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Date: Wed, 18 May 2005 13:16:26 -0400 From: Andrea G. Levitt Subject: Language Mixing in Infant Bilingualism: A Sociolinguistic Perspective
AUTHOR: Lanza, Elizabeth TITLE: Language Mixing in Infant Bilingualism SUBTITLE: A Sociolinguistic Perspective SERIES: Oxford Studies in Language Contact PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press YEAR: 2004
Andrea Levitt, Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences Program, Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA; Haskins Laboratories, New Haven, CT
Language Mixing in Infant Bilingualism, originally published in 1997, is a revised version of Elizabeth Lanza's 1990 dissertation, which analyzes data from two first-born children whose mothers are American and whose fathers are Norwegian and who acquired both English and Norwegian while living in Norway. By taking an explicitly sociolinguistic perspective, which allows her to focus on the contribution of contextual factors as they relate to the linguistic data, Lanza calls into question the appropriateness of the research question that had served for some time as a way to frame studies of early bilingualism: Do young children simultaneously acquiring two languages initially develop one linguistic system for both languages or two separate systems? The book consists of seven chapters that provide background information and critiques of previous research, as well as analyses of the author's own data. The more recent paperback edition includes an afterword in which the author briefly reflects on her contributions in light of the considerable recent research in bilingual first language acquisition.
In the introductory chapter, Lanza presents an overview of the key issues in the early simultaneous acquisition of two languages, including a section of definitions of such basic terms as language mixing and code- switching and a brief overview of the arguments in the literature in support of the one-system hypothesis as well as those in support of the two-system hypothesis. Although the primary data used by proponents of both hypotheses is the language mixing of the young bilingual child, the interpretation of those data depends crucially on the theoretical perspective of the researchers. For some with a formal bent, who tend to minimize or ignore the role of context, language-mixing data constitute prima facie evidence for a single system. For others with a sociolinguistic perspective like Lanza, bilingual children develop sociolinguistic competence as they acquire their two languages, and it is this competence that allows them to learn to identify the social situations in which language mixing is appropriate. The chapter concludes with discussions of simultaneous and successive early bilingualism and of language exposure patterns and with an overview of the structure of the book.
The second chapter begins with detailed descriptions and critiques of the key studies whose results have been interpreted to support the one-system hypothesis along with those studies whose results have been interpreted to support the alternative two-system hypothesis. The latter group can be further divided into those who see mixing as a reflection of the language input conditions and thus a sign of emerging sociolinguistic competence versus those who argue that the evidence supports separate lexical and grammatical systems for both languages. Mixing is sometimes taken to be evidence in these cases for lack of sociolinguistic or pragmatic competence. Lanza's discussion of this prior work is valuable for its clear exposition of a number of very complicated issues and its balanced assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the studies reviewed, but because the book was first published in 1997, it does not reflect the fact that recent research, like Lanza's own work, tends to support the two- system view quite consistently (e.g., Paradis, J. and Navarro, S. 2003, Pearson, B. Fernandez, S. and Oller, K. 1995, Quay 1995). In this chapter, Lanza also highlights the need within studies of infant bilingualism for consideration of the issues of language dominance, of linguistic context, especially input, and of the role of interaction in language socialization. The last section of the chapter describes the development of metalinguistic awareness in the bilingual context and provides a discussion of studies that have looked at factors governing code-switching in children, since one of Lanza's goals is to account for infants' language mixing within the context of what is known about child and adult code-switching.
In chapter 3, Lanza details the methodology that she used in her own study of the early acquisition of American English and Norwegian. After justifying her choice of languages and language setting, she briefly describes attitudes towards childhood bilingualism in Norway; the role of English in Norwegian society; the complex history of the various codified forms of Norwegian; and the typical caregiving patterns of Norwegian fathers and mothers. Next she highlights the pros and cons of the case study approach to early childhood bilingualism and provides information about the choice of participants (one child whose parents practice the one person, one language strategy and the other whose parents regularly code- switch) and the participants themselves (Siri and Thomas) as well as the schedule of audio recordings (with each parent separately and with both) and the selection of material for analysis. In the last section of the chapter, Lanza describes and justifies the choices that she made in developing the written transcriptions that provide the basis for her analyses of early childhood language mixing, both from a linguistic point of view as well as from a sociolinguistic perspective.
In the next three chapters, Lanza provides detailed quantitative and qualitative analyses of her data from a series of interrelated perspectives. There is a wealth of information provided in these analyses. In the descriptions that follow, I will briefly provide the goals and highlight a portion of the findings from of each chapter.
In chapter 4, she focuses on the formal aspects of Siri's and Thomas's language mixing at the morphological and syntactic levels and suggests that these data provide important evidence about the children's language dominance and the nature of their code-switching and their underlying linguistic systems. One striking pattern that Lanza highlights in Siri's data is the mixing of Norwegian grammatical morphemes with English lexical items (as well as with Norwegian), whereas English grammatical morphemes only co-occur with English lexical items. These data provide part of the evidence for Lanza'a claim that Siri's dominance in Norwegian accounts for the pattern of mixing (but cf. Hulk and Muller 2000 for an alternative explanation for early bilingual mixing). They are also analyzed further in the section on code-switching, in the context of the matrix language frame model (e.g., Myers-Scotton and Jake 1995).
In chapter 5, Lanza shifts the unit of analysis to the conversational "turn at talk" and looks at developmental changes in the children's language choices and lexical (as opposed to grammatical) mixing in a variety of contexts. For Siri, the more balanced bilingual of the two, participant is the key determiner of language choice in conversations with her parents (English with her mother and Norwegian with her father), whereas for Thomas, Norwegian is the preferred language in conversations both with his father and with his mother. Siri also shows patterns of lexical mixing, which cannot, however, be attributed to a single underlying system, since she usually had both the Norwegian and English terms in her vocabulary. Furthermore, Siri uses more English lexical mixing with her father, even though she is dominant in Norwegian. In order to account for this rather unexpected pattern, Lanza turns in chapter 6 to an analysis of the parents' discourse strategies, which highlights the interactional nature of the language socialization process.
In the last of the three data-focused chapters, Lanza introduces the notion of a monolingual-bilingual context continuum in which the parents' responses to the child's mixed utterances tend either to sanction the use of only one language (at the monolingual end of the continuum) or to model and encourage code-switching (at the bilingual end of the continuum). Lanza analyzes both quantitatively and qualitatively the responses each of Siri's parents gives when alone with her as well as when all three are together. She does the same for Thomas's parents' responses. These analyses reveal that both Thomas's parents encouraged bilingual discourse; however, Siri's mother tended to sanction a monolingual context with her responses, whereas her father tended to encourage more bilingual discourse, despite the fact that both parents believed themselves to be following a one person, one language strategy. Indeed, these different discourse strategies on the part of Siri's parents account for the finding that she tended to use more English lexical mixing with her father rather than her mother. Chapter 7 summarizes the results of Lanza's research, discusses them in light of previous findings, and provides suggestions for future research.
In the afterword, prepared for the 2004 edition, Lanza acknowledges that the current prevailing view among researchers of early childhood bilingualism is that children exposed to two languages are able to keep them apart, and as a result, they do not have a single linguistic system but rather two. Although Lanza notes that the notion of language dominance in young bilinguals (though not in older children and adults) has come under attack in recent years (e.g., De Houwer 1998), she defends the usefulness of the concept. She also underscores the importance of context for understanding a child's verbal productions and mentions that experimental evidence has shown that young bilingual children are able to adjust their own rates of language mixing as a function of the language mixing rates in the input, as provided by an adult other than their parents (Comeau, Genesee, and Lapaquette, 2003), which provides support for her analysis of how the discourse strategies of Siri's and Thomas's parents affect their language mixing. Finally, she concludes with a plea for continued use of qualitative as well as quantitative analyses and for an acceptance of the view that the child is an active agent capable of influencing the familial discourse practices that provide a great deal of his/her early language socialization.
I believe that Lanza's clear exposition of the linguistic issues at stake and her descriptions and evaluations of the relevant historical literature make this text particularly useful to those less familiar with the field. For those interested in undertaking similar research, her combination of quantitative and qualitative analyses and helpful appendices provide valuable models for the work. Overall, I was generally convinced by the evidence and arguments she provided demonstrating the children's separation of the two linguistic systems and the crucial role that context, particularly the parents' discourse strategies, plays in their verbal behavior. I found her argument that Siri's grammatical mixing (chapter 4) was similar to adult bilingual code-switching practices less compelling, since Siri's grammatical mixes seem quite different in formal terms from typical adult code-switching. Although Lanza attempted to bolster her conclusions by looking at similar mixing from other children, her argument was hampered by the fact that comparisons across studies of early bilingual mixing are rendered quite difficult because of the differences in the way the data are reported. All in all, I would say that Language Mixing in Infant Bilingualism, which is, incidentally, very well edited, continues to make a useful and important contribution to the field, because of its balanced framing of the issues, the clarity of its exposition, its varied analyses, and its validation of the sociolinguistic approach.
Comeau, L., Genesee, F., and Lapaquette, L. (2003) The Modeling Hypothesis and child bilingual codemixing. International Journal of Bilingualism, 7 (2), 113-126.
De Houwer, A. (1998) By way of introduction: Methods in studies of bilingual first language acquisition. International Journal of Bilingualism, 2 (3), 249-263.
Hulk, A. and Muller, N. (2000) Bilingual first language acquisition at the interface between syntax and semantics. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 3 (3), 227-244.
Myers-Scotton, C. and Jake, J. (1995) Matching lemmas in a bilingual language competence and production model: evidence from intrasentential code switching. Linguistics, 33, 981-1024.
Paradis, J. and Navarro, S. (2003) Subject realization and crosslinguistic interference in the bilingual acquisition of Spanish and English: what is the role of input? Journal of Child Language, 30, 371-393.
Pearson, B., Fernandez, S., and Oller, K. (1995) Cross-language synonyms in the lexicons of bilingual infants :one language or two? Journal of Child Language 22, 345-368.
Quay, S. (1995) The bilingual lexicon: implications for studies of language choice. Journal of Child Language, 22, 369-388.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Andrea Levitt teaches linguistics, including courses on bilingualism and child language acquisition, at Wellesley College. Her research interests focus mainly on the perception and production of speech sounds and prosody by first- and second-language learners.