Language Evolution: The Windows Approach addresses the question: "How can we unravel the evolution of language, given that there is no direct evidence about it?"
The LINGUIST List is dedicated to providing information on language and language analysis, and to providing the discipline of linguistics with the infrastructure necessary to function in the digital world. LINGUIST is a free resource, run by linguistics students and faculty, and supported primarily by your donations. Please support LINGUIST List during the 2016 Fund Drive.
Date: Wed, 09 Oct 2002 20:55:54 +0200 From: Laura Buechel Subject: Proceedings 26th Boston U Conference on Language Development
Skarabela, Barbora, Sarah Fish and Anna H.-J. Do, ed. (2002) Proceedings of the 26th Annual Boston University Conference on Language Development, 2 vols. Cascadilla Press, 804pp, paperback ISBN 1-57473-072-X, $50.00.
Book announcement on Linguist: http://linguistlist.org/issues/13/13-2091.html
Laura Loder Buechel, Paedagogische Hochschule Zuerich, Switzerland
INTRODUCTION These two volumes contain sixty-nine out of the ninety-nine papers presented at the 26th Annual Boston University Conference on Language Development (BUCLD) held in November 2001. The BUCLD was started in 1976 and touches on areas such as theoretical approaches to language acquisition, cross-cultural language development, second language development, language disorders, and literacy development. The papers presented come from leading researchers from all over the world, representing a myriad of findings, perspectives and languages within the realm of first and second language development and acquisition. For more information about this conference, please go to http://www.bu.edu/linguistics/APPLIED/BUCLD.
Linguists and psycholinguists as well as those interested in the development of phonology, morphology, and semantics, among many other topics, will find plenty of specialized research within these two volumes. Due to the number of papers presented at this conference, the keynote speaker's paper and a selected cross section of the rest of the papers, based on the interests of the reviewer will be overviewed. For a full listing of all the papers included in these volumes, please go to http://www.cascadilla.com/bucld26toc.html.
OVERVIEW The collection of papers is organized alphabetically by author, but starts (pp. 1-23) with the paper 'A Reconsideration of Children's Phonological Representations' presented by keynote speaker, Dr. Daniel Dinnsen, Indiana University. This paper discusses whether optimality theory, as opposed to derivational theories, can account for children's errors - namely overgeneralization and complementary patterns. He contends that 'yes', optimality theory can indeed account for overgeneralization and complementary errors without restricting children's underlying representations. Optimality theory, then, can perhaps offer 'additional new insights about acquisition (p. 22)'.
Otherwise concerning phonology, we find many papers in these volumes which address questions such as: why children acquiring a second language (L2) can produce native-like utterances in the L2 better than adults (Baker, Trofimovich, Mack, and Flege, pp. 36-47), why bilingual Spanish-English children have an error pattern of substituting the /l/ sound instead of other sounds (Barlow, pp. 60-71), if phonological decoding has the same usefulness in regards to French as it has in English (Ducharme and Mayberry, pp. 187-196), in what situations can childhood experiences in L2 provide later advantages in the same (Oh, Au, and Jun, pp. 464-472), whether speech and gestures are independent or dependent systems (Ozyurek, pp. 500-509), and whether the frequency of words or the commonality of words with similar counterparts are related to errors (Storkel and Gierut pp. 665-676).
Regarding morphology, Batman-Ratyosyan and Stromswold (pp. 793-804) examined whether word order, inflection and discourse context affected the way Turkish children acted out various sentences. Soderstrom, Wexler and Jusczyk (pp. 643-652) address infant sensitivity to verbal inflection apropos of the third person singular. Swift and Shanley (pp. 689-700) look at the contextual lack of inflection of verbs by Inuit children and White (pp. 758-768) discusses whether, due to the rich inflections in Turkish, a native speaker of Turkish shows greater accuracy in English than a native speaker of the Chinese, in which language, inflection is not as rich.
Although there were many papers coming from the perspective of semantics, two stood out to the reviewer. Using verbs derived from nouns in the simple past, Bandi-Rao (pp. 48-59) studies whether adult language learners have the same learning mechanisms available as child first language learners or whether they rely more on probability or other general learning mechanisms. Naigles, Bavin and Smith (pp. 417-428) examine whether 2 year old children can generalize novel verbs from the transitive to the intransitive state. Their findings support their hypothesis, that yes, this is so, but it was also found that the children could not do the reverse - signifying that verbs and frames are independent and that some verbs are simply harder to learn than others.
The reviewer found the following three papers to be of specific interest. Harris, Pardallis and Frangou (pp. 290-301) investigated whether the 'grammars of two languages, learned in early childhood, can become intertwined' (p. 290). Through a comparison between monolingual speakers of Greek and bilingual Greek-English speakers, the authors found that early bilingualism does indeed involve the transfer of strategies to and from each grammar. Moreover, this bilingual acquisition can interfere with native-like acquisition because learners may take the strategy of what is more 'important' (e.g. word order vs. agreement) in one given language and apply it to the other, even it is less common in the other language.
In the second paper of interest to the reviewer, Goldfield (pp. 232-242) proposes that children's comprehension of language may not always precede production, but be rather more or less simultaneous with it. While previous studies suggest that production is based on having a 'vocabulary bank', Goldfield takes the opinion that other conditions, such as auditory or articulator systems, could account for a child's choice of what is produced. Through a study following 25 children's production and comprehension using the MacArthur Communicative Development Inventory for approximately five months, Goldfield found that yes, comprehension precedes production, but that the words produced were not 'a simple subset of words previously understood (p. 240)' but could be related to these other conditions or systems.
In a third engaging paper, Perry and Harris (557-566) put forth the notion that perhaps there are several sensitive periods in acquiring native-like proficiency in an L2, as opposed to the majority of the research which has looked at one sensitive period or critical age for achieving or acquiring native-like proficiency. As the latest age of acquisition for acquiring native-like proficiency, before a downward trend, in which language acquisition become more 'difficult', the authors found the age of 7 for phonology, 12 for morphology, and 9 for syntax. These ages correlate directly to the sensitive periods in brain development. Moreover, and what has also been much ESL literature, is that once past the sensitive period in regards to phonology, 'phonological ability is concretized to an extent that is not seen in syntax or morphology (p. 564).' This study has many implications for the teaching of languages in the elementary school as well as for how to cater better to the needs of second language learners of different ages.
Within these two volumes, other topics such as language impairments, the acquisition of arguments, theory of mind, logic and sarcasm are touched upon, to name a few. The papers are up to par with the latest research and the latest theories in optimality theory and language sensitivity, brain research and bilingualism.
EVALUATION The fact that only a selected choice of papers was presented above does not intend to discredit the merit of the other papers presented at this conference. By first having read through the majority of papers presented, the reviewer found a high standard of methodology, organization, and precision throughout that of the majority of the papers. The quality of the papers presented was fairly uniform, with few exceptions. Most of the research had a well-developed research plan. However, much of the research was based on a small sample size and there were many case studies, therefore putting reliability in question in some cases. However, the longitude of most of the studies augmented the credibility and authors were honest in their analyses and discussions.
One major critique is in regards to readability. As papers are introduced in alphabetical order by author, finding papers relevant to personal interests or topic of research is deemed difficult. An index would be extremely helpful in locating papers relevant to the reader. Grouping of articles according to theme would also help the reader focus on his or her specialization. Moreover, a comprehensive list of references at the end would also help the reader identify relevant papers. These volumes do not lend themselves to being read through from beginning to end, so some better organization would be helpful.
These volumes are not for those without background knowledge in these fields although they could possibly be used in graduate level courses to support individual research or specific topics taught. The papers presented are not only relevant for cognitive linguists, theoreticians of translation and psycholinguists, but also those interested in language development such as school teachers, foreign language teachers, speech therapists and perhaps translators, keeping in mind that they should have an academic background in the field. As so much of the research presented at conferences in the US in applied linguistics comes from English speakers, one merit of the papers selected for these proceedings is that many languages are touched upon - Inuktitut, German, Dutch, Swahili, Spanish, Korean, Italian, Japanese, Sesotho, not to mention those referred to in the overview.
With such a short review, it is impossible to present the amount of work contained within these two volumes. The range of topics presented, insights found and background research discussed deems it difficult to present a full picture of the richness contained within. The value of these proceedings is unquestionable and leaves the reader with many good ideas for future research.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Laura Loder Buechel is teacher trainer in the field of Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) in regards to the introduction of English into Swiss primary schools. She also works at Wall Street Institute in Winterthur, Switzerland where she is, among other things, responsible for curriculum design and academic progress of students. She completed her M.Ed. in Bilingual Education from Northern Arizona University in 2000. Her research interests include the advantages of simultaneous first and second language acquisition and Computer Assisted Language Learning to facilitate bilingualism.