LINGUIST List 24.4125

Sat Oct 19 2013

Review: Applied Linguistics; Language Acquisition: García Mayo et al. (2013)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <>

Date: 15-Jul-2013
From: Achilleas Kostoulas <>
Subject: Contemporary Approaches to Second Language Acquisition
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Book announced at

EDITOR: María del Pilar García MayoEDITOR: María Junkal Gutierrez MangadoEDITOR: María Martínez AdriánTITLE: Contemporary Approaches to Second Language AcquisitionSERIES TITLE: AILA Applied Linguistics Series 9PUBLISHER: John BenjaminsYEAR: 2013

REVIEWER: Achilleas I. Kostoulas, University of Manchester

SUMMARYThis edited collection comprises eleven chapters outlining differentapproaches to Second Language Acquisition (SLA). The chapters are flanked by aforeword by Florence Myles, introductory comments by the editors and anafterword by Jason Rothman and Bill VanPatten, where the multiple perspectivespresented in the volume are brought together.

Chapter 1: What is easy and what is hard to acquire in a second language: agenerative perspective (Roumyana Slabakova)

In the first chapter, readers are presented with the Bottleneck Hypothesis:Drawing on Generative Theory, Slabakova argues that some linguistic propertiesare universal across languages and therefore transferable from the motherlanguage to the second language, whereas others are subject to parametricvariation, and thus harder to acquire. The Bottleneck Hypothesis posits thatthe most problematic features are those relating to the functional lexicon,where most syntactic and semantic variation is morphologically encoded. Bycontrast, acquisition of other linguistic features (e.g. syntax, semantics orpragmatics) proceeds unproblematically once functional morphology is acquired.The chapter reports on several experimental studies, which offer empiricalsupport for the Bottleneck Hypothesis. Although the chapter’s main aim is “toexplain the cognitive processes of language acquisition” (p. 6), Slabakovaalso proposes that the Bottleneck Hypothesis appears to challenge thepedagogical value of communicative language teaching. She further suggeststhat teaching approaches which bring grammatical morphology to the forefrontand emphasise practice may be pedagogically beneficial.

Chapter 2: Systemic functional approaches to second language acquisition (AnaLlinares)

Chapter 2 provides an account of SLA emphasising contextual influences onlanguage use. The chapter begins with an overview of Systemic FunctionalLinguistics (SFL): this approach brings into focus the circumstances in whichlanguage is used, with a view to accounting for both what language is and whatit is used for (Halliday & Matthiessen, 2004). In the next three sections,Llinares presents empirical studies that illustrate how SFL can usefullyinform SLA research. For instance, SFL has been used to investigate languageuse by very young learners who were being taught English as a ForeignLanguage. Other studies have investigated the generic features of textsproduced in a foreign language by secondary school students. SFL has also beenproductively applied to the investigation of content-based foreign languageinstruction. The point is made that SFL can be fruitfully combined with otherapproaches to SLA in ways that mutually complement their interpretativestrengths. In terms of pedagogical potential, Llinares argues that SFL can beused to guide needs analysis, and as a framework that informs the teaching ofgenre and register conventions in communication.

Chapter 3: From input, output and comprehension to negotiation, evidence andattention: an overview of theory and research in learner interaction and SLA(Teresa Pica)

In Chapter 3, Teresa Pica outlines the contributions of interaction theory andresearch to understanding SLA processes. In a state-of-the-art review that isimpressive in scope, the author discusses theoretical constructs and presentsempirical research that goes back to the earliest formulations of interactiontheory in the 1960s and 1970s. After discussing foundational constructs, suchas input, intake, comprehensible input and output, Pica goes on to discussempirical work on learner interaction. Studies on negotiation of meaning,negotiation of form, recasts, form-focused interventions and form-focusedinstruction and output production and modification are presented in thefollowing sections. Next, readers are presented with research on learnerreadiness and teachability, and -- after that -- with a discussion of thetheoretical underpinnings of Task-Based interaction and classroom researchthat focuses on Task-Based work. The chapter concludes by pointing out thesynergistic links that naturally develop between teaching practice andinteraction research, and with a call for broadening the scope of interactionresearch.

Chapter 4: Skill Acquisition Theory and the role of practice in L2 development(Roy Lyster & Masatoshi Sato)

Lyster and Sato’s contribution to this edited collection discusses how SkillsAcquisition Theory can inform SLA. In brief, Skills Acquisition Theorypostulates that a combination of practice and feedback in meaningful contextscan gradually lead to faster and more accurate processing of the targetlanguage. Key to this theory is the distinction between declarative andprocedural knowledge (knowing factual information, and having the ability todo things respectively). The interplay between these two types of knowledge isdescribed as bi-directional: most obviously, repeated practice can lead to thetransformation of declarative knowledge into procedural knowledge, althoughthe reverse process is also possible in instructional settings. The authorsargue that practice (both guided and communicative) and appropriate feedbackcan lead to the more efficient transformation of declarative into proceduralknowledge. In terms of pedagogical implications, Lyster and Sato argue thatpractice activities constitute a necessary complement to input-driven teachingapproaches.

Chapter 5: The Input Processing theory in second language acquisition(Alessandro Benati)

In the fifth chapter, Benati discusses how input is processed by secondlanguage learners. The chapter is broadly divided in three sections: First,the main principles of VanPatten’s Input Processing Theory are presented(VanPatten, 1996). It is suggested that learners tend to process input formeaning before processing its formal features, and that the order in whichinformation is presented influences the way input is processed e.g., nounsthat are presented early tend to be perceived as agents. In the secondsection, empirical data are used to support the main principles of the InputProcessing theory, and the various sub-principles which derive from them. Thelast section discusses the implications of Input Processing Theory: readersare presented with a succinct discussion of Processing Instruction, apedagogical model derived from the Input Processing Theory (), and itseffectiveness is demonstrated with reference to several target languages,grammatical forms and structures. The chapter concludes with suggestions forfurther empirical and theoretical work.

Chapter 6: Processability Theory: Explaining developmental sequences (GiselaHåkansson)

Chapter 6 examines the developmental sequences observed in second languageacquisition. The discussion begins by outlining Processability Theory(Pienemann, 1998). That theory posits that morphosyntactic phenomena willemerge in learners’ production according to an invariable order, which iscommon across languages: e.g., tense suffixes will emerge before subject-verbinversion. The validity of Processability Theory is established with referenceto empirical work carried out in several languages. Building on the premisesof Processability Theory, Håkansson then discusses the role of transfer, anduses empirical data to show that developmental sequences are influenced bylearners’ stage in the developmental process, rather than by transfer fromtheir mother languages. The chapter includes a discussion of profiling, anassessment procedure that measures language development in terms oflanguage-universal developmental stages, which is claimed to be particularlyuseful for studying bilingual development.

Chapter 7: Sociocultural Theory and second language development: theoreticalfoundations and insights from research (Gabriela Adela Gánem-Gutiérrez)

The seventh chapter treats SLA from the perspective of sociocultural theory(SCT). The three main sections each discuss key theoretical insights,alternating with an overview of related research. First, SCT is explicitlypositioned with reference to linguistic theory, and linkages are drawn tocognitive linguistics and linguistic relativism. In the following section,Gánem-Gutiérrez discusses SCT constructs pertaining to second languageacquisition, such as the Zone of Proximal Development (the gap between whatagents can independently achieve and what they can achieve with assistance),collaborative activity and verbalization, gesture, internalization andassessment. Next, readers are provided with a succinct overview of ActivityTheory, seen from the perspective of second language acquisition. The chapterconcludes with a brief discussion of implications, particularly for empiricalwork in SLA.

Chapter 8: Investigating L2 spoken syntax: A usage based perspective (ReginaWeinert, María Basterrechea, & María del Pilar Garcia Mayo)

Taking a more focused view than preceding chapters, Chapter 8 looks intospoken language, in an attempt to counter what is described as a pervasive‘written language bias’ in linguistics (p. 153). In the first of the twosections that make up the chapter, the authors discuss spoken language ingeneral: after listing some properties that differentiate it from the writtenmodality, they argue for a usage-based grammar that acknowledges the innateand symbolic nature of language. Such a grammar, they argue, should fusemorphology and the lexicon while preserving a psychological reality. Thissection also discusses methods of researching spoken language. The secondsection illustrates the issues raised by examining authentic examples ofinformal conversation produced by native speakers and learners of English as aSecond Language. By focusing on the syntactic structures of theparticipants’ output, the authors illustrate how subordination is given formin actual discourse. On the basis of the data, the claim is put forward thatdevelopmental processes can be best understood when the idiosyncrasies ofspoken language are explicitly addressed in the research design.

Chapter 9: Connectionist models of second language acquisition (Ping Li &Xiaowei Zhao)In Chapter 9, Li and Zhao approach SLA from a connectionist perspective. Inbrief, connectionist theory argues that cognitive processes, includinglearning, involve parallel operations of large cognitive networks, which giverise to emergent phenomena. The chapter begins with a broad overview ofconnectionism, concluding with its applications to bilingual learning andlanguage attrition. Following that, the authors present a psycholinguisticallyrealistic connectionist model (Developmental Lexicon II – DevLex II), that canbe used to simulate learning in multiple languages, including variousbilingual pairs. As the model is sensitive to Age of Acquisition effects, itis argued that it can provide insights into the Critical Period Hypothesis.Using data generated by the model, the authors claim that “bilingualrepresentation is the result of a highly dynamic and competitive process inwhich early learning significantly constrains later development” (p. 194).

Chapter 10: Dynamic Systems Theory as a comprehensive theory or secondlanguage development (Kees de Bot, Wander Lowie, Steven L. Thorne, & MarjolijnVerspoor)

In the penultimate chapter, de Bot, Lowie, Thorne and Verspoor make acompelling case for viewing Dynamical Systems Theory (DST) as a unifyingtheory that brings together many different perspectives that inform SecondLanguage Acquisition (or Development, as is their preferred term). DSTattempts to explain how the components of complex adaptive systems interactwith each other and with their context to affect to change over time.Crucially, the theory accounts for recurrent patterns, which appear atdifferent temporal and spatial scales. As such, it lends itself to bridgingthe gaps between theoretical perspectives that focus on the social level(ecological, cultural-historical, sociocultural) and those that focus on thepsychological level (UG, cognitive linguistic theory, connectionism). Theauthors suggest that these ‘middle-level theories’ focus on differenttime-scales and different levels of granularity, but can be fruitfully broughttogether under DST, since their foundational assumptions are compatible.

Chapter 11: Electrophysiology of second language processing: the past, presentand future. (Laura Sabourin, Christie Brien, & Marie-Claude Tremblay)

The final chapter reports on the use of Event-Related brain Potential (ERP), aneuroimaging technique, as a way to understand the electrophysiologicalprocesses of Second Language Acquisition. ERP is used to record the activityof neurons as language is processed in real time, and therefore lends itselfto comparing how native languages and second languages are processed. Theauthors review studies on a variety of linguistic phenomena, such as speechperception, lexical processing and sentence processing, on monolingual,bilingual and multilingual participants, with a view to generating insightsinto the effects of linguistic proficiency, age of acquisition andcross-linguistic similarity. Although our understanding of neurologicalprocessing of language is still emerging, and conflicting data do not yetallow firm conclusions, the authors suggest that by carefully controllingfactors, broadening the scope of research and looking at the relationshipsbetween factors, research might enhance our understanding of SLA processes.

Afterword: On multiplicity and mutual exclusivity: the case for different SLAtheories (Jason Rothman & Bill VanPatten)

Rothman and VanPatten conclude with remarks aiming to situate the variousapproaches presented in relation to each other. First, the multiplicity of SLAtheories is said to be legitimate, since each theory attempts to explaindifferent aspects of SLA. Next, the authors discuss differences in the waysthat the theories conceptualise the foundational constructs of SLA (i.e.,non-primary languages, language and the acquisition process). Thedifferentiated role of context, as seen from various theoretical perspectives,is also examined. The authors persuasively argue that the different theoriesneed not be seen as being in competition. Rather, a call is made for “thenecessity of the different theories working out the details of theirparticular domains before there is assembly of these smaller theories into alarger account of SLA” (p. 255).

EVALUATIONThis collection sets out to provide a broad overview of selected strands ofSLA research. The eleven main chapters present state-of-the-art reviews ofseveral different approaches, which range from established paradigms such asGenerative Linguistics, Interactionism and Processability Theory to emergingperspectives, including Connectionism, Dynamical Systems Theory andneurolinguistics. One should note, as the editors do, that a comprehensivereview of all the theoretical and empirical work which informs SLA is notfeasible, but the multiple contributions here showcase many of the mostsalient approaches to SLA, and celebrate the diversity of the field. Inaddition, the concluding chapter by Rothman and VanPatten, as well as the oneby de Bot, Lowie, Thorne and Verspoor (Chapter 10), hint at the ways in whichthese multiple perspectives complement each other.

Despite the variety across the chapters, the volume coheres well, mostlythanks to the consistent structure of its chapters. All the chapters providecomprehensive overviews of the theoretical and empirical work carried out inthe paradigm they describe. This is often illustrated with reference tospecific contributions of the research strand to the field of SLA.Implications for research and pedagogy (where appropriate) are also discussedby all authors.

In summary, this intellectually stimulating volume showcases theepistemological and methodological diversity of SLA in a rich, informativeway. At the same time, it hints at the emergent features around which thefield coheres. Such a collection would be especially valuable to twoaudiences. For newcomers to SLA, the volume could offer a helpful startingpoint for approaching the multiple perspectives that make up the field.Although some chapters are perhaps less accessible than others, the collectionis a useful resource for relevant courses in SLA or related fields. Moreexperienced researchers might find the volume helpful for keeping abreast ofdevelopments in approaches parallel to their own. The potential of such acollection for stimulating interdisciplinary insights is also commendable.

REFERENCESHalliday, M.A.K., & Matthiessen, C.M.I.M. (2004). ''An introduction tofunctional grammar'' (3rd ed. / rev. by Christian M.I.M. Matthiessen. ed.).London: Arnold.

Pienemann, M. (1998). ''Language processing and second language development :processability theory''. Amsterdam / Philadelphia: Benjamins.

VanPatten, B. (1996). ''Input processing and grammar instruction in secondlanguage acquisition.'' Norwood, N.J.: Ablex.

ABOUT THE REVIEWERAchilleas Kostoulas, MA TESOL (Manchester), BA English Studies (Athens), is apostgraduate doctoral researcher at The University of Manchester (UK). Hisdoctoral research focuses on the way English Language Teaching is practiced inGreece, and draws on complexity theory to describe how it is eclecticallyshaped by the interplay of global and local influences. Previous employmentincluded designing and delivering courses in English as a Foreign Language andLanguage Teacher Education at the Epirus Institute of Technology in Greece.

Page Updated: 19-Oct-2013