LINGUIST List 13.55
Thu Jan 10 2002
Review: Steinberg et al, Psycholinguistics
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Belianine Valeri, Review of Steinberg Language, Mind and World, 2nd ed.
Message 1: Review of Steinberg Language, Mind and World, 2nd ed.
Date: Thu, 10 Jan 2002 14:46:18 -0400
From: Belianine Valeri <vbelyaninmtu.ru>
Subject: Review of Steinberg Language, Mind and World, 2nd ed.
Steinberg, Danny D., Hiroshi Nagata, and David P. Aline,
ed. (2001) Psycholinguistics: Language, Mind and World,
2nd ed. Longman paperback ISBN: 0-582-03949-5, xix + 444
pp, Longman Linguistics Library (first ed. 1982).
Reviewer: Valery Belyanin, Moscow State University
The book consists of 13 chapters presented in four parts.
It has more than 650 references, an author index and a
Part 1 is en titled "First-language Learning". Chapter one,
called "How Children Learn Language," explains how
children progress from vocalization to babbling and then
move into uttering their first words. This is followed by
speech stages such as naming (one-word sentences),
holophrastic, telegraphic (two- and three-word
utterances), and morphemic. Explanations of this order of
acquisition are given. Then come such speech stages as
negation, question, and passive formations. The
description of the development of speech comprehension is
discussed alongside questions like: can the sounds of
speech reach the fetus while it is still in the uterus, or
do infants prefer their native language at birth? Cases of
comprehension without speech production (e.g. in mute-
hearing child) are also topics that are discussed here.
And certainly there is a description of the
characteristics of parentese talk (caregiver speech,
Adult-to-Child Language, child-Directed Speech), which is
defined as the sort of speech that children encounter when
they are young. Some differences between mother and father
speech (though it is also called motherese speech) are
described. Baby talk that involves the use of a very
simplified and reduced vocabulary and syntax is said bear
no harm to children. The role of imitation, rule,
correction as well as memory and logic in language
learning is also discussed. Furthermore, this chapter
deals with the relationship of speech production, speech
comprehension and thought.
Chapter Two is entitled "The Deaf and Language: Sign, Oral,
Written" and describes sign language as true language
without speech. The gestures of hearing people reviewed
as signs that do not form a language since they are
limited and restricted to certain speech occasions. Sign
languages differ from them because they are able to
express through body movements exactly that which can be
expressed through speech. Speech-based (involving finger
spelling) and independent sign languages are described
with photos and pictures. The process of learning American
Sigh Language, which involved the oral approach, is
criticized. A program for teaching written language to
hearing-impaired children which has four phases (word
familiarization, word identification, phrase and sentence
identification, paragraphs and stories) is introduced and
proof of its effectiveness is given.
Chapter Three is entitled "Reading Principles and Teaching"
and contains a lot of metaphors and funny examples, one of
which illustrates the unpredictability of English
orthography. Here are two of twenty five lines of a verse
in which different combinations of letters that sound
similar are given as examples:
Well done. That sure was fun.
But my friend, it's not the end.
The authors support the whole-word approach to teaching
(versus phonics/decoding) and advocate early reading for
pre-school age children.
The fourth chapter in this part is entitled "Wild
and Isolated Children and the Critical Age Issue for
Language Learning". It starts with legends about evil
kings who deprived children of communication, and goes on
with the stories of Victor (the wild boy of Aveyron),
Genie (raised in isolation), Isabelle (confined with a
mute mother), and Helen Keller (the renowned deaf and
blind girl). The story of Chelsea (a tragic case of
misdiagnosis) is added to this edition, unlike the book
published in 1982. And the discussion of the problem of
critical age for first-language acquisition takes several
pages instead of several lines, as in the previous
edition. The hypothesis is not formulated here explicitly
though it is said that the critical age cannot be much
younger than 6 or 7 years.
Chapter five "Animals and Language learning"
is devoted to people who have taught animals to use language.
It deals with teaching speech to apes, chimpanzees,
dolphins, and parrots. Some new animals appeared here in
comparison with the earlier edition. Animal communication
in the wild is described with more attention to bird calls
and honey bees. The authors state that animal
communication should not be viewed as language since it
Part Two of the book is entitled "Second-Language Learning".
It starts with chapter six, entitled "Children and Adults
in Second-Language Learning". Basic psychological factors
affecting second-language learning (such as explication,
memory, and motor skills) are examined. It is postulated
that induction remains at a relatively high level with age
(except with certain individuals of old age); the ability
to understand explication increases with age while memory
and motor skill decline with age. Social situations
affecting second-language learning are named, such as the
natural versus classroom situation and community context.
The question "Who is better? Adults or children?" is not
simple and the book answers that young and older children
will do better than adults in the natural situation, and
older children will do better than adults in the
classroom. And even in the stimulation case the young
children will do better than adults in the classroom. It
is stated that there is no critical age in terms of
acquiring the syntax of a second language and some adults
may very well achieve native speaker pronunciation.
Chapter seven is entitled "Second-Language Teaching
Methods". It describes traditional methods, such as
grammar-translation, natural, direct and audiolingual, and
the methods that are called 'offbeat': Cognitive Code,
Community Language Learning, Silent Way, and
Suggestopedia, which are criticized in the book.
Contemporary methods (Total Physical Response,
Communication Language Teaching, Natural Approach) are
also described in detail. This chapter ends with some
research studies that compare the effectiveness of
methods. Also, the phrase "No method is a total failure"
is preceded by "It is safe to say that students will learn
something from any method". A kind of recommendation is
given to "those who can afford the luxury of selecting a
method": "Most methods will have some features which can
be of benefit to the language learner." The use of such an
aphoristic language though has some reasons, since it
follows rather detailed explications of the pros and cons
of all the above methods. Nonetheless, Total Physical
Response is given a most favorable evaluation. This part
ends with chapter eight titled "Bilingualism, Cognition,
Transfer and Learning Strategies".
Part three is entitled "Language, Mind and Brain". It starts
with chapter nine entitled "Language, thought and Culture"
where four theories regarding the dependence of thought
and culture on language are described. These are: speech
is essential for thought (Watson, Skinner, Bloomfield and
Liberman), language is essential for thought (Sapir, Whorf
and Vygotsky), language determines our perception of
nature (again Whorf, and again Sapir, plus Korzybsky), and
language determines our cultural world view (again Sapir,
again Korzybsky, plus Humboldt). Each theory is strongly
criticized after the authors describe their essence. 'The
Best Theory' is offered. Its several postulates are that
thought is independent of language (John Locke) and that
language can assist in conveying new ideas and culture (no
Chapter ten is entitled "Where Does
Language Knowledge Come From? Intelligence, Innate
Language Ideas, Behaviour?" and deals with controversial
approaches to the matter: mentalism as opposed to
materialism, epiphenomenalism as opposed to mediationism,
empirism as opposed to rationalism. This rather
philosophical part of the book is followed by the quite
well known Chomskyan arguments for innate language ideas,
which are here judged inadequate.
Chapter eleven "Language and the Brain" is a bit more
biological. General brain structure and hemispheric
dominance, where one hemisphere (more often the left one)
is in control, are the main problems discussed here. Left-
handers are said to have more speech disorders and various
reading and writing dysfunctions due to the lack of strong
dominance. The fact that the left hemisphere is the main
language hemisphere for right handed people is proved by
the example that listening behind a closed door is better
by turning your right ear forward (which for me is a good
exercise to demonstrate during the lecture in order to
arouse the student's interest). Language disorders that
fall into two basic groups (Broca's and Wernicke's
aphasias) are also described here. New high-tech methods
of brain and language investigation" are named
(Computerized Axial Tomography, Positron Emission
topography, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, and Event-Related
Potentials) are shortly but vividly described.
Part four is entitled "Mental Grammar and Language
Processing". It opens with chapter twelve "Language
Criteria for Assessing Grammars" and focuses on a
speaker's fundamental language abilities such as the
ability to produce and comprehend sentences with no limits
as to length, an unlimited number of sentences, novel
sentences and grammatical sentences. Behaviorist,
psychological and structural linguistic points of view are
discussed and explained. And certainly, Chomskyan
generative rule system dealing with the abilities to
understand sentence synonymy and structural ambiguity is
brought into view as well.
The concluding chapter (No 13) is entitled "Natural grammar:
A 'God's Truth' Grammar Based on the Primacy of Speech
Comprehension." It starts with the controversy of
linguistics' main goal: should grammar describe language in
formal terms or describe what the speaker knows about the
language? Since the title of the book contains both
"Language" and "Mind" the authors try to find a
compromise, but decidedly incline more towards
psychological criteria for assessing grammars. A theory of
Natural Grammar is proposed again. This grammar is derived
from the prior development of thought with its ideas and
propositional creations. It is this thought which is
projected onto incoming speech with its attendant objects
and events so that a grammar based on comprehension, a
comprehension grammar, develops. Through this grammar
incoming speech is able to be interpreted into thought.
Speech production is regarded as a derived process based
on speech comprehension. Thus, the theory of natural
grammar comes out to be the interaction of mind and
thought, with the experience of speech input and
environmental situations and events that co-occur with
As for me I would never agree that "Suggestopedia is
little more than grammar-translation with music" (p.206).
In fact it is much more. Then, too, a single mention of
Vygotsky is not enough since his works contain many ideas
similar to those of the authors. Another scholar, Alexander
Luria, is even not mentioned. Furthermore, it is
disappointing for me as a Russian that Nobel Prize winner
Ivan Pavlov is never referred to as a behaviorist. In
addition, the review of strategies for second-language
production would be more complete if the authors were to
describe the modern theory of cognitive styles (Betty
The book is well organized and very readable. It provides
many examples from within the contexts of languages other
than English (such as Japanese Chinese, Korean). In
general it combines the description of very specific cases
of language defects (unfortunately less of giftedness)
with rather sophisticated statements borrowed from
philosophy. The authors put forward a lot of questions
(even in the titles of the chapters) and the answers are
sometimes indefinite since the problems brought up are
extremely controversial and complicated. In short, the
book, subtitled "Language, Mind and World" is well
written, challenges the mind and brings to life new
viewpoints of the world. In my eyes, this is true
Leaver B. (1997). Teaching the Whole Class. Corwin Press.
Luria A. (1972) A Neuropsychological Analysis of Speech
Communication. // Prucha J. Soviet Studies in Language and
Language Behavior. The Hague: Mouton, pp. 191-207.
Steinberg, Danny D. (1982). Psycholinguistics: Language,
Mind and World. Longman: London & New York.
Steinberg, Danny D. (1993). An Introduction to
Psycholinguistics. Longman: London & New York.
Vygotsky, L.S. (1962). Thought and Language. Cambridge,
MA: MIT Press.
About the Reviewer:
Valery Belyanin received his Ph.D. in psycholinguistics in
1985 at the Institute of Linguistics of the Academy of
Sciences of the USSR. He received his Dr.Sc. in 1983 also
in psycholinguistics at Moscow State University. He is the
author of three monographs on psychostylistics and five
different editions of textbooks on psycholinguistics. He
taught Russian as a second language for more than 20 years
in Russia, Poland, Afghanistan, Cuba and Taiwan. He taught
psycholinguistics and related subjects for more than ten
years in Russia and Taiwan. vbelyaninhotmail.com