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Review of  Language Mixing in Infant Bilingualism

Reviewer: Andrea G. Levitt
Book Title: Language Mixing in Infant Bilingualism
Book Author: Elizabeth Lanza
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Cognitive Science
Language Acquisition
Subject Language(s): English
Norwegian Bokmål
Issue Number: 16.1591

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Date: Wed, 18 May 2005 13:16:26 -0400
From: Andrea G. Levitt
Subject: Language Mixing in Infant Bilingualism: A Sociolinguistic

AUTHOR: Lanza, Elizabeth
TITLE: Language Mixing in Infant Bilingualism
SUBTITLE: A Sociolinguistic Perspective
SERIES: Oxford Studies in Language Contact
PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press
YEAR: 2004

Andrea Levitt, Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences Program, Wellesley
College, Wellesley, MA; Haskins Laboratories, New Haven, CT

Language Mixing in Infant Bilingualism, originally published in 1997, is a
revised version of Elizabeth Lanza's 1990 dissertation, which analyzes
data from two first-born children whose mothers are American and whose
fathers are Norwegian and who acquired both English and Norwegian while
living in Norway. By taking an explicitly sociolinguistic perspective,
which allows her to focus on the contribution of contextual factors as
they relate to the linguistic data, Lanza calls into question the
appropriateness of the research question that had served for some time as
a way to frame studies of early bilingualism: Do young children
simultaneously acquiring two languages initially develop one linguistic
system for both languages or two separate systems? The book consists of
seven chapters that provide background information and critiques of
previous research, as well as analyses of the author's own data. The more
recent paperback edition includes an afterword in which the author briefly
reflects on her contributions in light of the considerable recent research
in bilingual first language acquisition.

In the introductory chapter, Lanza presents an overview of the key issues
in the early simultaneous acquisition of two languages, including a
section of definitions of such basic terms as language mixing and code-
switching and a brief overview of the arguments in the literature in
support of the one-system hypothesis as well as those in support of the
two-system hypothesis. Although the primary data used by proponents of
both hypotheses is the language mixing of the young bilingual child, the
interpretation of those data depends crucially on the theoretical
perspective of the researchers. For some with a formal bent, who tend to
minimize or ignore the role of context, language-mixing data constitute
prima facie evidence for a single system. For others with a
sociolinguistic perspective like Lanza, bilingual children develop
sociolinguistic competence as they acquire their two languages, and it is
this competence that allows them to learn to identify the social
situations in which language mixing is appropriate. The chapter concludes
with discussions of simultaneous and successive early bilingualism and of
language exposure patterns and with an overview of the structure of the

The second chapter begins with detailed descriptions and critiques of the
key studies whose results have been interpreted to support the one-system
hypothesis along with those studies whose results have been interpreted to
support the alternative two-system hypothesis. The latter group can be
further divided into those who see mixing as a reflection of the language
input conditions and thus a sign of emerging sociolinguistic competence
versus those who argue that the evidence supports separate lexical and
grammatical systems for both languages. Mixing is sometimes taken to be
evidence in these cases for lack of sociolinguistic or pragmatic
competence. Lanza's discussion of this prior work is valuable for its
clear exposition of a number of very complicated issues and its balanced
assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the studies reviewed, but
because the book was first published in 1997, it does not reflect the fact
that recent research, like Lanza's own work, tends to support the two-
system view quite consistently (e.g., Paradis, J. and Navarro, S. 2003,
Pearson, B. Fernandez, S. and Oller, K. 1995, Quay 1995). In this
chapter, Lanza also highlights the need within studies of infant
bilingualism for consideration of the issues of language dominance, of
linguistic context, especially input, and of the role of interaction in
language socialization. The last section of the chapter describes the
development of metalinguistic awareness in the bilingual context and
provides a discussion of studies that have looked at factors governing
code-switching in children, since one of Lanza's goals is to account for
infants' language mixing within the context of what is known about child
and adult code-switching.

In chapter 3, Lanza details the methodology that she used in her own study
of the early acquisition of American English and Norwegian. After
justifying her choice of languages and language setting, she briefly
describes attitudes towards childhood bilingualism in Norway; the role of
English in Norwegian society; the complex history of the various codified
forms of Norwegian; and the typical caregiving patterns of Norwegian
fathers and mothers. Next she highlights the pros and cons of the case
study approach to early childhood bilingualism and provides information
about the choice of participants (one child whose parents practice the one
person, one language strategy and the other whose parents regularly code-
switch) and the participants themselves (Siri and Thomas) as well as the
schedule of audio recordings (with each parent separately and with both)
and the selection of material for analysis. In the last section of the
chapter, Lanza describes and justifies the choices that she made in
developing the written transcriptions that provide the basis for her
analyses of early childhood language mixing, both from a linguistic point
of view as well as from a sociolinguistic perspective.

In the next three chapters, Lanza provides detailed quantitative and
qualitative analyses of her data from a series of interrelated
perspectives. There is a wealth of information provided in these
analyses. In the descriptions that follow, I will briefly provide the
goals and highlight a portion of the findings from of each chapter.

In chapter 4, she focuses on the formal aspects of Siri's and Thomas's
language mixing at the morphological and syntactic levels and suggests
that these data provide important evidence about the children's language
dominance and the nature of their code-switching and their underlying
linguistic systems. One striking pattern that Lanza highlights in Siri's
data is the mixing of Norwegian grammatical morphemes with English lexical
items (as well as with Norwegian), whereas English grammatical morphemes
only co-occur with English lexical items. These data provide part of the
evidence for Lanza'a claim that Siri's dominance in Norwegian accounts for
the pattern of mixing (but cf. Hulk and Muller 2000 for an alternative
explanation for early bilingual mixing). They are also analyzed further in
the section on code-switching, in the context of the matrix language frame
model (e.g., Myers-Scotton and Jake 1995).

In chapter 5, Lanza shifts the unit of analysis to the
conversational "turn at talk" and looks at developmental changes in the
children's language choices and lexical (as opposed to grammatical) mixing
in a variety of contexts. For Siri, the more balanced bilingual of the
two, participant is the key determiner of language choice in conversations
with her parents (English with her mother and Norwegian with her father),
whereas for Thomas, Norwegian is the preferred language in conversations
both with his father and with his mother. Siri also shows patterns of
lexical mixing, which cannot, however, be attributed to a single
underlying system, since she usually had both the Norwegian and English
terms in her vocabulary. Furthermore, Siri uses more English lexical
mixing with her father, even though she is dominant in Norwegian. In order
to account for this rather unexpected pattern, Lanza turns in chapter 6 to
an analysis of the parents' discourse strategies, which highlights the
interactional nature of the language socialization process.

In the last of the three data-focused chapters, Lanza introduces the
notion of a monolingual-bilingual context continuum in which the parents'
responses to the child's mixed utterances tend either to sanction the use
of only one language (at the monolingual end of the continuum) or to model
and encourage code-switching (at the bilingual end of the continuum).
Lanza analyzes both quantitatively and qualitatively the responses each of
Siri's parents gives when alone with her as well as when all three are
together. She does the same for Thomas's parents' responses. These
analyses reveal that both Thomas's parents encouraged bilingual discourse;
however, Siri's mother tended to sanction a monolingual context with her
responses, whereas her father tended to encourage more bilingual
discourse, despite the fact that both parents believed themselves to be
following a one person, one language strategy. Indeed, these different
discourse strategies on the part of Siri's parents account for the finding
that she tended to use more English lexical mixing with her father rather
than her mother. Chapter 7 summarizes the results of Lanza's research,
discusses them in light of previous findings, and provides suggestions for
future research.

In the afterword, prepared for the 2004 edition, Lanza acknowledges that
the current prevailing view among researchers of early childhood
bilingualism is that children exposed to two languages are able to keep
them apart, and as a result, they do not have a single linguistic system
but rather two. Although Lanza notes that the notion of language
dominance in young bilinguals (though not in older children and adults)
has come under attack in recent years (e.g., De Houwer 1998), she defends
the usefulness of the concept. She also underscores the importance of
context for understanding a child's verbal productions and mentions that
experimental evidence has shown that young bilingual children are able to
adjust their own rates of language mixing as a function of the language
mixing rates in the input, as provided by an adult other than their
parents (Comeau, Genesee, and Lapaquette, 2003), which provides support
for her analysis of how the discourse strategies of Siri's and Thomas's
parents affect their language mixing. Finally, she concludes with a plea
for continued use of qualitative as well as quantitative analyses and for
an acceptance of the view that the child is an active agent capable of
influencing the familial discourse practices that provide a great deal of
his/her early language socialization.


I believe that Lanza's clear exposition of the linguistic issues at stake
and her descriptions and evaluations of the relevant historical literature
make this text particularly useful to those less familiar with the field.
For those interested in undertaking similar research, her combination of
quantitative and qualitative analyses and helpful appendices provide
valuable models for the work. Overall, I was generally convinced by the
evidence and arguments she provided demonstrating the children's
separation of the two linguistic systems and the crucial role that
context, particularly the parents' discourse strategies, plays in their
verbal behavior. I found her argument that Siri's grammatical mixing
(chapter 4) was similar to adult bilingual code-switching practices less
compelling, since Siri's grammatical mixes seem quite different in formal
terms from typical adult code-switching. Although Lanza attempted to
bolster her conclusions by looking at similar mixing from other children,
her argument was hampered by the fact that comparisons across studies of
early bilingual mixing are rendered quite difficult because of the
differences in the way the data are reported. All in all, I would say that
Language Mixing in Infant Bilingualism, which is, incidentally, very well
edited, continues to make a useful and important contribution to the
field, because of its balanced framing of the issues, the clarity of its
exposition, its varied analyses, and its validation of the sociolinguistic


Comeau, L., Genesee, F., and Lapaquette, L. (2003) The Modeling Hypothesis
and child bilingual codemixing. International Journal of Bilingualism, 7
(2), 113-126.

De Houwer, A. (1998) By way of introduction: Methods in studies of
bilingual first language acquisition. International Journal of
Bilingualism, 2 (3), 249-263.

Hulk, A. and Muller, N. (2000) Bilingual first language acquisition at the
interface between syntax and semantics. Bilingualism: Language and
Cognition, 3 (3), 227-244.

Myers-Scotton, C. and Jake, J. (1995) Matching lemmas in a bilingual
language competence and production model: evidence from intrasentential
code switching. Linguistics, 33, 981-1024.

Paradis, J. and Navarro, S. (2003) Subject realization and crosslinguistic
interference in the bilingual acquisition of Spanish and English: what is
the role of input? Journal of Child Language, 30, 371-393.

Pearson, B., Fernandez, S., and Oller, K. (1995) Cross-language synonyms
in the lexicons of bilingual infants :one language or two? Journal of
Child Language 22, 345-368.

Quay, S. (1995) The bilingual lexicon: implications for studies of
language choice. Journal of Child Language, 22, 369-388.


Andrea Levitt teaches linguistics, including courses on bilingualism and
child language acquisition, at Wellesley College. Her research interests
focus mainly on the perception and production of speech sounds and prosody
by first- and second-language learners.

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