You are on page 1of 2

646

Book Reviews

doi:10.1017/S0272263109990088

INCOMPLETE ACQUISITION IN BILINGUALISM: RE-EXAMINING
THE AGE FACTOR. Silvina Montrul. Amsterdam: Benjamins, 2008.
Pp. x + 312.
As one of the first generative acquisition researchers who looked into the competence of heritage speaker bilingual individuals, Montrul’s body of work is
rightfully the standard for formal linguistic studies on Hispanic heritage speaker
bilingualism. This book is the capstone to a pioneering and novel research program, initiated close to a decade ago and continuing to the present and beyond.
Called by different labels across the world (e.g., background language, home
language speakers), heritage language bilinguals are child naturalistic acquirers
of a minority language spoken at home along with a majority language acquired
either simultaneously or subsequently at a very early age. Crucially, however, a
heritage language is not the language of the general society in which the child
grows up and in which the child is formally educated. Spanish in the context of
North America, the language most directly examined in this book, is a clear case
of a heritage language; however, any minority language acquired at home that
comes in contact with a majority language in any location qualifies as a heritage
language.
This volume is innovative in its completeness and the breadth of issues
addressed. It successfully demonstrates how and why the investigation of child
heritage language bilingual competence outcomes in adulthood adds to many
key epistemological discussions pertinent to adult SLA theory, linguistic theory
in general, and first language (L1) attrition studies. Furthermore, this work
provides a thorough review of an impressive amount of available literature on
nonnative ultimate attainment. Montrul shows that age of acquisition is deterministic not only for adult SLA but also for what properties are vulnerable to
incomplete acquisition in childhood bilingualism and L1 attrition.
Since the dawn of SLA theories, there has been an active debate as to what
outcomes can be reasonably expected in second language (L2) ultimate attainment. Although conceived of differentially by individual researchers and various cognitive-SLA paradigms, implicit to any strong application of the critical
period hypothesis to adult language acquisition is the assumption that age of
exposure is an inevitably deterministic variable to ultimate native success. Details aside, many proponents of critical or sensitive period explanations of adult
L2 and native control competence differences maintain that increasing age of
exposure delimits the mere possibility of nativeness. Although not always explicitly stated, it is fair to claim that many of these researchers take the position
that language acquired before the onset of a critical or sensitive period should
have no other recourse than to be acquired completely. Although Montrul
shows that age of acquisition is related to nonnative outcomes, she demonstrates
how nonnative outcomes are not limited to adult language acquisition but also
obtain even when the language was natively acquired in childhood. She postulates that nonnative outcomes in heritage language bilingualism occur on a continuum of various degrees of incomplete acquisition (i.e., arrested development
of the native grammar due to the influence of the majority language, the L2),

which won the 2003 British Association for Applied Linguistics book prize. which. Formulaic language is a term used by many researchers to refer to lexical units more than one word long. in turn. It is significant that Montrul demonstrates that heritage speaker bilinguals of Spanish differ from native controls in many domains of grammar (e. Pp. xv + 305. language contact. is aimed at theoretical linguists. if child naturalistic acquisition can result in comparative differences from the established monolingual norms without raising questions about the extent to which these learners had accessibility to inborn linguistic mechanisms.g.1017/S027226310999009X FORMULAIC LANGUAGE: PUSHING THE BOUNDARIES. and mood) despite the fact that they have acquired Spanish as a L1 in childhood. After all. questions the position that child and adult acquisition must be fundamentally different. As such. then why should the presence of L1-adult L2 differences necessarily mean a fundamental difference? Assuming that quality and quantity of input. That heritage speakers empirically test similarly to adult L2 learners for some properties. Oxford: Oxford University Press. . This volume. or language transfer as well as (some) affective factors come together to explain heritage speaker outcome differences. A search in the Cambridge scientific linguistics and language behavior abstracts database with the keywords formulaic or chunk will pull up as many as 283 published works during the period from 1998 to 2008. bilingualism.Book Reviews 647 L1 attrition. Alison Wray. aspect. 2008. are outperformed by advanced L2 learners. or a combination of both. This effectively deconstructs the notion that prepubescent language acquisition inevitably results in nativelike convergence. it is reasonable to argue that these factors also pertain to the outcome differences noted in adult SLA without the processes and available mechanisms that constrain language learning as being inevitably unique. Wray’s new book is a much awaited follow-up to its predecessor Formulaic Language and the Lexicon (2002). child and adult alike. This book extends the framework in Wray (2002) and presents cutting-edge research and new developments in the field. and are more comparable to native-speaker controls than L2 learners in yet other domains (or subproperties of specific domains) suggest that heritage speakers are different—understanding these differences more completely is the object of this book and much future research. (Received 8 January 2009) Jason Rothman The University of Iowa doi:10. SLA researchers. use of subject pronouns. and that so-called incompleteness is both relative and dynamic. and L1 attrition.. This fast-growing area of applied linguistics has seen a considerable number of publications in the past decade. Montrul highlights many issues that must be taken into account when assessing the competence of bilinguals. this book is compulsory reading for all students and researchers who are interested in SLA. differential object marking. which compiles theoretical arguments and empirical studies.