By Sari Pietikäinen, Alexandra Jaffe, Helen Kelly-Holmes, Nik Coupland
Sociolinguistics from the Periphery "presents a fascinating book about change: shifting political, economic and cultural conditions; ephemeral, sometimes even seasonal, multilingualism; and altered imaginaries for minority and indigenous languages and their users"
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 criteria: - 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 language.
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 skills.
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 conclusions.
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.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
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.