LINGUIST List 24.2826

Thu Jul 11 2013

Review: Language Acquisition; Psycholinguistics: Grosjean & Li (2013)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <>

Date: 29-May-2013
From: Ivan Lombardi <>
Subject: The Psycholinguistics of Bilingualism
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Book announced at

AUTHOR: François GrosjeanAUTHOR: Ping LiTITLE: The Psycholinguistics of BilingualismPUBLISHER: Wiley-BlackwellYEAR: 2013

REVIEWER: Ivan Lombardi, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore

SUMMARYIn their introductory chapter, the authors state the goal of their book: toprovide a general introduction to the study of bilingualism from apsycholinguistic point of view. Their intent is explicitly pedagogical andthey aim for accessibility rather than all-inclusive coverage.Moreover, they highlight the effort to “give the various areas of thepsycholinguistics of bilingualism equal weight” (p. 1). They also presentapproaches, methodologies, resources and tools recently applied to studies inthe field.

François Grosjean begins the first chapter ('Bilingualism: A ShortIntroduction') with a definition of bilingualism -- and multilingualism --that will accompany the reader throughout the whole book: “the use of two ormore languages (or dialects) in everyday life” (p. 5). He dispels some mythsabout bilinguals (e.g. as natural translators and having no accent in theirlanguages), and discusses several criteria to describe bilingualism. Heaccounts for fluency, use, time, language history, language loss, in a dynamicprocess that he labels 'the wax and wane of languages', then presents hisComplementary Principle (Grosjean 1997) and the notion of language mode. Thelast two paragraphs focus on the analysis of monolingual and bilingualinteraction -- with particular emphasis on code-mixing phenomena --, and tobiculturalism, respectively.

The second chapter ('Speech Perception and Comprehension') opens Section I(Spoken Language Processing). Here Grosjean briefly illustrates the generalprocess of speech recognition and the creation of a mental representation ofmeaning. He then discusses a centrepiece in the study of bilingualism: theprocessing of bilingual speech. Recent studies in psycholinguistics, reviewedhere, agree that language processing is nonselective most of the time. Thismeans that, when a bilingual hears input, it does not activate separateprocessing mechanisms, but rather the bilingual's language systemssimultaneously. Caution should be exercised, though, as several factors mayinfluence this process, to the point that it can be even transformed into aselective process in essence. For instance, when the input contains elementsthat are not shared between the bilingual's two languages, language-specificelements are likely to activate only the corresponding language system. Hethen reviews the base-language effect and several studies on the recognitionof code-mixing in bilingual speech. He concludes by presenting Léwy andGrosjean's “computational model of bilingual lexical access” (p. 46), BIMOLA(adapted from Grosjean 2008).

Chapter three ('Speech Production') is the last written by Grosjean, andcloses the first section. Its central aim is to investigate whether languageproduction in bilinguals is language selective or nonselective. The chapterbegins with an in-depth analysis of our internal mechanisms that transformthought into speech. It covers the topic of monolingual speech production inbilinguals, providing experimental evidence that “both languages of abilingual are jointly activated even in contexts that strongly bias toward oneof them” (p. 53). As a consequence, Grosjean argues that the two languages areactivated along a continuum, i.e. they can be less or more stimulated, or havediverse activation states, but they actively coexist in a dynamic process. Thechapter ends with an account of spoken code-switching phenomena, askingwhether they take more processing time than monolingual speech and alsowhether they exhibit regularities among languages, speakers and utterances.

Annette M.B. de Groot launches the Section II of the book -- Written LanguageProcessing -- with a chapter eloquently entitled 'Reading'. De Grootintroduces basic components of the reading process, from the orthographiclevel (the activation of sublexical and lexical memory units), throughcorresponding phonological representations, to the recognition of meaning andmental representation. One additional step, required to move to meaning at thesentence and text level, is parsing. In the end, the information will triggerthe reader's background knowledge for final comprehension. She reviews anumber of experiments on word recognition in bilingual individuals, mostlyconducted using tests on homographs, neighbours and cognates. Based on theresults, she suggests that bilingual word recognition may be languagenonselective at both the lexical and the phonological activation levels.Several computational models of visual word recognition are then presented,most notably BIA, SOPHIA, BIA+. In the end, de Groot summarizes the findingsof even more studies conducted on the sentence processing; she reports thatmonolinguals and bilinguals seem to undergo a similar semantic processing,while they have a qualitatively different syntactic processing -- based on theproficiency in the language.

Rosa M. Manchón provides the final chapter of the Section II: 'Writing'. Hergoal is to “explore the defining characteristics of bilingual text productionprocesses” (p. 100), and she pursues it by initially explaining the generalprocess of writing (condensed into three phases: planning, formulation,revision). Later, she compares the writing processes and strategies ofmonolinguals and bilinguals, highlighting the results of several studies.Broadly, it seems that bilingual writers tend to rely more on their firstlanguage and its specific 'higher-order' strategies, even when writing inanother language. This mediator role of the L1 seems to hold also at advancedlevels of L2 proficiency. Manchón closes by discussing possible transfers ofwriting skills across the bilingual's languages. She agrees with Cumming(1989) that these skills may be indeed transferable, but she advises thereader that such analyses of writing performance need to be combined withfurther variables, like language proficiency, general writing expertise andeducation.

Section III, on Language Acquisition, is introduced by chapter six('Simultaneous Language Acquisition'). Virginia Yip covers a foundationaltopic in psycholinguistics, i.e. the acquisition of two or more languages inthe early childhood. From the beginning, she adopts the notion of BilingualFirst Language Acquisition (BFLA), to distinguish the peculiar state ofbilingual children and avoid easy stereotypes, like their having two mothertongues. In fact, she points out that “[i]n the case of simultaneousacquisition of two languages, neither language can be said to come first,[...] although in practice a dominant or stronger language can often beidentified” (p. 120). Yip examines several theoretical and methodologicalissues, like the quantity of input and its effects on the child's languageacquisition; the natural unbalanced development; the domains of La and Lα use;cross-linguistic influences; language pairs, mode, choice, and dominance; datacollection. In the end, the author shows the stages of language developmentin early bilinguals as compared to that of monolingual children. She alsoaccounts for code-mixing and cross-linguistic influences, which are reportedin preschool bilinguals. Eventually, she extends the discussion to includetrilinguals, briefly mentioning both quantitative and qualitative differencesin their language development.

Chapter seven ends the section on language acquisition, and analyses'Successive Language Acquisition'. Ping Li suggests than, in this case, “thereis a relatively clear distinction between the learner's first language andsecond language” (p. 145) -- the first being most likely native and dominant,while the second is added later, and is probably weaker, less used and/orconfined in a domain. The author reviews the effect of age in SLA (secondlanguage acquisition) contexts. He challenges the notion of a critical periodand lists the main experimental data that has brought researchers to preferthe term 'age of acquisition' (AoA). L2 AoA does in fact explain some evidencein comparisons of early bilinguals with adult language learners, such as thediscrimination and the production of non-native sounds. Li then discusses theinfluences that L1 and L2 exert on each other in adult learners, such as theacquisition of lexicon and its relationship with pre-existing concepts,cross-language interactions and the acquisition of grammar. He concludes byconfirming that, as stated throughout the book, the interplay between the twolanguages is indeed dynamic, even when they are acquired sequentially.

Chapter eight ('Bilingual Memory') opens Section IV on Cognition and theBilingual Brain. De Groot takes into account the long-term declarative memory,mainly in the form of semantic memory. She begins with Weinreich's (1953)traditional description of bilingualism (coordinative, compound,subordinative) and examines the ongoing chronology of studies and models onthe organisation of the bilingual mental lexicon. She emphasises more recentmodels that do “not represent a word's meaning in a single memory unit [butassume] 'distributed' representations, where the word's meaning is spread outover a number of more elementary conceptual units” (p. 177), such as de Groot(1992) and Dong et al. (2005). At a later stage, the author expands to includethe attainment of semantic differences between languages in bilinguals. In theend, she presents experimental data on episodic memory, showing that languageis encoded in bilinguals' autobiographical memory traces.

Ellen Bialystok and Raluca Barac co-author chapter nine ('Cognitive Effects').They aim is to demonstrate that bilingualism has a powerful effect on thedevelopment and the conservation of crucial cognitive skills. They first takeinto account language and metalinguistic abilities, reviewing data from testsof monolinguals' and bilinguals' language proficiency. They state that, whenall other possible influencing factors are removed, bilingualism is verylikely to be responsible for “enhanced metalinguistic awareness … fordifferent aspects of language: syntactic awareness, ... word awareness …and, to a lesser extent, phonological awareness” (p. 196). This is probablytrue, they add, especially when the child's two languages share the samealphabet and a similar phonology.The writers show that bilingualism speeds up the acquisition of literacy,because it enhances related cognitive skills – the ones that are usually knownas being part of the executive control system. These skills include“attention, selection, inhibition, monitoring, and flexibility” (p. 202).Bialystok and Barac do not just focus on early bilingualism, though. Theyconclude by highlighting the positive effects of speaking two languages inadulthood and provide that bilingualism may significantly delay dementia inolder age.

The last chapter ('Neurolinguistic and Neurocomputational Models'), by Li,chronicles the connections between neurolinguistics and psycholinguistics inthe field of bilingualism -- with a particular emphasis on recent models andtools. Li offers a brief history of neurolinguistics and its debates on brainlocalisation and organisation, as well as the never-ending search for a'language switch' in the head. Then he describes the current horizon oncognitive neuroscience, along with two relatively new techniques:event-related potentials (ERPs) and functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging(fMRI). His goal is to introduce the reader to these now widely availableneuroimaging tools, and to describe the results that researchers have achievedwith them to date (e.g. the 'electrophysiological signatures' ofbilingualism). The last paragraph covers neurolinguistic computationalmodeling. Here the author reviews several models based on connectionistframeworks; among others, BIMOLA, BIA, SOMBIP and its evolution DevLex (Li etal. 2004).

EVALUATIONThe Psycholinguistics of Bilingualism surely keeps its promises. Grosjean, Liand the other authors provide a holistic introduction to the field, and theysucceed in presenting the content in an informative, clear and accessible way.

Undergraduate students are mentioned in the Introduction as a possibleaudience, and I would agree: several features of the book make it an excellenthandbook for people those approaching the study of bilingualism from apsycholinguistic point of view. The chapters are all brief (ca. 20 pages long)structured in parallel fashion, with an initial presentation of topics andaims, three to four main sections and several subsections. Every chapter endswith three or four research questions, a box with further advised readings andthe references pertaining to the chapter. The language used is alsoaccessible: technicalities are explained and contextualised, yielding a gainin clarity without a loss in authority. Pictures and diagrams are providedwhen describing theoretical models and experimental practices.

For the researcher, the book is an up-to-date 'summa' of the study ofbilingualism, and one may appreciate the thorough review embedded in thechapters (unfortunately, the handbook-like structure does not provide aseparate section for literature review) and the in-depth analyses ofexperiments and tests -- paragraphs that students are more likely tounderestimate and skip. Furthermore, scholars will value the sectionsdescribing approaches, methodologies and techniques used by fellow colleagues.

Researchers and students of language education, and perhaps language teachers,may also find this book interesting. It will not provide ready-to-useknowledge, but also important insights that can be put into practice (and turninto interesting data).

To complete the picture, the book is coherent, progresses smoothly, and isoverall very well edited (I was able to spot only some minor inconsistenciesin the reference style). This book exceeded my expectations, and I find itdifficult to point out shortcomings, as it is perfectly aligned with itsdeclared aims. I did expect to find a section or a box on sign language; thistopic, however, probably fell outside the scope determined by the authors, andis never mentioned.

REFERENCESCumming, Alister. 1989. Writing expertise and second language proficiency.Language Learning 39. 81-141.

De Groot, Annette. 1992. Bilingual lexical representation: A closer look atconceptual representations. In Ram Frost & Leonard Katz (eds), Orthography,Phonology, Morphology, and Meaning, pp. 27-51. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: JohnBenjamins.

Dong, Yanping, Gui, Shichun & MacWhinney, Brian. 2005. Shared and separatemeanings in the bilingual mental lexicon. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition8. 221-238.

Grosjean, François. 1997. The Bilingual Individual. Interpreting 2(1/2).163-187.

Grosjean, François. 2008. Studying Bilinguals. Oxford: Oxford UniversityPress.

Li, Ping, Farkas, Igor & MacWhinney, Brian. 2004. Early lexical development ina self-organizing neural network. Neural Networks 17. 1345-1362.

Weinreich, Uriel. 1953. Languages in Contact: Findings and Problems. New York:Linguistic Circle of New York.

ABOUT THE REVIEWERIvan Lombardi is a Ph.D. candidate in Language Education at UniversitàCattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milan (Italy). His research focuses on the use ofgames and video games to enhance language learners' motivation in classroomcontexts. He has major research interests in psycholinguistics,neurolinguistics and non-verbal communication. He currently teaches 'EarlyLanguage Learning' at Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore (Faculty ofEducation) and 'Digital game-based language learning' at the University ofNottingham (MA in Digital Technologies for Language Teaching).

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