LINGUIST List 24.2915

Wed Jul 17 2013

Review: Language Acquisition; Psycholinguistics: Cabrelli Amaro, Flynn & Rothman (2012)

Editor for this issue: Rajiv Rao <>

Date: 03-Jun-2013
From: Anna Krulatz <>
Subject: Third Language Acquisition in Adulthood
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Book announced at

EDITOR: Jennifer L. Cabrelli AmaroEDITOR: Suzanne FlynnEDITOR: Jason RothmanTITLE: Third Language Acquisition in AdulthoodSERIES TITLE: Studies in BilingualismPUBLISHER: John BenjaminsYEAR: 2012

REVIEWER: Anna M Krulatz, University of Utah


“Third Language Acquisition in Adulthood” is a volume intended for researchersand graduate students of applied linguistics. The two-part collection iscomprised of chapters that focus on various aspects of adult multilingualism,ranging from psycholinguistics and sociolinguistics to morphosyntax, phonologyand the lexicon. The theme that unites all chapters is that the acquisition ofthird (L3) and consecutive languages possesses unique properties distinct fromthose of second language (L2) acquisition. Thus, the main goal of the volume,as the editors Jennifer Cabrelli Amaro, Suzanne Flynn, and Jason Rothman pointout, is to not only present the current theoretical approaches to and researchof L3 and subsequent language (Ln) acquisition, but also to lay grounds forthe establishment of L3/Ln acquisition as a subfield of applied linguistics.Part one of the volume consists of six chapters that address theoreticalissues in the study of L3/Ln acquisition, while the six chapters in part twopresent the results of empirical studies.

The volume begins with an introduction that provides the rationale behind thecollection. The editors affirm the importance of drawing on evidence frommultiple theoretical perspectives in the study of L3/Ln acquisition, andacknowledge that despite some important contributions in recent years, thestudy of L3/Ln acquisition is still in its infancy. The introductory chapterbriefly outlines an agenda for the field, pointing out four major areas forempirical research: (i) subject selection criteria; (ii) the issue ofcomparative fallacy of native vs. non-native comparisons; (iii) creation ofindependent measures of proficiency for multilinguals; and (iv) the potentialfor contributions of L3/Ln acquisition to other fields of linguistics. Thechapter concludes with an assertion of the potential that exists in the studyof L3/Ln acquisition.

“L3 morphosyntax in the generative tradition. The initial stages and beyond,”the first chapter in part one, contributed by María del Pilar García Mayo andJason Rothman, is devoted to third language morphosyntax research inGenerative Theory. The chapter briefly overviews the generative tradition inthe field of first (L1) and L2 acquisition, and argues that it should also beapplied in the study of L3/Ln acquisition. Next, it justifies teasing apart L2and L3/Ln acquisition studies on the grounds that an L2 learner and an L3/Lnlearner differ in several significant ways. Finally, the chapter provides anoverview of sample L3/Ln acquisition studies in the generative tradition, andconcludes by outlining future directions for research.

The second chapter in part one, “L3 phonology: An understudied domain”,written by Jennifer Cabrelli Amaro, focuses on L3 phonology. The chapteroutlines existing research, mainly in the areas of facilitation of additionallanguage learning and phonological transfer, and moves on to discussmethodological and theoretical challenges in this subfield of L3/Ln studies.It describes three generative L3 morphosyntax models, namely theCumulative-Enhancement Model (CEM), the Typological Primacy Model (TPM), andOptimality Theory (OT), and proposes that the study of L3/Ln phonology couldmake significant theoretical contributions to debates on language acquisitionin general. Finally, the chapter discusses methodological issues pertaining toperception studies, the selection of properties to be studied, measurement ofproficiency, subject recruitment and languages studied, and data analysis.

In the third chapter in part one, Camilla Bardel and Ylva Falk discuss therole of L2 status in the acquisition of consecutive languages, and thedistinction between declarative and procedural knowledge. The authors arguethat the strong impact of L2 on L3, and therefore, stronger transfer from L2than from L1, can be explained by the degree of cognitive similarity betweenL2 and L3 and by the role of declarative and procedural knowledge in theacquisition of different components of the linguistic system. After a briefreview of the factors that contribute to L3 transfer, the chapter outlines amodel for L3 learning, discusses a neurolinguistic approach to L3 learning,and finally, suggests directions for future research.

The fourth chapter in part one, contributed by Kees de Bot, entitled“Rethinking multilingual processing: From a static to a dynamic approach,”considers ways in which multilingual processing relates to the study of L3/Lnacquisition. The chapter discusses existing models of multilingual processing,briefly overviews Dynamic Systems Theory (DST), outlines the requirements fora dynamic approach to multilingual processing, and finally, proposes a way inwhich DST can be applied to the study of multilingualism and L3 development.

In the fifth chapter in part one, “Multilingual lexical operations. Keeping itall together…and apart,” David Singleton addresses issues concerning thelexicon of multilinguals. After a brief summary of how the notion ofcross-linguistic influence has developed, the author goes on to discussvarious aspects of cross-linguistic interaction and argues that mentallexicons of multilingual speakers interact with each other in complex ways,and that these interactions are affected by factors such as languageproficiency and language relatedness.

The last chapter concerned with the theoretical foundations of L3 acquisitionin adulthood is contributed by Roumyana Slabakova and is entitled “L3/Lnacquisition: A view from the outside.” This chapter is primarily concernedwith four transfer hypotheses -- the Feature Reassembly Hypothesis, theInterface Hypothesis, the Bottleneck Hypothesis, and the InterpretabilityHypothesis -- and the extent to which they are applicable to L3/Ln acquisitionstudies. The author reviews data available from L3 acquisition studies, andpromotes the Modular Transfer Hypothesis, which states that the extent towhich linguistic features are transferred depends on their intrinsicdifficulty.

Part two of the volume comprises six articles that discuss empirical researchin the field of L3/Ln acquisition. The first article, entitled “Furtherevidence in support of the Cumulative-Enhancement Model. CP structuredevelopment,” and contributed by Éva Berkes and Suzanne Flynn, presentsresults of a study that provide evidence for the CEM (Flynn et al. 2004). Thestudy compares the production of three types of relative clauses by speakersof L1 German learning L2 English, and speakers of L1 Hungarian and L2 Germanlearning L3 English. The findings support the claim that the development of aconsecutive language is not affected negatively by the previously learnedlanguage, thus verifying the strength of the CEM as a model that can accountfor the development of language-specific knowledge.

The second chapter in part two of the book, “Acquisition of L3 German. Do somelearners have it easier?” by Carol Jaensch, presents the results of a studyrooted in the generative tradition that examines to what extent L1 (Spanishand Japanese) and L2 (English) have a direct effect on the acquisition of L3German. The linguistic features the study focuses on are gender assignment,gender concord on articles and adjectives, and definiteness of articles. Thestudy also examines the effect of level of proficiency in L2 on theacquisition of L3. The findings indicate that L2 and L3 learners may actuallyhave full access to Universal Grammar, and that higher proficiency levels inL2 may enhance the acquisition of L3.

The third empirical study included in the volume, “Examining the role of L2syntactic development in L3 acquisition. A look at relative clauses,” iscontributed by Valeria Kulundary and Alison Gabriele. This is a comprehensionstudy that focuses on two main research questions: (i) whether there isfacilitative transfer from L2 Russian to L3 English; and (ii) whether theproperties of L1 Tuvian influence the comprehension of relative clauses in L2Russian and L3 English. The findings suggest a stronger influence from L2 thanfrom L1 in the domain of syntax, which is predicted by the CEM. However, thedifferences in morphosyntactic properties between L2 and L3 are found to limitthe facilitation of L3 acquisition.

The next chapter, “Variation in self-perceived proficiency in two “local” andtwo foreign languages among Galician students,” is written by Jean-MarcDewaele. The study investigates self-perceived proficiency (SPP) in fourskills (i.e. speaking, listening, reading, and writing) in multilingualspeakers of Spanish, Galician and English and/or French. The participantsranked their proficiency on a scale of 1 (no proficiency) to 4 (fullyproficient). In the discussion, the effects of the following variables on SPPare considered: monolingual vs. bilingual upbringing, monolingual vs.bilingual schooling, gender and age, knowledge of more languages, languageattitudes, and contact with English and French.

In “Advanced learners’ word choices in French L3,” Christina Lindqvistpresents a study of advanced L3 French learners’ vocabulary acquisition. Thestudy compares words chosen to describe key objects, events, and people inretellings of films in native and non-native speakers (intermediate andadvanced). The results suggest that the advanced non-native speakers tend touse more general terms than the native speakers, and that the intermediatelearners display more cross-linguistic influence in their choice of vocabularythan the advanced learners.

The last chapter in the volume, “Foreign accentedness in third languageacquisition. The case of L3 English,” by Magdalena Wrembel, is devoted tosources of cross-linguistic influence on L3 phonology. More specifically, thestudy examines sources of accentedness in multilingual speakers oftypologically unrelated languages: L1 Polish, L2 French, and L3 English.Samples of L3 speech were rated by judges for degree of foreign accent,intelligibility, and irritability. The judges were also asked to access thelevel of certainty of their rating, and the speakers’ L1. Because the majorityof the speakers were correctly identified to be Polish, it is inferred that incases of typologically unrelated languages, L1 exerts a stronger influence onL3 phonology than L2.


“Third Language Acquisition in Adulthood” is a very welcome publication whichprovides an excellent anthology of readings in the area of L3/Ln acquisition.The volume makes an important contribution to the field of L3/Ln research forseveral reasons. First, and most significantly, it argues for the need totreat L3/Ln research as its own subfield of applied linguistics that is verydifferent from that of L2 acquisition, and this argument resonates throughoutthe chapters. Secondly, unlike many publications to date that focus on L3English, the articles in this collection cover unique combinations oflanguages such as: English, Portuguese and Spanish; Polish, French, English;and English, German and Japanese.

The volume is also a valuable contribution to the field because it provides asolid overview of several important theoretical considerations that apply tothe study of L3/Ln acquisition and, at the same time, presents up-to-dateempirical research in the field. The articles in the first, theoreticalsection of the book explore a range of linguistic subsystems, from syntax andmorphology to phonology, and they assume various approaches to the study ofL3/Ln (e.g. the sociolinguistic perspective, the generative approach, and theDynamic Systems approach). The articles in part two, which is devoted toempirical studies, present findings from research areas such as L3/Ln syntax(e.g. acquisition of coordinate and relative clauses), individual learnerdifferences, the lexicon, and foreign accentedness. What unites these studiesis the interest in the extent to which the acquisition of subsequent languagesis affected by the existing linguistic system.

Finally, it is crucial to point out that the volume raises a number ofimportant questions that, as the editors Jennifer Cabrelli Amaro, SuzanneFlynn, and Jason Rothman suggest, should guide the development of the field ofL3/Ln acquisition. Among these are: determining inclusion and exclusionvariables for participant selection; creating independent measures ofproficiency for L3/Ln learners; and exploring the ways in which the findingsfrom studies in the field of L3/Ln acquisition could shed light on othersubfields of linguistics.

Overall, the book provides an excellent overview of the field of adult L3/Lnacquisition. It is not an introduction to the newly emerging field, andtherefore, is not recommended for novice students of linguistics. However, itis a remarkable volume in that it marks the onset of the field of L3/Lnacquisition as an independent subfield of linguistics, and provides a solidoverview of current research on adult multilingualism.


Flynn, S., Foley, C., & Vinnitskaya, I. (2004). The cumulative-enhancementmodel for language acquisition: Comparing adults’ and children’s patterns ofdevelopment. International Journal of Multilingualism 1(1): 3-17.


Anna Krulatz is an Associate Instructor at the Department of Linguistics, theUniversity of Utah. She has just accepted an Associate Professor position atSor-Trondelag University College in Norway. Her main interests includesecond/foreign language acquisition, interlanguage pragmatics, andsecond/foreign language pedagogy.

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