LINGUIST List 17.3169

Mon Oct 30 2006

Review: Language Acquisition: Cruz-Ferreira (2006)

Editor for this issue: Laura Welcher <>

Directory         1.    Emanuel da Silva, Three is a Crowd?

Message 1: Three is a Crowd?
Date: 30-Oct-2006
From: Emanuel da Silva <>
Subject: Three is a Crowd?

Announced at AUTHOR: Cruz-Ferreira, MadalenaTITLE: Three is a Crowd?SUBTITLE: Acquiring Portuguese in a Trilingual EnvironmentSERIES: Child Language and Child DevelopmentPUBLISHER: Multilingual MattersYEAR: 2006ISBN: 1853598380ANNONCED IN:

Emanuel A. da Silva - PhD candidate, Department of French, University ofToronto, Canada


The book is the sixth title in the series on Child Language and ChildDevelopment published by Multilingual Matters. It gives an insightful andentertaining overview of three siblings developing language ability in amultilingual environment where Portuguese, Swedish and English are spoken.The book is about children learning language, not about the languagesthemselves, so no exhaustive analysis of any language, language level ordevelopmental stage is attempted. Instead, a detailed discussion of severalissues pertaining to the children's progressive mastery of EuropeanPortuguese (the children's home language growing up and their first peerlanguage) is presented. Based on the children's spontaneous, everyday useof language, the book aims to provide a contextual account of thestrategies and processes behind the children's linguistic and socialdevelopment throughout the first 10 years of their lives. Cruz-Ferreiraaddresses questions of language choice, lexical development, motherese,phonology, prosody, language attitudes and multiculturalism, among others.

The answer to the question in the book's title ''Three is a crowd?'', is anemphatic negative. Three or more languages are no more a crowd than onesingle language and monolingualism should no longer be considered the norm.The author, and mother of the three children in question, hopes that thebook helps broaden the boundaries that guide research, assessment andopinions about child linguistic development, and in particular childmultilingualism, among linguistically untrained parents, educators, schoolauthorities and linguistics researchers alike. Cruz-Ferreira's writingstyle is very straightforward, descriptive technicalities are kept to aminimum, and English glosses of Portuguese and Swedish words are giventhroughout, making this book accessible for a very wide audience, includingfirst year university/college students.


After the introduction in Chapter 1, the book is divided into three main parts.

Part I (which contains four chapters) sets the stage for how the childrenbecame multilingual. Chapter 2 outlines a number of issues on bilingualismand bilingual acquisition, bilingualism versus dual monolingualism,one-system and two-system approaches to child bilingualism, mixed speechand bilingual fluency. Chapter 3 provides some linguistic and socialcontextualization and background on the family, the children and theirdevelopment at school and at home including, for example one child'shearing difficulties. Chapter 4 presents the database on which the studydraws and discusses the methods, choices and limitations of the datacollection, presentation and analysis. The database is made up ofspontaneous production data in various situations involving differentinterlocutors and different languages, spanning the birth of all threechildren up to age 10. Chapter 5 gives an overview of how the childrensignal their different languages and different communicative situations,how they organize people according to language as well as how they developtheir metalinguistic ability. For example, the children are aware of twodifferent kinds of bilingualism in the family: their own, which is''native'', and their parents', ''non-native''. However, the monolingualideologies behind the term ''native speaker'' are deconstructed throughoutthe book.

In Part II, the author uses three chapters to present issues on how thechildren make sense of Portuguese in a multilingual context. Chapter 6focuses on how the children grasp the phonology of the language and inparticular its prosody, fundamental to an understanding of language andlanguage acquisition. The author looks at different intonational patternsand choices with one-word, two-word and multiword utterances as well as theprosodic role of fillers, which has gained little attention. Chapter 7 is aqualitative account of the children's lexical development: matterspertaining to structure at word, phrase and utterance level. She beginswith a critical reflection on the very word ''word'' and then discussespassive and active vocabulary before turning to specific word forms.Chapter 8 discusses the children's semantic manipulation and differentstrategies to approach word meanings (by querying and manipulating words orchoosing/avoiding certain words).

Part III takes a broader sociolinguistic perspective and examines theimpact of acquiring a third language in each child's approach tocommunication and to life. Chapter 9 asks whether a new language is anintruder or a guest. It looks at the emergence of English in the children'slinguistic repertoire, its instruction at school and introduction in thehome as their peer language. Attitudes towards multilingualism are alsodiscussed. Chapter 10 explores questions of language choice, language inputand language management in a multilingual environment. How are language''territories'' defined? Is there such thing as a ''balanced'' bilingual?Chapter 11 deals with the different ways that the children grew up not onlybi-/multi-lingual but also bi-/multi-cultural. It describes how thechildren learned to be 'idiomatic' in different cultures and identities: toproduce/expect behaviour according to social norms of the languages/cultures.

Chapter 12 provides a brief, yet concise overview of the book.


The study set out to investigate two research questions:(1) Is there a fundamental difference between the children's use ofmonolingual and multilingual acquisitional strategies?(2) What role do acquisitional strategies play in the children's overalllinguistic, cognitive and social development?

I believe that, in general, the author successfully answers thesequestions. For the first question, Cruz-Ferreira argues that her data showsthat the children's aquisitional strategies of probing and testing formeaningful uses of language apply for developing one single language ormany languages. These strategies include making due with whateverlinguistic resources are available, this resourcefulness is a form ofadaptive behaviour – one which the author correctly observes is largelyunexplored among second-language teaching/learning because of the emphasisof rote learning. Another strategy is to take things one at a time,systematically. The exploration of prosody comes first, the babbling andfillers that follow are then replaced with words and word sequences of eachlanguage and so on. A third strategy is to experiment and put the newlanguage abilities to use.

As for the second question, Cruz-Ferreira sees no fundamental differencebetween the children's acquisitional strategies and strategies used byadults to tackle new challenges, linguistic or otherwise. Children andadults alike are constantly engaging in new endeavours that require newways of thinking, of socializing, and therefore of using language to makesense of our surroundings and ourselves.

I think the strengths of this book come from Cruz-Ferreira's reflexiveapproach to the construction of knowledge, her emphasis on the data ratherthan the theories and her critical view on the generalized use of labelsand terms rooted in contested ideologies: native speaker, balancedbilingualism, critical period, etc. The author argues, along with Gupta(1994), that studies on bilingualism often implicitly assume thatbilinguals are one thing, and native speakers are another, and that thenative, monolingual, speaker is taken as reference point for proficiency,even in a multilingual context.

Cruz-Ferreira calls for more of a focus on multilingualism in linguisticsand the study of language learning and teaching. She recounts a story whichI think it worth retelling. Her daughter was almost placed in a SpecialNeeds class because of perceived ''behavioural problems'' and ''instability''which the teachers believed was due to the child's inability to cope withso many languages at once. The teachers (all monolinguals) demanded theparents stop using languages other than English at home, if they wereinterested in seeing their daughter's problem solved. The other languageswere seen as inhibiting the child's progress in English as well as heroverall development. Of course, this assumption that a bilingual child'sbehavioural problems are the result of the child's multilingualism ishighly problematic. Those multilingual children with real behavioural orlinguistic problems will be ''treated'' for their multilingualism, not theirproblems.

Language use in linguistically mixed families is a major concern, so muchso that Cruz-Ferreira refers to the common questions posted on the LinguistList's online consultation service ''Ask-a-Linguist''. The author questionsif the very strategy of One Parent One Language (OPOL) that she adopted isa necessary condition for nurturing fluent bilingualism. She concludes thatit is not. Based on research by Yamamoto (2001) and See (2004), mixed inputdoes not seem to necessarily result in semi-lingualism or mixed childoutput. Furthermore, very few people adhere strictly to the OPOL strategyor speak a ''pure'' language without any mixing.

Nevertheless, when observing her children's linguistic development, theauthor noticed that they did not often choose to mix their languages. Sheasserts that ''their strategies were in all likelihood supported by theparents' consistent practice of person-language separation'' (p.75) i.e.:mother – Portuguese, father – Swedish. It is crucial in my opinion, as wellas that of the author, that future research on (child) multilingualismstudy multilingual parents who do not assign specific languages to people.Although the author argues that monolingualism should not be the normagainst which bilingualism is measured, her children were raised in abilingual environment (Portuguese and Swedish) that consisted of parallelmonolingualisms.

On a few occasions, the author makes general, unsubstantiated claims oroverextends her observations. For example, when commenting on theflexibility in the children's use of linguistic resources she says ''thesechildren, like presumably all bilinguals, do not seem to view a language asa repository of treasured norms, nor themselves as its curators'' (p.277).This generalization to ''all bilinguals'' does not take into considerationthe power dynamics behind what one considers a ''legitimate'' language andthe people who have access to or control it in certain spaces (Bourdieu1991). By learning a minority language, someone in a position of power whospeaks the dominant language can exert their dominance through theirbilingualism.

Another point with which I disagree is the supremacy given to the linkbetween language and culture. As someone studying the children ofPortuguese immigrants to Canada, my initial findings suggest thatPortuguese-Canadian youth do not consider language to be as crucial anelement to maintaining a Portuguese (cultural) identity as the oldergeneration may think. Many of them do not (know how to) speak Portuguesebecause they have been told that they (and their parents) do not speak''good'', ''real'' or ''proper'' Portuguese, and so they prefer speaking inEnglish, while still affirming and performing a Portuguese identity. As aresult, I disagree with Cruz-Ferreira when she says ''It follows that doingwell in a culture means doing well in the use of its language'' (p.278). Ifind that the danger of affirming that a culture cannot be maintainedwithout its language as do Fishman (1989) and Cruz-Ferreira in this book isthat it reduces and limits a culture's point of reference to a singlelanguage; much like multilingualism often gets reduced to monolingualism.Or nationalism, for that matter. The homogenizing ideology of thenation-state that equates one nation with one people and with one language(as in the quote from Fernando Pessoa at the end of Ch. 11 which shouldread ''A minha pátria é a minha língua'', not the other way around) no longerholds and must open itself to a multiplicity of languages, cultures andhomelands.

The author concludes by saying that the question is not so much whetherseveral languages ''crowd'' or limit children's breakthrough into language,but rather ''as Humpty Dumpty would put it, which is to be master'' (p.310).I take this reformulation to mean that a critical sociolinguistic analysisof multilingualism is an important follow-up to this study. Throughout thebook, especially in the later chapters on language attitudes andmulticulturalism, Cruz-Ferreira alludes to questions of language and powerand I look forward to any future research that will incorporate such ananalysis with child multilingualism.

Overall, this book constitutes a valuable contribution to the study ofmultilingualism and child language and development. Instead of achronological overview of the children's development in Portuguese, theauthor opted for an interesting cross-sectional analysis of selectedfeatures of the language. The data are well presented, the book is writtenclearly and there is an excellent use of up-to-date references, includingLinguist List postings, a complete index of authors and subjects for easeof reading. Parents, teachers, students and researchers can all takesomething useful from this book.


Bourdieu, P. (1991) Language and Symbolic Power. Oxford: Polity Press.

Fishman, J.A. (1989) Language and Ethnicity in Minority SociolinguisticPerspective. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Gupta, A.F. (1994) The Step-tongue: Children's English in Singapore.Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

See, H.L.C. (2004) ''Exploring the role of caregivers' pragmatic discoursestrategies in mixed languages policy bilingualism.'' Paper presented to theSecond Lisbon Meeting on Language Acquisition, University of Lisboa.

Yamamoto, M. (2001) Language Use in Interlingual Families: AJapanese-English Sociolinguistic Study. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.


Emanuel A. da Silva is a Ph.D. candidate in sociolinguistics at theDepartment of French of the University of Toronto, Canada. His researchinterests include critical sociolinguistic ethnography, questions oflanguage, culture, identity and social boundaries. His dissertation willfocus on the sociolinguistic (re)constructions of identity amongsecond-generation Portuguese-Canadian youth in Toronto.