LINGUIST List 24.2119

Mon May 20 2013

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

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <>

Date: 06-Feb-2013
From: Eva Knopp <>
Subject: Kindlicher Spracherwerb im Deutschen
E-mail this message to a friend

Discuss this message

Book announced at

AUTHOR: Christina KauschkeTITLE: Kindlicher Spracherwerb im Deutschen [German Language Acquisition in Children]SUBTITLE: Verläufe, Forschungsmethoden, ErklärungsansätzeSERIES TITLE: De Gruyter Germanistische Arbeitshefte 45PUBLISHER: De Gruyter MoutonYEAR: 2012

REVIEWER: Eva M Knopp, Universität zu Köln

SUMMARYKauschke’s monograph surveys the developmental milestones of First LanguageAcquisition (FLA) drawing on the case of German. She illustrates herdescription 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 onresearch methodology, multilingual development and developmental disordersand, ultimately, an overview of past and present theoretical approaches to thefield. She thus adopts Karmiloff & Karmiloff-Smith’s (2001) structure for aGerman-speaking audience. As volume 45 of de Gruyter’s “GermanistischeArbeitshefte”, the book is intended for students and scholars in GermanStudies and general linguistics and as a textbook in introductory and advancedlinguistics classes.

Before describing individual milestones, Kauschke presents key concepts andoverarching questions in the field of first language acquisition research (Ch.1 “Grundbegriffe und Leitfragen in der Spracherwerbsforschung”). Here, shetakes the opportunity to point out that the chapter division according tolinguistic levels of description -- from sound to discourse level -- shouldnot lead readers to assume that first language acquisition follows exactlythat well-defined and demarcated chronological route of development. Kauschkeintroduces the concept of “bootstrapping” to demonstrate how the growth ofcompetences on different linguistic levels interacts with each other and aretriggered by one another. Further along, she formulates three centralquestions that should be answered in the study of FLA (pp. 3-5): 1. What islinguistic knowledge and what does it mean to “know” a language? 2. Islinguistic language inborn or is it learned? And 3. Is language acquiredthrough language-specific or cognitive-general mechanisms?

In Chapter 2, Kauschke gives an overview of prevalent research methods andrefers to seminal studies using the respective method to study the acquisitionof German. In an overview table (p. 6) she differentiates between indirectmethods, such as parent and caretaker questionnaires and direct methods. Thelatter are subdivided into off-line observation methods, including diaries,spontaneous speech and elicitation methods, and on-line experimentalprocedures, such as reaction time measuring, eye-tracking or MRT-scans. Inthis chapter, she also introduces CHILDES and concomitant CHAT-transcriptionstandards, employed when presenting examples from her own case-study researchlater. By briefly introducing the advantages and disadvantages of eachindividual method, Kauschke emphasises the multitude of available means andthe need to carefully choose and integrate them in order to get conclusive andreliable findings.

The following detailed presentation of research into key developmental stepsfrom sound to discourse (Ch. 3-8) refers back to the individual methods thatled to the particular findings. Kauschke uses the classic differentiation intocore abilities from early language perception, phonetics and phonology via theacquisition of the lexicon and meaning to morphological, syntactic andpragmatic development. In each of these chapters, she presents key terminologyand describes universal developmental patterns as well as German-specificcharacteristics, while pointing out the interfaces and bootstrapping phenomenathat interlink the development of the individual subcomponents. Thedescriptions of lexical and morphological development (Ch. 5 & 6) are slightlylonger and more elaborate than others. Keeping in mind Kauschke’s ownextensive research into this particular area of German L1 development, thiscomes as no surprise. In the following chapter (Ch. 9 “Erwerbschronologie anFallbeispielen”) individual case studies that summarise the acquisitionprocess during the first and second year of life are used to exemplify theinteraction of the developing linguistic subcomponents.

Despite the fact that the textbook’s main aim is to describe the unimpededmonolingual first language acquisition of German, Chapters 10 (“KindlicheMehrsprachigkeit”) and 11 (“Störungen des Erstspracherwerbs”) brieflyintroduce the reader to questions and findings of research into special casesof language acquisition, i.e. bi- and multilingual acquisition andacquisitional disorders. With respect to the latter, Kauschke’s ownpatholinguistic research background again features prominently and herdescriptions are developed by showing their applications in speech therapy.

The final chapter (12: “Erklärungsansätze zum Sprachenerwerb”) functions as amore theoretical conclusion to the -- so far -- predominantly descriptiveaccount of German first language acquisition. Kauschke comes back to thecentral 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-transcendingcapacities”. Besides the “classic” opposing views of “Nativism”,“Interactionism” and “Cognitivism” (p. 138), more recent theoreticalapproaches, such as Tomasselo’s “constructivism” (p. 146) and “emergence”models (p. 147f.), are considered as more integrative answers to the complexpsycho- and sociolinguistic phenomenon of FLA. Kauschke concludes thatnativist conceptions of a principles-and-parameters based Universal Grammarare being increasingly supplanted by process-oriented models, which assume theexistence of a human-specific predisposition that equips every child witheffective mechanisms to retrieve from their input the information they need inorder to master the complex systems of human languages (p.149).

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

EVALUATIONIn many ways, the monograph fulfills the aims described by the author herselfin the introductory chapter. Given that there are not many German-languagetextbooks with a decidedly linguistic approach to the FLA of German,Kauschke’s publication is a welcome addition to the recently updated standardintroductions by Klann-Delius (2008) and Szagun (2010).

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

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

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

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

REFERENCESBarrett, Martyn D. 1995. An introduction to the nature of language and to thecentral 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. Fromfetus 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 REVIEWEREva M. Knopp is PhD-student in English Linguistics and post-graduate researchassistant 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 foreignlanguage at the Universities of Edinburgh, St. Andrews, UCL and KCL in the UKand currently teaches undergraduate students in English linguistics at theUniversity of Cologne. Her doctoral research in applied linguisticsinvestigates the interrelations of cognition, language and literacy abilitiesin bilinguals.

Page Updated: 20-May-2013