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Review of  The Child Language Reader

Reviewer: Leah R. Paltiel-Gedalyovich
Book Title: The Child Language Reader
Book Author: Kate Trott Sushie Dobbinson
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Psycholinguistics
Issue Number: 16.1595

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Date: Mon, 16 May 2005 22:18:49 +0200
From: Leah R. Paltiel-Gedalyovich
Subject: The Child Language Reader

EDITORS: Trott, Kate; Dobbinson, Sushie; Griffiths, Patrick
TITLE: The Child Language Reader
PUBLISHER: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
YEAR: 2004

Leah R. Paltiel-Gedalyovich, Department of Foreign Literatures and
Linguistics, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev


The stated audience of this volume is students and teachers of language
acquisition coming from linguistics and linguistics-related fields. The
book aims to make critical texts accessible. The choice of research papers
is motivated by a desire to encourage students to critically evaluate a
variety of theoretical and practical issues, without promoting a specific
point of view. Editorial contributions are aimed at providing background
and clarification, facilitating the reading of the included papers and
promoting coherence, rather than critical analysis. In addition, reading
this volume is intended to encourage students in their own research.

Specifically, the 17 articles were chosen on the basis of the following
- papers representing recent research or classic research
- papers presenting original research
- a selection representing the variety of disciplines which relate to
child language acquisition
- breadth of coverage while maintaining reasonable length
- the papers are of interest


Part 1 - 'The social matrix of language development' includes two papers.
Introduction. Like all the sections of this book, the editors'
introduction begins the section. The first paper, although nearly twenty
years old, is included as a landmark in the consideration of
conversational factors in language acquisition. Other references are
suggested for those interested. By opening the reader with this section
they set a more general communication background for research into

1.1 Lieven, E. 'Conversations between mothers and young children'
Lieven begins with setting three principles for her research: mother-child
interactions are conversations, mother-child dyads differ in
conversational style, the members of the dyad affect each other. She then
goes on to report her analysis of two mother-child dyads which support
these principles. The crucial point is that although the children may be
similar in their language abilities as measured, for instance, by MLU,
their conversational styles differ greatly. This study emphasizes the
importance of early pragmatic development, particularly, turn-taking

1.2 Coates, J. 'The acquisition of gender-differentiated language'
In this chapter, the question of gender differences in language
acquisition and adult behavior is addressed. Children acquire linguistic
differences as part of their "gender identity." This is expressed in the
level and style of phonological, semantic and syntactic patterns as well
as differential intonation and conversational, social-linguistic
behaviors. Thus, the interaction between linguistics and social
development is emphasized.

Part 2 - 'Methodology' includes three papers, including more recent papers.
Introduction. This introduction, perhaps more so than that of the previous
section is in fact a short summary of issues in methodology in empirical
studies of child language acquisition. As well as summarizing different
methodological techniques, it recommends to the reader those papers, both
within the volume and external to it, which illustrate or exemplify
various techniques and issues. Throughout the introduction the
terminology of empirical research is introduced and defined.

2.1 Anderson, P. 'Ethical standards through the research process'
This chapter provides detailed guidelines about ethical standards in
research with children and practical advice about how to implement the
guidelines. It is important to remember that the basis of this chapter is
primarily American and British research practices and that these may vary
in other countries. If this volume is used for instruction in other
countries, the content of the chapter is still interesting but will need
to be compared with the particular legal and ethical requirements for
research in each particular country.

2.2 MacWhinney, B. 'Introduction to the CHILDES project'
This chapter describes the CHILDES project and its uses. As its name
suggests, it was originally written as the introduction to the CHILDES
manual. As such, much of what is described is difficult to interpret
without referring to the following chapters of the manual or to the actual
program. What the chapter does do, however, is give the reader a quick
overview of the history leading up to the development of CHILDES. In
addition it emphasizes the cooperative effort being made in the varied
community of language researchers for mutual benefit. I'm not sure that
the choice of actually lifting this chapter from the manual was the best
way to introduce readers to the CHIDLES system and its benefits.

2.3 Richards, B. and Alvern, D. "Investigating the validity of a new
measure of lexical diversity for root and inflected forms"
This is the only chapter written especially for this volume. Difficulties
associated with sample size in measuring diversity are noted. A solution
to this problem is the use of VOCD software (available with the CHILDES
system) to plot empirical type-token ratio curves (TTR) against a
theoretical TTR curve, derived from a given formula. The chapter
emphasizes the need to be aware of limitations of analysis techniques,
both in terms of reliability and validity. Furthermore, it brings an
example of an attempt to overcome such limitations and a test for the
success of this attempt.

Part 3 'Meanings' includes three papers.
The introduction briefly explains what is included in language meaning
with an emphasis on lexical meaning in this part. There is limited
discussion of the presented papers.

3.1 Harris, M., Yeeles, C., Chasin, J. and Oakley, Y. 'Symmetries and
asymmetries in early lexical comprehension and production'
This chapter describes an empirical longitudinal study. The investigation
concentrates on the issues of context-dependent versus context-free word
productions and distinctive patterns of comprehension. Is context (in)
dependence equal in production and comprehension? Is comprehension before
production characterized by context flexibility? The detailed methods
section gives the reader an example of what is described in Part 2 of the
book as well as providing an opportunity for critical application of
(newly acquired) knowledge of research methodology. It is also allows the
reader to follow the analysis of results to the drawing of theoretical

3.2 Merriman, W. and Stevenson, C. 'Restricting a familiar name in
response to learning a new one'
The main argument of this chapter is the idea of a 'mutual exclusivity
bias' which proposes that children tend to assume that the meanings of
words are mutually exclusive (ME) and that this explains two novel word
effects: disambiguation and rejection. Furthermore, ME is preserved by
correcting the extension of the known word or by restricting the
application of a known word to a new exemplar. A review of previous
research is presented, which should be more intelligible to less familiar
readers after reading the introduction to the methodology section (Part
2). This chapter is a good example of theory translated into empirical
research and then results related back to the theory, in this case, a
cognitively based theory of lexical acquisition.

3.3 Bowerman, M. 'From universal to language-specific'
This chapter presents, a theoretical issue and its history (universality
versus language-specificity in children's early concepts). Bowerman then
selects a fragment of language to be used to investigate the issue (the
expression of motion). Then, she explains how differences in linguistic
characteristics of languages require different analyses by the children of
their concepts. An analysis of the motion expressions of English and
Korean in children aged 1 to 3 years (an example of empirical
investigation of the theoretical issue at hand) is given. This paper, as
opposed to the previous ones in the reader, describes the use of
spontaneous language data as opposed to experimental data. Results of the
analysis show similarities between the children learning the two
languages, primarily in the content expressed. Differences are also found
and these parallel differences in the structures of English and Korean.

Part 4 'Word and sentence structure'
After a very brief introduction, the editors discuss the two papers
included. They use their discussion to present general issues in structure
and to introduce different theoretical orientations.

4.1 Gleitman, L. and Gillette, J. 'The role of syntax in verb learning'
The main claim in this paper is that words, especially verbs, are learned
by matching sentences ('sentence objects') with the world. Therefore,
acquisition of verbs will be linked to acquisition of the structure of the
language. The 'zoom lens hypothesis' describes the use of structural
information to choose among the conceptual options presented by the
pairing of a context and a linguistic event. As opposed to previous papers
reporting specific experiments or data analysis, this paper presents an
essay arguing for a theoretical explanation based on a survey of
supporting literature. Furthermore, data on child language acquisition
here is used to support a theoretical analysis of the semantic-syntactic
interface for verbs.

4.2 Swan, D. 'How to build a lexicon'
This chapter presents a longitudinal case study of a single child focusing
on two related phenomena: lexical innovations and over-regularizations.
Predictions about what should be found in the analysis of the data are
based on previous studies and experimental reports. The methods reported
expose the reader to potential sources of spontaneous data (CHILDES) and
concepts of inter-rater reliability. The particular value in longitudinal
studies in showing patterns of development is shown.

Part 5 'Phonology'
In this introduction, the editors take the opportunity to
describe 'generativism', specifically with regard to phonology, as
background for the two 'post-generatively' oriented papers included in
this part.

5.1 Stoel-Gammon 'On the acquisition of velars in English'
This paper, as noted by the editors, is brought as an example of how, by
careful analysis of the data, a prediction regarding the distribution of a
phenomenon can be described (an 'implicational universal') and a rule
sequence may be derived for acquisition of a linguistic behavior, such as
the correct production of a phoneme or phoneme group. Acquisition at the
phonemic level is discussed, while consideration of influences beyond the
segment, are also considered. This paper also demonstrates that not all
predictions may be supported in an analysis. The circumstances under which
a prediction is seen as supported, unsupported or insufficient evidence
are noted.

5.2 Fee, E. J. 'Syllable structure and minimal words'
Fee's paper begins with a summary of prosodic theory and a description of
child language acquisition of prosody, with reference to English and
Hungarian. These two languages differ in their prosodic structure and
therefore offer an opportunity to view language-specific applications of
the analysis. A diagrammatic analysis of some of the examples would have
been helpful. Alternatively, the editors could have presented such
examples in the introduction.

Part 6. 'Explanations of language development'
The introduction is another example of one which in itself stands as an
essay of an important topic. In this case the topic is explanations and
theories of language development ('nature' versus 'nurture', 'formalism'
versus 'functionalism', 'modularity', 'domain -general' versus 'domain-
specific', 'constructivism', 'competition' and 'connectionism'). The
included papers are then briefly reviewed with reference to this
theoretical introduction. The last two papers relate their theoretical
frameworks to the 'logical question' of language acquisition.

6.1 Peters, A. 'Filler syllables'
This paper is brought as an example of the use of one phenomenon to
evaluate several theories and as study of theory-data relationships.
Peters sets three goals: summarizing current knowledge about fillers,
setting identifying criteria for fillers, and devising a 'conceptual
approach' for their investigation. Through this chapter, the reader
receives a clear summary of Dressler's developmental framework for
morphology. Comments are added, showing how Peters uses the framework for
her purposes, including comments on practical applications for
researchers. Finally, there is a comparison of the effect of different
theoretical frameworks (constructionist and structuralist) on the
interpretation of the same developmental phenomenon. This paper is a
review, rather than a research report. Furthermore, it serves as a
starting point for investigation, leaving it to the reader to choose the
framework for such research.

6.2 Hyams, N. 'Underspecification and modularity in early syntax'
This paper is brought as an example of work in a formalist framework.
Basic assumptions given in the chapter include: a modular view of language
and language development, an innate Universal Grammar, and Principles and
Parameters theory. Data on early language from a variety of languages are
presented. Specifically the optionality of three grammatical phenomena:
root infinitives, the determiner system and null subjects are discussed.
The existence of errors despite apparent morphosyntactic knowledge is due
to non-syntactic, pragmatic, interpretation available to children but
excluded in the adult grammar. Thus, what looks like a morphosyntactic
immaturity is interpreted as a pragmatic immaturity. This explanation is
then compared with explanations based on other theoretical orientations.

6.3 MacWhinney, B. 'Emergent language'
This paper is an example of research from a functionalist perspective.
MacWhinney defines "emergentism" - a theory of language acquisition that
suggests that language is not the result of a complex rule system but
rather emerges naturally from the interaction of relatively simple
systems. This is the first paper which discusses explicitly a relationship
between the language acquisition process and an underlying neural
apparatus. It begins with an introduction to connectionist models.
Familiarity with connectionism is furthered by the specific example of
lexical acquisition. Importantly, the model deals with lexical learning at
the phonological, semantic, morphosyntactic and combinatorial levels.
Differences between adult and child grammar are here accounted for by the
gradual shaping of child grammar as a response to positive evidence from
adult input.

Part 7 'Bilingualism and cross-cultural comparisons'
This introduction briefly explains concepts and issues in bilingualism and
language acquisition in general, such as 'simultaneous'
versus 'sequential' bilingualism, 'code-
switching'/'mixing', 'fusing', 'dominance', the 'theory theory', and '
linguistic determinism'. In addition, the discussion on bilingualism is
placed in the context of the general discussion on acquisition. The reader
has no editorial epilogue, but I found this introduction in some ways to
serve this purpose since it refers to most of the papers in the reader.

7.1 Romaine, S. 'Bilingual language development'
This is a survey paper on simultaneous bilingualism. Areas of bilingual
language acquisition covered include: lexicon, phonology and syntax, cross-
linguistic influence, and differentiation. The social influence on
bilingual development calls to mind issues raised in Part 1 of the
volume. The primary message of this paper is the lack of conclusion
regarding many issues in bilingualism.

7.2 Gopnik, A. 'Theories, language and culture'
This final paper deals with the relation between language and cognition.
The paper begins with an explanation of 'theory theory' and introduces the
areas of cognition/ language to be discussed. The distinction between
approaches where cognition precedes language and vice versa on the one
hand, and the author's interactive approach on the other is made. Data
brought from monolinguals show the almost simultaneous emergence of
cognitive and linguistic indicators for each of object permanence, means-
end behavior and categorization. These three phenomena are seen at
approximately the same ages but are independent and no sequential pattern
of appearance has been found. The advantages of cross-linguistic research
are shown in the data brought form Korean and English. The use of two
languages which differ in their grammar, as well as their pragmatic/social
patterning, provides insight into the influence of different input
patterns (in a single language/culture) where artificial manipulation of
input may be impossible or immoral.

An appendix introduces and explains statistical terminology, relating it
to the papers presented.


I found the introductions uneven, not so much in their standard but in
their style or purpose. Some introductions briefly introduce a topic and
then summarized the included papers. Others provided detailed and well-
structured introductions to the topic at hand, with a minimal summary of
the actual papers to follow. The connection between papers is achieved by
the introductions to each chapter and by editorial comments inserted in
the papers themselves. The cross-referencing allows for readers who read
the chapters out of order, by not assuming knowledge of previously
presented material, and directing the reader to those papers in which
relevant topics are covered.

The editing of the articles for the most part did not interfere with
coherence. In the Merriman and Stevenson chapter there were some
exceptions. I found one (annoying) misplaced comma on p. 285 ('Though
close in, time' instead of 'Though close in time,') and a typo in the
word 'cognitive' at the bottom of p. 304.

This reader is recommended for the variety and breadth of the papers
presented. In addition, objective editing allows the reader to evaluate
the value of the ideas presented for herself.


Leah Paltiel-Gedalyovich is a speech-language pathologist who recently
completed her PhD in linguistics. She currently combines clinical work
with assisting in a research project, investigating Hebrew typical first
language development, and the compositional semantic abilities of children
with Hebrew Grammatical Specific Language Impairment.

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