(In)vulnerable domains in multilingualism

(In)vulnerable domains in multilingualism. By Natascha Müller. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2003. Pp xiv, 374. ISBN 9781588113733. $101 (Hb).

Reviewed by Silvia Kouwenberg, University of the West Indies, Jamaica

The introduction and eleven chapters of this volume consider the acquisition of phenomena ranging from the DP to aspects of syllable structure in mainly bilingual children, but also cover research making comparisons between child and adult acquisition. Its aim is to bring the perspective of multilingualism to an account of the distinction between grammatical phenomena where acquisition is virtually error-free (invulnerable domains) and those that are typically prone to error in acquisition (vulnerable domains).

Although several individual papers make valuable contributions to such a goal, the notion of vulnerability is central to very few of them; lacking a discussion that draws together strands from the different papers, the reader is left to wonder about the comparability of the insights that emerge from these papers, in particular where some of the findings seem contradictory.

For example, Tanja Kupisch argues that in French the DP appears to be an invulnerable domain, impervious to the dominance effects that might be expected where a bilingual French-German child is weaker in French. By contrast, Petra Bernardini claims that dominance effects can be seen in the bilingual acquisition of Italian DPs where Italian is the child’s weaker language, Swedish being dominant. Their different findings can perhaps be attributed to the aspects of the DP considered: Kupisch studies the use of articles, which occupy the same position in the DP in French and German; differences pertain to the contexts of use. Bernardini studies the placement of adjectives and possessives, which occupy different positions in the languages involved.

Other papers that seem to be at odds are those by Marc-Olivier Hinzelin and Mary Kato, which both consider null subjects. Hinzelin studies children bilingual in Portuguese and German—languages that require the null-subject parameter to be set differently—and finds that their production is target-like in both languages early on. By contrast, Kato, in her discussion of her own early L2 acquisition of Brazilian Portuguese, claims that while no transfer of her native Japanese grammar took place with regard to, for instance, head directionality, transfer may have occurred with regard to null subjects. It should be noted, however, that the case described by Hinzelin involves bilingualism from birth, whereas Kato’s involves early dominance in Japanese, as her acquisition of Brazilian Portuguese was delayed until school entry at age six. In addition, Kato’s evidence consists of her adult competence rather than an empirical study of her acquisition of Brazilian Portuguese as a child.

Like Bernardini’s work, the paper by Conxita Lleó, Imme Kuchenbrandt, Margaret Kehoe, and Cristina Trujillo points to interaction between the languages being acquired, in their case in regard to the accelerated acquisition of codas in Spanish in German-Spanish bilingual children as compared to Spanish monolingual children. Ira Gawlitzek-Maiwald’s chapter on German-English mixed utterances similarly identifies the ‘booster’ function that competence in one language may have for the accelerated development of competence in another. A different kind of influence of bilingualism is considered by Annette Herkenrath, Birsel Karakoç, and Jochen Rehbein, who argue that a marginal type of wh-subordination in monolingual Turkish has been extended and innovated in the Turkish of bilingual German-Turkish speaking children under the influence of German.

Anja Möhring and Jürgen Meisel’s chapter compares the acquisition of the OV/VO parameter by German-French bilingual children (target-like) and by adult L2 learners of German whose first language is Italian, Spanish, or Portuguese (frequently target-deviant).

The remaining chapters include topics such as English-Spanish mixing in the speech of a single child (Margaret Deuchar and Rachel Muntz), null subjects and optional infinitives in Basque (Maria-José Ezeizabarrena), and the study of acquisition from the perspective of a theory of multiple grammars (Thomas Roeper). It is not entirely clear that these chapters make a useful contribution to the goals of this volume. Deuchar and Muntz’s attempt to consider the possible effect of dominance founders on the child’s apparently balanced bilingualism; although Ezeizabarrena’s main subject is a Basque-Spanish bilingual child, bilingualism is not considered a factor in this child’s development; and Roeper’s focus is on monolingual acquisition.