LINGUIST List 23.1819

Tue Apr 10 2012

Review: Applied Ling.; Ling. Theories; Psycholinguistics; Syntax: Vainikka & Scholten-Young (2011)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <>

Date: 10-Apr-2012
From: Susan Bobb <>
Subject: The Acquisition of German
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AUTHORS: Anne Vainikka and Martha Young-ScholtenTITLE: The Acquisition of GermanSUBTITLE: Introducing Organic GrammarSERIES TITLE: Studies on Language Acquisition [SOLA] 44PUBLISHER: De Gruyter MoutonYEAR: 2011

Susan C. Bobb, Free-floater Research Group 'Language Acquisition', UniversitätGöttingen, Germany

'The Acquisition of German: Introducing Organic Grammar' is the 44th volume inStudies on Language Acquisition (SOLA). Aimed primarily at readers interested ina generative explanation of German syntax, the book aims to provide asyntax-driven account of language acquisition more generally, encompassing L1and child and adult L2 learning. The 407-page book consists of eight chapters,described below, as well as references and a limited subject index. Throughoutthe book, the authors use footnotes and ''extension'' sections in each chapter toprovide 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.

SUMMARYChapter 1 ('Introduction') lays the groundwork for the volume and also providesan introduction to German inflectional morphology with respect to verbs.Importantly, the authors delineate the 10 assumptions of their theory of OrganicGrammar, 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 syntacticprojection corresponds to a different stage of acquisition, allowing themirroring of syntax and acquisition. The chapter ends with a helpful readingguide, highlighting possible foci within the book depending on a reader'sspecific interests.

Chapter 2 ('The Organic Syntax of Adult German') tests how well the theory ofOrganic Grammar (OG) can account for (adult L1) German syntax. The authors beginby describing the traditional analysis of German and its four word orderpatterns. Under OG, the authors propose a two-tree solution, in which Germanmatrix clauses and embedded clauses have different structures: Thesentence-initial projection is actually head-initial, while all otherprojections are head-final. They then reanalyze the data, showing how OGresolves previous issues for both German syntax and acquisition, specificallythe proposal by Rizzi (1997) for a universally split CP (Complementizer Phrase).The authors argue that with OG, a split-CP proposal is possible for Germanwithout affecting the classic V2 analysis (i.e., that in German, the finite verbof a main clause occurs in second position). Importantly, the new German treeunder OG allows stage-by-stage acquisition, unlike traditional syntactic analyses.

Chapter 3 ('Organic Grammar and L1 acquisition') reviews previous L1 acquisitionliterature, and evaluates the explanatory power of OG in predicting traditionalstages of German L1 acquisition. The authors first evaluate the Strong vs. WeakContinuity approaches, arguing that the Strong Continuity Hypothesis assumes allstructure to be present at the start of both first and second acquisition.Consequently, in their view, the theory cannot address stages of acquisition. Incontrast, Weak Continuity approaches, including OG, propose that acquisitionbegins with a syntactically reduced structure, but still assume syntax isreflected by a child's early word combinations. In particular, the authors showhow OG can account for a VP (Verb Phrase) projection rather than a functionalprojection at the earliest syntactic stage of development, which also accountsfor the presence of Root Defaults (i.e., head-final infinitives) in L1 German.OG predicts the following order of acquisition, mostly consistent with Clahsen'sviews (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 adultL2 acquisition of German, providing a rich description of current issues in theSLA 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 L1and start the acquisition process with a bare VP structure. In the Extensions ofChapter 4, the reader is provided with emerging data on child L2A.

In Chapter 5 ('Second language acquisition at the IP level'), the authorsadvance the strong view that functional projections under OG do not transfer,unlike lexical projections. The authors argue quite convincingly that, similarto child data presented in Chapter 3, adult L2 learners acquire projections inthe order proposed for the adult target language, regardless of their nativelanguage. Because of the strong parallels between adult L2 learners and child L2and L3 learners, the authors propose Universal Grammar (UG) involvement forlearners ''across the lifespan'' (p. 169), contra approaches such as Clahsen andMuysken (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'), theauthors discuss the role of triggers and parameters in moving child and adult L2learners from one stage of their changing grammar to the next. Despite thestrong parallels in child and adult acquisition, children use different triggersthan adults in developing IP-level (Inflectional Phrase) projections. Much ofthe chapter works out in detail what candidates may act as triggers for varioussyntactic 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 CPdevelopment by native speakers of head-final and head-initial languages. Theauthors pay special attention to the naturalistic VYSA L2 data from nativeEnglish speakers, and show that the CP projection develops after the learnershave acquired the AgrP projection. For these L2 learners, at the point at whichCP is projected, AgrP is head-initial and remains in head-initial position untila later point of development, if at all. The authors outline several potentialsources of counterevidence against OG, and evaluate the available data to datefor each argument.

Chapter 8 ('Naturalistic learners and unsolved problems in SLA') considers bothcognitive and linguistic mechanisms in accounting for apparent differences inhow naturalistic and instructed learners move between stages of languagedevelopment. Vainikka and Young-Scholten show individual differences in thedevelopment of meta-linguistic knowledge within their sample of naturalisticlearners. They propose that meta-linguistic knowledge allowed one of theirparticipants to show more advanced production of inflectional morphology, but ata considerable cost: while the other two participants paralleled L1 acquisitionstages more closely, this participant showed a delayed switch in headedness ofthe VP, and never switches the head-initial setting of the AgrP. On the basis ofthese data, the authors argue for a set of language learning strategies theyterm "Grammar Lite" that operates outside a UG-governed syntactic process.

EVALUATIONThe authors place Organic Grammar in the rich context of the history ofgenerative syntax. The reader is given an in-depth view of the field with adetailed evaluation of other generative accounts of syntax. As the authorsadvance their proposal for Organic Grammar, they pay careful attention toongoing debates within the field, noting both the extent to which OG addressesthese issues and its limits. It is important to note, however, that with theexception of Chapter 8, which explicitly addresses cognitive mechanisms involvedin L2 acquisition, very few theories outside the generative tradition areconsidered or even mentioned, despite their potential relevance to the topic ofL1 and L2 German acquisition. For instance, in discussing the possibility of L1influence on the acquisition of functional projections (which is at odds withOG), the authors mention generative views such as the Full Transfer-Full AccessHypothesis (Schwartz and Sprouse 1996), but do not mention non-generativeemergentist or connectionist views of language acquisition (e.g., MacWhinney1987, Bates & MacWhinney 1987).

The authors ostensibly aim to make their book accessible to even laypeople: onp. 1, the authors address the 'reader completely new to formal or generativelinguistics', and on p. 59 'those readers with a non-linguistics backgrounds'[sic]. However, beyond perhaps chapters 4 and 8, readers with limitedbackgrounds in syntax will find the book a difficult read. The reader wishing touse the volume primarily as a reference on the acquisition of German will needto wade through technical language specific to generative linguistics andevaluations of OG before finding more general information on L1 and L2acquisition of German. Indeed, while the book is entitled 'The Acquisition ofGerman: 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 ofOG. The focus of the book, however, is on OG, and the authors draw on many otherlanguages as well to make their case.

Perhaps the volume's greatest contribution is in providing a developmentalsyntactic theory -- a theory that explains the various stages of languageacquisition -- which crucially describes not only the syntactic stages of L1acquisition, but also of (child and adult) L2 acquisition. While syntacticiansof a Minimalist persuasion may not buy all of the arguments made, OrganicGrammar provides an important modification to the Minimalist program that allowsstrong predictions about acquisition. The volume also raises importantquestions about the nature of L2 acquisition by providing rich data on whatVainikka and Young-Scholten call "naturalistic" L2 learners, learners immersedin the L2 during an exchange year in Germany without continuous explicitinstruction in the L2. Research on adult L2 acquisition has by necessity almostexclusively focused on classroom instructed L2 learners, and the authors make acompelling case that some of the discontinuity seen between L1 and L2acquisition may stem from the nature of the input learners receive.

The publisher, unfortunately, has done the authors a great disservice byproviding poor copyediting and proofreading. The careful reader will bedistracted by references to subsections that do not exist (e.g., Section 1.5 onp. 1), missing or extraneous words and punctuation (e.g., ''acquiring a secondlanguage to the during a critical period'' p. 158), and the occasionalpoor-quality image (like the syntactic tree on p. 134).

REFERENCESBates, E. and MacWhinney, B. (1987). Competition, variation, and languagelearning. In: B. MacWhinney (Ed.), Mechanisms of Language Acquisition, Erlbaum,Mahwah, NJ, pp. 157-193.

Clahsen, H. (1991). Constraints on parameter setting: A grammatical analysis ofsome acquisition stages in German child language. Language Acquisition 1: 361-391.

Clahsen, H. & Muysken, P. (1986). The availability of Universal Grammar to adultand child learners -- A study of the acquisition of German word order. SecondLanguage 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 ofGrammars, Liliane Haegeman (ed.), 281-337. Dordrecht: Kluwer.

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

Vainikka, A. & Young-Scholten, M. (2003). MAD about LAD. Paper presented at theAAAL conference, Arlington, Virginia, 23 March 2003.

ABOUT THE REVIEWERSusan C. Bobb is a postdoctoral researcher at the Universität Göttingen,Germany. Her research interests include first and second languageacquisition, bilingual language production and cognitive control. She iscurrently investigating grammatical development in German-speaking toddlersand the representation of dialects in High German and Konstanz German.

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