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Review of  Portraits of the L2 User

Reviewer: Jette G. Hansen
Book Title: Portraits of the L2 User
Book Author: Vivian James Cook
Publisher: Multilingual Matters
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Book Announcement: 14.1351

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Date: Sun, 11 May 2003 15:13:02 +0800
From: Jette G. Hansen <>
Subject: Portraits of the L2 User

Cook, Vivian, ed. (2002) Portraits of the L2 User,
Multilingual Matters, Second Language Acquisition series.

Jette G. Hansen, University of Arizona


Portraits of the L2 User, edited by Vivian Cook, is a
collection of articles focusing on the nature of the second
language (L2) user. Each of the thirteen chapters in the
volume is prefaced with a short introduction by Cook to
relate the contents of the chapter to broader issues in
second language acquisition (SLA) research. The volume is
intended for students and researchers in the areas of SLA,
bilingualism, linguistics, and language teaching. The
first chapter, written by Cook, serves as an introduction
to the concept of the L2 user. The other chapters focus on:
lexical representation and processing (A. de Grott),
phonology (R. Major), syntax (S. Flynn and B. Lust),
functional usage (C. Perdue), cognitive processes (E.
Bialystok), bilingual children (F. Genesee),
neurolinguistics (F. Fabbro), individual differences
(J.-M. Dewaele), language attrition (K. De Bot and M. Hulsen),
social factors (A. Pavlenko), learners' rights (F. G. de
Matos), and language teaching methodology (V. Cook).


In Chapter 1, "Background to the L2 User," Cook establishes
the construct of L2 user in contrast to L2 learner,
defining L2 learner as someone who acquires the L2 for
later use while L2 user is someone engaged in real-life
usage of the L2, and that "any use counts, however small or
ineffective" (p. 3). Based on this distinction, Cook
argues that SLA research should shift its focus from the L2
learner, or someone who fails to acquire native speaker
proficiency (e.g., the deficit model), to exploring the
nature of L2 users in their own right. Cook also discusses
the concept of "multi-competence" (Cook, 1991) and argues
that SLA and linguistic theory should be reframed with the
view that multilingualism, and not monolingualism, is the

In Chapter 2, "Lexical Representation and Lexical
Processing in the L2 User," de Groot, examines how the L2
user's mind represents and processes the vocabularies of
two languages. De Groot discusses various models of
lexical representation, especially three-component
hierarchical models, providing evidence for and against
each model. De Groot argues that three-component models
are functionally rather than qualitatively different and
that various versions of the three-component models can
occur within one bilingual mind as bilingual memory
representation varies not only across populations, but also
within individuals, even for the same L1 and L2, based on
factors such as language proficiency, word type, word
frequency, and L2 learning method/environment.

In Chapter 3, "The Phonology of the L2 User," Major
outlines his original model, the Ontogeny Phylogeny Model
(OPM), portions of which are also discussed in detail in
Major (2001), to account for the principles involved in the
development of an L2 phonological system as well as the
changes in the L1 system as a result of exposure to an L2.
The three main factors involved in the development of an
interlanguage -- the L1, the L2, and universal principles -
- are discussed within individual's language development
and change (Ontogeny) as well as changes and evolutions of
whole languages (Phylogeny) due to language contact
phenomena, dialect variation, and historical change.

In Chapter 4, "A Minimalist Approach to L2 Solves a Dilemma
of UG," Flynn and Lust discuss the dilemma of how the
distinction between initial and end states of the UG can be
maintained if the UG is continuous between these states.
The authors outline both the Maturational Model and the
Strong Continuity Model and then draw on both L1 and L2
research to argue for the Strong Continuity Model of UG,
with the additional claims that at the end-state, the UG is
distinct from specific language grammars, that the UG is
available to adult L2 learners in its entirety, and that L1
and adult L2 knowledge are not acquired in fundamentally
different ways.

In Chapter 5, "Development of L2 Functional Use," Perdue
draws on data from the European Science Foundation (ESF) to
illustrate the highly structured and recurrent nature, and
cross-linguistic consistency of learner language. Taking a
functional approach to the analysis of learner language,
Perdue examines both sentence and discourse level
organizational principles, and the communicative and formal
factors that may explain the acquisition process. Arguing
that culture-neutral knowledge and process-related
principles govern informational organization at the
discourse level and language-neutral knowledge and process-
related principles at the sentence level, Perdue employs
ESF learner data to illustrate how the interaction of
organizational principles determine the relatively stable
functional system.

In Chapter 6, "Cognitive Processes of L2 Users," Bialystok
examines the relationship between language and cognition,
especially in relation to users of two languages.
Bialystok outlines both the formal and functional views of
language and cognition, as well as hybrid theories, and
then presents her own framework (cf. Bialystok, 1991, 2001)
which employs analysis of representational structure and
control of attention to consider the relationship between
language and cognition. Drawing on findings from research
on bilingual children, Bialystok argues that learning two
languages effects significant changes in how children carry
out general cognitive processes, and that this impact is
limited to the control of attention aspect of her

Chapter 7, "Portrait of the Bilingual Child," Genesee
focuses on bilingual code mixing, which he discusses from
cognitive, linguistic, and communicative perspectives, to
refute the assumptions that learning two (or more)
languages simultaneously is problematic and that bilingual
children possess a single unified language system. Genesee
argues that bilingual children's use of the two languages
is appropriate and context-sensitive and differentiated
from the one-word stage onwards, and that bilingual
children typically acquire language-appropriate and
language-specific constraints for each language.

In Chapter 8, "The Neurolinguistics of L2 Users," Fabbro
addresses the question of whether the two languages of
bilinguals have similar or different brain representations.
Fabbro examines research from bilingual aphasics, cases of
language mixing and switching by bilinguals with cerebral
lesions, electrophysiological studies, and neuroanatomy
studies. Findings from these studies suggest that neural
structures are involved in the selection and segmentation
of utterances, that there may differences in the cerebral
cortical organization of languages based on learning
strategies and age of learning, and while the lexicons of
the L1 and the L2 may be stored in the same brain areas
regardless of age of acquisition, the representation of
morphosyntax may be different if the L2 is acquired after
age 7.

In Chapter 9, "Individual Differences in L2 Fluency:
Neurobiological Correlates," Dewaele addresses the issues
of both intra- and inter-individual variation in L2 fluency
from a neurobiological perspective. Examining the
relationship among short-term memory (STM), long-term
memory (LTM), and working memory (WM) in language
processing, Dewaele argues that L2 users may have a
shortage of STM capacity. Linking this to individual
differences, Dewaele states that extroverted learners may
be superior to introverts in STM and that higher anxiety
levels have also been linked to introversion. Both of
these differences may have neurobiological causes and
create more constraints on fluency for introverted
learners, especially in more formal and stressful

In Chapter 10, "Language Attrition: Tests, Self-
Assessments, and Perceptions," De Bot and Hulsen examine L1
and L2 language loss by analyzing data from both
quantitative measurements of language loss and self-reports
from L2 users. Based on an analysis of both 1st and 3rd
person accounts of L1 and L2 loss, De Bot and Hulsen argue
that the language loss is heterogenous across individuals
and perceptions about loss are affected by language
background, educational level, attitudes towards the L1 and
L2, professional activity and possibly age as well.

In Chapter 11, "Poststructuralist Approaches to the Study
of Social Factors in Second Language Learning and Use,"
Pavlenko traces the study of social factors in SLA,
beginning with early sociopsychological approaches such as
Gardner and Lambert's (1959, 1972) work on motivation and
attitudes, and Schumann's Acculturation Model (1978) in
order to frame the emergence of poststructuralist
perspectives on social factors and the advantages of the
poststructuralist approach over earlier frameworks.
Pavlenko also discusses three key aspects of
poststructuralist approaches - view of language, view of
learning, and view of L2 learners.

In Chapter 12, "Second Language Learners' Rights," Gomes de
Matos first defines a learner's right as "a new humanising
quality experienced by a person as a result of an
educational decision or policy" (p. 307) and then the
historical development of the recognition of learners'
rights. Gomes de Matos also provides a typology of
learners' rights based on 12 open-ended criteria including
age, performance level, learners' strategies and
preferences, and language and cultural background. A list
of specific linguistic rights in the areas of
pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar is also provided.
Gomes de Matos concludes by providing an open-ended
checklist to help language educators, curriculum planners,
and policy makers to include learners' rights into teacher
training and curriculum development.

In Chapter 13, "Language Teaching Methodology and the L2
User Perspective," the concluding chapter, Cook discusses
the consequences that a shift to an L2 user perspective has
on teaching methodology and syllabus design. After a brief
overview of 20th century teaching methodology, Cook
discusses the nature of the L2 user, and then links the L2
user to teaching methodology by outlining a series of
principles for language teaching that take the L2 user
perspective into consideration.


By shifting the focus from what L2 learners lack or
cannot not do in comparison with monolingual native
speakers (e.g., the deficit model), to a recognition that
L2 users should be studied in their own right for what they
can do, this volume makes an important contribution to
second language theory, methodology, and pedagogy. The
volume, the first to focus entirely on the L2 user and
various aspects of L2 users' knowledge, marks an
important shift in how we understand, describe, and
prescribe, through language teaching, the process and
product of second language acquisition as well as the norms
and goals of this process. The volume also adds a new and
rich dimension to current discussions of the native speaker
construct (cf. Kachru & Nelson, 1996), non-native speaking
teachers (cf. Braine, 1999), and the internationalization
of languages such as English (cf. Jenkins, 2000). As such,
this is an important volume for both language researchers
and teachers. The volume would also be an excellent
textbook for second language acquisition courses as each
chapter is written by an expert(s) in a given area and
provides a solid introduction to a particular area of
research as well as an extensive reference list.


Bialystok, E. (1991). Metalinguistic dimensions of
bilingual language proficiency. In E. Bialystok (ed.)
Language processing in bilingual children (pp. 113-140).
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bialystok, E. (2001). Bilingualism in development:
Language, literacy, and cognition. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.

Braine, G. (1999). Non-native educators in English
language teaching Mahwah, NJ Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Cook, V. (1991). The poverty-of-the-stimulus argument
and multi-competence. Second Language Research 7 (2),103-

Gardner, R., & Lambert, W. (1959). Motivational variables
in second-language acquisition. Canadian Journal of
Psychology 13, 266-272.

Gardner, R., & Lambert, W. (1972). Attitudes and
motivation in second language learning. Rowley, MA:
Newbury House.

Genesee, F. (1989). Early bilingual development: One
language or two? Journal of Child Language16, 161-179.

Jenkins, J. (2000). The phonology of English as an
international language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kachru, B. B., & Nelson, C. (1996). World Englishes. In
S. L. McKay & N. H. Hornberger, (Eds.), Sociolinguistics
and language teaching (pp. 71-102). Cambridge, England:
Cambridge University Press.

Klein, W. & Perdue, C. (1997). The basic variety. Or:
Couldn't natural languages be much simpler? Second
Language Research 13(4), 301-347.

Major, R. (2001). Foreign accent: The ontogeny and
phylogeny of second language phonology. Mahwah, NJ:
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Schumann, J. (1978). The acculturation model for second
language acquisition. In R. Gingras (Ed.), Second language
acquisition and foreign language teaching (pp. 27-50).
Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER Jette G. Hansen is Assistant Professor of English Language/Linguistics and Second Language Acquisition and Teaching (SLAT) at the University of Arizona. Her research interests include the acquisition of an L2 phonology, gender and second language acquisition, and literacy development.

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