How two tongues work

Bilingualism
October 6, 2000

This is an authoritative journal that makes a striking contribution to scholarly material on bilingualism. It covers language acquisition, production and competence from a cognitive-science perspective, and its concerns extend into neurolinguistics. Throughout, the focus is on the bilingual person as understood in a context of both dual-language learning from birth and second-language learning at a later age. With its far-reaching scope and its understanding of the bilingual, Bilingualism: Language and Cognition heralds a radical rethinking of previous certainties and a new approach to old lines of inquiry.

A broad-minded stance is reflected in the spectrum of languages receiving attention. These range from the traditionally more popular idioms to less studied cases. Not only are there articles on English-Spanish and Chinese-English bilinguals but also on Korean-English and Turkish-Dutch.

This global dimension is echoed in the composition of the editorial board and the spread of writers, with representatives from universities in every continent, including the United States, Canada, Brazil, Australia, China with Hong Kong, and Morocco. Europe has the heaviest concentration, with board members from France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

The journal is available to institutions in print and in electronic form and to individuals in print only. The annual volume as a whole may contain about 30 contributions divided by its three issues. Each issue is organised into two separate parts: a "keynote article" and "research articles". The opening article revisits former findings and established theorisation as a benchmark, often using this as a platform of departure for future developments; the research papers are more specific.

The strength of the keynote articles can be illustrated by examples such as the first piece challenging the influential thesis formulated by S. Thomason and T. Kaufman (1988) and Thomason (1998), according to which socio-linguistic factors outweigh linguistic factors in contact-induced language change, with suggestions of an alternative model on the basis of structural factors as the primary determinants of the linguistic outcome of language contact. Another opening article finds its theoretical framework in Noam Chomsky's distinction between internalised language and externalised language, in conjunction with Chomsky's minimalist theory of syntax. From this starting point, a new model is proposed that implicitly invites a revision of the conventional notion of bilingualism, in the sense of an impressive command of two distinct languages, and bilingualism emerges as a much more complex and multifaceted phenomenon.

Lively papers such as these are likely to elicit debate. Indeed, this purports to be one of the journal's two chief aims, the other being that of promoting research on the bilingual person. Accordingly, peer commentaries are also published along with the author's response to them. There is thus a cluster of brief articles in agreement, disagreement, defence or revision of the points put forward in the initial leading essay. This written debate may appear within a single issue of the journal, usefully publishing the full original argument and the ensuing discussion together. On the other hand, another format has also been used that may be conducive to a more authentic debate, where peer commentaries and the author's response appear in a subsequent issue, which suggests that the journal's readers were given a chance to voice their opinions.

The research articles section comprises a refreshing variety of papers on specific topics. Some concentrate on young learners and relate to a bilingual upbringing. For example, an author analyses the perception and production competence of compound nouns in a bilingual child. Another considers levels of literacy and compares the development of reading skills in bilingual and monolingual children. Some articles address bilingualism in a more ample sense of the term. In the latter category, an author claims evidence that there is no critical age period in the learning of a second language. Another examines the interaction between lexical and conceptual processes in second-language acquisition by adult learners.

Cognitive processes in two-tongue speakers are at the core of the journal's concerns, which makes its contents a rich source of information that can benefit practitioners in several sectors. It can provide answers for those who look for guidelines on how to promote the learning of two languages in the same individual. It can also help those seeking guidelines on the corrective action to take where a problem is diagnosed that affects perception and/or linguistic production. Though not for the lay reader, these articles can greatly assist professionals such as educators, teacher trainers and psychotherapists working with subjects of all ages. This is a timely initiative in a world with an increasing number of bilinguals and in which, for a growing number of people, the teaching and learning of a foreign language can be rethought in terms of bilingualism.

Bilingualism: Language and Cognition is a most impressive achievement as a forum for academics in the field of bilingualism and the discipline of linguistics in general. Its cognitive-science perspective and far-reaching scope confer additional interdisciplinary value, with a particular relevance to psychology and social studies. This journal genuinely seeks to open new horizons. Inevitably this entails a demanding programme that will not always be easy to fulfil. Nevertheless the journal has got off to a good start. One hopes it will go from strength to strength.

Manuela Cook is a fellow of the Institute of Linguists.

Bilingualism: Language and Cognition

Editor - Francois Grosjean, Judith Kroll, Jurgen Meisel and Pieter Muysken
ISBN - ISSN 1366 7289
Publisher - Cambridge University Press
http://uk.cambridge.org/journals/bil
Price - £71.00 (instits); £39.00 (indivs)
Pages - (3 times a year)

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