. This review outlines the objectives,
methodology, results, and conclusions of each paper and evaluates the qualities
of the volume as a whole.

Maria del Mar Suárez and Carmen Muñoz (“Aptitude age, and cognitive development:
The MLAT-E in Spanish and Catalan”) provide the first of two papers directly
related to language testing. The authors investigated whether language aptitude,
as measured by the Modern Language Aptitude Test-Elementary (MLAT-E), is stable
among young language learners. They examined the performance of Catalan-Spanish
bilinguals in grades 3 through 7 on the Spanish and Catalan versions of the
MLAT-E. An increase in mean scores with increasing age for both versions of the
MLAT-E suggests that language aptitude is not static in children. The smallest
change across grades was found between grades 6 and 7, which the authors
interpret as a plateau in language aptitude and the starting point of stability
of aptitude scores (though the scores of higher grades were not evaluated). The
authors argue that a spike in aptitude scores between grades 3 and 4 coincides
with a Piagetian theory of cognitive development. It is precisely at grades 3-4
(ages 8-9) when the cognitive operations required to successfully perform a
portion of the MLAT-E subtests start to develop (the concrete operational
stage), and the plateau in aptitude scores in grade 6 (age 12) is related to the
mastery of these cognitive operations (the formal operational stage). One
conclusion offered is that the MLAT-E may not measure what it claims to measure
at ages 8-9. Relating aptitude scores to cognitive development is an intuitive
explanation for the observed uneven score increase across grades, though
alternative hypotheses deserve mention. The question of stability in language
aptitude is also left somewhat unresolved considering that a plateau in scores
around the age of 12 cannot be confirmed without either longitudinal data or
cross-sectional data that includes scores above this age.

J. Charles Alderson and Ari Huhta (“Can research into the diagnostic testing of
reading in a second or foreign language contribute to SLA research?”) continue
the theme of language testing in their consideration of the mutual benefits of
cooperation between L2 acquisition research and language testing, specifically
as it pertains to the study and testing of second and foreign language reading.
The paper does a good job of reinforcing basic principles of testing (e.g., the
importance of clearly defined constructs, of determining the reliability and
validity of tasks) and provides a thorough review of the construct of reading.
The authors report on three ongoing research projects. Project 1 looks at
reading in a first language in order to determine what makes an item on a
reading test difficult, from which it is inferred what cognitive processes are
involved in responding to that item. Four judges rated 100 items on the
Programme for International Student Assessment test according to a pool of
potential predictors of difficulty (e.g., Register of the text) using a 3- or
4-point scale. Ratings were compared to item difficulty values (not explicitly
defined). A regression analysis showed moderate prediction of difficulty--27.9%
to 46.3% variation explained--when variables were grouped in larger categories
(e.g., Structural Prominence). Project 2 looks at foreign language and L2
reading and examines whether item difficulty on the Pearson Test of English
Academic can be predicted by variables similar to those in Project 1. Project 3
is a large-scale effort involving three studies--its goal is to more directly
investigate the cognitive variables that affect language learners’ reading
through cognitive tests (e.g., Backwards digit span memory task). The paper’s
broader aim is to encourage L2 acquisition scholars to draw on insights from L2
testing--and vice versa--in order to better understand the processes involved in
second and foreign language reading and how they are acquired.

The paper by Dieter Thoma (“Guessing and risk attitude in L2 vocabulary tests”)
conceptually links the previous two testing-related papers with the upcoming two
lexicon-oriented papers in its discussion of guessing in L2 vocabulary tests.
Thoma looks into what causes students to resort to guessing, which is
traditionally attributed to the L2 proficiency and risk attitude of test takers.
More proficient test takers guess less often and more successfully, and
risk-averse personalities tend to make fewer guesses. 135 German-speaking
learners of English as a foreign language participated in a computer-based
yes/no vocabulary test designed to estimate receptive vocabulary size.
Participants were shown both English words and pseudowords and asked to decide
whether or not they knew its meaning. Participants also completed a translation
task involving all words from the yes/no task. Guessing was operationalized as
number of false alarms on the yes/no test (‘yes’ response to a pseudoword) and
the number of hits on the yes/no test (‘yes’ response to a word) that
participants could not translate. A risk attitude test was also administered.
Results from stepwise regression analyses revealed that inappropriate or lack of
semantic word knowledge was the best predictor of false alarm rates on the
yes/no test. Contrary to conventional understanding, guessing was found to be
unrelated to both general lexical proficiency (defined as accuracy on the
translation task) and risk attitude. The authors propose a novel scoring method
for discrete vocabulary tests based on these findings.

Camilla Bardel and Christina Lindqvist (“Developing a lexical profiler for
spoken French L2 and Italian L2: The role of frequency, thematic vocabulary and
cognates”) seek to improve upon frequency-based assessments of lexical richness
in oral production. One means of measuring lexical richness in an L2 is to
conduct Lexical Frequency Profiles (Laufer & Nation, 1995), in which a high
proportion of low-frequency words denotes a high level of lexical proficiency.
The paper argues that not all low-frequency words should be considered advanced.
Results from an earlier lexical frequency profiling analysis are presented
first. Interviews with L2 learners and native speakers of French and Italian
yielded data that were transcribed and analyzed for lexical frequency. 24
Swedish-speaking L2 French participants were classified as either advanced low
or advanced high proficiency, and 30 Swedish-speaking L2 Italian participants
were sorted into intermediate or advanced proficiency groups. It is unclear what
specific criteria were used in these classifications other than
“morpho-syntactic criteria” (p.80). Nevertheless, proportions of low-frequency
words were found to correspond to proficiency at the group level, with less
advanced L2 learners exhibiting lower proportions of low-frequency words than
more advanced groups. Yet there was overlap between groups, and some L2 learners
even outperformed native speakers. This paper presents a qualitative analysis of
the intra-group variation, focusing on 8 learners who scored unexpectedly high
or low for their proficiency group. All low-frequency words produced by these
participants were categorized as Thematic (e.g., travel and transport, sports
and spare time activities), Cognates, or Other. Including thematic vocabulary
was an attempt to capture the fact that some low-frequency words are in fact
common in classroom settings. One problem with this method is that not all
participants were classroom learners. Results of the qualitative analysis showed
that whereas each participant used thematic vocabulary to roughly the same
extent, they differed in their use of cognates, with more advanced learners
using a greater number and variety. The authors contend that accounting for
qualitative aspects of low-frequency words provides a better indicator of
lexical richness than quantity alone.

Paul Meara’s contribution (“Gossamer or bindweed? Association links between
common words”) is an exploratory case study on the organization of the mental
lexicon in native speakers. Citing problems with current methods of examining
word associations, he introduces an innovative methodology that allows for more
comprehensive analysis of associative links among words in different frequency
bands. The author was the sole subject of the case study. 500 randomly selected
English word pairs were presented to the participant using dedicated software,
one pair at a time. The task was to determine whether there was a link or
association between the words. Over a six-month period, the participant
responded to 75,000 word pairs. The mean number of links per 500 word pairs for
each of 5 frequency bands was collected. Results indicated that links within the
1000 most frequent words are more likely to be identified than links from other
frequency bands. The density of the connections seems to decline with frequency
as well. Meara concludes that associative networks may be more dense than
traditionally described but that density may vary in different parts of the
lexicon. As may be expected, it appears that low frequency words have fewer
associations and thus form a less dense network. To conclude, Meara relates his
native speaker study to L2 acquisition by suggesting that the construction of
associative networks may play a major role in the acquisition of L2 competence.
While Meara is frank about the limitations of a single-subject,
researcher-as-subject pilot study, his contribution to this volume offers
promising research directions for vocabulary study in native speakers as well as
L2 speakers.

The next paper by Masanori Bannai (“The nature of variable sensitivity to
agreement violations in L2 English”) is a departure from the preceding papers in
its focus on morphosyntax and its more traditional, generative approach to L2
acquisition, which is echoed in the next five papers. The author reports on
Self-Paced Reading and Grammaticality Judgment Tasks involving Japanese learners
of L2 English (n=37) and native English speakers (n=13) that were aimed at
assessing sensitivity to violations of subject-verb number agreement.
Participants were of low to upper intermediate proficiency, according to
standardized test scores. Stimuli in both tasks included grammatical and
ungrammatical sentences containing omission of 3rd person plural subject-verb
agreement (“…the doctor drinks/*drink…”), overuse of 3rd person plural
subject-verb agreement (“…those two sisters make/*makes…”), omission and overuse
with an intervening adverb (“…the mother often cooks/*cook…”), and omission and
overuse with a PP complement in the subject DP (“…the student with a large bag
carries/*carry…”). Grammaticality judgment results indicated that learners and
native speakers were aware of agreement violations for all sentence types. In
the Self-Paced Reading Task, native speakers showed violation sensitivity to all
but one sentence type--ungrammatical sentences with a PP complement--for which
they displayed attraction errors. Reaction time data showed that learners were
insensitive to violations involving the omission of 3rd person singular –s but
highly sensitive to overuse of the 3rd person singular except for cases in which
an adverb intervened between the subject and verb. It is argued that sensitivity
to overuse of the 3rd person singular -s was adversely affected by an
intervening adverb because L2 learners implement subject-verb agreement based on
the Vocabulary entry for /s/, which is sensitive to disruption of a string of
co-occurring terminal nodes (cf. Hawkins & Casillas, 2008), rather than on AGREE

Staying within generative morphosyntax but introducing the theme of
discourse-related phenomena that dominate the rest of the volume, the paper by
Pedro Guijarro-Fuentes (“Feature composition in Differential Object Marking”)
treats the acquisition of interpretable (semantic) features relating to the use
of the personal preposition ‘a’ with direct objects in Spanish. Use of this
structure is conditioned by the animacy/specificity of the NP, the
animacy/agentivity of the subject, and the semantics of the predicate.
Participants in an Acceptability Judgment Task included 49 English-speaking
learners of L2 Spanish of three proficiency levels and 16 native Spanish
controls. Advanced, high-intermediate, and low-intermediate L2 participants were
grouped according to scores on a standardized proficiency test, which also
corresponded to years of exposure (8, 5, and 1, respectively). Stimuli included
acceptable and unacceptable sentences containing prepositional ‘a’ preceded by
short background stories for context. (e.g., Nunca he estado en New York. Un
amigo mío estudió allí y le escribo para preguntarle dónde podría vivir sin
peligro: ¿Tu conoces a New York muy bien? ¿Dónde podría vivir?. ‘I have never
been to New York. A friend of mine studied there and I am writing to ask where
one could live safely: Do you know New York very well? Where could I live?’). L2
learners behaved differently from native speakers across proficiencies, though
no clear developmental pattern was detected. Greater accuracy at all levels was
observed when the sole feature conditioning the use of ‘a’ was +/-animate. On
the other hand, more variability was observed when a response required access to
more than one feature. The authors take these results as evidence that the
acquisition of prepositional ‘a’ is more difficult when multiple features are
involved such that learners’ acquisition begins with less complex
form-to-function mapping and evolves, given sufficiently clear input, to include
more complex conditions for use of prepositional ‘a’. Feature learning is thus
not an all-or-nothing undertaking. Findings are claimed to support a broadened
version of Lardiere’s (2008, 2009) Feature Reassembly Hypothesis.

Tiffany Judy (“L1/L2 parametric directionality matters: More on the Null Subject
Parameter”) tested whether the Null Subject Parameter can be reset in adult
Spanish-speaking learners of L2 English. L2 participants were considered
advanced learners since 14 out of 18 were enrolled in an American university.
Unfortunately, this coarse-grained classification masks any variability in
proficiency among the participants. (Five participants were found to show
clearer Spanish-like interpretations of null pronominals, and it would be
interesting to see if proficiency was a factor.) L2 groups and a native English
control group completed a Grammaticality Judgment/Correction Task and a Context
Matching Interpretation Task designed to assess acceptance of grammatical overt
subjects and ungrammatical null subjects in several syntactic positions and
contexts. In the Context Matching Interpretation task, participants read a brief
contextual paragraph and responded to a follow up question that either
corresponded to a coreferential or disjoint interpretation of a subject pronoun.
(e.g., Jeremy and Cole work at a very prestigious company. There is an executive
position open that everyone wants. Jeremy doesn’t think that he will get it due
to lack of experience. / In your immediate interpretation: Who does Jeremy
suppose will not get the job? / A. Jeremy B. Someone other than Jeremy). It was
found that L2 speakers converged with native speakers in referential and
grammatical expletive contexts of the Grammaticality Judgment Task (e.g., it
rains/*rains), but they did not accurately distinguish between null and overt
subjects in ungrammatical expletive contexts. In the Context Matching
Interpretation task, L2 participants performed significantly differently from
native speakers; the former did not show a strong preference for coreferential
over disjoint interpretation as natives did. This result is taken to reveal a
Spanish-influenced interpretation of overt embedded subjects, and, together with
the Grammaticality Judgment Task results, indicates that L2 participants have
not reset the Null Subject Parameter, as predicted by the superset/subset status
of the languages in question and in line with predictions of the Full
Transfer/Full Access model (Schwartz & Sprouse, 1994; 1996).

Reference constraints on null subjects are also the focus of the paper by Lucy
Xia Zhao (“The syntax and interpretation of embedded null subjects in Chinese,
and their acquisition by English-speaking learners”), this time in
English-speaking learners of L2 Chinese. Zhao reports on a study that tested
whether L2 learners of Chinese interpret null embedded subjects in a native-like
way. Chinese null embedded subjects can refer either to a matrix subject or a
discourse entity. 39 English-speaking learners of L2 Chinese and 16 native
Chinese controls participated in a Picture Judgment Task and a Written
Interpretation Task. L2 speakers were of high-intermediate or advanced
proficiency, according to a cloze test. The Picture Judgment Task included two
types of pictures: a coreferential one that depicted a situation in which the
embedded null subject referred to the matrix subject (Lao Lu shuo ‘e’ xihuan kan
zuqiu ‘Lao Lu says that ‘e’ likes watching football’), and a disjoint one that
depicted a situation in which the embedded null subject referred to a person
other than the matrix subject. For the Written Interpretation Task, participants
indicated their preference in interpretation of a null or realized element in a
test sentence. It was found that the high-intermediate L2 group allowed an
embedded null subject to refer to the matrix subject but not to a discourse
entity and that only advanced learners performed like natives in allowing both
interpretations. The difference in L2 groups is interpreted as evidence of a
delay in the acquisition of categories at the syntax-discourse interface, but
the author also notes their ultimate learnability. Several explanations for the
late acquisition of the topic deletion type of embedded null subject are
proposed, though conclusions are tentative as they do not correspond to data
from the present study.

Roumyana Slabakova, Jason Rothman, and Paula Kempchinsky (“Gradient competence
at the Syntax-Discourse Interface”) looked at acceptability judgments from 67
English-speaking learners of L2 Spanish and 21 native Spanish speakers on
dislocation structures. The authors tested participants’ knowledge of the
discourse and semantic constraints in Clitic Right Dislocation through an online
Felicity Judgment Task. The task included a brief context presented aurally and
visually, followed by a short dialogue with two alternatives (e.g., … Juan:
¿Crees que los muebles aquí son buenos? ‘Do you think that the furniture here is
good?’ / A. Sofía: # Claro que sí, lo compré ahí, mi sofá. ‘Of course, it
I-bought there, my sofa’ B. Sofía: * Claro que sí, compré ahí, mi sofá. ‘Of
course, I-bought there, my sofa’). Participants judged sentences as felicitous
or infelicitous on a scale of 1 to 4. Data show that natives found Clitic Right
Dislocation mildly unacceptable. Intermediate learners did not show acquisition
of either discourse or semantic constraints. Advanced and near-native L2 groups,
however, demonstrated knowledge of syntax-discourse constraints in their
acceptance of clitic-doubled dislocations and rejection of non-clitic-doubled
ones. The main question posed is why some non-natives performed better than
natives in that their acceptability ratings corresponded to theoretical
expectations while natives’ did not. The authors point to Duffield’s (2003;
2005) concepts of underlying and surface competence. Natives are sensitive to
the low frequency of Clitic Right Dislocation (surface competence), while
learners show categorical knowledge of its acceptability (underlying
competence). Natives, though aware of the underlying acceptability of right
dislocation, have alternative ways of capturing competence that are conditioned
by discourse appropriateness, and such wider surface competence interferes with
categorical underlying competence. The authors conclude that surface competence
is probabilistic and gradient, sensitive to phenomena such as the contextual
appropriateness of a structure.

The volume ends with a paper by Camilla Bettoni and Bruno di Biase (“Beyond
canonical order: The acquisition of marked word orders in Italian as a second
language”), who offer a different perspective on the syntax-discourse interface.
Via Processability Theory (Pienemann, 1998) and references to lexicalist
approaches such as Levelt’s (1989) speech production model and Lexical
Functional Grammar, the authors assess the development from canonical to
non-canonical word orders in L2 speakers of Italian of multiple first-language
backgrounds. 15 learners of varying proficiency in Italian completed four tasks
designed to elicit a number of grammatical structures. The first was a Picture
Story Retelling Task which encouraged use of canonical word orders with
referential subject pronouns and pro-drop. A Spot-The-Difference Task was
designed to elicit adjective topicalization. The third task was an “Animal
Dinner” Task aimed at eliciting object topicalizations. The final task targeted
question formation. Distributions of the different constructions produced were
used to arrange participants into developmental stages. The weakest participant
at the first stage produced only declarative sentences with unmarked word order.
The lower stages are characterized generally by morphological inaccuracy. With
increased accuracy comes more target-like pro-drop structures and grammatical
questions. At the final stage, participants produce grammatical questions,
topicalizations, and show increased morphological accuracy. The authors suggest
that their Processability Theory-based developmental scale is also implicational
since there were no learners who produced a structure at the highest stage
without producing any at the preceding stage.

The 2011 EUROSLA Yearbook is a very good resource for beginning L2 acquisition
researchers, as review sections are generally thorough and informative.
Established researchers will appreciate the theoretical and empirical
contributions to established topics in L2 acquisition. The addition of papers on
L2 testing are especially on trend as interest in testing and assessment becomes
more and more prominent in the field of L2 acquisition (e.g., Tremblay, 2011;
Marian et al., 2007; and the special issue of the “International Journal of
Bilingualism” on measurement of bilingual proficiency, June 2011, Vol. 15 Issue 2).

The editors succeed in creating a coherent collection of papers under the very
broad umbrella of L2 acquisition. Although there is an array of topics,
languages, and participant types, and no cross-referencing, the presentation
order is logical and comprehensible, and observant readers will appreciate the
conceptual links from one article to the next.

One shortcoming is that the papers do not include particularly innovative or
advanced methodologies or statistical analysis. Meara’s paper stands out for its
innovative methodology, but the morphosyntax and syntax-discourse studies almost
exclusively involve Grammaticality or Acceptability Judgment Tasks (with the
exception of Bettoni & di Biase’s production study). The only on-line
methodology is the Self-Paced Reading Task in Bannai’s paper. Statistically,
regressions and ANOVAs are suitable to the Yearbook's purposes, though the use
of mixed-effects analyses in linguistic research is on the rise (e.g., Baayen et
al., 2008).

Nevertheless, important themes emerge from the 2011 EUROSLA Yearbook that will
guide L2 acquisition research in the next decade. Notable is the emphasis on
individual analysis as well as group analysis, which is important because group
results may hide individual variation (Bardel & Lindqvist; Guijarro-Fuentes;
Judy; Slabakova, Rothman, & Kempchinsky). Another common thread is that
structures at the syntax-discourse interface are ultimately acquirable but may
show protracted acquisition (Guijarro-Fuentes; Judy; Zhao). Such a conclusion
highlights the role of proficiency in L2 acquisition (also a theme in this
volume) and reflects an important paradigm shift towards ascertaining L2
capacities and away from concentrating on deficits (e.g., Birdsong, 2005).
Interestingly, a discrepancy emerges in this volume between two research teams'
measurements of proficiency using the same instrument. Both teams use the
Diploma Español de Lengua Extranjera test for Spanish. Guijarro-Fuentes measures
proficiency with the following rankings: Advanced 39-50, High intermediate
25-38, Low intermediate 0-24. By contrast, Slabakova, Rothman, and Kempchinsky
measure proficiency thus: Near-native 47-50, Advanced 40-47, Intermediate 30-39.
This discrepancy reinforces an acknowledged need for better ways of assessing
proficiency in L2 research.

Overall, this collection of papers highlights rigorous research being undertaken
in L2 acquisition and testing, and each contribution suggests a number of paths
for future work. The organization of papers is well planned, and the selected
papers showcase the fine work in L2 studies presented at the EUROSLA conference.

Baayen, R.H., Davidson, D.J., & Bates, D.M. (2008). Mixed-effects modeling with
crossed random effects for subjects and items. Journal of Memory and Language,
59, 390-412.

Birdsong, D. (2005). Nativelikeness and non-nativelikeness in L2A research.
International Review of Applied Linguistics, 43, 319-328.

Duffield, N. (2005). Implications of competent gradience. Moderne Sprachen, 48,

Duffield, N. (2003). Measures of competent gradience. In The Interface between
Syntax and the Lexicon in Second Language Acquisition, R. van Hout, A. Hulk, F.
Kuiken, & R. Towell (eds), 98-127. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Hawkins, R. & Casillas, G. (2008). Explaining frequency of verb morphology in
early L2 speech. Lingua, 118, 595-612.

Lardiere, D. (2009). Some thoughts on the contrastive analysis of features in
second language acquisition. Second Language Research, 25, 173-227.

Lardiere, D. (2008). Feature-assembly in second language acquisition. In The
Role of Formal Features in Second Language Acquisition, J. Liceras, H. Zobl, and
H. Goodluck (eds), 106-140. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Laufer, B. & Nation, P. (1995). Vocabulary size and use: Lexical richness in L2
written production. Applied Linguistics, 16, 307-322.

Levelt, W.J.M. (1989). Speaking: From Intention to Articulation. Cambridge,
Mass: MIT Press.

Marian, V., Blumenfeld, H., & Kaushanskaya, M. (2007). The Language Experience
and Proficiency Questionnaire (LEAP-Q): Assessing language profiles in
bilinguals and multilinguals. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research,
50, 4, 940-967.

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

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

Schwartz, B. & Sprouse, R. (1994). Word order and nominative case in nonnative
language acquisition: A longitudinal study of L1 Turkish German interlanguage.
In Language Acquisition Studies in Generative Grammar, T. Hoekstra and B.
Schwartz (eds), 317-368. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Tremblay, A. (2011). Proficiency assessment standards in second language
acquisition research. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 33, 339-372.

Libby M. Gertken is a Ph.D. candidate in French linguistics at the University of Texas-Austin, where she is currently employed as an Assistant Instructor of French, and will complete her degree in May 2013. She studies second language acquisition from a psycholinguistic perspective. Her dissertation concerns the real-time processing of syntax by adult learners of French (native English speakers) and how second language proficiency and dominance affect parsing strategies. Other projects include the creation of an easy-to-use instrument to assess bilingual language dominance with support from the Center for Open Educational Resources and Language Learning ( and investigating “good enough” processing among native and non-native speakers of French.