Current trends in child second language acquisition

Current trends in child second language acquisition: A generative perspective. Ed. by Belma Haznedar and Elena Gavruseva. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2008. Pp. 363. ISBN 9789027253071. $158 (Hb).

Reviewed by Katrin Hiietam, Manchester, UK

Taking a generative perspective on child second language (L2) acquisition, this book is a collection of papers on the nature of grammars developed by child L2 learners. The main subjects of these studies are successive bilinguals, between the ages of four and eight, who have mastered the basics of their first language (L1) and are now getting exposure to a L2. This volume seeks to draw borders between child L2 acquisition and other types of L2 acquisition and consequently hopes to open up new perspectives in the current linguistic debate.

Over the years, L2 acquisition has been studied in terms of developmental universals, L2 developmental stages, rate of development, individual differences, parameter settings, access to universal grammar, and the role of L1 transfer. In contrast, the present volume concentrates on L1 transfer in child L2, the relationship between morphological development/variability and syntactic representations, and the predictions of the domain-by-age model. According to this model, child L2 acquisition resembles child L1 acquisition in the domain of inflectional morphology, whereas in the domain of syntax, child L2 acquisition is more like adult L2 acquisition (Schwartz 2003: 47). Two papers (by Elma Blom and Jürgen M. Meisel) present evidence against the domain-by-age model and suggest that this framework is ready for theoretical revision.

The papers in this volume can be divided into five themes:

(i) Age effects and differences between child and adult learners. The tentative conclusion that emerges is that child L2 resembles adult L2 more than child L1, at least in terms of some areas of morphosyntactic development.

(ii) The acquisition of determiner-related elements. The comparison of child and adult acquisition illustrates that children are superior to adults in determiner acquisition.

(iii) Morphological variability. These papers focus on auxiliaries, verb omission, pronominal subjects, and morphological variability in overt morphology. A variety of conclusions are revealed such as that the acquisition of copulas can depend on aspectual properties, child L2 acquisition of pronominal subjects is similar to that of child L1 acquisition, and there is dissociation between morphology and syntax.

(iv) Comparison of child L1, child L2, and adult L2. It is proposed that both child and adult acquisition of verb placement and inflection are similar. Also, existing methods of proficiency evaluations are criticized in these papers.

(v) Typical versus atypical child L2 acquisition. A domain-specific model guides the acquisition of tense in impaired or delayed child L2, while also interacting with children’s sensitivity to computational complexity.

These themes are researched through innovative experimental designs that take into account L2 learners’ proficiency levels, quasi-elicited production, electronic corpora, and longitudinal studies. By introducing novel experimental techniques, this volume adds to the research methodology in the field of child L2 acquisition.

This volume discusses new theoretical perspectives, studies the phenomena of linguistic interface, and introduces new methods of investigation. Perhaps the main contribution of this book is that it presents data from child L2 studies beyond English-as-a-L2 contexts. Apart from English, the languages that are discussed in this volume are Dutch (Blom; Susanne Brouwer, Leonie Cornips, & Aafke Hulk), French (Philippe Prévost), German (Meisel), and child L2 learners of Modern Greek (Vicky Chondrogianni).


SCHWARTZ, BONNIE D. 2003. Child L2 acquisition: Paving the way. Proceedings of the 27th Annual Boston University Conference on Language Development, Vol. 1, ed. by Barbara Beachley, Amanda Brown, and Frances Conlin, 26–50. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla.