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LINGUIST List 24.2119

Mon May 20 2013

Review: Cognitive Science; Lang. Acquisition; Psycholinguistics: Kauschke (2012)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <jsalmonslinguistlist.org>

Date: 06-Feb-2013
From: Eva Knopp <eva.knoppuni-koeln.de>
Subject: Kindlicher Spracherwerb im Deutschen
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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/23/23-2873.html

AUTHOR: Christina Kauschke
TITLE: Kindlicher Spracherwerb im Deutschen [German Language Acquisition in Children]
SUBTITLE: Verläufe, Forschungsmethoden, Erklärungsansätze
SERIES TITLE: De Gruyter Germanistische Arbeitshefte 45
PUBLISHER: De Gruyter Mouton
YEAR: 2012

REVIEWER: Eva M Knopp, Universität zu Köln

SUMMARY
Kauschke’s monograph surveys the developmental milestones of First Language
Acquisition (FLA) drawing on the case of German. She illustrates her
description with empirical research findings and individual case studies --
much of the material from her own extensive research on German L1 acquisition.
The detailed overview of individual milestones is framed with chapters on
research methodology, multilingual development and developmental disorders
and, ultimately, an overview of past and present theoretical approaches to the
field. She thus adopts Karmiloff & Karmiloff-Smith’s (2001) structure for a
German-speaking audience. As volume 45 of de Gruyter’s “Germanistische
Arbeitshefte”, the book is intended for students and scholars in German
Studies and general linguistics and as a textbook in introductory and advanced
linguistics classes.

Before describing individual milestones, Kauschke presents key concepts and
overarching questions in the field of first language acquisition research (Ch.
1 “Grundbegriffe und Leitfragen in der Spracherwerbsforschung”). Here, she
takes the opportunity to point out that the chapter division according to
linguistic levels of description -- from sound to discourse level -- should
not lead readers to assume that first language acquisition follows exactly
that well-defined and demarcated chronological route of development. Kauschke
introduces the concept of “bootstrapping” to demonstrate how the growth of
competences on different linguistic levels interacts with each other and are
triggered by one another. Further along, she formulates three central
questions that should be answered in the study of FLA (pp. 3-5): 1. What is
linguistic knowledge and what does it mean to “know” a language? 2. Is
linguistic language inborn or is it learned? And 3. Is language acquired
through language-specific or cognitive-general mechanisms?

In Chapter 2, Kauschke gives an overview of prevalent research methods and
refers to seminal studies using the respective method to study the acquisition
of German. In an overview table (p. 6) she differentiates between indirect
methods, such as parent and caretaker questionnaires and direct methods. The
latter are subdivided into off-line observation methods, including diaries,
spontaneous speech and elicitation methods, and on-line experimental
procedures, such as reaction time measuring, eye-tracking or MRT-scans. In
this chapter, she also introduces CHILDES and concomitant CHAT-transcription
standards, employed when presenting examples from her own case-study research
later. By briefly introducing the advantages and disadvantages of each
individual method, Kauschke emphasises the multitude of available means and
the need to carefully choose and integrate them in order to get conclusive and
reliable findings.

The following detailed presentation of research into key developmental steps
from sound to discourse (Ch. 3-8) refers back to the individual methods that
led to the particular findings. Kauschke uses the classic differentiation into
core abilities from early language perception, phonetics and phonology via the
acquisition of the lexicon and meaning to morphological, syntactic and
pragmatic development. In each of these chapters, she presents key terminology
and describes universal developmental patterns as well as German-specific
characteristics, while pointing out the interfaces and bootstrapping phenomena
that interlink the development of the individual subcomponents. The
descriptions of lexical and morphological development (Ch. 5 & 6) are slightly
longer and more elaborate than others. Keeping in mind Kauschke’s own
extensive research into this particular area of German L1 development, this
comes as no surprise. In the following chapter (Ch. 9 “Erwerbschronologie an
Fallbeispielen”) individual case studies that summarise the acquisition
process during the first and second year of life are used to exemplify the
interaction of the developing linguistic subcomponents.

Despite the fact that the textbook’s main aim is to describe the unimpeded
monolingual first language acquisition of German, Chapters 10 (“Kindliche
Mehrsprachigkeit”) and 11 (“Störungen des Erstspracherwerbs”) briefly
introduce the reader to questions and findings of research into special cases
of language acquisition, i.e. bi- and multilingual acquisition and
acquisitional disorders. With respect to the latter, Kauschke’s own
patholinguistic research background again features prominently and her
descriptions are developed by showing their applications in speech therapy.

The final chapter (12: “Erklärungsansätze zum Sprachenerwerb”) functions as a
more theoretical conclusion to the -- so far -- predominantly descriptive
account of German first language acquisition. Kauschke comes back to the
central questions posed in the introduction and presents Barrett’s (1999)
classification of theoretical approaches to FLA, arranged along the axes of
“innate vs. learned abilities” and “domain-specific vs. domain-transcending
capacities”. Besides the “classic” opposing views of “Nativism”,
“Interactionism” and “Cognitivism” (p. 138), more recent theoretical
approaches, such as Tomasselo’s “constructivism” (p. 146) and “emergence”
models (p. 147f.), are considered as more integrative answers to the complex
psycho- and sociolinguistic phenomenon of FLA. Kauschke concludes that
nativist conceptions of a principles-and-parameters based Universal Grammar
are being increasingly supplanted by process-oriented models, which assume the
existence of a human-specific predisposition that equips every child with
effective mechanisms to retrieve from their input the information they need in
order to master the complex systems of human languages (p.149).

The bibliography includes special reference to important websites. An index, a
chronological table of developmental milestones and a detailed guideline on
CHAT transcription conventions in the appendix make the course book also a
possible reference book for novice students in the field.

EVALUATION
In many ways, the monograph fulfills the aims described by the author herself
in the introductory chapter. Given that there are not many German-language
textbooks with a decidedly linguistic approach to the FLA of German,
Kauschke’s publication is a welcome addition to the recently updated standard
introductions by Klann-Delius (2008) and Szagun (2010).

Compared to those, Kauschke takes a more inductive and less-theory driven
approach to her subject. She provides the reader with detailed descriptions of
developmental milestones for each individual linguistic subcomponent (Ch. 3-9)
and the abundance of up-to-date exemplification from current research in her
main section is a definite plus. At the same time, the inductive method has
drawbacks with regard to the overarching theoretical questions raised in the
introduction and re-evaluated in the final chapter. They are lost from view
through the main parts of the book. Only in very few instances (e.g. Ch. 5.5
“Erklärungsansätze zum Lexikonerwerb” and 7.4 “Erklärungsansätze zum
Syntaxerwerb”) are theoretical debates incorporated in the depiction of the
developmental milestones and those could be more explicitly integrated into
the theoretical paradigm adopted from Barrett (1995).

These theoretical shortcomings, to some extent, also have an effect on the
book’s coherence and comprehensiveness. In places, the reader is overwhelmed
by the sheer number of facts, the significance of which does not always become
apparent. Additionally, the rather brief subchapter on bi- and multilingual
first language acquisition would have profited from a stronger theoretical
trajectory by clarifying the explanatory capacity of the study of bilingualism
for FLA-research in general; an aspect that Kauschke manages to show better in
the following chapter on disorders in acquisition.

Notwithstanding this, Kauschke’s clear structure and choice of wording make it
a good textbook for undergraduate students in German linguistics or students
who lack a background in linguistics. Technical terms and keywords -- in
particular from the English-speaking FLA-realm -- are explained and only basic
knowledge of linguistic terminology is presupposed. In addition, the clear
taxonomy of research methods and the well integrated reference back to their
application into the research of FLA in general and the development of German
in particular, make this a valuable, application-oriented course book. This
“Arbeitsheft”-character could have been enhanced even further with exercises
and/or key-term lists corresponding to the individual subchapters.

All in all, I can recommend Kauschke’s monograph as a German-language
introduction to the study of German first language acquisition, but as a
course book it should be accompanied by more theory-driven, debate-oriented
material.

REFERENCES
Barrett, Martyn D. 1995. An introduction to the nature of language and to the
central themes and issues in the study of language development. In Martyn D.
Barrett (Ed.) The development of language. Hove: Psychology Press. 1-25.

Karmilloff, Kyra & Annette Karmilloff-Smith. 2001. Pathways to language. From
fetus to adolescent. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Klann-Delius, Gisela. 2008. Spracherwerb. 2nd ed. Stuttgart: Metzler.

Szagun, Gisela. 2011. Sprachentwicklung beim Kind. Ein Lehrbuch. 4th rev. ed.
Weinheim: Beltz.


ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Eva M. Knopp is PhD-student in English Linguistics and post-graduate research
assistant at the language learning laboratory of the University of Cologne.
Her research interests are in bilingual and second language acquisition,
psycholinguistics and literacy learning. She has taught German as a foreign
language at the Universities of Edinburgh, St. Andrews, UCL and KCL in the UK
and currently teaches undergraduate students in English linguistics at the
University of Cologne. Her doctoral research in applied linguistics
investigates the interrelations of cognition, language and literacy abilities
in bilinguals.
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