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Review of Form Meaning Connections in Second Language Acquisition
Date: Sun, 3 Apr 2005 21:41:17 -0700 From: Hiroshi Matsumoto Subject: Form-Meaning Connections in Second Language Acquisition
EDITORS: VanPatten, Bill; Williams, Jessica; Rott, Susanne; Overstreet, Mark TITLE: Form-Meaning Connections in Second Language Acquisition PUBLISHER: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates YEAR: 2004
Hiroshi Matsumoto, San Francisco State University
This volume is an edited collection of papers presented at the conference on Form-Meaning Connections in Second Language Acquisition (February 21- 24, 2002, Chicago) except the introductory chapter by VanPatten, Williams, and Rott, and the last chapter (commentary) by Larsen-Freeman. This book examines various processes and mechanisms underlying form-meaning connections (FMC) in second language acquisition (SLA) from various psycholinguistic perspectives. Many chapters explore how lexical forms, grammatical morphemes, and other linguistic forms (input) are processed into their meaning comprehension and/or proper reproduction output with generative linguistics as their primary supporting/explanatory theory. However, insights from and perspectives of other theories such as cognitive linguistics, cognitive psychology, construction grammar, and traditional grammar are also introduced to uncover the complex processes of FMC.
Chapter 1, "Form-Meaning Connections in Second Language Acquisition" (by VanPatten, Williams, and Rott), provides an overview of this volume and what FMC research is about. First, the chapter defines two important notions, specifying "form" as surface features of language, such as lexemes, verb inflections, nominal inflections, complementizers, determiners, particles, and formulaic expressions, and "meaning" as concrete or abstract semantic referential, sociolinguistic, and pragmatic meaning. (Many of the subsequent chapters seem to cover form and meaning in a narrower sense, dealing with form as lexemes and grammatical morphemes and meaning as concrete/abstract referential meaning, as Williams in Chapter 10 indicates.) The chapter also explicates various processes and factors associated with FMC in a detailed and comprehensive manner.
In Chapter 2, "Input and Output in Establishing Form-Meaning Connection," VanPatten examines "factors and processes" underlying SLA, especially the roles of input and output. From his generative linguistics perspective, VanPatten defines SLA as "the development of some underlying competence on which skills in language use depend." He then explicates three sets of processes essential for SLA, (1) input processing, (2) accommodation, and (3) restructuring in acquirers' interlanguage (IL) grammar. He reaffirms that SLA process is input dependent. The chapter also addresses a question of recent concern among SLA researchers, that is, whether SLA is output dependent or not. VanPatten agrees with several other studies that output "pushes" L2 acquirers to be better processors of input. However, he carefully points out that the role of pushed output is far from evident when learners make the initial connection in establishing FMC.
In Chapter 3, "The Process of Second Language Acquisition," Ellis explores the process of SLA as "the learning of constructions that relate form and meaning." From his psycholinguistic construction grammar view, Ellis presents the process of SLA as that of constructing linguistic systems that map forms and meanings by showing many specific examples. He also examines the important issue of whether/how implicit learning (without conscious operations) and explicit learning (with conscious operations, such as "noticing") may be involved in constructing FMC.
In Chapter 4, "Context and Second Language Acquisition," Gass presents a historical perspective of how various paradigms of linguistics and SLA theories have evolved/developed to find the right place of studies of "context" (or environment as the source of input). Referring to insights from anthropological linguistics (such as Ferguson, 1971), the Interaction Hypothesis (Long, 1996), studies on attention (Robinson, 2003), and other FMC studies, Gass explicates how context interplays/interacts with acquirers' internal mental activities. As acquirers interact with context/environment through "attention," it links the context with acquirers' internal learning mechanisms. The chapter also shows some other emerging areas of research (such as input-output relationships) in SLA that were not of central concern before, but are becoming prominent more recently.
The subsequent chapters, from Chapter 5 till Chapter 8, focus on the acquisition of certain/specific form and meaning connections. In Chapter 5, Shirai presents his multiple-factor account in regard to the acquisition of tense-aspect morphology, such as past tense and perfective/imperfective aspects. Among the multiple factors included are learner internal factors, such as (a) universal predispositions on behalf of learners, (b) individual differences, and (c) learner's first language (L1), and external factors, like (a) input and interaction both in L1 and second language (L2) and (b) instructional factors in the case of L2 acquisition.
In Chapter 6, Bardovi-Harlig explores the acquisition of future expressions by utilizing longitudinal production (written and oral) data. With sixteen English as a second language (ESL) learners representing four language backgrounds (Arabic, Japanese, Korean, and Spanish) as the subjects, she addresses (1) what expressions of futurity are used, (2) what the frequency of occurrence of the futurity expressions is, and (3) what the order of emergence is, and identifies (like Shirai) their potential multiple determinants: (a) instruction, (b) compositional complexity, (c) the interpretation of "will" as a lexical marker, and (d) the one-to-one principle.
Chapter 7, written by Cadierno and Lund, focuses on the acquisition of motion events. With cognitive linguistics as their conceptual framework, the two researchers from Danish institutions examine how motion events, which consist of three components (source or starting point, path or the route, and goal or intended destination), are acquired.
In Chapter 8, Klein examines the acquisition of tense and aspect, as well. Based on the results of several experimental studies, she shows that L2 learners' tense/aspect errors are often caused by elements that lie beyond the syntactic level. She points out that L2 learners' performance factors, which pertain to the interface between morphosyntax and features of phonology, semantic, pragmatics, or discourse, need to be taken into consideration, as well.
Chapters 9-11 show some important issues and areas of recent FMC research that may provide implications/insights helpful for "the classroom." Chapter 9 examines effects of instruction, Chapter 10 the issue of implicit learning, and Chapter 11 semantic vs. structural elaboration in lexical acquisition respectively.
In Chapter 9, Doughty presents readers the state (and her critique) of instructed SLA research, which purposes to investigate comparative efficacy of different types of instructive intervention. Though it may not be the primary focus of this entire volume, the field of SLA research is oftentimes expected to suggest sound L2 pedagogical implications. From a more pedagogical point of view, this chapter (as well as Chapters 1, 3, and 4) seems to be of pivotal importance. Coherent with the standpoints in Doughty & Williams (1998), this chapter takes "a cautious interventionist view" regarding the efficacy of instruction. The chapter also shows the state of and future directions for instructed SLA research based on Norris & Ortega's (2000) comprehensive examination of various experimental/empirical studies.
In Chapter 10, Williams explores the issue of whether form-meaning associations can be learned implicitly (rather than explicitly) in regard to the determiner plus noun form. Based on insights from Schmidt's studies (1994, 2001), Williams conducts two experimental studies and tests if there is any evidence of implicit/intuitive learning of FMC in the absence of conscious awareness about the form regularity to be learned. He indicates that although "word forms" can be learned implicitly, form- meaning associations appear to be very resistant to implicit learning.
In Chapter 11, Barcroft examines the effect of semantic and structural elaboration (which seems to be used occasionally in the classroom as a learning strategy) on the acquisition of lexical items (both word recognition and reproduction). Results of his two experiments do not show a significant effect of semantic elaboration (over structural elaboration) on L2 lexical learning rates. However, Barcroft's careful discussion on the use of various learning strategies for acquiring lexical items is useful from a more pedagogical point of view.
The final and commentary chapter (Chapter 12) by Larsen-Freeman presents her discussion on the above-mentioned 11 chapters, covering (1) the scope of this volume's FMC research, (2) its contribution, and (3) issues and directions for further research.
My critique about this volume encompasses (1) its significance/contribution, (2) limitations/issues, and (3) future directions.
This volume's contribution to SLA research and pedagogy is significant because of the following four reasons. First of all, this volume presents readers (who are most likely to be SLA researchers, graduate students, and second language pedagogues) most updated knowledge and insights from FMC frontline research. Many FMC processes, subprocesses, and mechanisms uncovered by many chapters of this book are presented in a very detailed and specific manner, including "making the initial connection," "subsequent processing," "strengthening/restructuring," and "access for use" (Chapter 1), "input processing" (consisting of two subprocesses, the formation of initial FMC and parsing) and "accommodation/restructuring" (Chapter 2), "associative mapping" and "noticing" (Chapter 3), and "attention" (consisting of alertness, orientation, and detection) (Chapter 4).
Second, this book also presents sound pedagogical implications in regard to teaching form/grammar in the classroom. Many of the implications are also consistent with those of other well-recognized books/articles, such as Doughty & Williams (1998), Long & Robinson (1998), and Brown (2001, Chapter 20).
Since 1980s, Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) has been the most dominant driving force in second language pedagogy. Sometimes, many practitioners feel so unsure and lose sight about how they should handle teaching form/grammar under CLT. Some people withdraw to a noninterventionist view as to teaching form/grammar. This volume helps readers to reassure that teaching form/grammar is essential as an effective tool for assisting students to process input into intake. This kind of attitude, which is often called "form-focused instruction" (vs. formS-focused instruction), is shared by many other distinguished SLA researchers and practitioners.
Third, many chapters of this book are written with generative linguistics as their primary supporting theory. However, the fact that SLA generative linguists and grammar specialists are exploring how "form" can be processed into "meaning" implies their efforts to open up a communication channel with Vygotskian and other sociolinguists (Vygotsky, 1990). Many theologians agree that the legacy of Pope John Paul II was exemplified by his efforts to open up a dialogue with Protestantism, Greek Orthodox Church, Judaism, Moslem, and other world religions. In a similar manner, I sense very positive steps have been taken by SLA generative linguists to start an "ecumenical" dialogue with other "bands" of SLA linguists who may not fully agree with generative linguistics theory. I hope that this kind of wise efforts will continue for the purpose of further growth of SLA research as one area of scientific endeavor.
Lastly, many experimental studies used in this book are methodologically solid, as Doughty (Chapter 9) shows the guidelines for sound empirical studies. The area of SLA research has demonstrated a substantial improvement with respect to its methodological issues (Long, 1980; Matsumoto, 1998, Chapter 3).
In spite of its extensive significance and contribution, this book has limitations/issues, as well. First, as Larsen-Freeman (Chapter 12) points out, many FMC studies have been relying on the assumption that SLA is the process of acquiring mental "competence," following Chomsky's (1965) relatively narrow notion of competence as referring to grammatical competence alone. However, Canale and Swain (1980), and many other SLA researchers (advocating the importance of Communicative Language Teaching) have expanded this narrow notion of competence into a broader notion including sociolinguistics competence, discourse competence, and strategic competence. The famous ACTFL (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages) Proficiency Guidelines (1986) also reflect this expanded notion of competence. The theoretical underpinnings of FMC research may require some sort of reexamination so that it can become compatible with this widely accepted view of SLA theory and practice.
The second limitation/issue is related to the first point to some extent. I want to understand that the notion of "meaning" in this volume (see Chapter 1) needed to adhere to its narrow definition ("concrete and abstract referential meaning," not including "sociolinguistic and pragmatic meanings") to ensure well-controlled FMC research. However, the constructs of meaning and comprehension should not be limited to the micro- processing level alone (like lexeme and grammatical morpheme) to fully grasp the entire picture of what the complex process of SLA is about. We really need to examine processes/mechanisms underlying FMC at the macro- processing level (such as paragraph gists and main points), as well. Clearly, many teachers are interested in knowing how they should teach sociolinguistic meaning and "cultural meaning," which Lado (1957) mentioned a long time ago. I hope that VanPatten and other distinguished scholars will continue their exploration further, gradually expanding FMC research to the pragmatics, discourse, and sociolinguistic levels, as well. Interesting, Klein's Chapter 8 may be a good example of such efforts.
Finally, this volume presents a high caliber of careful psycholinguistic studies about how form and meaning are connected at the micro-processing level. It also shows further directions we need to take, including the studies about input-output relationships and the role of implicit learning in FMC. I highly recommend this volume for many SLA researchers, graduate students, and pedagogy specialists.
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Schmidt, R. (1994). Implicit learning and the cognitive unconscious: Of artificial grammars and SLA. In N. C. Ellis (Ed.), Implicit and explicit learning of language (pp. 165-209). London: Academic Press.
Schmidt, R. (2001). Attention. In P. Robinson (Ed.), Cognitive and second language instruction (pp.3-32. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press
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ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Hiroshi Matsumoto is an assistant professor of second language acquisition and pedagogy at San Francisco State University. His research interests include the relationship between various types of second language input and meaning comprehension, error analysis of students' output, form- focused instruction, and intrinsic motivation in second language acquisition.