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Review of  Manual of Language Acquisition


Reviewer: Mauro Costantino
Book Title: Manual of Language Acquisition
Book Author: Christiane Fäcke
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
General Linguistics
Language Family(ies): Romance
Issue Number: 31.2398

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SUMMARY

The “Manual of Language Acquisition” by Christiane Fäcke (ed.) is a collection of papers about language teaching, acquisition, and learning focused on Romance languages, both from the point of view of the languages themselves and the countries where they are spoken.

The 32 chapters cover many different topics: learning theories, psycholinguistics, teaching methodologies, neurolinguistics, sociolinguistics, and dialectology, making it very difficult to specify the intended audience. Nevertheless, the book is divided into five parts: Language Acquisition, First Language Acquisition, Second Language Acquisition, Acquisition of Romance Languages and Language Acquisition in the Romance-Speaking word); and its structure and organization make it a good reference manual for consultation. In addition, each section offers a rich bibliography, and the index at the end of the volume allows the reader to quickly get to the point in such a broad offer of topics.

The introductory chapter, by Christiane Fäcke, defines the context of the research that authors develop throughout the book, sets the bases for the terminological issues, and presents Scopes and Outlines. It also offers a section by section overview, sketching the path through the sections (First/Second) Language Acquisition, the Acquisition of Romance Languages and the Language Acquisition in the Romance-Speaking World. It presents the structure of the book, allowing the reader direct access.

Chapter 1, “Disciplines Related to Language Acquisition” by Frank G. Königs, starts from the not-so-obvious question: “Language Acquisition: What does it mean?” (p.18). It approaches the matter from a neurolinguistic point of view, following with the “conceptual distinction” (p.18) between first and other languages acquisition. It presents a critical view of the actual organization of language acquisition studies, offering six different lines of development in order to deal with the fact that language acquisition studies usually focus on an access that is “in fact right but neither sufficient nor universal” (p.21).

Chapter 2, “Research Methods”, by Luke Plonsky and Laura Gurzynski-Weiss, sets the bases for a methodological start, facing the issues of research planning, methodological knowledge, research design, data elicitation and data analysis. The authors briefly present each approach in a contrastive manner, summarizing main points throughout the chapter, making it a resource for learners as well as a useful summary for experienced researchers.

Chapter 3. “Language Policy, Management and Planning” by F. Xavier Vila faces the multi-folded issue of Language Policy, Management, and Planning (LPMP), starting by settling the terminological issue of “language policy” with a detailed introduction. The chapter develops by calling for a future research in LPMP stressing the need of a careful analysis and the importance of the subject, considered as a series of “attempts to influence the linguistic reality of a sphere of human life” (p. 66).

Chapter 4. “Language Socialization” by Kathleen C. Riley starts by clarifying the term “Romance Language Socialization” in order to set the reach of the chapter. It moves on by facing the multi-folded problem of communicative competence and cultural knowledge in the romance language culture complex, thus presenting recent studies across the vast range of romance language speaking realities (with examples) and discussing the role of ethnic identity and affiliation of local languages to the local identity.

Chapter 5. “Languages and Identities” by Adelheid Hu, develops a detailed analysis of the term “identity”, and goes through the concept of “identity, […] self, [...] individuality” (p. 89) among others, and of Identity, Language and Discourse, entering the third section about Identities and Language Learning. The discussion resends the critical and multi-folded issue of the modern approach to Language Learning Studies and Identities and also offers a case study on “Multilingualism and Identities in Luxembourg” in the last section (p. 96).

Chapter 6. “Language Acquisition Theories” by Bill VanPatten presents a synthetic overview of the categories used in Second Language Acquisition (SLA), from Linguistic/Psycholinguistic (Generative Approach, Functional Approach and the Processability Theory) to Cognitive Approaches (Emergentist positions and Skill Theory) to close with the Socio-Interactive Theories (Sociocultural Theory). It follows with theory review and, through the observation of a specific phenomenon (null subject and the null parameter in Spanish), faces the problem of the acquisition analyzing various theories. This section is very useful for both beginners and expert linguists, since it analyzes a single aspect among all the mentioned points of view.

In Chapter 7, “Children's Multimodal Language Development”, Aliyah Morgenstern presents a clear walk through of children’s language development even though the space limit of one chapter cannot allow a deep development. The chapter is well-structured and presents the steps in children's language development from the pre-linguistic stage, to replication, to the development of “language in action” and the first multimodal constructions. A slim but useful set of examples also assists readers new to the field throughout the chapter. The chapter then presents a step-by-step guide to children's first language acquisition and details the transitional period towards the multi-word speech and Clark's (2003) emergent categories.

The rest of the chapter deals with children's complete utterances, development of argument structure, and the tense-mood-aspect structure in children two to four years old. Eventually, co-verbal gestures and complexification issues are addressed by supporting the need for a global study and understanding of both vocal and visual modality as skillfully used by children. The only drawback of this chapter is its brevity, which implies a very synthetic development. Nevertheless, the clear exposition makes it a very useful tool for readers who want a clear, reliable panorama on children's language acquisition.

In Chapter 8, “Bases of Linguistic Development”, Josie Bernicot starts with the question: “How do children acquire language?” (p. 143) and moves forward by revising the state of the art of the studies about the biological bases of language, focusing specifically on “the relationships between the brain and language” (p. 143) from Broca’s first studies to brain injuries and “particularities” (p. 145). The author develops a short review of the last half century of primates studies: Gardners' studies on monkeys’ sign language, Premak's work with chimpanzees, experiences with bonobos during the 90s.

It also discusses the Behaviourist Perspective (Empiricism), the Linguistic Perspective (Nativism), the Cognitive Perspective (Constructivism), and the Social Interactionist Perspective. The content is well-presented, organized, and accessible to a beginner in the fields of linguistics. The only drawback is only using examples from French.

Chapter 9, “Written Language: Learning to Read and to Spell” by Michel Fayol, starts with a brief but detailed discussion about the problems of acquisition of reading skills and establishment of the Grapheme-Phoneme relationships. The second part of the chapter introduces a step-by-step guide to the milestones of children's reading process acquisition. The author explores a variety of topics: phonological awareness, importance of the writing system and its relation to phonetics, unaware acquisition of morphology in first to third grade children. The content is well-structured and laid out, but presents almost only French examples.

Chapter 10, “Second Language Acquisition” by Alessandro Benati, addresses “the fundamental questions of how learners come to internalize the linguistic system of another language” (p. 179), moving from the basic comparison between formal and informal acquisition. It then presents the main issues settled by the seminal works of Corder (1967) and Selinker (1972) regarding errors and interlanguage and discusses the multidisciplinary level of SLA acquisition. Furthermore, the chapter discusses the differences and similarities between Second and First Language Acquisition in and the presence of an innate knowledge. The fourth and fifth sections briefly address from a neurolinguistics point of view, mind development during SLA and Krashen's theoretical framework (Krashen, 1982) together with processability theory. The discussion, limited for space reasons, is nevertheless detailed and organized, offering the experienced and beginner reader a good support and a handy reference.

In Chapter 11, “Bilingual Education”, Anemone Geiger-Jaillet starts by defining bilingualism and presents a concise analysis of the neurological point of view of the bilingual brain, referring to some of the most recent studies on adopted children, language acquisition and the psychological implications in both children and parents. The core of the chapter deals with bilingual education, presentings different European countries, and concentrating on the problem of the syllabus and teaching. Even though the chapter is short, the author succeeds in giving an exhaustive view of the problem, addressing its most complicated aspects.

In Chapter 12, “Plurilingual Education”, Franz-Joseph Meissner begins by admitting that “it is not easy to define what plurilingualism and plurilingual education actually mean” (p. 217). He then analyzes the turn that brought from monolingual ideology to Plurilinguism and, afterwards, by its promotion. Presenting the work of the Commission of the European Communities (2008, p.5), the chapter develops the idea of “societal multilingualism” as opposed to “individual plurilingualism” (p. 223). The work discusses different steps, from the implementation of the CEFR to the path to Syllabus for the Romance Languages area.

Chapter 13, “Foreign Language Teaching and Learning” by Krista Sagermann, opens with an underlying remark about the need to distinguish between “Second Language Acquisition” and “Foreign Language Teaching” (p. 236). The next sections face two other dichotomies: the relation between Teaching versus Learning and Theory versus Practice. The next part develops a “systematic approach to Teaching Methodology” (p. 238), therefore analyzing theoretical approaches in language teaching, such as the objectives-centered construction of a syllabus, the definition of content/subject matter. The fine grain analysis of the details of the syllabus develops throughout the entire chapter.

Chapter 14, “European History of Romance Language Teaching” by Marcus Reinfried, presents a timeline of language education in the central European regions, addressing the languages taught across the last few centuries and the teaching methods and methodologies. It is a clear exposition although mainly focused on central Europe.

In Chapter 15, “Language Teacher”, Birgit Schädlich faces the problem of the actual lack of agreement on the language teacher education needs and requirements. As the author stresses, “there is no consensus on which disciplinary knowledge should be referenced in teacher education programmes” (p. 277) hence the actual profile of the language teacher developed from different backgrounds and with different perspectives (philological, linguistic and pedagogical). The chapter then reviews the needs of the language teacher: “target language(s) competence, reaching near native proficiency, mastering linguistic, pragmatic and discourse competence” (p. 280) among others. It then underlines the fact that the modern approach to language teaching also calls for an inter-cultural aspect of the teacher's education.

Chapter 16, “Language Learner” by Jose I. Aguilar Río and Cédric Brudermann, opens by defining the learner as “first and foremost a social actor” (p. 291), then moves on by studying social psychology in the acquisition process. The authors present the analysis of the basic concepts in the acquisition process: identity, personality, self-based constructs in order to reach the social definition of acquisition, in Bogaards's (1991, p. 100) words: “whether there is learning or not, it depends on the learner” (my translation). The conclusion summarizes the figure of the Learner as a subject whose focus is “not only a matter of learning linguistic aspects, but also social, pragmatic, civilization-related, diachronic or synchronic” (p. 304).

In Chapter 17, “Cognition and Emotion”, Hélène Martinez starts by sketching the evolution and advancement in Language Teaching and Learning Research, from the replacement of the empirical-behaviourist paradigm by the cognitivist-rationalist one. Aiming to a learner participating with a more active attitude in the learning process, with Selinker (1972), the author presents then Anderson's Adaptive Control of Thought (ACT) model the connectionist models. The introduction also discusses the influence of humanistic thought. The ‘emotional turn’ is yet to come, according to Martinez, but thanks to Christ (1996, p. 50) we can see “an important result of learner-orientation [and] the consideration of the learner's motivation, attitude, and interests”. The chapter faces the cognition-emotion dichotomy, admitting that ‘emotion’ is not a term that we can frequently meet in language research (unlike ‘affective’). The author presents Pekrun and Jerusalem (1996) approach, presenting the four “classes of processes” that can “influence learning and performance in terms of emotions” (p. 313). The closing section stresses the importance of the “reciprocating role of cognition and emotion in FLL”, of an “encouraging and interactive learning environment” and the “design of suitable (learning) tasks” (p. 320).

Chapter 18, “Competences, Language Skills and Linguistic Means” by Bernd Tesch.
Starting from the definition of “competence” (p. 325), the author analyzes the CEFR with a detailed presentation of the different skills and the problem of their interpretation, implementation and development. The chapter discusses each skill and its implied difficulties thoroughly and clearly organized into five sections (listening, audio-visual, reading, speaking and writing).

PART FOUR: ACQUISITION OF ROMANCE LANGUAGES: CONTEXTS AND CHARACTERISTICS

Chapter 19 “Catalan” by Joan Julià-Muné.
The chapter starts with statistics about the actual standing of Catalan in the European panorama and an historical introduction of the Teaching and Learning of Catalan as L2/FL, following with a very detailed account of the study of the acquisition of Catalan.
The section develops through a careful discussion of the different levels of analysis: Phonological, Morphosyntactic and Lexical.

Chapter 20 “French” by Valérie Spaëth and Jean-Paul Narcy-Combes.
The chapter discusses the present complex situation of French as First, Second and Foreign Language in the world. It then presents three different approaches for the discussion of the social use of French, French as FL, and French in schooling: the Systemic Approach, the Subjectivist Approach and the Processual Approach.

Chapter 21. “Italian” by Janice M. Aski.
It presents a panorama of the Italian language spoken outside of Italy, Italian L2 and the situation of Italy's immigrants. The last part presents the case of the “Italiano Neostandard” (Berruto, 1987) and discusses the actual spoken variety and the ongoing restandardization process (Cerruti, 2011).

Chapter 22. “Portuguese” by Antônio Roberto Monteiro Simões.
The author presents the situation of the Portuguese Language in the world and its relative “second place” (p. 413) compared to other more spoken languages, the Internet users and Internet by penetration data, and closes giving a clearer and more reliable account of the actual usage of the language across the world.

Chapter 23. “Rhaeto-Romanic” by Roland Verra and Christiane Fäcke.
As the authors state “comparing language acquisition in the three main Rhaeto-Romanic areas in the Alps is a quite difficult task” (p. 433) and faces therefore the issue by dividing the chapter in three section, discussing Friulian, Ladin and Romansh.

Chapter 24. “Romanian” by Sabine Krause and Heide Flagner.
The chapter presents the Status and Geographical Distribution of Romanian, as both Romance and Balkan language, and develops a deeper analysis of the language features from the L3 teaching and learning point of view, discussing phonology, morphophonemic-morphosyntax and a detailed analysis of the language features, through examples and discussion.

Chapter 25. “Spanish” by Francisco Moreno-Fernández.
Due to its particular status as the second most spoken native language and second most spoken internationally used language, Spanish deserves special attention according to the author. Heorganizes the chapter into two different parts: Spanish as L1 and Spanish as L2/FL. The second part of the chapter presents the acquisitional side of the matter, with some insights on contrastive analysis of the learning process of speakers of other romance languages (and English).

PART FIVE: LANGUAGE ACQUISITION IN THE ROMANCE-SPEAKING WORLD

Chapter 26. “Canada” by Terry Nadasdi.
The chapter analyzes 4 different contexts about the acquisition of French in Canada (p.495):
- by francophones in majority setting;
- by francophones in minority setting;
- by non-francophones in Quebec;
- by non-francophones in Canada outside Quebec;

After a short presentation of the linguistic situation of the country, the chapter analyzes French as L2, also presenting social and educational implications.

Chapter 27. “France” by Sylvie Méron-Minuth and Christian Minuth.
The authors introduce two different approaches: the historical and the geographical one, by presenting the organization of the school system in France and some up to date data on Foreign Language Acquisition in France.

Chapter 28. “Italy and the Italian-Speaking Regions” by Rita Franceschini.
After defining the concept of “Italian-Speaking Regions” (p. 531) distinguishing between a narrow and a broader interpretation, the author details her analysis concentrating on Italy, Switzerland and the coastal areas of Istria and Dalmatia. The concluding remarks raise the issue of an unsolved problem of integration of the diverse systems as well as the acceptance of the new linguistic diversity.

Chapter 29. “Peru” by Isabel García Ponce.
The chapter starts by presenting the historical issue of Spanish as a colonial language, taught and learned in many cases as compulsory by the Spanish dominant minority and quickly replacing Quechua as the state, administrative and bureaucracy language. The last section deals with teaching Spanish as L2 and teaching indigenous languages. This allows the discussion of the actual pitfalls in bilingual education in Peru, even though the legislation is favorable.

Chapter 30. “Portugal and Brazil” by Filomena Capucho and Regina Silva.
The chapter presents a brief but organized panorama of the Portuguese speaking world, addressing, besides Portugal and Brazil, the cases of Angola and Mozambique where Portuguese has been acquiring the status of lingua franca for as much as 90% and 40% of the population respectively (p. 573). The second part of the chapter presents the official language policy of Portugal and Brazil and follows on the next section towards the issue of Foreign Language Education.

Chapter 31. “Romania” by Doina Spiţă.
The chapter opens by introducing the country and its linguistic situation, presenting the internal difference between ethnic groups, as well as the presence of Romanian groups in the rest of the world. The rest of the chapter presents data and statistics from the government about teaching minority languages in primary and secondary education, and the teaching of Foreign Languages in the country schools; the closing section analyzes the actual situation and problems and the possibilities of improvement.

Chapter 32. “Spain” by Ana Halbach.
The chapter sketches the actual situation of the languages in Spain, defining it as very complex due to the multilingual situation all over the country, by describing the position of Spanish in the school system and the teaching methodological approach. The section closes with the presentation of the new developments and the effort that has been made by the system in order to overcome the gap and promote foreign languages.

EVALUATION

The book is the result of a huge effort, covering almost all possible aspects of Romance Language Learning, Acquisition and Teaching. Each chapter is carefully edited in order to offer to the reader constant and useful internal references all through the book. The set of examples is in some, very few cases, limited to one language, but even though a greedy reader might expect much more examples, the space limitations and the huge work could probably not afford it. It is more a matter of space than a limitation of the work itself.

As a matter of fact, the range of subjects touched by the Manual is so widespread that it has to be considered a reference work that allows an introductory view of one topic, not as an in-deep treatment of all the aspects of the matter. Each chapter is not, in fact intended to be exhaustive on the subject, but a strong starting base.

This should not be considered a drawback of the Manual, simply a characteristic of its nature. It has also, alongside the wide reaching content, the good point of presenting recent and fundamental reference sections for each chapter, thus making the manual a great starting point for preliminary research in the field. The bibliography, in fact, is usually very extensive and offers both the seminal and the most recent reference on the subject.

REFERENCES

Clark, Eve V. 2003. First Language Acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Corder, Pit S. 1967. The Significance of Learners' Errors. International Review of Applied Linguistics 5. 161-170.

Selinker, Larry. 1972. Interlanguage. International Review of Applied Linguistics 10. 209-231.

Krashen, Stephen. 1982. Second Language Acquisition and Second Language Learning. Oxford: Pergamon.

Commission of the European Communities. 2008. Multilingualism: an Assest for Europe and Share Commitment. Com 2008 566 final.

Council of Europe. 2001. Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bogaards, Paul. 1991. Aptitude et Affectvité dans l'apprendissage des langues étrangères. Paris:Crédif-Hatier, collection LAL.

Christ, Herbert. 1996. Lehren und Lernen fremder Sprachen und ihre Erforschung, in Karl-Richard Bausch et al. (edd.). Erforschung des Lehrens und Lernens fremder Sprachen. Zwischenbilanz und Perspectiven. Tübingen: Narr. 44-52.

Pekrun, Reinhard & Jerusalem, Matthias. 1996. Leistungsbezogenes Denken und Fühlen: Eine Übersicht zur psychologischen Forschung, in Jens Möller & Olaf Köller (edd). Emotionen, Kognitionen und Schulleistung. Weinheim: Beltz. 3-22.

Berruto, Gaetano. 1987. Sociolinguistica dell'Italiano Contemporaneo. Carocci.

Cerruti, Massimo. 2001. Regional Varieties of Italian in the Linguistic Repertoire. International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 210. 9-28.
 
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Mauro Costantino is invited professor at the Universidad Mayor de San Andrés (UMSA) of La Paz, at the Universidad Católica Boliviana ''San Pablo'' (UCB). His main interests range from Second Language Acquisition, comparing the acquisition of the Italian verb system by speakers of different languages, to Translation Studies, to corpus linguistics (focusing on learners corpora), and recently to Contact Spanish and its peculiar Tense/Aspect system. He teaches Italian, translations seminar and introduction to computational and corpus linguistics at UMSA and UCB. He participates to the VALICO (www.valico.org) and VALERE (www.valere.org) projects from the University of Torino (Italy) he is working at different projects (translation and corpus implementation) with the Literature Department at UMSA. In his “free time” he is translator and General Secretary of the Società Dante Alighieri of La Paz, Bolivia, he enjoys photography and playing with his bilingual dog (Lola).