Early Language Development: Bridging Brain and Behavior

Angela Friederici and Guillaume Thierry, (Eds.). Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 2008. Pp. xiv + 263.

Reviewed by Reima Al-Jarf
King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

This new book from the International Association for the Study of Child Language is important for neuropsychologists, speech pathologists, psycholinguists, early childhood educators, and graduate students interested in the non-traditional study of early language development.

Providing several theoretical and methodological approaches in the study of English, French, Welsh, Spanish, Dutch, and German and coming from different geographical backgrounds (USA, UK, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Mexico) and different academic backgrounds (psychology, human cognition, and psycholinguistics), the authors highlight the significance of electroencephalography and functional brain imaging in establishing language dependent patterns of brain activity in the text s ten chapters: (1) A general introduction to event-related potentials (ERPs) methodology and various issues arising in infant studies; (2) a comprehensive overview of key ERP studies investigating phoneme, word, and sentence processing during early language development; (3) the infant s ability to segment words from the continuous auditory speech stream; (4) the problem of word segmentation and the processes underlying word segmentation; (5) an overview of a cross-sectional investigation addressing the onset of word from recognition in English and Welsh infants based on behavioral measures; (6) how ERPs can provide fundamental insight into the ontogenesis of the semantic system between 12 and 14 months; (7) an account of the phonological, prosodic and semantic processing of single words in children between the ages of 3 months and 3 years; (8) a case for experimentation to be grounded in cognitive theory; (9) a description ERP patterns elicited by phrase structure violations in 24-and 32.5 month-olds and compare them to those of adult listeners; and (10) a discussion of the prospects and challenges involved in language acquisition and ERP research approaches.

Each chapter follows a similar format. In each, the authors provide an overview of their main research approaches, review the context in which they conducted their research, and discuss theoretical issues and report results pertaining to their research. They also compareexperimental and event-related potentials (ERPs) at different processing levels (e.g. phonemic discrimination, categorical perception, speech segmentation, syllable and word recognition, semantic priming) and share their vision of how the early language acquisition field might develop in the future, taking into consideration latest methodological and theoretical developments.
A unique feature of this text is that unlikeother books that focus on the study of early language development in the past 30 years that examine observations of infant and toddlers overt linguistic behavior and the invaluable findings that have been reached, the authors in this text present research studies of early language development based on a new research approach that combines experimental psychology and neuroimaging, especially event-related potentials (e.g. behavioral and electrophysiological measures), which have recently started to appear in the infant language development literature.

Not all general readers, teachers, and parents will easily comprehend the detailed accounts of the neurological and behavioral approaches to the study of early language processing, but they can read the first tutorial chapter in the book and refer to the glossary at the beginning that explains some of the terminology used throughout the book for help. The reiterations of the techniques and lines of reasoning used will also make the book even more accessible to the general reader.