Ramat, Anna Giacalone, ed. (2003) Typology and Second Language Acquisition, Mouton de Gruyter, Empirical Approaches to Language Typology.
Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/14/14-1521.html
Malcolm A. Finney, Linguistics Department, California State University Long Beach.
The text is a collection of papers that evaluates Second Language Acquisition (SLA) research from a typological perspective. The stated goal p.6) is ''to enhance the dialogue between typological research and SLA''. Adopting primarily a functional-typological approach (with the goal of demonstrating the relationship between form and function), the papers in the volume explore the interaction between linguistic universals and language-specific properties in the development of second language (L2) grammar. They focus, in particular, on cross-linguistic universals and markedness relations among these universals, and how they could be used to predict ease or difficulty of L2 development. Most of the papers present empirical evidence indicating the influence of markedness values and implicational hierarchies on patterns of the development of some structural, semantic, pragmatic, discourse, and phonological properties of L2.
The first paper ''Typology and language acquisition'', by Bernard Comrie, explores the nature of language and human cognition and possible implications for the process of language development, and the author presents a strong case for the integration of the fields of linguistic typology and SLA. The paper revisits the proposal of an Accessibility Hierarchy (AH) for relative clause constructions (RC's) and argues for a correspondence between the proposed hierarchy and actual developmental sequence, or degree of difficulty, in the L2 acquisition of RC's. In his discussion, Comrie reviews previous and current research on the acquisition of different kinds of RC's that supported the view of a correlation between the cross-linguistic distribution of RC's and sequence of their acquisition in L2. He further identifies new areas of potential research in the L2 acquisition of RC's.
The paper by Stephen Matthews and Virginia Yip - ''Relative clauses in early bilingual development: Transfer and universals'' - reports on a longitudinal study of the development of English RC's by two simultaneous bilingual (Cantonese/English) children, who demonstrated early dominance of Cantonese over English. The children's bilingual development (as is the case in L2 acquisition) indicated a transfer of properties of pre-nominal RC's, in spite of its marked status, from a more dominant to a less dominant language. That is, transfer, under certain circumstances, may override the tendency by children to initially assume unmarked options. Another unusual occurrence in the children's English output was that transfer was restricted to object but not subject relativization - a more accessible (and likely unmarked) option. A subsequent stage in the children's bilingual development however revealed the production of post-nominal RC's with resumptive pronouns - a universal strategy observed in first language (L1) and adult L2 acquisition of English. The children's early bilingual development thus indicated a combination of transfer and universal processes. Two factors are proposed by the authors to be involved in the transfer of pre-nominal RC's: 1) External - triggered by the dominance of Cantonese; 2) Typological characteristics (such as structural similarities to a Cantonese main clause) of Cantonese Prenominal RC's.
The paper ''Learner varieties and language types. The case of indefinite pronouns in non-native Italian'', by Guiliana Bernini, investigates the order of emergence of indefinite pronouns in the L2 Italian grammars of learners of diverse linguistic and social backgrounds and the extent to which the order is predicted by language typology or by the learners' linguistic backgrounds. It discusses the linguistic, lexical and semantic properties of indefinite pronoun, and the author adopts the position that functions could be organized in an implicational relationship corresponding to frequency across languages. The paper identifies four major stages in the development of indefinite pronouns. Data in the form of longitudinal recordings of narratives and free conversations with subjects indicate support for the correlation between typological generalizations and the developmental pattern in L2 acquisition. Other factors such as salience and functional properties are also proposed as influential factors in determining the developmental sequence.
In the paper ''Adnominal possession: Combining typological and second language perspectives'', Björn Hammarberg and Maria Kopthevskaja-Tamm examine the L2 acquisition of the system of adnominal possessive constructions (considered typologically marked) in Swedish. The paper presents an overview of the different types of possessive constructions in Swedish, highlighting the typologically marked status of adnominal possessives. Longitudinal studies of L2 learners from a variety of competence levels in Swedish, containing short essays written by subjects, (obtained from the ASU corpus text database compiled by the department of linguistics, Stockholm University) indicate that learners encountered problems with the definiteness marking of such constructions.
Ana Giacalone Ramat discusses the emergence and use of gerunds in L2 Italian, by learners of diverse linguistic backgrounds and competence levels, and the influence of typological markedness on the acquisition of different types of gerunds in L2 Italian in the paper ''Gerunds as optional categories in second language learning''. She discusses different types of Italian gerund constructions and the typological markedness relations that exist among them. She proposes a correlation between patterns of acquisition and the semantic and pragmatic functions expressed by gerunds. Results from longitudinal studies indicate a developmental hierarchy proposed to be: Progressive periphrasis > Predicate gerunds > Sentence gerunds.
Daniel Véronique's paper ''Iconicity and finiteness in the development of early grammar in French as L2 and in French-based creoles'' explores the roles of iconicity and finiteness in the early grammatical development of French-based creoles (FBC) and French as a second language (FSL). It provides a detailed account of the controversial theory of pidginization/creolization as a process of adult L2 acquisition under special circumstances as well as detailed characteristics of existentials, temporality, and negation in FBC and FSL. Data for FBC and FSL are obtained from Atlantic and Indian Ocean FBC and from native Moroccan Arabic speakers using French as L2. The author argues for evidence of similarities between the early grammars of FBC and FSL, but that differences in their grammars emerge with increased competence by the speakers.
The paper ''Lexicalisation of aspectual structures in English and Japanese'', by yasuhiro Shirai and Yumiko Nishi, investigates cross-linguistic variation in the lexicalization of aspectual structures in English and Japanese and implications for the acquisition of tense/aspect morphology in L2. The focus of the paper is on the properties of aspectual categories of Achievements, Accomplishments, Activities, and States, and on the semantic features of telicity, punctuality, and stativity, which are associated with these categories. The authors' stated hypothesis is that (p. 267): ''Stativity is differently expressed across languages, whereas Activities are similarly lexicalised cross-linguistically''. This hypothesis is reportedly confirmed by their study. Implication for L2 acquisition is that L2 learners may experience difficulty in the acquisition of verbs expressing stativity because of differences in the way these verbs operate and the tendency of learners to transfer the way semantic relations are encoded from L1 into L2.
Henriëtte Hendriks appraises different kinds of over-explicitation in the discourse of L2 learners in the paper ''Using nouns for reference maintenance: A seeming contradiction in L2 discourse''. The premise of the paper, based on a number of studies evaluating anaphoric linkage within discourse, is that L2 learners, regardless of their primary languages, tend to be over-explicit in reference maintenance than native speakers of the target language as their proficiency in L2 increases. The paper examines the over-explicitation of topic element to determine whether over-explicitation is language independent or is triggered by elements within both the source and target languages. Subjects in the study are native speakers of Mandarin Chinese - which favors under-explicitation - learning the target languages of German, French and English. Experimental data were obtained by asking subjects to recount a story from a picture. Results indicate an interaction of linguistic and pragmatic factors, leading to contradictory findings. There is support for over-explicitation only in L2 German but not in L2 French and English. Over-explicitation is proposed to be a strategy adopted in L2 German because of the much more complex pronominal system exhibited by German, resulting in a tendency to avoid the use of pronominals by L2 learners. The French and English pronominal systems are not that complex; thus there is no significant over-explicitation.
The paper ''Cross-linguistic comparison and second language acquisition: An approach to Topic and Left-detachment constructions from the perspective of spoken language'', by Rasanna Sornicola, attempts to integrate three different perspectives of research on these structures: typology, analysis, and acquisition. It discusses the results of empirical studies on the L2 acquisition of topicalization and left-dislocation in evaluating the effects of their syntactic properties on the possible difficulty in the development of these structures in L2 in typologically different languages.
In ''Typology and information organization: Perspective taking and language-specific effects in the construal of events'', Mary Carroll and Christiane von Stutterheim examine the principle of `perspective Taking' and the different forms and functions of this principle in L2 acquisition. Their study examines the role of perspectivisation and information structure in the process of organizing information for expression in L2. Results indicate that L2 speakers utilize language-specific patterns of information organization in L2.
Stefania Giannini's paper ''Typological comparison and interlanguage phonology: Maps or gaps between typology and language learning of sound systems?'' attempts to show the important contribution of L2 acquisition research toward a general theory of the nature of language and the manner in which it operates. It discusses the relationship between linguistic universals and the course of language acquisition as well as the role of marked/unmarked status of properties of language in determining ease/difficulty of acquisition, with a particular focus on phonological properties of languages and implications for acquisition of L2 (Italian) phonology.
The volume as a whole is a very detailed and successful presentation of both theoretical and research information attempting to show the relationship between language typology and second language acquisition. For the most part, the papers present empirical evidence indicating a correspondence between the relative (typologically) marked status of properties and the sequence of acquisition of those properties in L2. It contains a fine blend of papers that approach the theme from both theoretical and research perspectives. To my knowledge, this volume is the most comprehensive package advocating an integrated view of language typology, markedness, and second language acquisition. A word of caution though is that markedness theory (or the different versions of it) has been very controversial over the years and that notion of using language typology to predict markedness relations among properties of language has received its own share of criticism.
One of the strengths of the volume is the vast number of longitudinal studies as the primary source of data, which is appropriate for this kind of study - one that traces the natural (and sequential) development of properties of language. However, as most researchers are aware, the limitation of this research approach is that it is generally based on production data. Thus it mostly evaluates what the learner could accurately produce; the lack of production of a linguistic property does not necessarily translate into difficulty in acquisition. Nevertheless, this is the appropriate research procedure for the type of information provided in the volume.
All the research papers in the volume further present detailed literature review (both theoretical and previous research) on the linguistic properties discussed, and they provide lots of examples of constructions discussed. However, a strong background in syntax is required for a full comprehension of the terminologies used and for an understanding of the structural properties of some the constructions discussed in the volume.
In making claims of a relationship between linguistic universals and language acquisition, it is almost necessary for a cross section of languages to be used as both source and target languages in the research in order to strengthen the claim of universal processes in acquisition. I am impressed with the wide range of languages and language families represented in the studies both as source and target languages. There are however a few papers whose research subjects were obtained from one source language and were learning one target language.
The text, by design, has a narrow focus and may be more suited as the primary course text for a special topics rather than a general introductory SLA course. Nevertheless, it contains vast resource for individuals who are interested in the order of the acquisition of second language linguistic properties or are interested in exploring reasons for the ease or difficulty in the acquisition of some of some linguistic properties.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
I am an assistant professor in the linguistics department, California State University Long Beach. My research interests include exploring the linguistic differences between languages and the resulting difficulties in bilingual and second language oral and literacy development. I also maintain research interest in analyzing the linguistic properties of creole languages.