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Review of  Child Language

Reviewer: Elisabet Pladevall
Book Title: Child Language
Book Author: Jean Stilwell Peccei
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Psycholinguistics
Issue Number: 17.2579

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AUTHOR: Stilwell Peccei, Jean
TITLE: Child Language
SUBTITLE: A resource book for students
SERIES: Routledge English Language Introductions
PUBLISHER: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
YEAR: 2006

Elisabet Pladevall Ballester, Departament de Filologia Anglesa i
Germanística, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain.


''Like children all over the world, Christian had mastered his native tongue
in a remarkably short period of time. How did he do that? That is the
question that those studying children's language development continue to
ask [...]'' (p.2). With a brief illustration of how her son went through the
inevitable process of language acquisition, the author presents Child
Language, which provides a comprehensive introduction to first language

Child Language is a textbook aimed at undergraduate students with no prior
knowledge of the field. It is part of the Routledge English Language
Introductions series, which offers students an accessible study tool with
theoretical introductions, practical exercises, real data and essential
readings on the subject.

The book is divided into four sections, Introduction, Development,
Exploration and Extension, and is structured ''two-dimensionally'' in that
each section contains eight units which deal with the same issues all
throughout the book, although the focus is different in each section (the
units are approaches to language acquisition, child phonology, child
vocabulary, child morphology, child syntax, child discourse abilities,
child literacy and child bilingualism). Thus the reader may wish to read
''horizontally'', progressing sequentially through all the units in each
section to get a general overview of the subject, or else ''vertically'',
reading the first unit in every section and continuing in this way in order
to study an aspect of language acquisition in its different dimensions.

Section A, ''Introduction: Key Concepts in Language Acquisition'', introduces
the readers to the basic theoretical components in the study of child
language. Section A covers ''Approaches to Language Acquisition'',
''Phonological Development'', ''Lexical Development'', ''Morphological
Development'', Syntactic Development'', ''Discourse Development'', ''Literacy
Development'' and ''The Bilingual Child''. Each unit opens with a relevant
example of a child utterance and at the end of each unit, a selection of
further introductory reading is provided to facilitate the students' task.

Unit 1 (A1) provides an overview of the different theories of first
language acquisition first introducing the reader to the nativist and the
empiricist approaches. The role of input and the notion of ''child directed
speech'' or ''motherese'' are also discussed and illustrated. A1 ends with a
summary of what the author considers the basic and current tenets of child
language development: (a) language is not simply a behaviour but a
structured system that children acquire, (b) the child is an active
language-builder, (c) children do not simply increase their linguistic
knowledge but reorganize it adjusting it to input, and most importantly (d)
the study of language acquisition does not only focus on either the child's
innate knowledge, or the child's general cognitive processes or the child's
interaction with input but it involves the ''interconnection of the child's
co-developing linguistic, cognitive and social systems'' (p.6). It is
precisely this conception of child language development as a combination of
the above mentioned abilities that guides the sections of the book.

A2 focuses on the Phonological Development in child language. Essential
concepts in phonology, such as phonemes, phonetic symbols, the
International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), voice, place and manner of
articulation are briefly introduced to the reader to set the basics for the
phonological analysis of child language data. At the same time, the
biological course of phonological development (i.e. reflexive
vocalizations, cooing, vocal play, babbling and word utterances) is
reviewed and the simplification processes present in child language are
exemplified (i.e. substitution processes, such as ''stopping'', assimilatory
processes, such as ''consonant voicing'' and syllable structure processes,
such as ''vowel epenthesis'').

A3 deals with Lexical Development. This unit covers the notions of
''protoword'', ''under-extension'' and ''over-extension'', all present in child
speech, and reflects on the difficulty on the part of the children to
establish sense relations among words, such as synonymy, antonymy or
hyponymy. Finally, an overview of the child's vocabulary growth is
provided. A4 presents the course of Morphological Development by first
introducing basic morphological concepts, such as free and bound morphemes,
inflectional morphology and the most common processes in derivational
morphology. The unit briefly comments on the appearance of the first
inflectional morphemes and on the use of over-generalizations. Children's
''creativity'' and the use of the main word-formation processes are
emphasized and clearly exemplified (i.e ''I'm souping'' (eating soup), p. 20).

A5 describes the features of Syntactic Development. The author briefly
describes the one-word and the two-word stages and then focuses on Brown's
(1973) description of the order of emergence of grammatical morphemes in
English. Describing the child's syntactic development from the age of 2
onwards, different subsections are provided which deal with the use of noun
phrases and pronouns, auxiliary verbs and the expression of tense and
aspect, question formation, the use of negative sentences and more complex
developments such as the use of coordination and subordination.

Having characterized the grammatical features of child language, A6
analyses Discourse Development and children's conversational skills and
communicative competence. This unit explores the setting of a conversation
topic, the development of a coherent dialogue, turn-taking and politeness
strategies in the production of requests. A7 describes Literacy Development
after the age of 5 and the need for explicit instruction. The different
stages in learning to read and spell are reviewed and the concept of
''metalinguistic awareness'' is introduced. The last unit of Section A, A8,
presents an overview of the Bilingual Child. A distinction is made between
''simultaneous bilingualism'', which involves acquiring two languages from
birth and ''successive bilingualism'', which involves the acquisition of one
language from birth and the acquisition of another language from a very
early age. The notions of interference, code-mixing and code-switching are
introduced and the cognitive advantages of bilingualism are outlined.

Section B,''Development: Analyzing Children's Language'', consolidates and
extends the readers' knowledge of the issues presented in the eight units
of Section A. This section provides students with guided analyses of
children's language with clear and practical activities on real data sets
to be carried out by students, commentaries from the author, reviews of
previous experiments on child language and the introduction to further
theoretical concepts to expand the readers' knowledge of each area.

Keeping the order of the areas covered in Section A, B1 explores Child
Directed Speech in a more detailed way. Two activities are provided in
which readers can analyze adult-child interactions and then read the
author's comments on them. As for child phonology, B2 guides the reader
through consonant simplification processes and presents real data to work
on. B3 expands the readers' theoretical knowledge of over-extensions and
presents a practical activity with some examples to analyze. Regarding
morphological development, B4 analyzes the derivational processes in
children's lexical innovations and provides a commentary on the data set.
B5 presents data for syntactic analysis. This unit introduces the reader to
the notion of ''Mean Length of Utterance'' (MLU) and how to calculate it and
encourages students to calculate the MLU of a child using the data set
provided. Two more activities with their corresponding commentaries are
provided on the production of telegraphic speech and the distinction
between lexical and functional categories and on the stages of the
acquisition of negative structures. In B6, data on the acquisition of
communicative competence are analyzed. More specifically, data sets which
deal with the use of appropriate registers and politeness and the use of
classroom discourse are examined. B7 has a look at the development of
spelling and sets of written data are commented on, on the basis of the
notions of phonetic and orthographic spelling. Finally, B8 focuses on the
use of vernacular and standard dialects in the classroom and provides data
sets of African-American Vernacular English and Standard English and a
guided contrastive analysis of the two dialects.

Section C, ''Exploration: Data for Investigation'', offers the reader data
sets for her own analysis through the suggested activities. This section
also contains some commentaries from the author and a number of
descriptions, suggestions and practical guidelines for students' research
projects. At the end of each unit a list of specialized readings is
available for students to expand their knowledge in each area.

C1 provides an overview of the research paradigms in child language
research. The features of longitudinal and cross-sectional studies are
described, the CHILDES database is introduced and a number of guidelines
for experimental work with children are outlined. This unit also includes
three investigation activities which invite the reader to explore the
CHILDES database, consider language acquisition in exceptional
circumstances and carry out an experimental research project on child
directed speech.

Five phonological data sets are included in C2 which invite the reader to
pursue practical analyses of utterances which display two types of
phonological impairment, a dissociation between phonological and phonetic
ability, simplification processes and a fronting process. Three
investigation activities are proposed in this unit to develop research
projects on children's awareness of their own pronunciations, the
phonological differences and similarities in 'baby talk' and nicknames
between English and other languages and the children's pronunciation of
their first words according to their parents.

As for the children's lexicons, C3 examines our awareness of the kind of
information that is stored in our mental lexicon, children's self-repairs
and their implications for what might constitute their developing lexicons
and children's causative and opposite relations among words, through three
data sets and four practical exercises. Similarly to the previous units,
three investigation projects are proposed about overextensions in
children's comprehension, children's understanding of spatial adjectives
and the features of word definitions aimed at children.

Two data sets and two corresponding activities of analysis are provided in
C4 which exemplify the children's creations of agent-instrument compounds
and the use of conversion processes in lexical innovations. The
investigation activities proposed in this unit aim at examining children's
understanding of English plural formation, of the semantic effects of
derivational suffixes and of the concept ''word''.

Dealing with syntactic development, C5 expands the theoretical notions of
lexical and functional categories introduced in the previous sections and
focuses on the determiner, inflection and complementizer systems. The two
data sets in this unit encourage students to compare the syntactic
knowledge of two children of different ages and to explore the impaired
syntactic production of a 7 year-old child. The research projects in this
unit involve the study of adult perception of child syntax and children's
use and understanding of negation and wh-questions.

In unit C6, children's conversational skills are analyzed. Students are
presented with data for the analysis of children's politeness and use of
directives and the investigation activities deal with the kind of
directives that adults address to children, the children's perception of
politeness and a cross-cultural study of children's discourse.

C7 provides a theoretical overview of the features of spoken and written
language and of the stages involved in learning to write. Two sets of
written child data, a diary written by a 7 year-old girl and several
descriptions of a horse by a number of 7 year-old classmates are included
in the unit for the reader to analyze the influence of oral speech on
written language and the style and structures used by children when
writing. The three experimental tasks invite students to study written
pieces by 5-7 year-olds, to explore children's awareness of printing and
punctuation conventions and to reflect on the implications that computers
and electronic communication have for literacy.

The final unit in section C, C8, presents data to analyze the role of
conversational interaction in child second language acquisition. The first
experimental project proposed aims at exploring the bilingual children's
attitudes to being bilingual. The second investigation activity encourages
students to test the arbitrary relation between a word and the object that
it designates in bilingual children as opposed to monolingual children.
Finally, the reader is invited to analyze and evaluate the attitudes to
Standard English and Vernacular varieties as conveyed by the press in an
English-speaking country.

Section D, ''Extension: Readings in Language Acquisition'', provides eight
essential readings in the field of child language which deal with the eight
areas covered in each section. The articles or extracts from books by Neil
Smith, David Messer, Roger Brown or Richard Cromer among others are
introduced with a brief summary from the author. At the end of each
reading, students are provided with questions, some activities and further
issues to consider and reflect on the content of each article in relation
to the previous sections of the book.


Child Language offers a comprehensive introductory overview of first
language acquisition perfectly suitable as a textbook for undergraduate
courses and also highly recommended for graduate students and lecturers as
it provides the reader with useful and relevant suggestions of research
projects and activities to enlarge the students' knowledge on the area. The
book covers all aspects of child language including grammatical, lexical
and phonological development as well as social, attitudinal and literacy
aspects of language use which are too often neglected in this kind of
textbook but which thoroughly contribute to an accurate understanding of
language development. Being an introductory textbook, the book remains
remarkably neutral as far as theoretical perspectives and methodological
considerations are concerned, giving the novice reader the opportunity to
freely explore what the literature has to offer.

In order to evaluate the book's strengths and weaknesses more specifically,
this section makes use of six criteria provided by Brown (2001) which
outline the essential features that a university level textbook should
have: (a) scope, (b) sequence and organization, (c) contents (up-to-date
information and knowledge and quality of the examples provided), (d) the
readers' needs and background knowledge, (e) formatting and (f) goals and
overall quality.

In my view, the intended scope of the book is thoroughly covered. Not only
does it provide students with the basic concepts in language development
but it also gives them an overview of social aspects of language
acquisition and includes the notion of bilingualism, which is indeed very
much present in our lives. Each area introduced in section A is then
expanded, clarified and exemplified in detail with activities, practical
exercises and real data in sections B and C. Section D enables students to
face academic literature by relating it to the topics introduced through
the book. Yet more space should be devoted to reviewing the existing
approaches to language acquisition in unit A1. The description of nativist
and empiricist approaches requires a bit more elaboration, considering that
the book introduces students to the field of language acquisition. Also in
section A, all units provide definitions and explanations of very basic
concepts, such as ''phoneme'' or ''morpheme'', in all areas except for the
syntactic development unit, which, apart from introducing the notion of
Aspect, assumes that students are familiar with all other syntactic notions
and labels.

As for the organization of the book, the ''two-dimensional'' structure of the
book enables the reader to choose the study style that best suits her. Some
students might prefer to read the book vertically, though it might be
difficult for students to delve into one particular area of language
development. Reading it horizontally, students can concentrate on different
aspects of the same area before moving on to the next, which facilitates
the students' understanding of the issue. The fact that the content of the
book is divided into four separate sections for each area is clear and
effective in that it allows the students to know where they are and what to
expect at all times. However, section C, which aims at providing students
with real data, also introduces a number of theoretical concepts. The
reader might expect this type of information in Section A and might be
confused at coming across new theoretical concepts in the section devoted
to real data. These concepts are always relevant and necessary for students
to be able to analyze the data but it might be easier for students to find
all theoretical references together in such a structured book.

As regards to content, the book is just what students require to complement
their lectures on language acquisition and access real data. The practical
exercises and activities as well as the author's commentaries prove helpful
and extremely useful for students to assimilate and apply the more
theoretical issues. Likewise, the practical guidelines and suggestions for
research projects are detailed and motivating and the further reading
sections encourage students to access more advanced literature on the
field. The examples and illustrations are relevant, clear and engaging and
the fact that the author shares personal experiences related to child
language development with the reader makes the issues discussed more
accessible. A final comment related to content is that although the book
focuses on the acquisition of English and a contrastive analysis with other
languages is beyond the scope of the book, some examples from other
languages would have been relevant for students.

As for the references included in the text, one gets the impression that
the book relies sometimes on references which might be not so relevant in
the current debates in language acquisition, such as Radford (1990) in C5
and the claim that functional categories are entirely absent in the early
stages of language acquisition. Some other references, although relevant
and justified, date back to the 70s and 80s or even earlier and could be
replaced by more recent literature on the issue.

The readers' needs and background are well taken care of in that the amount
and level of information and its exposure is suitable for undergraduate
students. The great number of examples, exercises, sample data and
references to general introductory books all cover the students' needs on
the subject and help the learning process. As for the author's commentaries
on the activities proposed, they are extremely useful and necessary.
Although all activities in Section B are followed by a helpful commentary,
not all units in Section C have them, which might leave some questions

The formatting of the book is clear and well-organized and the data are
clearly laid out and attractive to the reader. Only a couple of
inaccuracies could be found, on pages 61 and 93.

There is no doubt that the aim of this resource book has been fully
accomplished and that its overall quality makes it worth reading. Engaging
as it is, Child Language opens the door of the fascinating area of language
acquisition to students who might think that child language is mere
imitation and as such, not worth investigating. Most importantly, the
reader is not a passive recipient of knowledge in this book but is invited
to actively observe the language acquisition process and experience real data.


Brown, D. (2001) Teaching by principles: An integrated approach to language
pedagogy. White Plains, NY: Addison Wesley Longman.

Brown, R. (1973) A First Language: The Early Stages. Cambridge MA: Harvard
University Press.

Radford, A. (1990) Syntactic Theory and the Acquisition of Syntax. Oxford:
Elisabet Pladevall is an Assistant Lecturer in the Departament de Filologia
Anglesa i Germanística in the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain. Her
research interests are mainly first and second language acquisition and
syntax. She carried out an MA in Linguistics in University College London
and an MA in English Studies in Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. Her two
MA theses were on First Language Acquisition (English and Catalan) and she
is currently writing her PhD Thesis on Child and Adult Second Language
Subject Development.

Format: Hardback
ISBN: 0415281024
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: 256
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