Vol. 1. No. 3 R-22 March 1995
Return to Table of Contents Return to Main Page

Second Language Learning Data Analysis

Antonella Sorace, Susan Gass, & Larry Selinker. (1994).
Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Pp. x + 260. ISBN 0-8058-1483-3 (paper)
ISBN 0-8058-1864-2 (cassettes)
US $24.95 (includes two accompanying cassettes)

Book Review Editor's Note: The following review contains phonetic symbols that cannot be reproduced in ASCII characters. Substitutions have been made according to a conversion table that has been developed. These substitutions are explained in parentheses after each affected phonetic symbol.

Second Language Learning Data Analysis (SLLDA) is a workbook designed "to provide students with practice in analyzing second language data" (p. ix). The authors intend it to be used as a supplement to any introductory textbook or set of instructional materials in second language acquisition (SLA), although it obviously fits most closely with Gass and Selinker's recent text, Second Language Acquisition: An Introductory Course (SLAIC). They stress the importance of exposing students to actual second language data so that they can both come to grips with the interlanguage of learners from specific native languages and begin to deal with the underlying principles of second language learning which characterize learners from any language background.

SLLDA is organized into three major sections: Research Methodology, Interlanguage Knowledge, and Interlanguage Use. The authors deal first with research methodology because they believe that students must have an understanding of basic principles of SLA methodology, including how data are collected and analyzed, how research questions are related to methodology, and how constraints of time and focus can affect a research project, before they attempt to work with the data which will follow. Students using the workbook are encouraged to question and analyze the procedures followed in obtaining and using the data they encounter.

In SLLDA, a problem typically has two or three parts. Following information on the learner(s), some linguistic and/or methodological background is given. The data are then presented, often with charts, tables, and graphs to show the results of the analysis, and a number of questions are asked. The questions lead students to discover patterns, perform some analysis of the data, and consider general principles related to SLA theory or methodology. The problems in the Interlanguage Knowledge section cover the lexicon, syntax, semantics, and phonology. Those in the section on Interlanguage Use deal with variation, input/interaction, sociolinguistics, and communication strategies.

The book also contains useful introductions to each section, a [-1-] glossary, and two appendices containing transcriptions of learner protocols. The accompanying tapes contain the data found in five problems and the appendices.

SLLDA is similar in many ways to Selinker and Gass' (1984) Workbook in Second Language Acquisition (WSLA), but it is much more thorough and insightful and reflects the current state of the field, at least as presented in SLAIC. Although the authors make only a very brief mention of this earlier work, they have carried over ten problems from it. Unlike WSLA which clearly gave the source for each problem, however, SLLDA provides only a general list of sources in the acknowledgments section without specifying which source goes with particular data. This would be of no great concern, except that typos or discrepancies in the material might make some instructors want to look at the data as presented in the original sources.

Unfortunately, there are a number of typos and mistakes in SLLDA which careful editing should have caught. To be sure, many are of no great importance although they may irritate a careful reader. Others, however, may confuse students. I will mention here some of the more bothersome ones.

On p. 51, the context sentence for "affluence" is missing. Question 1 on p. 54 is stated in a potentially confusing way and thus does not relate well to the way the data are stated. On p. 55, the gloss for item 13 is missing. The last sentence in Data Set C on p. 88 used "like" when all the sentences in the problem and all the questions deal only with "want". The data for problem 3.7 deal with acceptability judgments on question formation tasks, but question 6 (p. 106) asks whether instruction on questions generalizes to adverb placement, something the data do not show.

Problem 3.8 gives linguistic background on two auxiliaries in Italian. This information would have been useful to students in 3.6 as well. In 3.8, students should be referred back to 3.6 for an explanation of "magnitude explanation," and should be told in the results table on p. 112 that "The higher the number, the more acceptable the sentence," as on p. 98. On p. 117, the Mandarin word for "self" is misspelled three times. It should be <ziji>. Also "daughter" should be <nu"er> (u" = umlauted u). "Different" is misspelled twice on p. 119.

In the first phonology problem (5.1) on p. 131-132, three strange phonetic symbolsĄP, E, and SĄare used without explanation. Surely, as in the identical problem (3.1) in WSLA, the symbols [T] (theta), [E] (epsilon), and [S] (s-wedge) should have been used ([tS] (c-wedge) in WSLA has been reinterpreted here as [t+]). There are several other data differences between SLLDA and WSLA: 45% is given for sentence 1, p. 126, whereas WSLA, p. 80, gave 43%; "Bobby" of Subject 2 on p. 135 is given as [bOpi] (O = open o) (compare [-2-] [bObi] in WSLA 3.2); and the last form of Subject 2 on p. 136 should probably be [lid@] (@ = schwa) as in WSLA 3.3.

Having extensive language material on the two tapes is very useful. Unfortunately, the quality of the recordings is not as high as one would have hoped. There is noticeable tape hiss and noise, and the speakers are somewhat muffled at times. The placement of the microphone was sometimes too far from the subject speaker, making the announcer's voice much clearer than the subject's! On p. 202, subject 2's first monologue is listed as being one minute and 30 seconds in duration. Actually, it is only about 35 seconds. This makes the comparison of the two subjects' first monologues very difficult. Finally, although the table of contents correctly indicates that problem 1.1 is included on tape 1, side A, the tape's label does not list it.

Despite the problem areas pointed out above, SLLDA is a highly useful workbook and will unquestionably benefit students who use it. The authors have put a great deal of effort into making it user friendly, both visually and auditorily. In her forward to WSLA, Elaine Tarone was highly complimentary, saying that the workbook would make courses in SLA more interesting, would demystify research by involving teacher-trainees in the complex process of working with real data, and would encourage greater breadth in SLA courses by covering a wide variety of areas. SLLDA will do all of this and much more. It is an important tool for introducing students to the exciting but challenging field of second language acquisition.

Reference

Selinker, L. & Gass, S. (1984). Workbook in Second Language Acquisition., Rowley, MA: Newbury House.

Herbert C. Purnell
Biola University
<herb_purnell@peter.biola.edu>

[-3-]

Return to Table of Contents Return to Top Return to Main Page
© Copyright rests with authors. Please cite TESL-EJ appropriately.

Editor's Note: Dashed numbers in square brackets indicate the end of each page in the paginated ASCII version of this article, which is the definitive edition. Please use these page numbers when citing this work.