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Book reviews / Journal of Pragmatics 27 (1997) 699-709


Charolles, Michel, 1987. Sprcialisationdes marqueurset sprcificit6 des oprrations de reformulation,de
drnomination et de rectification.In: P. Bange, ed., L'analyse des interactionsverbales, la Dame de
Caluire: une consultation,99-122. Bern, Frankfurt/M.,New York: Lang.
Hossbach, Stefanie, 1995. Zur RedewiecLeraufnahmeim Diskurs. Die Reduzierungund ihre sprachliche
Indizierung durch en somme und seine Entsprechungen (Doctoral Dissertation). Frankfurt/Oder:
Europa-Universitat Viadrina.
Gtilich, Elisabeth and Thomas Kotschi, 1995. Discourse production in oral communication.In: U.M.
Quasthoff,ed., Aspects of oral communication,30-66. Berlin, New York: de Gruyter.

Kathy Hirsh-Pasek and Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, The origins of grammar:

Evidence from early language comprehension. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996.
230 pp. 25.50 (cloth).
Reviewed by Ruth A. Berman, Linguistics Department, Tel Aviv University, Ramat
Aviv, Israel 699789.
The book is accurately characterized in the acknowledgements as "the product of
a long and successful collaboration" by two recognized researchers in language
acquisition. Its title, like the book as a whole, is to the point, and both focused and
ambitious. The study makes sew:ral interlinked contributions to the field of language
acquisition. It places language comprehension and structured elicitation methods
within the mainstream of language acquisition studies. By dealing with children
from as young as 13 months of age, it addresses the crucial issue of the origins of
grammatical knowledge, while taking into account the role of development in subsequent stages of language learning. It provides insights into several critical areas of
linguistic knowledge, by investigating children's perception of constituent structure
(Chapter 4), their comprehension of word order (Chapter 5), and their use of syntactic frames to derive verb meaning (Chapter 6, with Letitia Neigles) - all domains
which apply across languages, and so constitute a useful basis for crosslinguistic
comparisons. And it interprets the findings of a wide range of studies designed for
these purposes by means of a nonmonolithic, broadly psycholinguistic view of the
issues involved in this complex process.
The first two chapters specify the goals of the book and review different
approaches to language acquisition. The next four chapters detail part of a large
range of studies which the authors and their colleagues have conducted over the past
several years using a preferential-looking procedure to explore the grammatical
knowledge of very young children. The concluding chapter goes beyond these studies to present an overall view of the mechanisms and processes underlying early language comprehension.
As an introduction, Chapter 1 sets out the conceptual framework in which the
book was conceived and written. (The authors explicitly avoid espousal of any specific 'theory' or model, though they admit a slightly nativist bias.) They adopt a principle-based approach to argue "the case for a biased learner" (pp. 2-5) in language


Book reviews /Journal of Pra.~matics 27 (1997) 699-709

acquisition as in other domains of cognitive development. A second, less generally

accepted idea is the case they propose "against learning in isolation" (pp. 5-8),
defined in terms of what they call a "coalition of cues" - in the sense of the multiple and overlapping sources of information from the linguistic and nonlinguistic
environment which children exploit en route to their discovery of grammatical representations. Such a nonmonolithic view of the mechanisms driving language acquisition accords well with Shatz's (1987) idea of 'multiple bootstrapping', and it is
particularly congenial to this reviewer, who has characterized the process in terms of
a 'confluence of cues' (Berman, 1993, 1994).
Chapter 2 (pp. 11-52) provides an excellent critical review of current theories of
language acquisition, summed up by an "attempt to abstract a common set of presumptions about language learning" (pp. 47-50). The authors delineate two main
families of theories, contrasting different 'outside-in' approaches (social-interactional and cognitivist) with 'inside-out' approaches, both structure-oriented and
process-oriented. The chapter concludes with a section (pp. 50--51) summing up the
first of four goals which the authors set themselves in writing this book (formulated
on p. 9): to demonstrate children's early sensitivities to language input.
I would recommend this chapter as required reading in any course in the field. The
authors point out weaknesses in dichotomistic views of the field common to both
introductory texts and highly sophisticated treatments of the philosophy underlying
language acquisition research. To this end, they aim at "a compromise between what
have traditionally been called the nativist and interactionist theories of language
acquisition" (p. 11), first, by demonstrating the hyperboles (which, by their nature
contain "some truth and much exaggeration", p. 42) underpinning each of the
approaches which they review and, second, by showing that in fact all can be shown
to share important common ground, "as the wall between process and structure
crumbles" p. 49). Another, possibly complementary, approach to reconciling
dichotomies between inside-out and outside-in views is suggested by research that
attempts to bridge the gap between exclusive concern with linguistic structure, on
the one hand, and overattention to nonlinguistic, functional factors, on the other. But
the book pays little explicit attention to language acquisition research undertaken
from the perspective of 'form/function' relations, where structure-dependent knowledge of linguistic forms is analyzed in relation to the semantic and discourse functions which these forms fulfil in contextualized language use (as articulated, for
example, though for older children than those considered in the present study, in
Berman and Slobin, 1994).
Chapter 3 is devoted to the authors' second goal: to motivate and describe a novel
procedure for investigating very young children's comprehension of grammatical distinctions, in the form of an "intermodal preferential looking paradigm"
(pp. 53-72). It starts by enunciating why language comprehension is worth studying,
and then presents a useful, though brief, critical review of the kinds of studies that
have been conducted in this domain (pp. 54-59). The bulk of this chapter contains a
detailed description and defense of the preferential-looking methodology as applied by
the authors and their associates in a wide range of studies (including those described
in the three following chapters). The procedure, familiar from numerous descriptions

Book reviews / Jo,'~rnal of Pragmatics 27 (1997) 699-709


in the literature, analyzes altematiLonsbetween the attention paid by very young children, seated on their mothers' lapr~, to one of two video screens which simultaneously
present visual stimuli accompanied by one appropriate and one inappropriate linguistic description of the situation presented on the screens. Hence its characterization as
intermodal, since it involves matching visual and auditory input (pp. 61-62). This
procedure has been employed in several laboratories in addition to the authors' own
two host sites. Here, they describe the stringent coding procedures applied to ensure
reliability, and how they coped with possibly faulty designs of procedures and/or
alternative interpretations of results by additional, ever more rigorous controls detailed in subsequent chapters for their studies of constituent structure (e.g., pp.
88-89), word order comprehension (pp. 112-114), and verb transitivity (pp. 145,
145). They also note certain objections which could be raised about their methodology, in brief comments on possible drawbacks at the end of Chapter 3, and in several
caveats which they present "before attempting to extrapolate these findings to the
way in which children approach [language] learning in the real world" (pp. 157-158).
Anyone who has struggled with structured elicitations of linguistic data in production of comprehension from 2-year-olds will admire the ingeniousness of those
who devised this "rather devious kind of observation" (cited from Chomsky at the
outset to the chapter, p. 53) for working with children early in the second year of
life. Nor can one deny that the paradigm has given rise to a rich body of results, and
that it provides fruitful ground t0r speculation and further research with very young
children across a range of lexico-syntactic structures. Also, as noted, the authors take
careful account of problems they encountered in applying the procedure and in interpreting its results. Throughout the book, the decks are clearly, and strongly, stacked
in favor of the preferential-looking paradigm for investigating the language comprehension of very young children. This is understandable, since this paradigm constitutes the basic raison d'etre for the entire undertaking. And after all, our history has
made all of us biased researchers, just as nature has made children biased learners.
Nonetheless, just because the methodology is so central to the book and the authors'
claims for the field, I would welcome some more in-depth, detailed analysis of the
principled implications entailed by the limitations of such a paradigm, although this
lies beyond what is provided in the book or what is feasible in the scope of this
review. What can we really learn about knowledge of language in a forced-choice
task like this (which of the scenes depicted on one of two video screens is looked at
more often, and for longer, by more children), with children so young that each
study involves considerable subject-loss as well as a very restricted range of items?
This limiting in population and test-items could mean that children are being credited with more knowledge at a younger age than is actually the case. Conversely, the
fact that the studies are conducted in laboratory conditions, removed from the richly
contextualized, interactive linguistic input available in the normal course of language
acquisition, particularly at this very early, situation-dependent stage of development,
could mean that young children might in fact know more than is revealed by the
preferential-looking paradigm presented here.
The middle part of the book, Chapters 4 to 6, describes a series of studies
designed to "empirically demonstrate early sensitivities to [the following] properties


Book reviews / Journal ~f Pragmatics 27 (1997) 699-709

of very general language structure" (p. 9): constitutent structure, word order, and
verb subcategorization cues. As the authors note, all three are critical areas for language acquisition; they apply across sentence-types and also a ross languages (even
though the studies detailed here like most of the other research referred to in the
book are concerned exclusively with English). In order to process any kind of syntactic input, children must recognize that sentences are constructed of structured
parts rather than merely strings of words, that these elements are both linearly and
hierarchically ordered, and that verbs carry different kinds of relations to the nominal expressions with which they co-occur.
Two extensions, or at least clarifications, seem called for in relating the authors'
findings for comprehension to work on production data as evidence for language
acquisition. Chapter 5 introduces the study of word order by noting it as one of two
grammatical devices used by languages to "encode[d] relations between objects and
events [the other being] inflections (affixes on nouns and verbs)", (p. 99). This
makes the authors appear to disregard the role of nonaffixal closed class items or
function words, which are critical in a relatively isolating language like English. In
fact, they do explicitly note the importance of children's early sensitivity to the
preposition with for one of their experiments testing the use of syntactic frames to
derive verb meaning (Chapter 6, page 148). And across this book, as well as elsewhere in their work (e.g., Golinkoff and Hirsh-Pasek, 1995: 431), the authors cite
studies suggesting that children are sensitive to function words well before they use
them in their own speech output. This area is relevant for acquisition of what are
termed "functional categories" in generative grammar. Various claims for when and
how these emerge have been proposed as evidence for relatively more or less conservative views on nativism and continuity in 'inside-out', structure-oriented views
of acquisition (e.g., in Armon-Lotem, 1996; Meisel. 1992). It might be interesting to
relate the present authors' findings for early comprehension of constituent structure
and word order to such studies.
Another issue relating linguistic analysis and language acquisition could have
been more overtly addressed in Chapter 6. Here the authors tend towards the 'syntactic bootstrapping' hypothesis associated with Gleitman and other psycholinguists
who have used the preferential-looking procedure in investigating children's acquistion of verb-argument structure. This means they will not be favorably inclined to
claims to the effect that the lexicon drives syntax in acquisition, and that children
acquire individual verbs with their associated syntactic constructions before they
acquire the constructions as abstract grammatical entities p er se (Clark, 1996;
Tomasello, 1992). Nonetheless, I would have welcomed some more in-depth discussion of how acquisition of syntactic transitivity interacts with the semantics of
causativeness, on the one hand, and with morphological cues in languages like
Hebrew and Turkish, where morphology plays an important role in the marking of
valence distinctions, on the other. Rich production data, experimental as well as naturalistic, are available for several languages in this domain, starting with Bowerman's (1974) work on her daughters' acquisition of causative verbs. This therefore
seems a fruitful area for examining the interaction of production and comprehension
in acquisition, in the present instance by comparing results of the research presented

Book reviews / Journal of Pragmatics 27 (1997) 699-709


in the book under review with earlier findings for production, ultimately by investigating transitivity distinctions in both comprehension and production within a single
research framework.
The authors' idea of a 'coalition of cues' as driving acquisition was noted favorably earlier in this review. Chapter 7 lays forth their 'coalition model' for language
comprehension, and as such aim,; to meet the third of the fourth goals laid out by the
authors: "to explain how the various language cues might work together to enable
language comprehension" (p. 9). In doing so, this chapter counters two major criticisms that I was tempted to raise with regard to the preceding parts of the book.
First, although the book's cent~ral concern is with 'the origins of grammar', the
authors take careful account of tile need for 'taking development seriously' (as urged
by Karmiloff-Smith, 1992; and see, too, Berman, 1991). Only one of the three sets
of studies they report in the book deals with children at different chronological ages
and stages of language development (the verb-argument studies, which compared
children aged 18-22 months, 23--25 months, and 27-30 months). Nonetheless, in the
final chapter the authors expand on a three-phase model of language comprehension
covering the first three years of l~ife (and see, too, Golinkoff and Hirsh-Pasek, 1995),
relying on results of the studies reported earlier in the book together with findings
for acquisition of passives and principles of government and binding (pp. 163-190).
To articulate their model, they adopt "an eclectic approach that allows [us] to incorporate the foci of the different theories into a developmental story" (p. 159). Briefly,
in the first phase, when children produce few if any words, comprehension is characterized by "extraction and acoustic packaging" (p. 165); Phase II, when children
produce prototypical, often incomplete transitive and intransitive sentences, is characterized by "segmentation and linguistic mapping" (p. 171); Phase III, in the third
year of life, when children produce a variety of types of complete sentences, comprehension takes the form of "complex syntactic analysis" (p. 178). This model
enables the authors to overcome the process/structure dichotomy, with process-based
forms of representation (acousti,z extraction, linguistic segmentation, syntactic analysis) taken to underlie structural mastery of linguistic entities. In proposing this
'coalition model', the authors explicitly attempt to integrate prosodic, semantic, and
grammatical cues as playing differential roles at distinct phases in development.
Also appealing to this reviewer is their characterization of language development as
proceeding towards eventual linguistic 'autonomy', in the sense of increasing
reliance on purely structural linguistic cues. Thus, children start out in infancy by
relying on nonpropositional image-schemas, and they move on across the first three
years of life to increasingly 'language-dependent' construals of linguistic input. It is
an open question to what extent this model is directly derivable from the studies
which the authors conducted with their preferential-looking procedures. Nonetheless,
they are to be congratulated for at least proposing an explicit model, one which
incorporates both the psychological fact that children's abilities develop across time
and the linguistic fact that syntactic, semantic, and prosodic cues interact in language
structure as in language acquisition and use.
A second apparent lacuna in earlier parts of the book is filled by the discussion
which the concluding chapter provides of principled differences and interrelations


Book reviews / Journal of Pragmatics 27 (1997) 699-709

between language comprehension and language production (under the heading "why
should comprehension precede production?", pp. 190--195). Here, I would have welcomed more overt reference to Clark's (1993: 245-251) discussion of the asymmetry between these two channels, to the effect that "production does not equal comprehension". Particularly relevant in this connection are studies of Clark and her
associates in the area of compounding; this constitutes an important domain for the
lexicon-syntax interface, where word-order constraints in the comprehension of
head-modifier relations have been noted for children as young as two years in English and other languages, even though the age when such forms are produced tends
to differ considerably across languages (e.g., Clark and Berman, 1987; Clark et al.,
1985). On the whole, however, the authors reveal command of an impressive range
of language-acquisition studies in both the psychological and linguistic literature.
Like all researchers, they were necessarily selective in the range of studies which
they chose to consider relevant to their concerns. Besides, they do in fact discuss
how in some cases "comprehension may appear to follow production" (p. 194) by
their comparison of 'fragile' versus 'resilient' types of knowledge. This distinction,
too, is an important acknowledgement of psychological reality, suggesting that
acquisition is not merely a one-step, off/on process, but that it entails reorganization
in the nature and substance of knowledge of language across time.
Finally, the authors appear to me to have been largely successful in achieving their
fourth, and final "(secondary, but ... no less important) goal ... to make the domain
of language acquisition accessible to psychologists through clear and relatively jargon-free exposition" (p. 9). It is not equally evident to what extent the statistical and
other analytical procedures detailed for each of the studies described in Chapters 3
through 6 are accessible to nonpsychologists, particularly to linguists without special
training in experimental methodology. Technically, the book is superbly edited and
produced, and I did not find a single typo. One very minor suggestion: the reference
to Figure 5.1 on page 67 (of chapter 3) should be specified by page number.

Armon-Lotem, Sharon, 1996. The minimalist child: Parameters and functional heads in the acquisition
of Hebrew; Doctoral dissertation research, Tel Aviv University.
Berman, Ruth A., 1991. In defence of development. Commentary on Stephen Crain: Language acquisition in the absence of experience. Brain and Behavior Sciences 14: 612~513.
Berman, Ruth A,, 1993. Developmental perspectives on transitivity: A confluence of cues. In: Y. Levy,
ed., Other children, other languages: Issues in the theory of language acquisition, 189-242. Hillsdale,
NJ: Erlbaum.
Berman, Ruth A., 1994. Formal, lexical, and semantic factors in the acquisition of Hebrew resultative
participles. Berkeley Linguistic Society 20: 82-92.
Berman, Ruth A. and Dan 1. Slobin, 1994. Relating events in narrative: A crosslinguistic developmental
study. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Bowerman, Melissa, 1974. Learning the structure of causative verbs: A study in the relationship of cognitive,
semantic, and syntactic development. Papers and Reports on Child Language Development 8: 142-178.
Clark, Eve V., 1993. The lexicon in acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Clark, Eve V., 1996-July. Language acquisition through the lexicon. Plenary lecture, VIIth Congress,
International Association for the Study of Child Language, Istanbul, Turkey.

Book reviews / Journal of Pragmatics 2 7 (1997) 699-709


Clark, Eve V; and Ruth A. Berman, 1987. Types of language knowledge: Interpreting and producing
compound nouns. Journal of Child Language 14: 547-567.
Clark, Eve V., S.A Gelman and N.M. Lane, 1985. Noun compounds and category structure in young
children. Child Development 56: 84-94.
Golinkoff, Roberta Michnick and Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, 1995. Reinterpreting children's sentence comprehension: Towards a new framework. In: P. Fletcher and B. MacWhinney, eds., The handbook of child
language, 430-461. Oxford: Blackwell.
Karmiloff-Smith, Annette, 1992. Beyond modularity: A developmental perspective on cognitive science.
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Meisel, Juergen, ed., 1992. The acquisition of verb placement: Functional categories and V2 phenomena
in language acquisition. Dordrecht: Kluwer.
Shatz, Marilyn, 1987. Bootstrapping operations in child language. In: K. Nelson and A. van Kleeck,
eds., Children's language, Vol. 6, 1-,"2. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Tomasello, Michael, 1992. First verbs: A case study of early grammatical development. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.