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Review of  First Language Acquisition

Reviewer: Susanna Bartsch
Book Title: First Language Acquisition
Book Author: Barbara C. Lust Claire Foley
Publisher: Wiley
Linguistic Field(s): Language Acquisition
Issue Number: 15.1479

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Date: Sun, 09 May 2004 17:08:54 +0200
From: Suzie Bartsch
Subject: First Language Acquisition: The essential readings

EDITOR: Lust, Barbara C. & Foley, Claire
TITLE: First Language Acquisition
SUBTITLE: The essential readings
SERIES: Linguistics: Essential Readings
PUBLISHER: Blackwell Publishing
YEAR: 2004

Suzie Bartsch, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany


To say it from the outset: This volume is undoubtedly an outstanding
compilation of classical papers on first language acquisition, the most
of them produced in the period from the late 1950s up to the late 1980s
and having ever since exerted lasting effects on the field. There are,
however, two main points to discuss. The first of them is the editors'
underlying Chomskyan orientation compromising the representativeness of
the compilation. Secondly, there are some formal editorial

This review has become very long, although I have tried to be as
concise as possible. If I had abbreviated the contents more, the
comprehension would have been compromised. There were 29 papers to
review. Moreover, reviewing this book I was dealing with two great
passions: first language acquisition and history of linguistics, so I
could not resist making some epistemological remarks. Since it is my
very first review, I am grateful for all remarks concerning
inaccuracies of any sort which despite all my carefulness are surely
present in the text below. But remember that it is not a mistake to
think differently from the mainstream, above all when this different
thinking relies on the findings of a huge corpus of research. Some
statements concerning the form-function and the nature-nurture
controversies, inescapable in discussions on first language
acquisition, may sound polemical for some. To say it from the outset, I
surely am rather sympathetic to usage-based than to generative
approaches, and the reason is that the former often posit central
assumptions which seem to me psychologically plausible because of their
empirical basis, whereas the latter often has an axiomatic way to posit
their central assumptions resulting often in a somewhat 'biased' view
of the things. But above all I am sympathetic to rather 'convergentist'
approaches because this is what the body of research of several decades
seems to point to, regardless of the underlying theoretical persuasion.
And this is also what many papers of the compilation under review seem
to point to. Against this background, I am surely saying nothing new
when I say that fundamentalism and ideological conflict make even
lesser sense in science than in religion or politics.


This is the fourth volume of the Blackwell series "Linguistics: The
Essential Readings" which already includes volumes on phonology
(Goldsmith 1999), formal semantics (Portner & Partee 2002), and
sociolinguistics (Paulston & Tucker 2003).

For the volume under review (xi+442 pages), the editors have selected
29 papers organized in three parts, "Theory of Language Acquisition"
(chapters 1-5), "The Nature-Nurture Controversies" (chapters 6-17), and
"Areas of Language Knowledge" (chapters 18-29). The papers are framed
by a table of contents, a section "Acknowledgments" with the
bibliographical description of the papers, an index including subjects
and persons' names, as well as the editors' introduction.

As stated in the editors' introduction, the aim of the compilation is
"to collect in one place a set of groundbreaking works which provide
the foundation for the field of first language acquisition" (1). For
this purpose, they used the selection criteria of (a) "pathbreaking"
character regardless of the "particular perspective on linguistic
theory"; (b) high citation rates in subsequent work; (c) "enduring
value", the texts being originally published not after the late 1980s;
and (d) the target audience: "beginning students" and "established
scholars"(1). There is a fifth criterion of "linguistic approach": the
editors "have intentionally selected papers which are illuminated by
linguistic science, i.e., which make crucial use of the insights and
findings of linguistics" (2f.) regarding some major "features of human
language" (3). In the introduction, the editors highlight the main
conclusions of each paper, often mentioning some more recent work done
on similar lines (3-8), and conclude by emphasizing the necessity of
more "comparative cross-linguistic approaches" on the study of child
language acquisition (8).

Part I, "Theory of Language Acquisition", with which the editors aim to
provide "a sense of the theoretical foundations of the field" (3)
provides the opportunity to contrast the generative and the
cognitivist/constructivist theories of language acquisition, where the
late gives an idea of what a 'convergentist' approach may look like.

Two papers by Chomsky open the volume and the theoretical section. The
first of them, "Knowledge of Language as a Focus of Inquiry", extracted
of his (1986) "Knowledge of Language: Its Nature, Origin, and Use", one
of the classics on generative grammar in its government-binding (GB) or
principles-parameters version, can surely dispense with major
presentations. However, I would like to remark that the reader surely
shall find it interesting to (re)read how Chomsky himself posited the
axioms which characterize the generative framework.

Chomsky's second paper is his (1959) withering review of Skinner's
(1957) "Verbal Behavior" at full length. In this paper, Chomsky not
only questioned Skinner's "functional analysis" of "verbal behavior"
understood in terms of notions as stimulus, reinforcement, and
deprivation. He also developed his axioms in great part in contrast to
Skinner's conclusions. I think this paper could by no means be missing
in the compilation because it gives the opportunity for an
epistemological contemplation of how paradigm changes can take place.
Nowadays, we seem to be living again in such a time of paradigm change
in which a revision of central axioms of the Chomskyan paradigm takes
place leading to more 'convergentist' views (for a review, see e.g.
Tomasello 2003, Elman et al. 1996, Marcus 2001).

But 'convergentist' proposals were already being developed in parallel
with behaviorism and long before the advent of generativism, as can be
seen in chapter 3 consisting of extracts from the chapter "The Semiotic
or Symbolic Function" of Piaget's & Inhelder's (1969) classical work
"The Psychology of the Child". This chapter provides the occasion to
recapitulate how the Piagetian cognitivist approach seems to unify
nativism (the emergence of the symbolic function independent from
experience) and empiricism (the behavioral manifestations of the
symbolic function, amongst them the language, as based on
imitation/experience), the great difference between the two paradigms
being Piaget's symbolic function as concerned with domain-general
cognitive abilities.

Chapter 4, "Language and Learning: The Debate between Jean Piaget and
Noam Chomsky", consists of excerpts from the book of the same name,
edited by Piattelli-Palmarini (1980). Here again the reader has the
occasion to (re)read more about Piaget's 'convergentist' view of the
nativism-empiricism controversy, leading to his epistemological and
constructivist theory, which refuses both innateness of (domain-
specific) cognitive structures and learning mechanisms in the
behaviorist sense, but accepts both the structuralist character of
transformational grammars and the notion of (innate) domain-general
abilities of categorization. This chapter gives also the occasion to
ascertain how Piaget seems to have partially missed the mark with his
emphasis of the epistemological argument instead of stressing the
symbolic function. Chomsky objections to Piaget's constructivism are
based on the argument from input deficiency, as well as on the notion
of Universal Grammar (UG) as being comparable to physical organs of the
body, from both phylogenetical and ontogenetical perspectives. Very
interesting are also Chomsky's comments on some aspects of the
generative framework which have ever since been criticized, as the
focus on English language or the secondary role of empirical data
leading to the subordination of observations to theoretical hypotheses.

The theoretical section is closed by a two-pages chapter consisting of
short extracts from Hermine Sinclair[-deZwart]'s (1995) paper
"Comparative Linguistics and Language Acquisition" held in the II
Coloquio Mauricio Swadesh (Mexico, 1990). This is the most recent paper
in the compilation and serves as a sort of conclusion pointing to
differences and commonalities between Piaget's and Chomsky's paradigms.
She expresses a desideratum, namely that more empirical work on
developmental psycholinguistics must be done within the
constructivist/cognitivist framework, which can be seen as being
fulfilled -- see e.g. the work of Michael Tomasello and associates in
the Max-Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, to give
only an example.

With Part II, "The Nature-Nurture Controversies", the editors aim to
provide "issues related to fundamental mechanisms of language
acquisition" (3). It is interesting to note that 10 of the 12 papers
selected for this section were produced within the generative framework
or were often used by it as corpus of evidence. But even more
interesting is the observation that several of these papers present
views of the nature-nurture debate which, though at different grades,
could be called 'convergentist', regardless of their theoretical

The first chapter in this section (chapter 6 in the book), "Language in
the Context of Growth and Maturation", is a short extract from Eric
Lenneberg's (1967) "Biological Foundations of Language". The paper is a
good occasion to recapitulate Lenneberg's ethological approach
according to which a "language-specific maturational schedule" is
posited and input has a merely triggering role, but is necessary to
actualize innate "potentialities of behavior".

Chapter 7, "Language and the Brain", is a paper by Norman Geschwind
(1972). Geschwind's paper is a representative of the localizationist
approach to language-brain relationships. On the basis of the study of
language disorders and postmortem examination of the brain in aphasic
patients, Geschwind presents some assumptions which would come to be
known as the Wernicke-Geschwind model of language processing. Important
from the point of view of lateralization was also his discovery of an
asymmetry located in a region adjacent to the Wernicke's area which
might be inborn.

The next chapter prolongs the discussion on lateralization. It is a
short excerpt from Michael Gazzaniga's (1970) "The Bisected Brain"
which is concerned with split-brain patients. In the excerpt Gazzaniga
reports on intermodal association studies in which such patients were
requested to match visual and tactile, invisible stimuli and to name
them. The fact that the patients were not able to name the objects,
when the information was to be processed by the right hemisphere, even
though they were able to match visual and tactile objects, is amazing
and really seems to corroborate the notion of language left dominance.

Chapter 9 closes the set of papers dealing with language acquisition in
extreme situations and leads over to the next set of papers concerned
more directly with linguistic data. It is "The Linguistic Development
of Genie" by Susan Curtiss and associates (1974). Curtiss and
colleagues had been studied Genie's linguistic development since her
discovery in 1971, and this is undoubtedly one of the seminal papers on
language acquisition under social isolation. Curtiss et al. worked
within the generative framework (even though not mentioning the
nativism topic at all) and with this in mind, it is interesting to
observe here how the syntax-semantics dichotomy seems to have sometimes
hindered the authors from drawing conclusions which would be otherwise
at least plausible, even though in other cases they seem to rely on
more functional and/or cognitive properties. Also revealing is the
authors' attitude of confusion, divided between empirical work and the
axiom that performance does not reflect competence.

Chapter 9, "Derivational Complexity and Order of Acquisition in Child
Speech" by Roger Brown and Camille Hanlon (1970), provides what is
perhaps the most flagrant example of this perplexity in the volume
under review. This paper deals with the acquisition of tag questions,
and it is painful to read how Roger Brown, the great Roger Brown, who
has innovated the research on first language acquisition, hesitatingly
presents 'anti-Chomskyan' conclusions which he then discards. It is
equally painful to read how Brown seems to justify not only for doing
empirical work, but also for relying on naturalistic data, and not on
experimental data.

Chapter 10 reads wholly differently. It is Charles Ferguson's (1978)
paper "Talking to Children: A Search for Universals". Ferguson relies
in this paper without remorse on performance input data and comments
cheerfully the "embarrassment" of "most linguists" with the subject.
Ferguson's self-assured conclusions refute the axiom of poverty of
stimulus and the notion of domain-specificity and species-specificity
nature of universals influencing human languages, even though without
denying the issue of biological adaptation.

Biological adaptation is also the topic of chapter 12, the article
"Learning by Instinct" by James Gould and Peter Marler (1987) which
send us back to the ethological starting point of the section. The
authors, students of the behavior of bees and birds, offer a sort of
'convergentist' perspective in that they posit that in many animals the
way stimuli are used for learning is guided by instinct. In the whole
article (18 pages) there is a half-page section to "Speech Learning in
Humans", in which some assumptions related to speech perception in the
infant and grammatical structures of human languages are raised.

Chapter 13, consisting of extracts from Barbara Landau's & Lila
Gleitman's (1985) "Language and Experience: Evidence from the Blind
Child", maintains the role of experience issue. On the basis of
experiments on the acquisition of lexical semantics of sighted
vocabulary in comparison with tactile vocabulary in the blind child,
the overall conclusion is that experience is necessary, but not
sufficient for language acquisition. The authors posit a sort of
poverty of stimulus problem relying on Quine's (1960) notion of
referential underdeterminacy and offering an innate constraints
approach conceived of as a sort of syntactic bootstrapping mechanism to
account for their findings.

The next two chapters (14 and 15) deal more directly with bootstrapping
mechanisms. It is two relatively short papers by Steven Pinker from his
(1984) "Language Learnability and Language Development" and his (1989)
"Learnability and Cognition: The Acquisition of Argument Structures".
In these works Pinker posited his interesting semantic bootstrapping
hypothesis which seems not only to ascribe the input a more relevant
role than perhaps expected, but also to at least neutralize the
syntax/semantics dichotomy. Pinker himself classifies the issue as
"subtle and controversial" and "not without problems". The issue of
innateness and universals is found in the suggestion that "children
innately expect" semantic-syntactic correlations in the perceptual
input and in the assumption that these correlations also exist in human
languages as substantive universals, which sounds very 'convergentist'.

Chapter 16 consists of only a paragraph from Hermine Sinclair-deZwart's
(1973) paper "Language Acquisition and Cognitive Development". Relying
on Piaget, the author posits that linguistic structures may be symptoms
of (domain-) "general, universal cognitive structures". Note that
Piaget would perhaps not say "cognitive structures", but rather
(innate) cognitive abilities or functions.

The section on the nature-nurture controversy is closed by a paper in
which the question is supposed to be avoided but seems to be actually
decided favoring the 'convergentist' position. Chapter 17 consists of
extracts from Dan Slobin's (1973) paper "Cognitive Prerequisites for
the Development of Grammar" in which Slobin posits "inherent"
"language-definitional universals" on the basis of cross-linguistic
studies on performance data. The "cognitive prerequisites" are:
relations between linguistic and cognitive-semantic universals, general
cognitive-perceptual strategies along with processing limitations, and
"preliminary" (=innate?) formal linguistic "operating principles" as
playing a role in the scanning of input (not seen thus as

Part III, "Areas of Language Knowledge", aims to provide "a basic
introduction to acquisition in each of the core components of language
knowledge (i.e., morphology, phonology, syntax, semantics and
pragmatics)" (3). This section includes again only few representatives
of approaches not fitting into the Chomskyan paradigm (3 of 12 papers)
and prolongs partially the nature-nurture issues.

The first chapter in this section is the seminal paper "The Child's
Learning of English Morphology" by Jean Berko [Gleason] (1958), in
which she presented her "Wug test". Somehow this paper has resemblances
to Chomsky's review of Skinner (1957) since only two mutually excluding
alternatives are supposed to explain the problem of language
acquisition, namely linguistic rules or rote memorization. Berko
[Gleason]'s results pointed to the first alternative and have somehow
contributed to reinforce the UG notion, even though the study relied
strongly on (experimental) performance data and the author herself did
not draw any explicit conclusions at all about the issue of innateness
and role of input. Note also the age of the tested children (4-7

Such a contribution was also provided by several conclusions of Roger
Brown in his (1973) "A First Language: The Early Stages", this seminal
work on the study of Adam, Eve, and Sarah, as showed in Chapter 19,
"The Order of Acquisition", a short extract of this book. Brown
observed an amazing constancy in the order of acquisition of
grammatical morphemes in the three children. An important
methodological outcome in this work is also the predictive power of the
index Mean Length of Utterance (MLU) developed by Brown.

After two chapters on morphology, a set of four chapters on
phonology/phonetics follows. The first of them is the paper on "Speech
Perception in Infants" by Peter Eimas and associates (1971) which
concluded that infants are capable of distinguishing acoustic cues
underlying adult phonemic distinctions by means of categorical
processes of perception which are assumed to be biologically determined

Universals, more exactly phonological universals, but not seen as
innate, is also the topic of chapter 21. It is Roman Jakobson's "The
Sound Laws of Child Language and their Place in General Phonology",
written originally for the Fifth International Congress of Linguists in
Brussels (1939), the oldest paper in the volume under review. It is
very interesting to recapitulate in this text some methodological and
substantive aspects of the classical structuralism of the School of
Prague in opposition not only to the posterior generative tradition,
but also to the previous 'old' historical linguistics and the
neogrammarians, as well as to the Saussurean structuralism. The most
impressive aspects are perhaps field work (and the reliance on
performance and input data), as well as the notion of functionality of
language, reminding the reader of Bühler's (1934) "organon model of

After Jakobson's functionalist paper we have in chapter 22 a paper
produced in a more generativist spirit. It consists of extracts of the
article "Universal Tendencies in the Child's Acquisition of Phonology"
by N. V. Smith (1975). The contrast could not be greater. While
Jakobson relied on data from some 18 languages, Smith relies on one
child's data to posit universals. While Jakobson begins his paper by an
eulogy of the observation of linguistic behavior, Smith is from the
outset somewhat 'distressed' about the competence-performance
dichotomy. And of course, Smith's "universal tendencies" are "pre-
programmed" in the child.

The innateness notion is openly assumed by David Stampe (1969) in
chapter 23, "The Acquisition of Phonetic Representation". Stampe is a
precursor of the natural phonology which posits on the basis of cross-
linguistic inquiry an innate system of phonological processes which is
permanently revised by each new phonetic opposition learned by the
child, in a process that reminds the reader of Piaget's "assimilation"
and "accommodation" as also Brown (paper in Part I) noticed for
grammatical acquisition in the child.

The innateness issue is also found in chapter 24, even though in a more
indirect manner. It is selections of the curious article "The Problem
of Serial Order in Behavior" by K. S. Lashley (1951) cited by Chomsky
in his review of Skinner (1957). His main claim is that "behavior is
the result of interaction of [a] background of excitation with input",
and in order to understand the effects of input it is necessary to
define the general features of this "background of excitation", where
"background of excitation" seems to be tantamount to something like
innate ideas. A main feature of "verbal behavior" is "the occurrence of
predetermined, orderly sequences of action" "which cannot be explained
in terms of succession of external stimuli", where "sequences of
action" may concern words in sentences or also sounds or letters in

Chapter 25, "The Study of Adam, Eve, and Sarah" from Brown's (1973) "A
First Language" already cited above, is concerned more directly with
acquisition of syntax. The main methodological features of the
longitudinal studies with these three children are presented here, as
the index of Mean Length of Utterance (MLU) and Upper Bound (UB), as
well as the big job of transcription. Again we see Brown, this great
empirical researcher, struggling with the competence-performance axiom.

The issues of syntactic acquisition and competence-performance
asymmetry are continued in chapter 26, "Syntactic Regularities in the
Speech of Children", a paper by Edward Klima and Ursula Bellugi[-Klima]
(1966), who belonged to Brown's research group. The paper, dealing with
the acquisition of negative and interrogative structures, typically
begins by a discussion on the issues of competence-performance
asymmetry and 'noisy' input which the authors accept axiomatically.
Subsequently, they provide a formal notation of the rules found.

The last paper of the set of generative papers on syntax is chapter 27,
"The Reduction Transformation and Constraints on Sentence Length" from
Lois Bloom's (1970) "Language Development: Form and Function in
Emerging Languages". Bloom posits a reduction transformation in the
derivation of the child's reduced surface structures from the
underlying structures. Interestingly, the author emphasizes the
necessity of evidence in the output data of three children, without
struggling with the competence-performance axiom. But she typically
bases her inquiry often on formal categories failing sometimes to draw
conclusions which could be otherwise at least plausible.

Two papers by Eve V. Clark, selected to represent the areas of
semantics and pragmatics and written in a spirit wholly different from
the preceding chapters, close the section and the compilation. The
first of them, "The Young Word Maker: A Case Study of Innovation in the
Child's Lexicon" (1982), deals with semantics of word formation,
dealing ultimately with lexical acquisition and lexical morphology, on
the basis of cross-linguistic data. As Berko [Gleason] (chapter 18),
Clark discusses the possibility whether or not rules constitute the
basis of lexical innovation processes. But contrarily to Berko
[Gleason], Clark does not contrast rote memorization with rule use, but
analogy with rule use where these both processes are conceived of as
lying on a continuum. As Landau & Gleitman (chapter 13), Clark also
posits constraints in lexical acquisition. But contrarily to Landau's &
Gleitman's underlying referential indeterminacy, Clark's claims are
related with the necessities of communication and her constraints are
rather "conventions of language use". This notion of functionality of
language is explicitly discussed in the Clark's second paper,
"Strategies for Communicating" (1978), in which she intends to show
"why it is important to keep the communicative function of language in
mind as we study what children say", and how "this point has often been
lost sight of in the study of language acquisition".


There are many reasons why this book should be recommended for a part
of the intended audience, namely for advanced students and established
scholars. First of all, we have to thank the editors for making
available so many seminal papers on first language acquisition, the
presence of each of the 29 papers in this anthology is thus wholly
justified. Secondly, the compilation provides the opportunity for some
epistemological contemplation across texts concerning the work done
within diverse frameworks developed in the 20th century (classical
structuralism, behaviorism, generativism, as well as more cognitive-
functional approaches); the editors contribute to this by means of
information about more recent work done on similar lines, building
thus a sort of historical-epistemological link, which is unquestionably
one of the merits of the editorial material. Another plus point of the
editorial material is the convincing and non-trivial -- as well as
revealing -- overall conclusion about the necessity of more
"comparative cross-linguistic approaches" on the study of child
language acquisition, in order to "allow researchers to dissociate
language-specific and universal developmental patterns" (p. 8).
Finally, for advanced students the compilation is a treasure-house of
ideas and suggestions for their own researches, concerning
methodological as well as substantive issues.

There are nevertheless two points to discuss, concerning the editorial
work as a whole, namely some formal editorial shortcomings and the more
substantive issue of representativeness of the collection as a whole.

Beginning by the less polemical formal aspects, there are numerous
entries either entirely missing or whose occurrences in the volume are
not complete. This is problematical for the reader aiming to make the
mentioned connections of epistemological relevance across texts, as
well for the quick consulting, because it concerns authors' names,
languages, and terminologies. In view of the fact that the target
audience also includes "beginning students", it would have been, from
didactic point of view, helpful to have more detailed introductions to
each chapter, placed for instance before the respective papers.
Additionally to a more comprehensive account of the contents of the
respective paper, such introductions could have included purely
editorial clarifications concerning omissions relatively to the
original publication (as the editors did for the papers by Slobin and
Brown & Hanlon), as well as the editorial context in which the papers
were originally produced. The editorial information about Jakobson's
paper, for instance, concerns solely the publications of the English
translation (1971, 1990) and not the original French text (1939).
Finally there are some inconsistencies in the reference lists of some
chapters. Sometimes, authors are mentioned in the chapter which do not
appear in the references, sometimes it is the other way round.

The second discussion point is a more delicate one. In my opinion, the
editors' underlying Chomskyan orientation seems to compromise the
representativeness of the compilation as a whole. In a preliminary
version of this review, I had spoken in this context of a "Chomskyan
bias". A reader of this previous version called my attention to the
problem of characterizing a theoretical persuasion whatsoever as a bias
in a review for the Linguist List and I have since being struggling
with this word "bias". But after reading Christian F. Hempelmann's
review of Glenn (2003)
in which Glenn's approach is characterized not only in terms of
"functionalistic bias", but even in terms of "mistake", I see no reason
why I could not employ the word "bias" myself, particularly since it
seems to correspond to the facts.

Thus, the editors' criterion "linguistic approach" exposed in the
introduction seems to be ultimately an underlying Chomskyan bias since
the major "features of human languages" they present as "identified by
linguistic science" are clearly concerned with crucial assumptions of
the Chomskyan tradition. Two related implicit assumptions, or rather
meta-assumptions, are the assumptions that Chomskyan assumptions are
not assumptions, but "discoveries" or "findings", as well as the
assumption that the Chomskyan paradigm itself is tantamount to THE
linguistic science. Such a view compromises the representativeness of
the compilation, compromising ultimately the editors' aim of collecting
papers "which provide the foundation for the field of first language
acquisition". Such a view contradicts the seeming objectivity of the
selection criteria and makes the compilation not adequate for beginning
students since it has several gaps. These gaps are concerned with some
sub-biases the Chomskyan bias includes, as the general theoretical, the
syntactic, the monolingual, the spoken language, the Anglophone biases.

To begin with, not only the great majority of the selected papers was
produced originally within or fitting into the generative paradigm, but
already the presentation of the volume is revealing. Two papers by
Chomsky open the volume what might remind the reader of the Genesis
book. The cognitivist approach (older than the generative one) is
represented mainly by rather short extracts from late works. Vygotsky's
(1934) socioculturalist approach is wholly missing. Missing are also
the work following and expanding Piagetian and Vygotskyan premises done
since at least the 1970s (for a review, see e.g. Tomasello 1992, 1996).
Moreover, the temporal limitation for the original publication of the
papers excludes from the outset cognitive-functional, connectionist,
and even generative approaches of the last two decades pointing to
'convergentist' conclusions (for a review, see e.g. Tomasello 2003,
Elman et al. 1996, Marcus 2001, and Jusczyk 1997).

Secondly, the dominance of papers dealing more or less explicitly with
formal (morpho)syntactic issues is striking but not really surprising
since it reflects some generative axioms, as primacy of syntax and the
separation of form (syntax) and meaning/function (semantics,
pragmatics). Approaches to the acquisition of morphosyntax and
phonology in which semantics and pragmatics are integral parts of the
theoretical explanatory background are missing (for a review, see again
Tomasello 2003 and, for phonology, the papers in Broe & Pierrehumbert

Similarly, it is true that the absence of papers dealing explicitly
with bi-and/or multilingual language acquisition is not realistic vis-
à-vis the fact that monolingualism is rather the exception, but it is
wholly consistent with the classical ideal speaker-listener
abstraction. For a review on the research of bilingual acquisition, see
e.g. Lindholm (1980), Redlinger (1979), and De Houwer (1996).

Also related to the ideal speaker abstraction is the absence of papers
dealing with literacy acquisition. For a review, see e.g. Treiman
(2001), Gillen (2003), and the papers in Nunes & Bryant (2004); for
multilingual contexts see, for instance, the papers in Barnard & Glynn

Finally, it is a great merit of the selection to include a relatively
great number of papers done explicitly on the basis of cross-linguistic
comparison when one considers that the generative program evolved in
great part on the basis of the study of the English language only. But
it is striking to observe that these studies were produced by pre-
Chomskyans (Lashley, Jakobson), non-Chomskyans (Ferguson, Clark), or
'non-orthodox' Chomskyans (Slobin).

To conclude this evaluation, I want to state that I can imagine how
difficult it is to select papers from the huge body of seminal papers
and issues accumulated in the field of first language acquisition. A
such compilation could never be complete, it could at most have the
pretension to some representativeness. And, to repeat, I do not contest
the selection of any of the papers present in this anthology. But
perhaps some of these papers could have been discarded in order to
accommodate others representing crucial approaches and issues which are
wholly missing; or the editors could at least have discussed these
approaches and issues in the introduction and explained their
exclusion; or, as my review's reader pointed to, they could at least
have made their orientation explicit in the title.

As it stands, I think I can say without much exaggeration that the
selected papers unfortunately do not provide "the foundation for the
field of first language acquisition", as aimed by the editors, but the
or a Chomsky-oriented foundation. Or putting it in other words: I
cannot emphasize sufficiently that this is undoubtedly an outstanding
compilation of papers on first language acquisition -- from the
Chomskyan perspective.


Aronoff, M. & Rees-Miller, J. [eds.] 2001. The Handbook of Linguistics.
Malden & Oxford: Blackwell.

Barnard, R. & Glynn, T. 2003. Bilingual Children's Language and
Literacy Development. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Broe, M. & Pierrehumbert, J. [eds.] 2000. Papers in Laboratory
Phonology V: Acquisition and the Lexicon. Cambridge University Press.

Bühler, K. 1934. Sprachtheorie. Jena.

De Houwer, A. 1996. Bilingual Language Acquisition. In: Fletcher &
MacWhinney [eds.], 219-250.

Elman, J. & Bates, E. & Johnson, M. & Karmiloff-Smith, A. & Parisi, D.
& Plunkett, K. 1996. Rethinking Innateness: A Connectionist Perspective
on Development. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Fletcher, P. & MacWhinney, B. [eds.] 1996. The Handbook of Child
Language. Oxford et al.: Blackwell.

Gillen, J. 2003. The Language of Children. London et al.: Routledge.

Glenn, P. 2003. Laughter in Interaction. Cambridge University Press.

Goldsmith, J. [ed.] 1999. Phonological Theory: The Essential Readings.
Malden, MA : Blackwell.

Jusczyk, P. 1997. The Discovery of Spoken Language. Cambridge, MA: MIT

Lindholm, 1980. Bilingual children: Some interpretations of cognitive
and linguistic development. In: Nelson, K. [ed.], 215-66.

Marcus, G. 2001. The Algebraic Mind: Integrating Connectionism and
Cognitive Science. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Nelson, K. [ed.] 1980. Children's Language. Vol. 2. New York: Gardner

Nunes, T. & Bryant, P. [eds.] 2004. Handbook of Children's Literacy.
Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Paulston, C. B. & Tucker, G. [eds.] 2003. Sociolinguistics: The
Essential Readings. Malden et al.: Blackwell.

Portner, P. & Partee, B. [eds.] 2002. Formal Semantics: The Essential
Readings. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Quine, W. 1960. Word and Object. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

Redlinger, W. 1979. Early developmental bilingualism: A review of the
literature. The Bilingual Review/La Revista Bilingüe, 6, 11-30.

Skinner, B. F. 1957. Verbal Behavior. New York: Appleton.

Tomasello, M. 1992. The social bases of language acquisition. Social
Development, 1, 67-87.

Tomasello, M. 1996. Piagetian and Vygotskian approaches to language
acquisition. Human Development, 39, 269-276.

Tomasello, M. 2003. Constructing a Language: A Usage-Based Theory of
Language Acquisition. Cambridge, MA & London: Harvard Univ. Press.

Treiman, R. 2001. Linguistics and Reading. In: Aronoff & Rees-Miller
(eds.), 664-672.

Vygotsky, L. 1934. Thought and Language. Cambridge MA: MIT Press

As a student at the Freie Universität Berlin I am currently working on
my M.A. thesis on the acquisition of argument constructions in a
bilingual child within a usage-based framework. My research interests
include first language acquisition, multilingualism, cognitive science,
developmental psychology, as well as history of linguistics.

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