LINGUIST List 24.55

Tue Jan 08 2013

Review: Language Acquisition; Psycholinguistics; Syntax: Biller et al. (2012)

Editor for this issue: Monica Macaulay <>

Date: 29-Nov-2012
From: Phaedra Royle <>
Subject: BUCLD 36
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Book announced at

Editor: Alia K. BillerEditor: Esther Y. ChungEditor: Amelia E. KimballTitle: BUCLD 36Subtitle: Proceedings of the 36th annual Boston University Conference on Language DevelopmentPublisher: Cascadilla PressYear: 2012

Reviewer: Phaedra Royle, Université de Montréal


These two volumes contain 55 papers presented at the 36th Annual BostonUniversity Conference on Language Development (BUCLD) held November 4-6, 2011.The annual BUCLD conference is organized by students in the LinguisticsProgram at Boston University, and attracts papers from leading researchersover the world as well as emerging new researchers, and represents a widerange of theoretical and methodological approaches to the study of languageacquisition.

Due to the number of papers presented at this conference, only the keynotespeaker's and a number other papers that were of particular interest arereviewed. Because of space limitations, little with respect to theoreticalaspects is presented here. Interested readers are encouraged to read theoriginal texts for a more in-depth understanding.


Excluding the plenary talk, published as the initial article in thecollection, all chapters are organized alphabetically by author. The completetable of contents can be seen on the Cascadilla Press web site.

The first paper is the plenary address by Cornelia Hamann, entitled “BilingualDevelopment and Language Assessment” (pp. 1-28). This paper presents a reviewof work undertaken by Hamann and colleagues as well as other members of theCOST (European Cooperation in Science and Technology) Action IS0804 (S.Armon-Lotem, PI, on bilingualism and specific languageimpairment (SLI), and the role bilingualism plays in evaluation of languagedisorders. The author makes a principled distinction between different typesof bilingualism from the onset (i.e., simultaneous / successive; withinsuccessive: adult / child; within child: early / late) and points out thatbilingualism is the norm rather than the exception in the world and quitecommon in Europe, even in smaller cities. The author highlights the fact thatSLI is over-diagnosed in bilingual children, and points out a few subtledifferences that emerge between L2 and SLI profiles. A case study of twobilingual Russian-German children is presented, where details of one child'sabilities and disabilities point to a diagnosis of SLI, while the second seemsto show normal patterns of delay related to L2 learning that should resolve intime. However, the details of the evaluation are based on analyses ofspontaneous speech and thorough syntactic analyses, which are not alwaysfavoured by speech language pathologists, due to their time-consuming nature(and probably also to the need to be comfortable basing one's syntacticanalyses on target language vs. L1 influences). One answer to this problem isto develop more cost-effective approaches, which are ongoing in the COSTAction IS0804. A preview is presented of research in progress in thesedomains. Parental questionnaires, tasks investigating morphology, syntax andcomputational semantics as well as working memory and executive function arebeing developed for different languages (and language pairs) by this team.

Of the other fifty-five chapters in the collection -- covering topics ontheoretical and methodological approaches to research on language acquisitionand cognitive development -- a number that grabbed my attention are describedhere.

Almeida et al. (pp. 42-52) present a paper entitled ''Prosodic Influence inBilingual Phonological Development: Evidence from a Portuguese-French FirstLanguage Learner''. This research on a single speaker investigates earlycross-linguistic influences on the acquisition of phonological segments andstructures (i.e., codas and branching onsets) in a Portuguese-dominantsimultaneous Portuguese-French bilingual. The data appear to support theacceleration of the acquisition of branching onsets in Portuguese due to theinfluence of French, concurrently with a delay in the acquisition of Frenchword-medial codas due to the influence of Portuguese. These data questionlanguage dominance impacts on bilingual language acceleration / decelerationeffects.

Armon-Lotem and Chiat (pp. 53-62) present data on L2 non-word repetition (NWR)in Hebrew and Russian. In order to test whether NWR is different in L1 andsequential L2 learners, whether it differs within the L1 and L2 of sequentialL2 learners and whether word-likeness and phonological complexity affect NWRsimilarly in L1 and sequential L2 learners, they control for word length andmorphological structure (derivational types) in the languages studied. Theyshow that, contrary to what has been reported before, L1 and sequential L2learners showed similar abilities on NWR, in that both groups showed moredifficulties on long vs. short NWs, while long Hebrew NWs were more difficultthan long Russian NWs for both groups. This last effect was explained by thefact that quadrisyllabic Hebrew NWs were created using a less frequentmorphological process (abstract words in the pattern hitCaCCeCut, acquiredafter age 5) than Russian NWs of similar length (lad [stem] -av-och-k[derivational suffixes] -a [fem]) which are not abstract. This study showedthe usefulness of using these tasks with polyglot children, if one can createcomparable stimuli across the child's languages.

Arunachalam et al. (pp. 63-73) present a study of verb acquisition ininteraction with the adverbs 'slowly' and 'nicely' in English children aged2-2;5 using a preferential looking paradigm. They show that the manner ofmotion adverb 'slowly', but not manner adverb 'nicely', promotes verb learningin these children (contrary to previous results from the same group withsimilarly-aged children, but in that case no adverb was used, and no effectswere found) even though children normally do not use this specific adverb atthis age. Since only two adverbs were used, two explanations are suggested forthe difference between results on 'slowly' vs. 'nicely': 1. Semanticproperties of the stems 'slow' and 'nice' or 2. The higher frequency of'slowly' as compared to 'nicely'. Future studies controlling these propertieswill be able to distinguish these two explanations.

In ''Performance Factors Trump Representational Deficits: Perception andProduction of English Inflections by L1 Mandarin Speakers'', Bonner andMartohardjono (pp. 74-86) present a study on the perception and production ofEnglish inflection by L1 Mandarin speakers learning English as an L2. High andlow intermediate speakers of English recruited in Beijing took part inexperiments on the perception and production of past tense and plural Englishmorphemes, in simple nouns and in sentences. Equal numbers of syllabic (Vd/Vz)and non-syllabic (t/d, s/z) contexts were created. In perceptual tasks noeffects were found for 1. inflection type, 2. participant group, 3.syllabicity. Only one effect of voice was found (d > t). Within sentences,inflection type showed effects while participant group did not. Syllabicsuffixes were better recognized than other types. Within non-syllabicstructures opposite patterns for voice are found where d > t but s > z.Results on production tasks show slightly different performance where noeffects were found on single word production and only one effect of inflectiontype was found where Vz < z. These data show that perceptual difficulties donot preclude accurate production of inflection (or vice versa) and thatproduction difficulties in L2 learning are probably not due torepresentational deficits.

Cantiani et al. (pp. 114-125) present what I expected to be exciting datacomparing off and on-line (event related potential, or ERP) data oninflexional morphology in children with developmental dyslexia (DD) andchildren with DD in addition to language impairment (DD+LI). This paper isdiscussed further in the Evaluation below.

Culbertson and colleagues (pp. 139-151) present a neat artificial languagelearning experiment where they manipulate pattern majority/minority status aswell as two-word (Noun-Adj) and three-word (Det-N/Adj-N) orderings based onuniversal typologies that have been argued to be constrained by innatepreferences. Generally the results confirm that language speakers prefer'harmonic' typologies where both Adj and Det precede or follow the N,independently of the input statistics.

Fleischhauer and Clahsen (pp. 164-176) investigate verb form generation whilecontrolling for age, frequency, and working memory in German-speakingchildren. They show that frequency effects are stronger on irregular verbs(low-frequency ones being produced more slowly than high-frequency ones), andthat regularity and frequency show paradoxical interactions where irregularsare produced faster when they are frequent, while regulars are produced fasterwhen they are lower frequency. This is almost impossible to explain from aconnectionist perspective. This result is also specifically linked to STMscores in adults and all their child data, supporting their interpretationthat the paradoxical effects are linked to competition between memory-basedand decomposition processes competing in regular word production.

Grüter et al. (pp. 213-225) present eye-tracking data in a study of objectclitics in Spanish children and adults. They also investigate whether childrenwho omit clitics can still process them. Their data show that this is not infact the case: 4-year old Spanish speakers who do not produce clitics do notuse clitic information when anticipating object nouns in depicted scenes.These results were not expected on a production-only hypothesis, nor arepresentational deficit where output is expected to be variable butcomprehension good.

Hopp (pp. 226-245) also presents eye-tracking data, but on gender and numberintegration in late L2-speakers of German. He shows that at advanced levels ofL2 learning, these speakers can integrate gender and number informationrapidly and incrementally, just as L1 speakers do, although they might showslight delays (in terms of milliseconds) in this ability. Furthermore, thedivision of participant groups into variable vs. consistent producers ofcorrect gender agreement shows that only the second group uses gender markingpredictively in eye-tracking.

Maguire et al. (pp. 328-338) study object-noun and action-verb identificationusing event related potentials (ERPs) in adults and children aged 8-9 using apicture-word matching paradigm. They present data they argue supports afeature-based distinction between objects and verbs, as an early signalrelated to semantic coherence (the N300) shows larger effects of congruence(visual/word match) for verbs than nouns in adults, and only effects for nounincongruency in children.

In ''The Acquisition of Distributivity in Pluralities'', Pagliarini et al.(pp. 387-399) present a study on the interpretation of definite plural nounphrases in close to 200 children aged 4 to 13 years old. They evaluate the twopossible interpretations of sentences like 'each boy is building a snowman'and 'the girls are building a snowman', where there are one or two snowmen(under their hypotheses that children tolerate degraded distributive readingsof definite plural NPs). Their data show that both sentences with 'each' andwith definite plural NPs were accepted as having collective (e.g., each boy isbuilding a single snowman) or distributive (e.g., each girl is building adifferent snowman) readings, by younger children. Only older childrenunderstand that the use of 'each' specifically implies distributional readingsand thus pragmatically disallows it for definite plural NPs.

Parr and Breheny (pp. 427-436) show that the use of bare NPs in child languagecorpora correlates with the type of utterance the child is using. They findthat bare NPs correlate with Manifest Events (MEs, descriptive, presentobjects, etc.) but not Complex Events (CEs, which can be INTentional orRESultative), which in turn are more highly correlated with complex DPproduction. The authors argue that the need of the child to communicateintentions clearly make the INT events particularly important for thedevelopment of complex DPs and VPs.

Pirvulescu et al., in ''Clitic Production across Tasks in YoungFrench-Speaking Children'' (pp. 461-473), present data supporting the optionalnature of accusative clitic production in French, by keeping context constantwhile varying output demands (production of clitics in the 3rd person singularand 2nd person singular present, or imperative mood). They show that taskmodulations influence the number of clitics a child will produce inelicitation, with the 2nd person singular condition being the most congenialone for clitic production.

Poepsel et al. (pp. 474-486) show in ''Context, Mutual Exclusivity, and theChallenge of Multiple Mappings in Word Learning'' that while multiple meaningmappings for the same word form can be difficult to learn, specific contextspromote their learning. In tasks with adults, they show that presentingdifferent word-visual pairings with different voices, different voices andaccents, or explicit instructions, promote the ability to learn multiplemapping in similar ways.

Tanner et al. (pp. 594-606) present an ERP study on L1 and late L2 learners ofEnglish (Spanish L1) checking noun-verb agreement processes with intervening'attractor' nouns. They show the ERP waves are modulated by the type ofstructure in which the attractor noun is located (PP or Relative Clause) andthat, although L2-speakers show weaker effects than L1-speakers, theseinteractions are the same in both groups. Ungrammatical structures elicit latepositivities (P600 in both groups) that are stronger for singular attractorsthan plural ones and stronger for attractors in RC versus PP structures.

Vasić et al. (pp. 646-659) study gender acquisition in both L2-Greek and Dutchby L1-Turkish children using a self paced listening task. They show thattarget language morphological transparency impacts strongly on the child'sability to master and integrate the system.

Wen & Schwartz (pp. 673-685) argue in their paper that task demands canstrongly influence our understanding of language processing in L2 speakers. Ina structure-focused self-paced reading task they find that Chinese-L1English-L2 speakers are able to process morphosyntactic agreement and are alsosensitive to subject-verb agreement errors, contrary to what has been found incontent-based (semantic verification) tasks.

Yu et al. (pp. 686-697) present ''Electrophysiological Correlates ofPicture-Word Processing in Three-to-Seven Year Old Non-verbal Children withAutism'' using a picture-word (auditory) presentation paradigm. They show thatnon-verbal children with autism do not show typical negativities (N400) tovisual-auditory mismatches, while typically developing children do. Inaddition, a sub-group of the children with autism who do have some vocabularydo show these N400s. All children showed early auditory (P1) visual peaks(P2), indicating that sensory disorders were probably not the cause underlyingthe absence of N400 effects.

Many more papers are presented in the two volumes, dealing with vast domainsof inquiry ranging from theoretical aspects of language acquisition tocomputational modeling of language acquisition and processing. In addition, alarge number of languages are studied including French, German, Greek,Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Portuguese, Spanish, Turkish and others.Different learning profiles including early bilingualism and late L2-learning,dyslexia, SLI and sign languages are also addressed.


Linguists and psycholinguists, speech-language pathologists and othersinterested in the development of phonology, morphology, syntax and semantics,in monolingual, bilingual and language-disordered populations, will find awide variety of research articles in these BUCLD 36 volumes.

The methodological approaches and theoretical assumptions are quite varied inthe papers, thus making the papers extremely variable in their scope andcoherence with the rest of the volume. They are written as ‘stand-alone’papers, and thus the reading of a given paper does not oblige the reader toread others. The most interesting aspect of these is that they report on veryrecent research, which is often not yet available elsewhere (with a fewexceptions which seem in fact to have already been published at least inpart). Chapter quality is quite variable, with some research still ongoing,some methodologies questionable, or theoretical assumptions not explicit. Inparticular, statistical analyses can be quite intricate and well thought-out(using multiple regression analyses, for example), while others are extremelypoor. Some analyses (whether on response, reaction-time or even ERP data) donot respect the basic tenet that if you do not find an interaction of effects,you cannot break down analyses into different partitions (Nieuwenhuis et al.,2011). Some papers do not even bother to check this assumption. For example,the ERP data by Cantiani et al. (pp. 114-125) are not appropriately analyzed.They discuss differences in ERP patterns between their three groups (childrenwith no impairment, children with developmental dyslexia, DD, and childrenwith DD in addition to language impairment, DD+LI). However, they never showany statistics on group differences or interactions in ERP waves that motivatetheir subsequent individual group analyses. Furthermore, the data are hard tointerpret, as the experimental items used in off and on-line tasks aredifferent (that is, novel plurals and novel word formation -- verbparticiples, and derivational processes--, versus grammaticality judgment ofsubject-verb number agreement, respectively). However, in general, the qualityof the papers is quite high, with clearly presented theoretical assumptions,methodologies, analyses and results.

It is possible to link up themes in the papers, as hot topics tend to pop upthroughout them. In this year's BUCLD proceedings, I noted the frequent use ofcutting-edge dynamic techniques for the study of language (eye-tracking, selfpaced-reading, ERPs), quite detailed approaches to L2 learning (e.g.,different L1 backgrounds, different levels of L2 attainment, acceleration vs.deceleration effects) and a strong interest in agreement processes. Otherreaders will make links between other topics that are of specific interest tothem.

The editing work on these volumes is better than it used to be: there is muchless variability between papers in terms of language quality, typos, andreference style. However, I have previously commented on the fact that toomany citations are to conference presentations that are not available in print( The editors should requireauthors to only cite articles or manuscripts that are readily available (onpersonal websites, for example), or ask the authors to make them available ifthey wish to cite them.

The papers in these volumes are directed at researchers and graduate studentsin language acquisition and language learning. Because of the short length ofthe articles, a strong background is necessary to be able to appreciate theircontents. However, undergraduates could also benefit from these papers,especially if put in the context of other readings providing more context forthe understanding of theoretical and methodological issues. Their short lengthalso allows these articles to be used as discussion papers in seminars and forundergraduate courses.


Nieuwenhuis, Sander, Birte U Forstmann & Eric-Jan Wagenmakers. 2011.''Erroneous analyses of interactions in neuroscience: a problem ofsignificance.'' Nature Neuroscience 14: 1105-07.


Phaedra Royle holds a Ph.D. in Linguistics from the Université de Montréal andpursued postdoctoral studies at the School of Communication Sciences andDisorders at McGill University. Her interests lie in psycholinguistics,neurolinguistics, language disorders, language acquisition, morphology,morpho-phonology and morpho-syntax, and processing of complex noun phrases inFrench populations with and without learning challenges (SLI, Cochlearimplants, Bilingualism, Ageing). She is a professor at the School of SpeechLanguage Pathology and Audiology at the Université de Montréal, and is amember of the Centre for Research on Brain, Language and Music.

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