A dynamic approach to second language development

A dynamic approach to second language development: Methods and techniques. Ed. by Marjolijn H. Verspoor, Kees de Bot, and Wander Lowie. (Language Learning and Language Teaching 29.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2011. Pp. ix, 211.  ISBN 9789027219992. $49.95.

Reviewed by Nadia Mifka-Profizic, University of Auckland

The idea of change being central to the universe is not a new one. In ancient times, for example, the Greek philosopher Heraclitus argued that nothing endures but change. The idea has been present ever since, but it received a new impetus and theoretical elaboration in the development of dynamic or complex adaptive systems theory (DST). Recent years have seen strong support for DST in the field of applied linguistics.

This book is a logical continuation of proposals by a group of researchers who view language as a constantly changing, evolving complex system. The book is broadly organized into three parts. The first part is concerned with the theory, the second part considers case studies guided by DST, and the third part presents a detailed description of the methods and techniques used in empirical studies reported in previous chapters.

Ch. 1, contributed by Kees De Bot and Diane Larsen-Freeman, serves as an introduction to DST and explains the differences between research from a DST perspective and traditional accounts of language acquisition. In Ch. 2, Marjolijn H. Verspoor and Heike Behrens explore the compatibility of DST with the usage-based approaches, making a clear case for bottom-up processes and the non-linearity of language development.

Chs. 3 through 6 consider the application of DST in empirical research. Each chapter presents an exploratory study, with references to the final chapter, ‘How to sections’ so that interested researchers and students can immediately learn how particular data have been obtained and analyzed. In Ch. 3, Monika Schmid, Marjolijn H. Verspoor, and Brian MacWhinney explore the ways of coding and analyzing data with a focus on language development over time.

The following chapter, by Marijn van Dijk, Marjolijn H. Verspoor, and Wander Lowie, deals with variability both at the inter-learner and intra-learner levels. The authors emphasize the idea that developmental and longitudinal data can bring about clearer and more realistic patterns of individual language development. In Ch. 5, Marjolijn H. Verspoor and Marijn van Dijk explain the process of variable selection in order to submit data to a model simulation.

In Ch. 6, Wander Lowie, Tal Caspi, Paul van Geert, and Henderien Steenbeek consider the final stage in research from the DST perspective–the simulation of models used to test the theoretical hypotheses. In short, the models used in a DST approach are dynamic, non-linear, and stochastic, clearly distinguished from traditional static, linear, and deterministic models. The final chapter, ‘How to sections’, by Marjolijn H. Verspoor, Wander Lowie, Paul van Geert, Marijn van Dijk, and Monika S. Schmid provides detailed descriptions of each method, including step-by-step instructions related to the analyses and calculation, and references to the web page containing the files used in the analyses.

Overall, the book offers a comprehensive account of the concepts, empirical research, and practical advice on how to analyze the data from a dynamic perspective, and is a worthwhile contribution to language development research.