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?"
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AUTHOR: Cruz-Ferreira, Madalena TITLE: Three is a Crowd? SUBTITLE: Acquiring Portuguese in a Trilingual Environment SERIES: Child Language and Child Development PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters YEAR: 2006 ISBN: 1853598380 ANNONCED IN: http://linguistlist.org/issues/17/17-131.html
Emanuel A. da Silva - PhD candidate, Department of French, University of Toronto, Canada
The book is the sixth title in the series on Child Language and Child Development published by Multilingual Matters. It gives an insightful and entertaining overview of three siblings developing language ability in a multilingual environment where Portuguese, Swedish and English are spoken. The book is about children learning language, not about the languages themselves, so no exhaustive analysis of any language, language level or developmental stage is attempted. Instead, a detailed discussion of several issues pertaining to the children's progressive mastery of European Portuguese (the children's home language growing up and their first peer language) is presented. Based on the children's spontaneous, everyday use of language, the book aims to provide a contextual account of the strategies and processes behind the children's linguistic and social development throughout the first 10 years of their lives. Cruz-Ferreira addresses questions of language choice, lexical development, motherese, phonology, prosody, language attitudes and multiculturalism, among others.
The answer to the question in the book's title ''Three is a crowd?'', is an emphatic negative. Three or more languages are no more a crowd than one single language and monolingualism should no longer be considered the norm. The author, and mother of the three children in question, hopes that the book helps broaden the boundaries that guide research, assessment and opinions about child linguistic development, and in particular child multilingualism, among linguistically untrained parents, educators, school authorities and linguistics researchers alike. Cruz-Ferreira's writing style is very straightforward, descriptive technicalities are kept to a minimum, and English glosses of Portuguese and Swedish words are given throughout, making this book accessible for a very wide audience, including first year university/college students.
After the introduction in Chapter 1, the book is divided into three main parts.
Part I (which contains four chapters) sets the stage for how the children became multilingual. Chapter 2 outlines a number of issues on bilingualism and bilingual acquisition, bilingualism versus dual monolingualism, one-system and two-system approaches to child bilingualism, mixed speech and bilingual fluency. Chapter 3 provides some linguistic and social contextualization and background on the family, the children and their development at school and at home including, for example one child's hearing difficulties. Chapter 4 presents the database on which the study draws and discusses the methods, choices and limitations of the data collection, presentation and analysis. The database is made up of spontaneous production data in various situations involving different interlocutors and different languages, spanning the birth of all three children up to age 10. Chapter 5 gives an overview of how the children signal their different languages and different communicative situations, how they organize people according to language as well as how they develop their metalinguistic ability. For example, the children are aware of two different kinds of bilingualism in the family: their own, which is ''native'', and their parents', ''non-native''. However, the monolingual ideologies behind the term ''native speaker'' are deconstructed throughout the book.
In Part II, the author uses three chapters to present issues on how the children make sense of Portuguese in a multilingual context. Chapter 6 focuses on how the children grasp the phonology of the language and in particular its prosody, fundamental to an understanding of language and language acquisition. The author looks at different intonational patterns and choices with one-word, two-word and multiword utterances as well as the prosodic role of fillers, which has gained little attention. Chapter 7 is a qualitative account of the children's lexical development: matters pertaining to structure at word, phrase and utterance level. She begins with a critical reflection on the very word ''word'' and then discusses passive and active vocabulary before turning to specific word forms. Chapter 8 discusses the children's semantic manipulation and different strategies to approach word meanings (by querying and manipulating words or choosing/avoiding certain words).
Part III takes a broader sociolinguistic perspective and examines the impact of acquiring a third language in each child's approach to communication and to life. Chapter 9 asks whether a new language is an intruder or a guest. It looks at the emergence of English in the children's linguistic repertoire, its instruction at school and introduction in the home as their peer language. Attitudes towards multilingualism are also discussed. Chapter 10 explores questions of language choice, language input and language management in a multilingual environment. How are language ''territories'' defined? Is there such thing as a ''balanced'' bilingual? Chapter 11 deals with the different ways that the children grew up not only bi-/multi-lingual but also bi-/multi-cultural. It describes how the children learned to be 'idiomatic' in different cultures and identities: to produce/expect behaviour according to social norms of the languages/cultures.
Chapter 12 provides a brief, yet concise overview of the book.
The study set out to investigate two research questions: (1) Is there a fundamental difference between the children's use of monolingual and multilingual acquisitional strategies? (2) What role do acquisitional strategies play in the children's overall linguistic, cognitive and social development?
I believe that, in general, the author successfully answers these questions. For the first question, Cruz-Ferreira argues that her data shows that the children's aquisitional strategies of probing and testing for meaningful uses of language apply for developing one single language or many languages. These strategies include making due with whatever linguistic resources are available, this resourcefulness is a form of adaptive behaviour – one which the author correctly observes is largely unexplored among second-language teaching/learning because of the emphasis of rote learning. Another strategy is to take things one at a time, systematically. The exploration of prosody comes first, the babbling and fillers that follow are then replaced with words and word sequences of each language and so on. A third strategy is to experiment and put the new language abilities to use.
As for the second question, Cruz-Ferreira sees no fundamental difference between the children's acquisitional strategies and strategies used by adults to tackle new challenges, linguistic or otherwise. Children and adults alike are constantly engaging in new endeavours that require new ways of thinking, of socializing, and therefore of using language to make sense of our surroundings and ourselves.
I think the strengths of this book come from Cruz-Ferreira's reflexive approach to the construction of knowledge, her emphasis on the data rather than the theories and her critical view on the generalized use of labels and terms rooted in contested ideologies: native speaker, balanced bilingualism, critical period, etc. The author argues, along with Gupta (1994), that studies on bilingualism often implicitly assume that bilinguals are one thing, and native speakers are another, and that the native, monolingual, speaker is taken as reference point for proficiency, even in a multilingual context.
Cruz-Ferreira calls for more of a focus on multilingualism in linguistics and the study of language learning and teaching. She recounts a story which I think it worth retelling. Her daughter was almost placed in a Special Needs class because of perceived ''behavioural problems'' and ''instability'' which the teachers believed was due to the child's inability to cope with so many languages at once. The teachers (all monolinguals) demanded the parents stop using languages other than English at home, if they were interested in seeing their daughter's problem solved. The other languages were seen as inhibiting the child's progress in English as well as her overall development. Of course, this assumption that a bilingual child's behavioural problems are the result of the child's multilingualism is highly problematic. Those multilingual children with real behavioural or linguistic problems will be ''treated'' for their multilingualism, not their problems.
Language use in linguistically mixed families is a major concern, so much so that Cruz-Ferreira refers to the common questions posted on the Linguist List's online consultation service ''Ask-a-Linguist''. The author questions if the very strategy of One Parent One Language (OPOL) that she adopted is a necessary condition for nurturing fluent bilingualism. She concludes that it is not. Based on research by Yamamoto (2001) and See (2004), mixed input does not seem to necessarily result in semi-lingualism or mixed child output. Furthermore, very few people adhere strictly to the OPOL strategy or speak a ''pure'' language without any mixing.
Nevertheless, when observing her children's linguistic development, the author noticed that they did not often choose to mix their languages. She asserts that ''their strategies were in all likelihood supported by the parents' consistent practice of person-language separation'' (p.75) i.e.: mother – Portuguese, father – Swedish. It is crucial in my opinion, as well as that of the author, that future research on (child) multilingualism study multilingual parents who do not assign specific languages to people. Although the author argues that monolingualism should not be the norm against which bilingualism is measured, her children were raised in a bilingual environment (Portuguese and Swedish) that consisted of parallel monolingualisms.
On a few occasions, the author makes general, unsubstantiated claims or overextends her observations. For example, when commenting on the flexibility in the children's use of linguistic resources she says ''these children, like presumably all bilinguals, do not seem to view a language as a repository of treasured norms, nor themselves as its curators'' (p.277). This generalization to ''all bilinguals'' does not take into consideration the power dynamics behind what one considers a ''legitimate'' language and the people who have access to or control it in certain spaces (Bourdieu 1991). By learning a minority language, someone in a position of power who speaks the dominant language can exert their dominance through their bilingualism.
Another point with which I disagree is the supremacy given to the link between language and culture. As someone studying the children of Portuguese immigrants to Canada, my initial findings suggest that Portuguese-Canadian youth do not consider language to be as crucial an element to maintaining a Portuguese (cultural) identity as the older generation may think. Many of them do not (know how to) speak Portuguese because they have been told that they (and their parents) do not speak ''good'', ''real'' or ''proper'' Portuguese, and so they prefer speaking in English, while still affirming and performing a Portuguese identity. As a result, I disagree with Cruz-Ferreira when she says ''It follows that doing well in a culture means doing well in the use of its language'' (p.278). I find that the danger of affirming that a culture cannot be maintained without its language as do Fishman (1989) and Cruz-Ferreira in this book is that it reduces and limits a culture's point of reference to a single language; much like multilingualism often gets reduced to monolingualism. Or nationalism, for that matter. The homogenizing ideology of the nation-state that equates one nation with one people and with one language (as in the quote from Fernando Pessoa at the end of Ch. 11 which should read ''A minha pátria é a minha língua'', not the other way around) no longer holds and must open itself to a multiplicity of languages, cultures and homelands.
The author concludes by saying that the question is not so much whether several languages ''crowd'' or limit children's breakthrough into language, but rather ''as Humpty Dumpty would put it, which is to be master'' (p.310). I take this reformulation to mean that a critical sociolinguistic analysis of multilingualism is an important follow-up to this study. Throughout the book, especially in the later chapters on language attitudes and multiculturalism, Cruz-Ferreira alludes to questions of language and power and I look forward to any future research that will incorporate such an analysis with child multilingualism.
Overall, this book constitutes a valuable contribution to the study of multilingualism and child language and development. Instead of a chronological overview of the children's development in Portuguese, the author opted for an interesting cross-sectional analysis of selected features of the language. The data are well presented, the book is written clearly and there is an excellent use of up-to-date references, including Linguist List postings, a complete index of authors and subjects for ease of reading. Parents, teachers, students and researchers can all take something useful from this book.
Bourdieu, P. (1991) Language and Symbolic Power. Oxford: Polity Press.
Fishman, J.A. (1989) Language and Ethnicity in Minority Sociolinguistic Perspective. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
Gupta, A.F. (1994) The Step-tongue: Children's English in Singapore. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
See, H.L.C. (2004) ''Exploring the role of caregivers' pragmatic discourse strategies in mixed languages policy bilingualism.'' Paper presented to the Second Lisbon Meeting on Language Acquisition, University of Lisboa.
Yamamoto, M. (2001) Language Use in Interlingual Families: A Japanese-English Sociolinguistic Study. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Emanuel A. da Silva is a Ph.D. candidate in sociolinguistics at the Department of French of the University of Toronto, Canada. His research interests include critical sociolinguistic ethnography, questions of language, culture, identity and social boundaries. His dissertation will focus on the sociolinguistic (re)constructions of identity among second-generation Portuguese-Canadian youth in Toronto.