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Review of  Multilingualism and Very Young Learners


Reviewer: Anna M Krulatz
Book Title: Multilingualism and Very Young Learners
Book Author: Laura Portolés Falomir
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Linguistic Theories
Pragmatics
Language Acquisition
Issue Number: 27.2319

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Review:
Reviews Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry

SUMMARY

“Multilingualism and very young learners” is a monograph that examines pragmatic comprehension of requests produced by young multilingual learners of Catalan, English and Spanish in instructional contexts. The study approaches early multilingualism from a holistic, dynamic and multilingual perspective. Specifically, the study investigates language attitudes of the participants, the relationship between language attitudes and pragmatic awareness, and factors that affect multilingual development in the wider context.

The book is divided into two parts. Part I presents the theoretical framework and includes three chapters: Multilingualism, Multilingual pragmatic development in children, and Language attitudes. Part II outlines the study and presents the findings. It is divided into the following chapters: Motivation for the present study, Results and discussion, and Conclusion.

In Chapter 1, a review of relevant literature related to the study of multilingualism is presented. Statistical information about multilingualism in the Valencian educational system, where the study was conducted, is provided, followed by the theoretical foundations of multilingualism from a sociolinguistic perspective, an educational perspective, and a Dynamic Systems Theory perspective (Herdina & Jessner, 2002). The chapter concludes with a consideration of the notions of Third Language Acquisition (TLA) and language awareness in multilinguals.

Chapter 2 gives a close examination of issues pertaining to pragmatic development in multilingual children. It first provides theoretical perspectives on the acquisition of pragmatics in first, second and third language. Next, it presents a theoretical framework for the analysis of requests, including the head act and internal and external speech act modifications. It then provides an overview of the studies that examined the development of requesting behavior in young language learners.

Chapter 3, which concludes Part I, is devoted to language attitudes and multilingual development. The chapter opens with a discussion of the approaches to the study of language attitudes. It provides an overview of language attitude studies in the Valencian community, as well as a comprehensive review of literature on multilingual children’s language attitudes. Finally, it explores the link between pragmatic awareness and language attitudes, and provides a justification for the examination of the degree to which language attitudes can facilitate the development of pragmatic awareness.

Chapter 4 opens with a motivation for the main aims of the study through a summary of the key relevant points in current research. In the sections that follow, research questions, research hypotheses and methodology are presented. The relatively large (n=402) participant sample is described in detail, including a thorough justification for the selection of two distinct age groups (preschoolers and third grade primary school students). A thorough description of data collection instruments and procedure and data coding and analysis follows. The design of the instruments was based in current literature and tested in a pilot study.

In Chapter 5, the results of the analyses of the empirical data as well as a discussion of findings are presented. The findings are introduced with respect to the research questions and the hypotheses stated in Chapter 4 and discussed within the framework of the Dynamic Model of Multilingualism (Herdina & Jessner, 2002). The main findings can be summarized as follows: the participants displayed high levels of pragmatic awareness in Catalan, English, and Spanish and are able to differentiate between the three languages systems; older students (third grade) displayed higher levels of pragmatic awareness than preschoolers; the respondents had positive attitudes towards multilingualism; yet all three languages were not equally valued, especially by the older students. Participant performance on the pragmatic comprehension test and their language attitudes were correlated with the type of language program they were enrolled in.

The last, rather brief, chapter consists of concluding remarks, pedagogical implications, and a discussion of the limitations of the study and suggestions for further research. The author concludes that in addition to contributing to research on pragmatic development in early multilinguals, the study provides firm support for the Dynamic Model of Multilingualism proposed by Herdina and Jessner (2002).

EVALUATION

By examining pragmatic awareness of young multilingual learners, the study presented in the book addresses a gap in the field of multilingual pragmatic development. Very few studies have examined the development of pragmatic competence and language attitudes from the multilingual perspective to date (Safont, 2011). As the author herself points out, most of the existing research focuses on adults. Thus, undertaking a study of pragmatic awareness in early trilinguals is definitely one of the volume’s strengths. The study is novel in that it was conducted from the perspective of the Dynamic Model of Multilingualism (Herdina & Jessner, 2002), thus foregrounding multilingualism as the norm and avoiding monolingual bias. Another asset of the study is that it used a multi-method approach, which allowed for triangulation of the data. The results are presented clearly and supported visually through a selective use of figures and tables. Finally, because the book contains a comprehensive, up-to-date overview of the theoretical foundations of multilingualism, existing research on pragmatic development in children and on the role of language attitudes in multilingual development, it can be accessible and useful to a wider audience, including graduate students majoring in multilingual studies and/or interlanguage pragmatics.

While the book constitutes an important contribution to studies in multilingualism, it is not without weaknesses. Most importantly, the first research question explores the participants’ “reasonable degree of pragmatic awareness” (p. 112). This seems to suggest that there is a norm the participants should have reached, which denies the author’s original assumptions about the complexity, variability, and dynamic nature of multilingualism. This statement also presumes the existence of a benchmark, but since there have been no previous studies of pragmatic awareness in early trilinguals, any comparisons would have to be made to bilinguals or monolinguals, a practice the author herself advises against.

Another major concern is that the study attempts to measure the perceived level of appropriateness of requests in young children and, based on the information provided in Chapter 4, it seems that the term ‘appropriate’ was actually used with the participants. Considering the very young age of the children who participated in the study, in particular the preschooler group, more information regarding how the term ‘appropriate’ was presented and explained to the children would be welcome.

In addition, the references to politeness of requests are dated and oversimplified. Degrees of politeness, which are illustrated in an elaborate table on p. 53 do not really seem relevant to the study itself. However, since the author chose to discuss politeness, more up-to-date literature, such as Eelen (2001), should have been mentioned.

I also found issues with cohesion and coherence to be distracting. Some paragraphs contain sentences that seem unrelated to the main idea, or sequencing of ideas that is confusing. A vague statement that ‘English alone is not enough’ reappears in a few places without being sufficiently explained, and some relationships between sentences are unclear due to misuse of cohesive devices. For instance, the way the author uses ‘accordingly’ on p. 14 suggests a temporal-causal relationship that is contrary to what can be inferred from the provided dates of publication. Also, in a few instances, lack of specific details forced me to seek clarification in external sources so that I could follow the author’s reasoning.

The volume also contains a number of aesthetic issues that could have been avoided through a more careful editing process. There are several instances of missing verbs, misuse of relative pronouns and verb tenses, misplaced modifiers and non-parallel structure. An awkward avoidance of third person singular pronouns to refer to the cited authors and a rather clumsy, repetitive use of ‘this author’ or ‘this scholar’ as anaphora is also distracting.
These issues aside, however, the volume is a very welcome addition to the field of multilingual studies with a focus on pragmatic awareness in young language learners, and the first volume that explored pragmatics in early trilinguals in a classrooms setting. As such, it will be an indispensable reference to other researchers working in this area.

REFERENCES

Eelen, G. (2001). A critique of politeness theory. London, New York: Routledge.

Herdina, P. & Jessner, U. (2002). A Dynamic model of Multilingualism. Perspectives of change in psycholinguistics. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Safont, M. P. (2011). Early requestive development in a consecutive third language learner. International Journal of Multilingualism, 8(3), 256-276.
 
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Anna Krulatz is an Associate Professor of English in the Department of Teacher and Interpreter Education at Sør-Trøndelag University College where she works with pre- and in-service English teachers. Her main interests include second language teaching methodology with focus on interlanguage pragmatics, multilingualism, content-based instruction, and teacher education.