Journal of Linguistics and Language Teaching
Volume 2 (2011) Issue 1

Madalena Cruz-Ferreira (ed.): Multilingual Norms. Frankfurt am Main u.a. 2010. Peter Lang Verlag. 419 pp. 69,80 € ( ISBN 978-3-631-59637-1)

This book on multilingual norms, edited by Madalena Cruz-Ferreira, focuses on what people do with language, not what languages do to people, as the editor expresses it in the blurb of the book. Whereas the research focus in the past was mainly put on the languages used by multilinguals, the present book concentrates on the learners themselves who employ their languages multilingually. The question is also raised whether multilinguals process their languages as monolinguals would process their language and whether a distinction has to be drawn between bilingual and multilingual speakers with regard to their ways of dealing with their languages.

The research approach of this book is strictly empirical and primarily focuses on the situation of multilinguals in the city-state of Singapore, which is rather unique insofar as four official languages are present (English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil).  

The purpose of the book, as is stated by the editor (p. 9), can be described as follows:

To glean cumulative findings, insights and resources (or lack of them) about multilingual norms of language use;

To raise awareness of what multilingualism is about, and of the urgent need for language norms which reflect multilingual uses of language;

To dispel misconceptions about multilingualism, that often entail sanctioned but damaging advice on individuals and families, as well as school and corporate policy-makers.

The book is clearly structured and consists of four parts, whereof the first one focuses  on “multilingualism and language norming”, the second one on “multilingual child language development”, the third one on “home and school language uses in multilingual contexts” and the forth and final one on “language assessment in multilingual contexts”.

The contributors to the first part are François Grosjean  (Neuchâtel University) - to whom the present publication has been dedicated - with his article “The bilingual as a competent but specific speaker-hearer” (pp. 19-31),, and Jason Rothman & Michael Iverson (University of Iowa) with their article “Independent multilingualism normative assessments, where art thou? (pp. 33-51).”

Grosjean pleads for a new wholistic perspective on bilingualism according to which the bilingual speaker is no longer regarded as the sum of two monolinguals (fractional view). The author claims that the monolingual view had too many negative implications on bilingual research in the past. More research should be invested in the area of bilingualism and in particular also in the comparison between monolingualism and bilingualism.

Rothman and Iverson share Grosjean’s criticism on a fractional view on bilingualism and multilingualism and correctly claim that multilingual acquisition is much more than cumulative monolingual acquisition. They regret, however, that normative assessments for multilingualism have not existed until now, thus giving way to the application of monolingual assessments on the evaluation of multilingual acquisition. The authors come to the conclusion that the development of independent normative assessment of multilingualism is urgently required.

The second part of the book on “multilingual child language development” consists of altogether four contributions:

Laying the foundations for multilingual acquisition: an international overview of speech acquisition (Sharynne McLeod (Charles Sturt University, Australia), pp. 53-71)

Early phonological development in the speech of bilingual-learning infants and toddlers: the interplay of universal and language-specific processes (Barbara Zurer Pearson (University of Miami), Ana Navarro (University of Miami), D. Kimbrough Oller (University of Texas), Alan Cobo-Lewis (University of Maine Orono), pp. 73-94)

Are three or more languages really too much to handle? Tracing the possibilities of multilingualism from Singaporean children’s choice of adjectival comparatives (Deborah Chua (Nanyang Technological University Singapore), pp. 95-112)

Multilingual infant vocabulary development in Singapore (Tan Seok Hui (University of Reading), pp. 113-139)

In her article on multilingual child language acquisition, Mc Leod concentrates on the acquisition of phonetic markers (vowels, consonants, syllables, prosodic markers) and describes the complexity and variability of language constituents in the world’s languages. As a central part of their acquisition process, children would have to master the components of their individual languages, thus decisively influencing the intelligibility of their utterances.

Mc Leod comes to the conclusion that children’s language acquisition is an extremely wide-ranging and complex area to deal with, even if the acquisition process is looked at from a monolingual perspective only. The author calls for further cross-linguistic research in the area of bilingual and multilingual child language acquisition.            

In their article on the “early phonological development in the speech of bilingual-learning infants and toddlers”, Zurer Pearson et al. describe language-general and language-specific milestones in the language acquisition of bilingual infants. Although the phonological development of bilinguals seems to be similar to that of monolinguals, interactions between the languages of bilinguals could be observed. The rate of development also seems to be dependent on the degree of exposure to the individual language. One of the conclusions the authors arrive at is the fact that at an early age (age 3) bilinguals seem to show advantages in their phonological development as far as language-specific phonemes are concerned. With regard to language-specific allophones, however, a small disadvantage could be noticed.

Deborah Chua follows the question whether three or more languages are too much to handle, thus “tracing the possibilities of multilingualism from Singaporean children’s choice of adjectival comparatives”. The author traces the issue whether the construction and the use of English comparatives (more vs. -er) is dependent on a child’s monolingualism or multilingualism. With regard to the use of comparative forms no significant differences could be noticed between multilingual Singaporean and monolingual British children.

The author postulates that empirical findings should be considered as a basis for language education policies.

Tan Seok Hui puts her emphasis on “multilingual infant vocabulary in Singapore”. In the context of her research project, she examined the multilingual first language acquisition of 177 children between 12 to 30 months. Hui’s basic findings are that, with regard to vocabulary size, multilingual children learning English as their first language show a similar development as monolingual children with English as their mother tongue. Exposure to language is identified as the basic factor of determining vocabulary development. The article also contains an appendix which gives insight into a questionnaire used in gathering information on the family background of multilingual children.

The third part of the book on “Home and School Language Uses in Multilingual Contexts” contains the following articles:

What are multilingual children actually hearing? A case study on the prosodic aspects of multilingual motherese in Singapore (Nala Huiying Lee (Nanyang Technological University, Singapore); pp. 141-171)

Singing the same tune? Prosodic norming in bilingual Singaporeans (Tan Ying Ying (Nanyang Technological University, Singapore); pp. 173-194.)

Norms for pronunciation of English in Singapore (David Deterding); University Brunei Darussalam); pp. 195-213)

Mother tongue or literacy bridge? Towards multilingual norming in education (Jean-Jacques Weber )University of Luxembourg); pp. 215-235)

Learning to read in multilingual contexts (Heather Winskel )University of Western Sydney, Australia); pp. 237-250)

In her article on what multilingual children are actually hearing, Lee concentrates on prosodic aspects in the use of multilingual motherese.  The author states that children in multilingual contexts are exposed to a variety of languages because parents do not usually strictly adhere to a “one caregiver - one language approach”. The article focuses on the way multilingual caregivers speak with their children, including features such as pitch, duration and modulation. The presented research is methodologically based on a case study including quantitative and qualitative analyses. The basic findings are that multilingual motherese with regard to prosodic aspects does not decisively differ from monolingual motherese, as motherese is generally characterised by higher pitch, wider pitch range, wider pitch contours and more repetitions. The author announces a further piece of research describing the prosodic development of children in multilingual contexts depending on the use of motherese by their caregivers.

Tan Ying Ying’s article “Singing the same tune?” focuses on prosodic norming in bilingual Singaporeans. The author claims that there is a lack of research in the area of intonation and the acquisition of prosodic markers, especially in relation to norming. On the basis of recordings of ten adult speakers, the author focuses on the difference of intonation patterns among three groups of bilingual speakers in Singapore (English-Mandarin, English-Malay, English-Tamil). The author comes to the conclusion that prosodic features of the other language (e.g. “the fall-rise-fall tone” of Malay) are transferred to English. Thus, the linguistic context has to be taken into consideration in the process of prosodic norming. Tan suggests that norming should not be restricted to the areas of syntax, lexis and phonology but rather be extended to the analysis of prosodic features.

In his article on “norms for pronunciation of English in Singapore”, David Deterding states that the standard for pronunciation of English in Singapore was traditionally oriented towards RP British English. The author, however, points out that in multilingual societies, such an orientation may no longer be adequate since the spoken English language is strongly influenced by the other languages used by multilinguals. In the course of his research, the author analysed recordings of nineteen female trainee teachers in Singapore and primarily concentrated on the pronunciation of the /th/ sound at the beginning of words, the /t/ sound in final position, the quality of front vowels, the vowels occurring in functional words and rhythm. The informants spoke Mandarin as their second language and a variety of languages like Hokkien, Catonese and Teochew as their third or fourth language. Concerning the voiceless /th/ sound at the beginning of a syllable, Deterding comes to the conclusion that this sound is often replaced by a [t] in Singaporean English. The omission of the /th/ sound is contrastively explained by a lack of this sound in Mandarin Chinese and Malay. With regard to the realization of consonant clusters, Deterding states that final consonants such as [t] or [d] are often dropped by Singaporean speakers. In fact, in more than 85 % of all cases, the second consonant in nasal + plosive or fricative + plosive combinations is omitted.

Concerning front monophthongs, Deterding comes to the conclusion that Singaporean speakers produce fewer vowel phonemes than RP English speakers or speakers of other varieties, which is obviously due to a lesser number of vowels in the speakers’ corresponding mother tongues of Chinese and Malay which also make no distinction with regard to vowel length. According to Deterding, rhythm in Singaporean English is largely syllable-based.

In his article on “Mother tongue or literacy bridge?”, Jean-Jacques Weber focuses on multilingual norming in education. In his research, Weber concentrates on the use of mother tongues in pre-school education in Luxembourg, where, among others, the mother tongues of Luxembourgish and Portuguese are employed. The author arrives at the conclusion that the concept of “mother-tongue” used by young Luxembourgian speakers is a construct containing elements of Portuguese, French and Luxembourgish. Weber claims that these findings should be considered as important implications in education policy. He points out that the one-mother-tongue concept might lead to unjustified generalisations since many bilingual or multilingual speakers have two or more languages which have the status of a “mother tongue”. In Luxembourgian schools, languages other than Luxembourgish are used by teachers and students, and incidents of code-switching and code-mixing can be recognized. The author comes to the conclusion that a strict claim for (a single) mother-tongue education is no longer appropriate in globalised societies.

In the last article of the third part, Heather Winskel concentrates on “learning to read in multilingual contexts”. She points out that the ability to read fluently can be considered as an extremely important skill for children. Winskel states that the reading-acquisition process of bilingual and multilingual children can be a particularly complex task since children are often concurrently confronted with different writing systems and phoneme-grapheme concordances. Winskel points out that there is a close connection between reading and phonological awareness, the latter ability being defined as children’s capacity to break down or manipulate spoken words into smaller units of sound. The author postulates that multilingual children’s reading skills should not be evaluated on the basis of monolingual norms, but rather in the context of bilingual or multilingual language and reading acquisition.

The fourth and last part of the book - “Language Assessment in Multilingual Contexts” - contains the following four articles:

SLT practices in a multilingual context: the challenges of educational, social and language policies for children with language disorders in Singapore (Joyce Lew (National University Singapore) and Alison Cannon (Singapore American School), pp. 251-277)

Assessing lexical development in Bilingual First Language Acquisition: what can we learn from monolingual norms? (Annick De Houwer (University of Erfurt, Germany), pp. 279-322)   

The development of the Singapore English Action Picture Test: an expressive language screening assessment for Chinese Singaporean preschool children (Chris Brebner (Flinders University of South Australia),  pp. 323-341.)

Assessing multilingual children in multilingual clinics. Insights from Singapore (Madalena Cruz-Ferreira (Manchester) and Ng Bee Chin (La Trobe University Melbourne, Australia), pp. 343-391)

In their article on “SLT practices in a multilingual context: the challenges of educational, social and language policies for children with language disorders in Singapore”,  the authors Joyce Lew and Alison Cannon concentrate on the difficulties speech-language therapists who practise in Singapore encounter. The authors claim that language assessments and therapies for children with language impairment are difficult to design in a multilingual environment such as the Singaporean one. In Singapore, children are confronted with at least two varieties of English: Singapore Standard English (SSE) and Singapore Colloquial English (SCE), also being referred to as Singlish. Sample analyses indicate that there is an increasing amount of multilingualism among Singaporean speakers, which is also reflected by the use of English varieties in Singaporean clinics and schools. The current SLT practice, however, shows that there are no reliably validated tests to diagnose the language progress or impairment of multilingual children. The authors express their hope that, due to an increasing number of multilingual therapists, multilingual assessments may eventually be achieved.

Annick De Houwer concentrates on the assessment of lexical development in bilingual first language acquisition and poses the question: “What can we learn from monolingual norms?”. The author bases her research on the analysis of data on the lexical development of infants and toddlers who were raised in a bilingual French-Dutch environment. The lexical development of these bilingual speakers can be evaluated on the basis of “parent report instrument” (CDI) data usually applied to monolingual children. Corresponding CDI data were available both for French and Dutch. The aim of the current study was to assess the lexical development of bilingual children at the ages of thirteen and twenty months in order to compare it with the development of monolingual children at that age. In the course of the analysis, ten measures at the age of thirteen months and seven measures at the age of twenty months were investigated. The study showed a generally high performance of bilingual children in the area of lexical development. Many of the children investigated performed in the top 20 percent whereas only a small number of the test persons performed in the bottom 29 percent of the scale. The use of CDI norms seems to be suitable for screening children in order to detect a possible delay in lexical development.

In her article, Chris Brebner reports on the development of the Singapore English Action Picture Test as an expressive language screening assessment for Chinese Singaporean pre-school children. The author states that the test was designed in adaptation of the Renfrew Action Picture Test in order to assess pre-school children’s expressive language skills more adequately and in a culturally appropriate manner. In order to develop and evaluate the test, the author chose 106 Chinese Singaporean kindergarten children, whose main languages were English and Mandarin. The analysis of the test results showed that the tested children were able to use a rather complex language in response to the presented pictures. Overall, the children scored high in the areas of information and grammar and higher than they used to do in the different versions of the Renfrew Action Picture Test.

The final article by Madalena Cruz-Ferreira and Ng Bee Chin concentrates on the assessment of multilingual children in multilingual clinics and reports on a study conducted in Singapore. The authors claim that, in the past, assessment instruments were normed for monolingual child populations only, although mono- and multilingual populations have to be regarded as essentially different. The main purpose of the presented study was to discuss new assessment instruments of child language development and to rethink multilingual child assessment. The results of the study indicate that only little focus has so far been dedicated to the research of multilingual SLT (Speech and Language Clinician/Therapist), although it can be noticed that clinical practices are more and more oriented towards the multilingual child. This is in fact urgently necessary since the current practice shows that SLTs often miss the chances of gathering clinically relevant data from multilingual children, thus impairing the effectiveness of their therapies. According to the authors, further research has to be carried out in order to meet the theoretical and practical demands of multilingual child assessment.

Altogether, the current publication, edited by Madalena Cruz-Ferreira, can be regarded as highly valuable for teachers, researchers and language clinicians. The authors successfully present an eminently readable book which is based on solid empirical research and  which hopefully finds the readership it deserves.




Prof. Dr. Frank Kostrzewa

Pädagogische Hochschule Karlsruhe

Institut für deutsche Sprache und Literatur        

Bismarckstr. 10

D-76133  Karlsruhe