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Reviewed by:
  • Second language acquisition by Roumyana Slabakova
  • Tania Ionin
Second language acquisition. By Roumyana Slabakova. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016. Pp. xxi, 483. ISBN 9780199687275. $40.


This book is a textbook of second language acquisition (SLA) written within the theoretical framework of the generative approach to SLA research. The intended readers are advanced undergraduate students and graduate students who have some background in linguistics, in particular in syntax and semantics. The text is intended first and foremost for students with a prior background in generative linguistics. While the main linguistic concepts are explained when they are introduced, such explanations are necessarily brief, and students with no prior background in linguistics would find the more technical parts of the text somewhat difficult to follow. However, students or other readers who have a general interest in language and/or language acquisition, but lack a background in generative linguistics, should still be able to follow the main concepts presented in the book. This textbook is quite unique in that, while its focus is on theoretical research on SLA, it explicitly makes the link to potential pedagogical relevance of the research findings.

Brief summary

The book consists of thirteen chapters, divided into three parts. Each chapter ends with a section of exercises; at the end of the book are a glossary, references, and an index.

Part I, ‘Language’, provides a brief overview of the relevant background information that readers need to have in order to fully appreciate the rest of the book. Ch. 1, ‘Language architecture’, lays out the central argument of generative linguistics for the innateness of language and introduces the reader to several famous proposals on the structure of the language faculty. Ch. 1 then addresses the task faced by a second language learner and lays out the logic of the methodology used in generative SLA research.

Ch. 2, ‘Language variation’, walks the reader through the history of the generative study of language variation, from principles and parameters through the minimalist program. Like Ch. 1, Ch. 2 ends by considering the implications of the theoretical linguistic research for the learning task of a second language learner. The goal of Ch. 3, ‘The psychological reality of language in use’, is to prepare the reader for later chapters that address second language processing by reviewing the central models and findings of the literature on language processing and psycholinguistics more generally.

Part II, ‘Language acquisition’, has the goal of placing the study of SLA into the study of language acquisition as a whole by considering a number of different language-acquisition scenarios. The focus of this part is on the respective contributions of age of acquisition and of input quantity and quality to the task of language acquisition.

Ch. 4, ‘The critical period hypothesis’, goes over the history of critical period studies and addresses the debate about the existence of critical or sensitive periods in SLA. This chapter also considers the role of input, bringing together a number of quite distinct phenomena, including variable input, comparisons between heritage speakers and second language learners, and variability among native speakers at different educational levels.

Ch. 5, ‘First language acquisition, two first languages’, provides an overview of the process of first language acquisition; most of the chapter is devoted to monolingual first language acquisition, but the last section discusses simultaneous bilinguals, who form a natural link between monolinguals and adult second language learners. In Ch. 6, ‘Child second language, multilingual and heritage language acquisition, language attrition’, a variety of other types of language acquisition scenarios are discussed. Throughout this chapter, and especially in the last section, the focus is, once again, on the relative contributions of age of acquisition and input quantity and quality to the outcome of the language acquisition process. The position taken in this chapter, and [End Page e198] throughout the rest of the book, is that the effects of age can potentially be overridden by rich input, and that universal grammar remains active in SLA by adults.

Part III, ‘Second language acquisition’, is the heart of the book. In addition to providing an overview of SLA research in the core areas of linguistics (with the one exception of...


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pp. e198-e201
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