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Review of  Language Development across Childhood and Adolescence

Reviewer: Carol Ida Goldfus
Book Title: Language Development across Childhood and Adolescence
Book Author: Ruth A. Berman
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Psycholinguistics
Language Acquisition
Issue Number: 16.2997

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Date: Sun, 16 Oct 2005 17:42:55 +0200
From: Carol Goldfus
Subject: Language Development across Childhood and Adolescence

EDITOR: Berman, Ruth A.
TITLE: Language Development across Childhood and Adolescence
SERIES: Trends in Language Acquisition Research
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins Publishing Company
YEAR: 2004

Carol Goldfus
Levinsky College of Education, and School of Education at the University
of Haifa


This comprehensive book, edited by world-renowned academician and
researcher, Ruth Berman (Tel Aviv University), "Language Development
across Childhood and Adolescence" makes a significant contribution to the
field of language acquisition research in general and later language
development and the development of literacy specifically.

This collection of articles defines the field of Later Language
Acquisition and provides extensive evidence of the huge advances in
knowledge. It does so by bringing together the most recent developments
and research of various aspects of language acquisition across childhood
and adolescence, both from psycholinguistic and cross-linguistic
perspectives, in an authoritative display of scholarship. This book is a
state-of-the-art volume, encompassing all the central topics in the field
while, at the same time, providing extensive empirical evidence.

An official publication of the International Association for the Study of
the Child Language (IASCL), it is the third in the series Trends in
Language Acquisition Research. There are twelve chapters written by
researchers throughout the world, presenting various aspects of later
language development across five languages- Hebrew, Spanish, Swedish,
French and English.

Many of the studies reported here are samples of materials elicited in the
framework of a large scale cross-linguistic project on developing literacy
in different languages and different contexts, coordinated by the Editor.
In her preface, Ruth A. Berman provides a rationale and overview of the
book and states that "... the book touches on a deliberately wide spectrum
of domains of linguistic knowledge; contexts of language use; research
orientations; age groups and developmental stages and languages"(xiii).


The volume is introduced by a preface and an overview chapter written by
Marilyn A. Nippold and concludes with a discussion written by Liliana
Tolchinsky. The remaining ten chapters are research papers undertaken from
psycholinguistic and cross-linguistic perspectives where the components
and basic elements of linguistics have been researched across various age
groups and languages.

Two main strands, namely the attainment of literacy during the school
years and later language development, are presented from various points of
view. Nippold, in the introductory chapter questions
(i) the nature and substance of language growth beyond the preschool
(ii) the ways this growth can be revealed; and
(iii) the factors which drive these later linguistic attainments.

The questions are based largely on the contents of this book where the
main points are briefly summarized from an international perspective. Each
question is subsequently addressed and answered throughout the book.

Berman is the first to provide the framework for studying later language
development beyond the pre-school years. Her developmentally motivated
phase-based model of language acquisition across adolescence makes a case
for the study of later language as a separate domain by considering how
mastery of a language is a gradual and protracted process, extending well
into adulthood.

At the linguistic level, researching the development of vocabulary
provides a window for studying the interaction between cognition and
context and how this interaction changes with development. Dockrell and
Messer thus argue that lexical acquisition is an extended process and
involves the integration of phonological, semantic and morpho-syntactic
knowledge with cognitive and social processes (p. 35).

The authors provide a critical account of research studies involving
vocabulary acquisition in the early school years, and include populations
of children with language difficulties. By doing so, they are able to flag
up the complexity and challenges involved in understanding the exact
nature of word knowledge in general and vocabulary acquisition in
particular. This critical approach to research on vocabulary acquisition
brings to light the fact that many studies do not provide in-depth insight
in to the nature of semantic representations and how these change over time
(p. 38).The justification for their research (and thus this chapter) is
that emphasis must be placed on assessment of lexical competence. The
authors make a strong case for being able to assess and understand the
differences between production and comprehension in order to draw
conclusions about vocabulary acquisition. Furthermore, they distinguish
between preschool vocabulary and the effects of formal education on
vocabulary as written language becomes increasingly important for learning
about language. In addition, they make the critical point of the
importance of vocabulary knowledge which differentiates the better readers
from the poorer readers, and, furthermore of greater significance is that
the 'literate lexicon' (Ravid, this volume) provides a robust predictor
for identifying language difficulties at later stages of schooling.

These ideas are extended in the chapter by Dorit Ravid who, in an erudite
and comprehensive exposition, extends the study of vocabulary growth to
the 'mental lexicon', the development of literacy and the interface of
vocabulary development and complex syntactic structures. By providing
extensive empirical studies, Ravid makes a strong case for the role played
by derivational morphology in understanding the changes in children's and
adolescents' language during the school years. This evidence supports the
Berman model of language acquisition and development. Furthermore, the
exhaustive overview of the literature and the extensive research carried
out both on normative cohorts of children across the various age groups,
as well as data from language-impaired populations, provides depth to our
understanding of the complex processes involved in language development
and literacy.

Included in this book are three chapters based on the data obtained in the
cross-linguistic, developmental study of spoken and written text
construction abilities in seven languages mentioned above. They are the
chapter on the lexical realization of arguments in oral Spanish texts by
Ekaterina Khorounjaia and Liliana Tolchinsky, the chapter on the
acquisition of academic French by Harriet Jisa, and the chapter on text-
writing development by Åsa Wengelin and Sven Strömqvist.

In each country, subjects in four age groups -- grade-schoolers (aged 9-10
years), junior high (12 to 13), high school (15 to 16), together with
university-educated adults -- were shown the same short video clip
depicting different types of interpersonal conflict (moral, social,
physical), and all subjects were then asked to tell and write a story
describing an incident where they themselves had been involved in a
situation of conflict with someone and also to give a talk in class and
write an essay discussing the topic of 'problems between people'. Thus,
closely comparable methods of elicitation were applied so that each
participant across age groups and countries in the project produced four
texts: a personal-experience narrative -- both written and spoken- and an
expository text -- both written and spoken -- on a socially relevant
topic, with performance on the four tasks balanced for order across the

Within this fascinating study, language development is measured against
the criteria of adult competence; this involves the ability to choose the
appropriate register depending on whether the discourse is formal or
informal, written or spoken. The studies in oral discourse in Spanish,
formal academic French and text writing development in Swedish address
different aspects of language development.

The goal of the Spanish study (Khorounjaia and Tolchinsky) was to explore
the development of the syntactic patterns of argument structure. The
research reported in this chapter focuses on the analysis of oral texts,
both narrative and expository produced by the participants at each of the
four levels. In a detailed and well-structured chapter, the authors
introduce the linguistic structure of realization of argument, explaining
the uniqueness of the Spanish language as opposed to French and English.
They then go on to give a detailed breakdown of the analysis of the oral
data and how these results were coded, building on from previous work
carried out by Berman and Verhoeven, 2002.

Ekaterina Khorounjaia and Liliana Tolchinsky's explanations and many
examples provide the necessary background to the development of the
linguistic notion of argument structure within discourse. Their comparison
of genre-related differences addresses the issue of 'demands of different
communicative circumstances and interlocutor needs'(108). They ask leading
questions showing how the results partially support certain aspects of
language development, for example, the use of noun phrase complexity, and
connect their study to other chapters while at the same time showing how
more research is needed in order to find out more about register
sensitivity as well as the interrelations between grammar and discourse
across the different ages.

Similarly, Harriet Jisa, provides a well-developed argument for
researching the development of academic French. She investigated the
ability of the four age groups to produce both oral and written academic
texts, which, she claims, is 'the key to academic success'. Her research
lends credence to the processes necessary for the attainment of
literacy. "Learning to use language to encode information in writing and
to extract information in reading" (Ravid and Tolchinsky, 2002) forms the
basis for the developmental process in the attainment of literacy.

In her analysis of the data, Jisa emphasizes the role of expository
discourse and its suitability for studying academic language use. The use
of anaphoric references and passive constructions, for example, used by
the adolescents illustrate more academic and higher register forms of
expression. The conclusion to be drawn is that learning academic writing
contributes to the use of such structures characteristic of later language

"Writing is a complex activity, where the writer has to manage the major
processes of planning, execution, and monitoring in order to successfully
arrive at a final edited text. From a developmental point of view, the
management of these processes can be expected to differ at different ages
and levels of schooling and literacy" write Åsa Wengelin and Sven
Strömqvist, the authors of the Swedish chapter. In their chapter, the on-
line cognitive processes involved in writing are researched across the
ages by analyzing the distribution of pauses in on-line text-writing, on
the assumption that the observed distribution of pauses reflects the
distribution of cognitive effort during text-writing.

Wengelin and Strömqvist thus add another piece to the jigsaw puzzle of
literacy development as the acquisition of text-writing belongs solidly in
the domain of later language development. Their chapter explains the
keystroke-logging paradigm, a computer programme specifically designed for
research with on-line writing, where the pauses and transitions made by
the students in the different groups, were analysed. Development was
measured at the word and sentence levels. The results, reported in detail
across the ages, demonstrate that practice in text -writing creates
changes in the processes and leads to more proficient processing and
writing. These text construction abilities have their parallel in reading
research where similar processes have been researched. However, research
on writing is not as proliferate as reading, thus this research not only
provides an added dimension to literacy development and later language
acquisition but also provides a paradigm for further research of the
written modality.

Sébastien Pacton and Michel Fayol study the ability of children aged five
and eleven to spell in a deep orthography as of French, and discuss the
importance of accurate spelling despite the availability of computerized
spelling checkers, in order to attain writing proficiency. Their arguments
relate to the continuum of literacy acquisition with a focus on spelling,
a domain that has recently been gaining momentum as a topic for research.
Included within this survey of psycholinguistic research is the role of
explicit and implicit learning in acquiring accurate and effortless
spelling, an issue that is found to be important in many other aspects of
later language development.

A further contribution at the linguistic level, namely the development of
the syntactic abilities as a critical stage in language development, is
provided by Cheryl M. Scott whose emphasis is those children who have
language-related difficulties. These children use utterances which are
shorter and less complex than the regular children, and are unable to
understand and produce spoken language as a result of their difficulty in
learning syntax. By providing an overview of research carried out by
herself and others, Scott provides valuable information and understanding
of the abilities and disabilities of underlying syntactic processing. Her
research delves into comprehension of the difficulties experienced by such
children in the production of language, particularly writing, and the
importance of clause connectivity and subordination in developing
linguistic literacy. In the field of learning disabilities, little
research has been carried out in understanding difficulties in syntax by
comparison with studies investigating decoding and word recognition.
Scott's research thus contributes significantly to the field of language
development as well as to language-related disabilities.

Socialization is another important aspect of language development. As
discourse does not exist in a void, the socio-cultural and pragmatic
socialization theories of language development should occupy a central
theme in research of language development. Shoshana Blum-Kulka's chapter
thus deals with peer interaction and pragmatic development, and the
ability to produce socially and culturally appropriate spoken and written
discourse in a variety of situations.

The strength of this paper lies in a clear and succinct overview of the
field, illustrating on the one hand, the importance of this particular
aspect of language development, and at the same time commenting that peer
interaction has not been empirically researched as much as other areas of
later development. Emphasis is placed on two major domains of pragmatic
ability namely, conversational skills and discursive literacy skills, both
of which are illustrated through two examples of research in role-playing
activities. The studies give a detailed transcript of two nine-year old
girls and boys in two different situations, each of which is discussed in
detail. According to the author, the conversation elicited during this
research showed practice of advanced lexicon; use of advanced forms of
language; choice of register and shared culture, backing up the argument
for more research in this field to understand the development of the
different aspects of pragmatic development.

The only chapter in the book relating to comprehension and the
construction of meaning is that of Joan Peskin and David Olson which
addresses later language development from the perspective of understanding
poetry, of learning to make the crucial distinction between what is said
and what is meant. Research of both high school and university students is
presented and the contribution to later language development is shown by
the challenges provided by the poetic genre. Comprehension of poetry
appears to be is a function of cognitive development as well as requiring
specialized instruction, practice and formal schooling. In this context
and with its emphasis on literacy, teaching plays a critical role in later
language development -'students learn to become culturally literate' (p.
230). Furthermore, exposure to complex language in school provides the
environment for the learner to develop the ability to actively analyze
structural aspects of language, to increase vocabulary; and to cope with
complex syntax. Despite the different focus, understanding poetry can be
placed at the centre of later language development as it provides an
excellent illustration of how the combination of linguistic, cognitive and
social factors shape language development; in this way coming full circle
in understanding what is meant by ' early emergence' and ' late mastery'
of linguistic knowledge (Berman, this volume).

In the final chapter, Liliana Tolchinsky considers the nature and scope of
later language development. In an overview she highlights the most
important points in later language development thereby tying together
the 'plethora of issues' (p. xiv). 'Development of language does not
consist of accumulating new linguistic forms; rather, previously acquired
forms evolve to acquire new functions, and conversely, old functions come
to be expressed by an increasing diversity of linguistic forms' (p. 234).
She thus provides the key to understanding the domain of later language
development which is so eruditely presented in this book. Furthermore, she
introduces the terms, 'appropriateness' and 'divergence', again
pinpointing a particular paradox; this is that as language develops,
children become aware of genre and cultural setting and deploy various
registers and adapt to the situation and on the other hand, language
development shows individuality and heterogeneity. The latter is
illustrated through the different approaches and various aspects
researched. Tolchinsky further shows the connection of linguistic,
cognitive development with the attainment of literacy in an academic
setting, relating to the development both of the written and the oral
skills needed.

The leading questions posed by Nippold in the introductory chapter have
been addressed through the many research studies presented throughout the
book. Later language acquisition takes place in an academic setting,
involves abstraction, the growth of a literate lexicon and the use of
complex syntactical structures in the production of both oral and written
discourse. The factors driving these later linguistic attainments place
literacy within an educational setting where the opportunity for
socialization involves the gradual development of metalinguistic
competence and cognition.


Taken together, Language Development across Childhood and Adolescence
provides new insights to the field of later language development and the
development of literacy. The editor, Ruth A. Berman, must be congratulated
on compiling a book of such high academic caliber. Each chapter discusses
a separate aspect of later language acquisition and each exposes the
reader to a totally different approach to the same phenomenon; for
example, many different languages and settings have been presented. The
reader has to weigh up and assimilate knowledge from different
perspectives and build a psycholinguistic, cognitive understanding of
language acquisition. Moreover, as the development of later language is
approached from a linguistic point of view, this specialized terminology
and conceptual perception has to be understood and internalized; discourse
analysis, too, provides the anchor for contextualizing and understanding
the methodology and tools used for analyzing both oral and written
language where the emphasis throughout the book is on the production of
language rather than comprehension.

This book can provide much of the core material for university courses on
Later Language Development. With its detailed and up to date bibliography
the whole book or selected chapters will no doubt add to the quality and
content of linguistic courses across disciplines.

This book is not a systematic introductory book, but rather an impressive
overview of the field, written by leading researchers. In the twelve
chapters, the main components of language, namely, lexicon, morphology,
syntax, semantics and pragmatics in written and spoken contexts have been
covered. Furthermore, the research presented includes monolingual and
cross-linguistic settings.

Notwithstanding this vast array of studies and multifaceted perspectives,
none of the distinguished authors sets out to pull together all of this
international research or to provide a synthesis of the wide-ranging
research that has been carried out.

Finally, although the concluding chapter considers the main points of
later language research and stands on its own as an excellent chapter on
later language development, more references are introduced rather than
providing the reader with a summing up of the multifaceted and complex
linguistic view of language and research that has been so eruditely
provided throughout the book. The editor in the preface hopes that 'the
story that emerges forms a coherent and cohesive piece of discourse and a
solid basis for future investigation' (p. xiv). The latter part is more
than adequately provided for but it is left to the reader to form that
coherent discourse. At times some readers might be overwhelmed by the
abundance of studies and data; a more focused summary would have
complemented the excellent preface, clarified the relationships between
the chapters as well as enhancing the readability and accessibility of the

Notwithstanding these few drawbacks, I wholeheartedly commend this book
but particularly at the postgraduate level rather than at the
undergraduate level, as some of the content is conceptually complex and
assumes very specialized background knowledge of the topic. There is no
doubt that this book will become a classic and we can look forward to more
publications from the impressive range of international studies being co-
ordinated by the editor.


Berman, R. A. and Verhoeven, L. (2002)."Developing text-production
abilities across languages, genre, and modality." Written Languages and
Literacy 5(1):1-44

Ravid, D. and Tolchinsky, L. (2002)."Developing linguistic literacy: A
comprehensive model." Journal of Child Language 29:417-447.


Carol Goldfus is currently head of the English Department at Levinsky
College of Education, Israel, and an associate researcher in the
neurocognitive science laboratory in the School of Education at the
University of Haifa. She received her doctorate in linguistics and
education from the University of Birmingham, England. Her main interest
focuses around language acquisition in typical and dyslexic students. She
is currently involved in reading comprehension research, teacher
education, memory research and the development of materials for the
assessment of learning disabilities as well as cognitive intervention in
mother tongue and foreign language acquisition for those students who have
language-related disabilities.