By Sari Pietikäinen, Alexandra Jaffe, Helen Kelly-Holmes, Nik Coupland
Sociolinguistics from the Periphery "presents a fascinating book about change: shifting political, economic and cultural conditions; ephemeral, sometimes even seasonal, multilingualism; and altered imaginaries for minority and indigenous languages and their users"
Date: Sun, 09 May 2004 17:08:54 +0200 From: Suzie Bartsch Subject: First Language Acquisition: The essential readings
EDITOR: Lust, Barbara C. & Foley, Claire TITLE: First Language Acquisition SUBTITLE: The essential readings SERIES: Linguistics: Essential Readings PUBLISHER: Blackwell Publishing YEAR: 2004
Suzie Bartsch, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany
To say it from the outset: This volume is undoubtedly an outstanding compilation of classical papers on first language acquisition, the most of them produced in the period from the late 1950s up to the late 1980s and having ever since exerted lasting effects on the field. There are, however, two main points to discuss. The first of them is the editors' underlying Chomskyan orientation compromising the representativeness of the compilation. Secondly, there are some formal editorial shortcomings.
This review has become very long, although I have tried to be as concise as possible. If I had abbreviated the contents more, the comprehension would have been compromised. There were 29 papers to review. Moreover, reviewing this book I was dealing with two great passions: first language acquisition and history of linguistics, so I could not resist making some epistemological remarks. Since it is my very first review, I am grateful for all remarks concerning inaccuracies of any sort which despite all my carefulness are surely present in the text below. But remember that it is not a mistake to think differently from the mainstream, above all when this different thinking relies on the findings of a huge corpus of research. Some statements concerning the form-function and the nature-nurture controversies, inescapable in discussions on first language acquisition, may sound polemical for some. To say it from the outset, I surely am rather sympathetic to usage-based than to generative approaches, and the reason is that the former often posit central assumptions which seem to me psychologically plausible because of their empirical basis, whereas the latter often has an axiomatic way to posit their central assumptions resulting often in a somewhat 'biased' view of the things. But above all I am sympathetic to rather 'convergentist' approaches because this is what the body of research of several decades seems to point to, regardless of the underlying theoretical persuasion. And this is also what many papers of the compilation under review seem to point to. Against this background, I am surely saying nothing new when I say that fundamentalism and ideological conflict make even lesser sense in science than in religion or politics.
This is the fourth volume of the Blackwell series "Linguistics: The Essential Readings" which already includes volumes on phonology (Goldsmith 1999), formal semantics (Portner & Partee 2002), and sociolinguistics (Paulston & Tucker 2003).
For the volume under review (xi+442 pages), the editors have selected 29 papers organized in three parts, "Theory of Language Acquisition" (chapters 1-5), "The Nature-Nurture Controversies" (chapters 6-17), and "Areas of Language Knowledge" (chapters 18-29). The papers are framed by a table of contents, a section "Acknowledgments" with the bibliographical description of the papers, an index including subjects and persons' names, as well as the editors' introduction.
As stated in the editors' introduction, the aim of the compilation is "to collect in one place a set of groundbreaking works which provide the foundation for the field of first language acquisition" (1). For this purpose, they used the selection criteria of (a) "pathbreaking" character regardless of the "particular perspective on linguistic theory"; (b) high citation rates in subsequent work; (c) "enduring value", the texts being originally published not after the late 1980s; and (d) the target audience: "beginning students" and "established scholars"(1). There is a fifth criterion of "linguistic approach": the editors "have intentionally selected papers which are illuminated by linguistic science, i.e., which make crucial use of the insights and findings of linguistics" (2f.) regarding some major "features of human language" (3). In the introduction, the editors highlight the main conclusions of each paper, often mentioning some more recent work done on similar lines (3-8), and conclude by emphasizing the necessity of more "comparative cross-linguistic approaches" on the study of child language acquisition (8).
Part I, "Theory of Language Acquisition", with which the editors aim to provide "a sense of the theoretical foundations of the field" (3) provides the opportunity to contrast the generative and the cognitivist/constructivist theories of language acquisition, where the late gives an idea of what a 'convergentist' approach may look like.
Two papers by Chomsky open the volume and the theoretical section. The first of them, "Knowledge of Language as a Focus of Inquiry", extracted of his (1986) "Knowledge of Language: Its Nature, Origin, and Use", one of the classics on generative grammar in its government-binding (GB) or principles-parameters version, can surely dispense with major presentations. However, I would like to remark that the reader surely shall find it interesting to (re)read how Chomsky himself posited the axioms which characterize the generative framework.
Chomsky's second paper is his (1959) withering review of Skinner's (1957) "Verbal Behavior" at full length. In this paper, Chomsky not only questioned Skinner's "functional analysis" of "verbal behavior" understood in terms of notions as stimulus, reinforcement, and deprivation. He also developed his axioms in great part in contrast to Skinner's conclusions. I think this paper could by no means be missing in the compilation because it gives the opportunity for an epistemological contemplation of how paradigm changes can take place. Nowadays, we seem to be living again in such a time of paradigm change in which a revision of central axioms of the Chomskyan paradigm takes place leading to more 'convergentist' views (for a review, see e.g. Tomasello 2003, Elman et al. 1996, Marcus 2001).
But 'convergentist' proposals were already being developed in parallel with behaviorism and long before the advent of generativism, as can be seen in chapter 3 consisting of extracts from the chapter "The Semiotic or Symbolic Function" of Piaget's & Inhelder's (1969) classical work "The Psychology of the Child". This chapter provides the occasion to recapitulate how the Piagetian cognitivist approach seems to unify nativism (the emergence of the symbolic function independent from experience) and empiricism (the behavioral manifestations of the symbolic function, amongst them the language, as based on imitation/experience), the great difference between the two paradigms being Piaget's symbolic function as concerned with domain-general cognitive abilities.
Chapter 4, "Language and Learning: The Debate between Jean Piaget and Noam Chomsky", consists of excerpts from the book of the same name, edited by Piattelli-Palmarini (1980). Here again the reader has the occasion to (re)read more about Piaget's 'convergentist' view of the nativism-empiricism controversy, leading to his epistemological and constructivist theory, which refuses both innateness of (domain- specific) cognitive structures and learning mechanisms in the behaviorist sense, but accepts both the structuralist character of transformational grammars and the notion of (innate) domain-general abilities of categorization. This chapter gives also the occasion to ascertain how Piaget seems to have partially missed the mark with his emphasis of the epistemological argument instead of stressing the symbolic function. Chomsky objections to Piaget's constructivism are based on the argument from input deficiency, as well as on the notion of Universal Grammar (UG) as being comparable to physical organs of the body, from both phylogenetical and ontogenetical perspectives. Very interesting are also Chomsky's comments on some aspects of the generative framework which have ever since been criticized, as the focus on English language or the secondary role of empirical data leading to the subordination of observations to theoretical hypotheses.
The theoretical section is closed by a two-pages chapter consisting of short extracts from Hermine Sinclair[-deZwart]'s (1995) paper "Comparative Linguistics and Language Acquisition" held in the II Coloquio Mauricio Swadesh (Mexico, 1990). This is the most recent paper in the compilation and serves as a sort of conclusion pointing to differences and commonalities between Piaget's and Chomsky's paradigms. She expresses a desideratum, namely that more empirical work on developmental psycholinguistics must be done within the constructivist/cognitivist framework, which can be seen as being fulfilled -- see e.g. the work of Michael Tomasello and associates in the Max-Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, to give only an example.
With Part II, "The Nature-Nurture Controversies", the editors aim to provide "issues related to fundamental mechanisms of language acquisition" (3). It is interesting to note that 10 of the 12 papers selected for this section were produced within the generative framework or were often used by it as corpus of evidence. But even more interesting is the observation that several of these papers present views of the nature-nurture debate which, though at different grades, could be called 'convergentist', regardless of their theoretical persuasions.
The first chapter in this section (chapter 6 in the book), "Language in the Context of Growth and Maturation", is a short extract from Eric Lenneberg's (1967) "Biological Foundations of Language". The paper is a good occasion to recapitulate Lenneberg's ethological approach according to which a "language-specific maturational schedule" is posited and input has a merely triggering role, but is necessary to actualize innate "potentialities of behavior".
Chapter 7, "Language and the Brain", is a paper by Norman Geschwind (1972). Geschwind's paper is a representative of the localizationist approach to language-brain relationships. On the basis of the study of language disorders and postmortem examination of the brain in aphasic patients, Geschwind presents some assumptions which would come to be known as the Wernicke-Geschwind model of language processing. Important from the point of view of lateralization was also his discovery of an asymmetry located in a region adjacent to the Wernicke's area which might be inborn.
The next chapter prolongs the discussion on lateralization. It is a short excerpt from Michael Gazzaniga's (1970) "The Bisected Brain" which is concerned with split-brain patients. In the excerpt Gazzaniga reports on intermodal association studies in which such patients were requested to match visual and tactile, invisible stimuli and to name them. The fact that the patients were not able to name the objects, when the information was to be processed by the right hemisphere, even though they were able to match visual and tactile objects, is amazing and really seems to corroborate the notion of language left dominance.
Chapter 9 closes the set of papers dealing with language acquisition in extreme situations and leads over to the next set of papers concerned more directly with linguistic data. It is "The Linguistic Development of Genie" by Susan Curtiss and associates (1974). Curtiss and colleagues had been studied Genie's linguistic development since her discovery in 1971, and this is undoubtedly one of the seminal papers on language acquisition under social isolation. Curtiss et al. worked within the generative framework (even though not mentioning the nativism topic at all) and with this in mind, it is interesting to observe here how the syntax-semantics dichotomy seems to have sometimes hindered the authors from drawing conclusions which would be otherwise at least plausible, even though in other cases they seem to rely on more functional and/or cognitive properties. Also revealing is the authors' attitude of confusion, divided between empirical work and the axiom that performance does not reflect competence.
Chapter 9, "Derivational Complexity and Order of Acquisition in Child Speech" by Roger Brown and Camille Hanlon (1970), provides what is perhaps the most flagrant example of this perplexity in the volume under review. This paper deals with the acquisition of tag questions, and it is painful to read how Roger Brown, the great Roger Brown, who has innovated the research on first language acquisition, hesitatingly presents 'anti-Chomskyan' conclusions which he then discards. It is equally painful to read how Brown seems to justify not only for doing empirical work, but also for relying on naturalistic data, and not on experimental data.
Chapter 10 reads wholly differently. It is Charles Ferguson's (1978) paper "Talking to Children: A Search for Universals". Ferguson relies in this paper without remorse on performance input data and comments cheerfully the "embarrassment" of "most linguists" with the subject. Ferguson's self-assured conclusions refute the axiom of poverty of stimulus and the notion of domain-specificity and species-specificity nature of universals influencing human languages, even though without denying the issue of biological adaptation.
Biological adaptation is also the topic of chapter 12, the article "Learning by Instinct" by James Gould and Peter Marler (1987) which send us back to the ethological starting point of the section. The authors, students of the behavior of bees and birds, offer a sort of 'convergentist' perspective in that they posit that in many animals the way stimuli are used for learning is guided by instinct. In the whole article (18 pages) there is a half-page section to "Speech Learning in Humans", in which some assumptions related to speech perception in the infant and grammatical structures of human languages are raised.
Chapter 13, consisting of extracts from Barbara Landau's & Lila Gleitman's (1985) "Language and Experience: Evidence from the Blind Child", maintains the role of experience issue. On the basis of experiments on the acquisition of lexical semantics of sighted vocabulary in comparison with tactile vocabulary in the blind child, the overall conclusion is that experience is necessary, but not sufficient for language acquisition. The authors posit a sort of poverty of stimulus problem relying on Quine's (1960) notion of referential underdeterminacy and offering an innate constraints approach conceived of as a sort of syntactic bootstrapping mechanism to account for their findings.
The next two chapters (14 and 15) deal more directly with bootstrapping mechanisms. It is two relatively short papers by Steven Pinker from his (1984) "Language Learnability and Language Development" and his (1989) "Learnability and Cognition: The Acquisition of Argument Structures". In these works Pinker posited his interesting semantic bootstrapping hypothesis which seems not only to ascribe the input a more relevant role than perhaps expected, but also to at least neutralize the syntax/semantics dichotomy. Pinker himself classifies the issue as "subtle and controversial" and "not without problems". The issue of innateness and universals is found in the suggestion that "children innately expect" semantic-syntactic correlations in the perceptual input and in the assumption that these correlations also exist in human languages as substantive universals, which sounds very 'convergentist'.
Chapter 16 consists of only a paragraph from Hermine Sinclair-deZwart's (1973) paper "Language Acquisition and Cognitive Development". Relying on Piaget, the author posits that linguistic structures may be symptoms of (domain-) "general, universal cognitive structures". Note that Piaget would perhaps not say "cognitive structures", but rather (innate) cognitive abilities or functions.
The section on the nature-nurture controversy is closed by a paper in which the question is supposed to be avoided but seems to be actually decided favoring the 'convergentist' position. Chapter 17 consists of extracts from Dan Slobin's (1973) paper "Cognitive Prerequisites for the Development of Grammar" in which Slobin posits "inherent" "language-definitional universals" on the basis of cross-linguistic studies on performance data. The "cognitive prerequisites" are: relations between linguistic and cognitive-semantic universals, general cognitive-perceptual strategies along with processing limitations, and "preliminary" (=innate?) formal linguistic "operating principles" as playing a role in the scanning of input (not seen thus as uninformative).
Part III, "Areas of Language Knowledge", aims to provide "a basic introduction to acquisition in each of the core components of language knowledge (i.e., morphology, phonology, syntax, semantics and pragmatics)" (3). This section includes again only few representatives of approaches not fitting into the Chomskyan paradigm (3 of 12 papers) and prolongs partially the nature-nurture issues.
The first chapter in this section is the seminal paper "The Child's Learning of English Morphology" by Jean Berko [Gleason] (1958), in which she presented her "Wug test". Somehow this paper has resemblances to Chomsky's review of Skinner (1957) since only two mutually excluding alternatives are supposed to explain the problem of language acquisition, namely linguistic rules or rote memorization. Berko [Gleason]'s results pointed to the first alternative and have somehow contributed to reinforce the UG notion, even though the study relied strongly on (experimental) performance data and the author herself did not draw any explicit conclusions at all about the issue of innateness and role of input. Note also the age of the tested children (4-7 years).
Such a contribution was also provided by several conclusions of Roger Brown in his (1973) "A First Language: The Early Stages", this seminal work on the study of Adam, Eve, and Sarah, as showed in Chapter 19, "The Order of Acquisition", a short extract of this book. Brown observed an amazing constancy in the order of acquisition of grammatical morphemes in the three children. An important methodological outcome in this work is also the predictive power of the index Mean Length of Utterance (MLU) developed by Brown.
After two chapters on morphology, a set of four chapters on phonology/phonetics follows. The first of them is the paper on "Speech Perception in Infants" by Peter Eimas and associates (1971) which concluded that infants are capable of distinguishing acoustic cues underlying adult phonemic distinctions by means of categorical processes of perception which are assumed to be biologically determined universals.
Universals, more exactly phonological universals, but not seen as innate, is also the topic of chapter 21. It is Roman Jakobson's "The Sound Laws of Child Language and their Place in General Phonology", written originally for the Fifth International Congress of Linguists in Brussels (1939), the oldest paper in the volume under review. It is very interesting to recapitulate in this text some methodological and substantive aspects of the classical structuralism of the School of Prague in opposition not only to the posterior generative tradition, but also to the previous 'old' historical linguistics and the neogrammarians, as well as to the Saussurean structuralism. The most impressive aspects are perhaps field work (and the reliance on performance and input data), as well as the notion of functionality of language, reminding the reader of Bühler's (1934) "organon model of language".
After Jakobson's functionalist paper we have in chapter 22 a paper produced in a more generativist spirit. It consists of extracts of the article "Universal Tendencies in the Child's Acquisition of Phonology" by N. V. Smith (1975). The contrast could not be greater. While Jakobson relied on data from some 18 languages, Smith relies on one child's data to posit universals. While Jakobson begins his paper by an eulogy of the observation of linguistic behavior, Smith is from the outset somewhat 'distressed' about the competence-performance dichotomy. And of course, Smith's "universal tendencies" are "pre- programmed" in the child.
The innateness notion is openly assumed by David Stampe (1969) in chapter 23, "The Acquisition of Phonetic Representation". Stampe is a precursor of the natural phonology which posits on the basis of cross- linguistic inquiry an innate system of phonological processes which is permanently revised by each new phonetic opposition learned by the child, in a process that reminds the reader of Piaget's "assimilation" and "accommodation" as also Brown (paper in Part I) noticed for grammatical acquisition in the child.
The innateness issue is also found in chapter 24, even though in a more indirect manner. It is selections of the curious article "The Problem of Serial Order in Behavior" by K. S. Lashley (1951) cited by Chomsky in his review of Skinner (1957). His main claim is that "behavior is the result of interaction of [a] background of excitation with input", and in order to understand the effects of input it is necessary to define the general features of this "background of excitation", where "background of excitation" seems to be tantamount to something like innate ideas. A main feature of "verbal behavior" is "the occurrence of predetermined, orderly sequences of action" "which cannot be explained in terms of succession of external stimuli", where "sequences of action" may concern words in sentences or also sounds or letters in words.
Chapter 25, "The Study of Adam, Eve, and Sarah" from Brown's (1973) "A First Language" already cited above, is concerned more directly with acquisition of syntax. The main methodological features of the longitudinal studies with these three children are presented here, as the index of Mean Length of Utterance (MLU) and Upper Bound (UB), as well as the big job of transcription. Again we see Brown, this great empirical researcher, struggling with the competence-performance axiom.
The issues of syntactic acquisition and competence-performance asymmetry are continued in chapter 26, "Syntactic Regularities in the Speech of Children", a paper by Edward Klima and Ursula Bellugi[-Klima] (1966), who belonged to Brown's research group. The paper, dealing with the acquisition of negative and interrogative structures, typically begins by a discussion on the issues of competence-performance asymmetry and 'noisy' input which the authors accept axiomatically. Subsequently, they provide a formal notation of the rules found.
The last paper of the set of generative papers on syntax is chapter 27, "The Reduction Transformation and Constraints on Sentence Length" from Lois Bloom's (1970) "Language Development: Form and Function in Emerging Languages". Bloom posits a reduction transformation in the derivation of the child's reduced surface structures from the underlying structures. Interestingly, the author emphasizes the necessity of evidence in the output data of three children, without struggling with the competence-performance axiom. But she typically bases her inquiry often on formal categories failing sometimes to draw conclusions which could be otherwise at least plausible.
Two papers by Eve V. Clark, selected to represent the areas of semantics and pragmatics and written in a spirit wholly different from the preceding chapters, close the section and the compilation. The first of them, "The Young Word Maker: A Case Study of Innovation in the Child's Lexicon" (1982), deals with semantics of word formation, dealing ultimately with lexical acquisition and lexical morphology, on the basis of cross-linguistic data. As Berko [Gleason] (chapter 18), Clark discusses the possibility whether or not rules constitute the basis of lexical innovation processes. But contrarily to Berko [Gleason], Clark does not contrast rote memorization with rule use, but analogy with rule use where these both processes are conceived of as lying on a continuum. As Landau & Gleitman (chapter 13), Clark also posits constraints in lexical acquisition. But contrarily to Landau's & Gleitman's underlying referential indeterminacy, Clark's claims are related with the necessities of communication and her constraints are rather "conventions of language use". This notion of functionality of language is explicitly discussed in the Clark's second paper, "Strategies for Communicating" (1978), in which she intends to show "why it is important to keep the communicative function of language in mind as we study what children say", and how "this point has often been lost sight of in the study of language acquisition".
There are many reasons why this book should be recommended for a part of the intended audience, namely for advanced students and established scholars. First of all, we have to thank the editors for making available so many seminal papers on first language acquisition, the presence of each of the 29 papers in this anthology is thus wholly justified. Secondly, the compilation provides the opportunity for some epistemological contemplation across texts concerning the work done within diverse frameworks developed in the 20th century (classical structuralism, behaviorism, generativism, as well as more cognitive- functional approaches); the editors contribute to this by means of information about more recent work done on similar lines, building thus a sort of historical-epistemological link, which is unquestionably one of the merits of the editorial material. Another plus point of the editorial material is the convincing and non-trivial -- as well as revealing -- overall conclusion about the necessity of more "comparative cross-linguistic approaches" on the study of child language acquisition, in order to "allow researchers to dissociate language-specific and universal developmental patterns" (p. 8). Finally, for advanced students the compilation is a treasure-house of ideas and suggestions for their own researches, concerning methodological as well as substantive issues.
There are nevertheless two points to discuss, concerning the editorial work as a whole, namely some formal editorial shortcomings and the more substantive issue of representativeness of the collection as a whole.
Beginning by the less polemical formal aspects, there are numerous entries either entirely missing or whose occurrences in the volume are not complete. This is problematical for the reader aiming to make the mentioned connections of epistemological relevance across texts, as well for the quick consulting, because it concerns authors' names, languages, and terminologies. In view of the fact that the target audience also includes "beginning students", it would have been, from didactic point of view, helpful to have more detailed introductions to each chapter, placed for instance before the respective papers. Additionally to a more comprehensive account of the contents of the respective paper, such introductions could have included purely editorial clarifications concerning omissions relatively to the original publication (as the editors did for the papers by Slobin and Brown & Hanlon), as well as the editorial context in which the papers were originally produced. The editorial information about Jakobson's paper, for instance, concerns solely the publications of the English translation (1971, 1990) and not the original French text (1939). Finally there are some inconsistencies in the reference lists of some chapters. Sometimes, authors are mentioned in the chapter which do not appear in the references, sometimes it is the other way round.
The second discussion point is a more delicate one. In my opinion, the editors' underlying Chomskyan orientation seems to compromise the representativeness of the compilation as a whole. In a preliminary version of this review, I had spoken in this context of a "Chomskyan bias". A reader of this previous version called my attention to the problem of characterizing a theoretical persuasion whatsoever as a bias in a review for the Linguist List and I have since being struggling with this word "bias". But after reading Christian F. Hempelmann's review of Glenn (2003) in which Glenn's approach is characterized not only in terms of "functionalistic bias", but even in terms of "mistake", I see no reason why I could not employ the word "bias" myself, particularly since it seems to correspond to the facts.
Thus, the editors' criterion "linguistic approach" exposed in the introduction seems to be ultimately an underlying Chomskyan bias since the major "features of human languages" they present as "identified by linguistic science" are clearly concerned with crucial assumptions of the Chomskyan tradition. Two related implicit assumptions, or rather meta-assumptions, are the assumptions that Chomskyan assumptions are not assumptions, but "discoveries" or "findings", as well as the assumption that the Chomskyan paradigm itself is tantamount to THE linguistic science. Such a view compromises the representativeness of the compilation, compromising ultimately the editors' aim of collecting papers "which provide the foundation for the field of first language acquisition". Such a view contradicts the seeming objectivity of the selection criteria and makes the compilation not adequate for beginning students since it has several gaps. These gaps are concerned with some sub-biases the Chomskyan bias includes, as the general theoretical, the syntactic, the monolingual, the spoken language, the Anglophone biases.
To begin with, not only the great majority of the selected papers was produced originally within or fitting into the generative paradigm, but already the presentation of the volume is revealing. Two papers by Chomsky open the volume what might remind the reader of the Genesis book. The cognitivist approach (older than the generative one) is represented mainly by rather short extracts from late works. Vygotsky's (1934) socioculturalist approach is wholly missing. Missing are also the work following and expanding Piagetian and Vygotskyan premises done since at least the 1970s (for a review, see e.g. Tomasello 1992, 1996). Moreover, the temporal limitation for the original publication of the papers excludes from the outset cognitive-functional, connectionist, and even generative approaches of the last two decades pointing to 'convergentist' conclusions (for a review, see e.g. Tomasello 2003, Elman et al. 1996, Marcus 2001, and Jusczyk 1997).
Secondly, the dominance of papers dealing more or less explicitly with formal (morpho)syntactic issues is striking but not really surprising since it reflects some generative axioms, as primacy of syntax and the separation of form (syntax) and meaning/function (semantics, pragmatics). Approaches to the acquisition of morphosyntax and phonology in which semantics and pragmatics are integral parts of the theoretical explanatory background are missing (for a review, see again Tomasello 2003 and, for phonology, the papers in Broe & Pierrehumbert 2000).
Similarly, it is true that the absence of papers dealing explicitly with bi-and/or multilingual language acquisition is not realistic vis- à-vis the fact that monolingualism is rather the exception, but it is wholly consistent with the classical ideal speaker-listener abstraction. For a review on the research of bilingual acquisition, see e.g. Lindholm (1980), Redlinger (1979), and De Houwer (1996).
Also related to the ideal speaker abstraction is the absence of papers dealing with literacy acquisition. For a review, see e.g. Treiman (2001), Gillen (2003), and the papers in Nunes & Bryant (2004); for multilingual contexts see, for instance, the papers in Barnard & Glynn (2003).
Finally, it is a great merit of the selection to include a relatively great number of papers done explicitly on the basis of cross-linguistic comparison when one considers that the generative program evolved in great part on the basis of the study of the English language only. But it is striking to observe that these studies were produced by pre- Chomskyans (Lashley, Jakobson), non-Chomskyans (Ferguson, Clark), or 'non-orthodox' Chomskyans (Slobin).
To conclude this evaluation, I want to state that I can imagine how difficult it is to select papers from the huge body of seminal papers and issues accumulated in the field of first language acquisition. A such compilation could never be complete, it could at most have the pretension to some representativeness. And, to repeat, I do not contest the selection of any of the papers present in this anthology. But perhaps some of these papers could have been discarded in order to accommodate others representing crucial approaches and issues which are wholly missing; or the editors could at least have discussed these approaches and issues in the introduction and explained their exclusion; or, as my review's reader pointed to, they could at least have made their orientation explicit in the title.
As it stands, I think I can say without much exaggeration that the selected papers unfortunately do not provide "the foundation for the field of first language acquisition", as aimed by the editors, but the or a Chomsky-oriented foundation. Or putting it in other words: I cannot emphasize sufficiently that this is undoubtedly an outstanding compilation of papers on first language acquisition -- from the Chomskyan perspective.
Aronoff, M. & Rees-Miller, J. [eds.] 2001. The Handbook of Linguistics. Malden & Oxford: Blackwell.
Barnard, R. & Glynn, T. 2003. Bilingual Children's Language and Literacy Development. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
Broe, M. & Pierrehumbert, J. [eds.] 2000. Papers in Laboratory Phonology V: Acquisition and the Lexicon. Cambridge University Press.
Bühler, K. 1934. Sprachtheorie. Jena.
De Houwer, A. 1996. Bilingual Language Acquisition. In: Fletcher & MacWhinney [eds.], 219-250.
Elman, J. & Bates, E. & Johnson, M. & Karmiloff-Smith, A. & Parisi, D. & Plunkett, K. 1996. Rethinking Innateness: A Connectionist Perspective on Development. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Fletcher, P. & MacWhinney, B. [eds.] 1996. The Handbook of Child Language. Oxford et al.: Blackwell.
Gillen, J. 2003. The Language of Children. London et al.: Routledge.
Glenn, P. 2003. Laughter in Interaction. Cambridge University Press.
Goldsmith, J. [ed.] 1999. Phonological Theory: The Essential Readings. Malden, MA : Blackwell.
Jusczyk, P. 1997. The Discovery of Spoken Language. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Lindholm, 1980. Bilingual children: Some interpretations of cognitive and linguistic development. In: Nelson, K. [ed.], 215-66.
Marcus, G. 2001. The Algebraic Mind: Integrating Connectionism and Cognitive Science. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Nelson, K. [ed.] 1980. Children's Language. Vol. 2. New York: Gardner Press.
Nunes, T. & Bryant, P. [eds.] 2004. Handbook of Children's Literacy. Kluwer Academic Publishers.
Paulston, C. B. & Tucker, G. [eds.] 2003. Sociolinguistics: The Essential Readings. Malden et al.: Blackwell.
Portner, P. & Partee, B. [eds.] 2002. Formal Semantics: The Essential Readings. Malden, MA: Blackwell.
Quine, W. 1960. Word and Object. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.
Redlinger, W. 1979. Early developmental bilingualism: A review of the literature. The Bilingual Review/La Revista Bilingüe, 6, 11-30.
Skinner, B. F. 1957. Verbal Behavior. New York: Appleton.
Tomasello, M. 1992. The social bases of language acquisition. Social Development, 1, 67-87.
Tomasello, M. 1996. Piagetian and Vygotskian approaches to language acquisition. Human Development, 39, 269-276.
Tomasello, M. 2003. Constructing a Language: A Usage-Based Theory of Language Acquisition. Cambridge, MA & London: Harvard Univ. Press.
Treiman, R. 2001. Linguistics and Reading. In: Aronoff & Rees-Miller (eds.), 664-672.
Vygotsky, L. 1934. Thought and Language. Cambridge MA: MIT Press .
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
As a student at the Freie Universität Berlin I am currently working on my M.A. thesis on the acquisition of argument constructions in a bilingual child within a usage-based framework. My research interests include first language acquisition, multilingualism, cognitive science, developmental psychology, as well as history of linguistics.