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Review of  Typology and Second Language Acquisition

Reviewer: Malcolm Awadajin Finney
Book Title: Typology and Second Language Acquisition
Book Author: Anna Giacalone Ramat
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Issue Number: 14.3124

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Ramat, Anna Giacalone, ed. (2003) Typology and Second Language
Acquisition, Mouton de Gruyter, Empirical Approaches to Language

Announced at

Malcolm A. Finney, Linguistics Department, California State University
Long Beach.

The text is a collection of papers that evaluates Second Language
Acquisition (SLA) research from a typological perspective. The stated
goal p.6) is ''to enhance the dialogue between typological research
and SLA''. Adopting primarily a functional-typological approach (with
the goal of demonstrating the relationship between form and function),
the papers in the volume explore the interaction between linguistic
universals and language-specific properties in the development of
second language (L2) grammar. They focus, in particular, on
cross-linguistic universals and markedness relations among these
universals, and how they could be used to predict ease or difficulty
of L2 development. Most of the papers present empirical evidence
indicating the influence of markedness values and implicational
hierarchies on patterns of the development of some structural,
semantic, pragmatic, discourse, and phonological properties of L2.

The first paper ''Typology and language acquisition'', by Bernard
Comrie, explores the nature of language and human cognition and
possible implications for the process of language development, and the
author presents a strong case for the integration of the fields of
linguistic typology and SLA. The paper revisits the proposal of an
Accessibility Hierarchy (AH) for relative clause constructions (RC's)
and argues for a correspondence between the proposed hierarchy and
actual developmental sequence, or degree of difficulty, in the L2
acquisition of RC's. In his discussion, Comrie reviews previous and
current research on the acquisition of different kinds of RC's that
supported the view of a correlation between the cross-linguistic
distribution of RC's and sequence of their acquisition in L2. He
further identifies new areas of potential research in the L2
acquisition of RC's.

The paper by Stephen Matthews and Virginia Yip - ''Relative clauses in
early bilingual development: Transfer and universals'' - reports on a
longitudinal study of the development of English RC's by two
simultaneous bilingual (Cantonese/English) children, who demonstrated
early dominance of Cantonese over English. The children's bilingual
development (as is the case in L2 acquisition) indicated a transfer of
properties of pre-nominal RC's, in spite of its marked status, from a
more dominant to a less dominant language. That is, transfer, under
certain circumstances, may override the tendency by children to
initially assume unmarked options. Another unusual occurrence in the
children's English output was that transfer was restricted to object
but not subject relativization - a more accessible (and likely
unmarked) option. A subsequent stage in the children's bilingual
development however revealed the production of post-nominal RC's with
resumptive pronouns - a universal strategy observed in first language
(L1) and adult L2 acquisition of English. The children's early
bilingual development thus indicated a combination of transfer and
universal processes. Two factors are proposed by the authors to be
involved in the transfer of pre-nominal RC's: 1) External - triggered
by the dominance of Cantonese; 2) Typological characteristics (such as
structural similarities to a Cantonese main clause) of Cantonese
Prenominal RC's.

The paper ''Learner varieties and language types. The case of
indefinite pronouns in non-native Italian'', by Guiliana Bernini,
investigates the order of emergence of indefinite pronouns in the L2
Italian grammars of learners of diverse linguistic and social
backgrounds and the extent to which the order is predicted by language
typology or by the learners' linguistic backgrounds. It discusses the
linguistic, lexical and semantic properties of indefinite pronoun, and
the author adopts the position that functions could be organized in an
implicational relationship corresponding to frequency across
languages. The paper identifies four major stages in the development
of indefinite pronouns. Data in the form of longitudinal recordings of
narratives and free conversations with subjects indicate support for
the correlation between typological generalizations and the
developmental pattern in L2 acquisition. Other factors such as
salience and functional properties are also proposed as influential
factors in determining the developmental sequence.

In the paper ''Adnominal possession: Combining typological and second
language perspectives'', Björn Hammarberg and Maria
Kopthevskaja-Tamm examine the L2 acquisition of the system of
adnominal possessive constructions (considered typologically marked)
in Swedish. The paper presents an overview of the different types of
possessive constructions in Swedish, highlighting the typologically
marked status of adnominal possessives. Longitudinal studies of L2
learners from a variety of competence levels in Swedish, containing
short essays written by subjects, (obtained from the ASU corpus text
database compiled by the department of linguistics, Stockholm
University) indicate that learners encountered problems with the
definiteness marking of such constructions.

Ana Giacalone Ramat discusses the emergence and use of gerunds in L2
Italian, by learners of diverse linguistic backgrounds and competence
levels, and the influence of typological markedness on the acquisition
of different types of gerunds in L2 Italian in the paper ''Gerunds as
optional categories in second language learning''. She discusses
different types of Italian gerund constructions and the typological
markedness relations that exist among them. She proposes a correlation
between patterns of acquisition and the semantic and pragmatic
functions expressed by gerunds. Results from longitudinal studies
indicate a developmental hierarchy proposed to be: Progressive
periphrasis > Predicate gerunds > Sentence gerunds.

Daniel Véronique's paper ''Iconicity and finiteness in the
development of early grammar in French as L2 and in French-based
creoles'' explores the roles of iconicity and finiteness in the early
grammatical development of French-based creoles (FBC) and French as a
second language (FSL). It provides a detailed account of the
controversial theory of pidginization/creolization as a process of
adult L2 acquisition under special circumstances as well as detailed
characteristics of existentials, temporality, and negation in FBC and
FSL. Data for FBC and FSL are obtained from Atlantic and Indian Ocean
FBC and from native Moroccan Arabic speakers using French as L2. The
author argues for evidence of similarities between the early grammars
of FBC and FSL, but that differences in their grammars emerge with
increased competence by the speakers.

The paper ''Lexicalisation of aspectual structures in English and
Japanese'', by yasuhiro Shirai and Yumiko Nishi, investigates
cross-linguistic variation in the lexicalization of aspectual
structures in English and Japanese and implications for the
acquisition of tense/aspect morphology in L2. The focus of the paper
is on the properties of aspectual categories of Achievements,
Accomplishments, Activities, and States, and on the semantic features
of telicity, punctuality, and stativity, which are associated with
these categories. The authors' stated hypothesis is that (p. 267):
''Stativity is differently expressed across languages, whereas
Activities are similarly lexicalised cross-linguistically''. This
hypothesis is reportedly confirmed by their study. Implication for L2
acquisition is that L2 learners may experience difficulty in the
acquisition of verbs expressing stativity because of differences in
the way these verbs operate and the tendency of learners to transfer
the way semantic relations are encoded from L1 into L2.

Henriëtte Hendriks appraises different kinds of over-explicitation
in the discourse of L2 learners in the paper ''Using nouns for
reference maintenance: A seeming contradiction in L2 discourse''. The
premise of the paper, based on a number of studies evaluating
anaphoric linkage within discourse, is that L2 learners, regardless of
their primary languages, tend to be over-explicit in reference
maintenance than native speakers of the target language as their
proficiency in L2 increases. The paper examines the over-explicitation
of topic element to determine whether over-explicitation is language
independent or is triggered by elements within both the source and
target languages. Subjects in the study are native speakers of
Mandarin Chinese - which favors under-explicitation - learning the
target languages of German, French and English. Experimental data were
obtained by asking subjects to recount a story from a picture.
Results indicate an interaction of linguistic and pragmatic factors,
leading to contradictory findings. There is support for
over-explicitation only in L2 German but not in L2 French and English.
Over-explicitation is proposed to be a strategy adopted in L2 German
because of the much more complex pronominal system exhibited by
German, resulting in a tendency to avoid the use of pronominals by L2
learners. The French and English pronominal systems are not that
complex; thus there is no significant over-explicitation.

The paper ''Cross-linguistic comparison and second language
acquisition: An approach to Topic and Left-detachment constructions
from the perspective of spoken language'', by Rasanna Sornicola,
attempts to integrate three different perspectives of research on
these structures: typology, analysis, and acquisition. It discusses
the results of empirical studies on the L2 acquisition of
topicalization and left-dislocation in evaluating the effects of their
syntactic properties on the possible difficulty in the development of
these structures in L2 in typologically different languages.

In ''Typology and information organization: Perspective taking and
language-specific effects in the construal of events'', Mary Carroll
and Christiane von Stutterheim examine the principle of `perspective
Taking' and the different forms and functions of this principle in L2
acquisition. Their study examines the role of perspectivisation and
information structure in the process of organizing information for
expression in L2. Results indicate that L2 speakers utilize
language-specific patterns of information organization in L2.

Stefania Giannini's paper ''Typological comparison and interlanguage
phonology: Maps or gaps between typology and language learning of
sound systems?'' attempts to show the important contribution of L2
acquisition research toward a general theory of the nature of language
and the manner in which it operates. It discusses the relationship
between linguistic universals and the course of language acquisition
as well as the role of marked/unmarked status of properties of
language in determining ease/difficulty of acquisition, with a
particular focus on phonological properties of languages and
implications for acquisition of L2 (Italian) phonology.

The volume as a whole is a very detailed and successful presentation
of both theoretical and research information attempting to show the
relationship between language typology and second language
acquisition. For the most part, the papers present empirical evidence
indicating a correspondence between the relative (typologically)
marked status of properties and the sequence of acquisition of those
properties in L2. It contains a fine blend of papers that approach the
theme from both theoretical and research perspectives. To my
knowledge, this volume is the most comprehensive package advocating an
integrated view of language typology, markedness, and second language
acquisition. A word of caution though is that markedness theory (or
the different versions of it) has been very controversial over the
years and that notion of using language typology to predict markedness
relations among properties of language has received its own share of

One of the strengths of the volume is the vast number of longitudinal
studies as the primary source of data, which is appropriate for this
kind of study - one that traces the natural (and sequential)
development of properties of language. However, as most researchers
are aware, the limitation of this research approach is that it is
generally based on production data. Thus it mostly evaluates what the
learner could accurately produce; the lack of production of a
linguistic property does not necessarily translate into difficulty in
acquisition. Nevertheless, this is the appropriate research procedure
for the type of information provided in the volume.

All the research papers in the volume further present detailed
literature review (both theoretical and previous research) on the
linguistic properties discussed, and they provide lots of examples of
constructions discussed. However, a strong background in syntax is
required for a full comprehension of the terminologies used and for an
understanding of the structural properties of some the constructions
discussed in the volume.

In making claims of a relationship between linguistic universals and
language acquisition, it is almost necessary for a cross section of
languages to be used as both source and target languages in the
research in order to strengthen the claim of universal processes in
acquisition. I am impressed with the wide range of languages and
language families represented in the studies both as source and target
languages. There are however a few papers whose research subjects were
obtained from one source language and were learning one target

The text, by design, has a narrow focus and may be more suited as the
primary course text for a special topics rather than a general
introductory SLA course. Nevertheless, it contains vast resource for
individuals who are interested in the order of the acquisition of
second language linguistic properties or are interested in exploring
reasons for the ease or difficulty in the acquisition of some of some
linguistic properties.

I am an assistant professor in the linguistics department, California
State University Long Beach. My research interests include exploring the
linguistic differences between languages and the resulting difficulties
in bilingual and second language oral and literacy development. I also
maintain research interest in analyzing the linguistic properties of
creole languages.