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.
SUMMARY 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.
EVALUATION 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).
REFERENCES 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.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
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.