The Reading Matrix
Kids' Slips: What Young Children's Slips of the Tongue Reveal about Language DevelopmentJaeger, J. J. (2005)Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
Vol. 5, No. 2, September 2005
Pp. xix + 727
Cost: $ 65.00
Reviewed by Carmen-Pilar Serrano-Boyer
Torreón del Alcázar Secondary School, Ciudad Real, Spain
Slips of the tongue (SOTs) are very common in people's everyday speech. Who has never made an involuntary error and immediately corrected it? There can be SOTs in terms of phonology, lexicon, morphology, syntax and so forth. William Archibald Spooner, an English scholar (d. 1930) who was said to have had a nervous way of speaking which resulted in him making many SOTs, became the involuntary author of some famous ones, for example the one that says 'you have hissed all my mystery lessons' (for 'you have missed all my History lessons'). We have to admit that occasionally it can sound funny, but not so funny for those parents who start worrying as soon as they observe their children's SOTs. For Jeri J. Jaeger these slips of the tongue are nothing to worry about. On the contrary, they reveal what the child knows about the structure of language, therefore they can be very valuable information for linguists and other researchers.
The book under review adopts a very innovative approach; adults' slips of the tongue have been analysed by linguists and neuropsychologists as proof of how language is processed by different areas of the human brain, nevertheless children's slips had never been studied so deeply as in this enlightening work. One of the positive features of this well-documented book is its wide corpus: it is such an invaluable tool that I am sure it will be used by plenty of different researchers as well as people in professions to do with linguistics, psychology, neurology and so on.
"Kid's Slips: What Young Children's Slips of the Tongue Reveal About Language Development" is a book divided into six chapters.
In Chapter 1 Jaeger defines the term 'slip of the tongue' and makes clear that it is "a one-time error in speech production planning" (p. 2), sometimes it is the child himself/herself who corrects his/her utterance. When talking about SOTs we have to take into account the child's current grammar and make sure that the structure affected by the error had already been acquired, otherwise it cannot be referred to as a slip of the tongue. These errors can be classified into four groups: phonological, lexical, syntactic and propositional; however they can also be organized according to form (substitution, addition, omission, movement, exchange and blend) as well as directionality. The author highlights the important fact that children can make SOTs at an early age: 1 year and seven months in the case of Anna, her eldest child. As in any other linguistic field, there can also be ambiguous cases, but Jeri J. Jaeger has the very special advantage of being a mother-psycholinguist and, as such, she knows perfectly well her three children's level of maturity, learning styles, personalities, and so on.
Chapter 2 compares children and adults' SOTs and reaches the conclusion that both children and adults basically make the same proportion and types of errors. Jaeger also states that adults usually wish to be successful at communication (this could be the reason why they correct their SOTs more often than children do) and that the adults' external monitor is also more efficient than that of the children. This kind of valuable information permits linguists to study different details of language development and speech processing.
Chapter 3 deals with phonetics and phonology. It starts by giving an overview of the development of phonological units; throughout this extensive chapter (128 pages) the author centres on errors of phonetic features, segments and phonemes, syllables, stress and intonation, as well as the phonological structure of lexical entries (always accompanied by innumerable SOT data). As a meticulous researcher, Jaeger is constantly offering the most appropriate and significant examples to support the findings she presents.
Chapter 4 concentrates on different types of lexical errors made by age and the factors that generally cause or affect them. This chapter also examines some differences between the children and the adults' lexical errors as well as how, in some cases, it is a lack of maturity of the children's attentional or control mechanisms that makes young children more susceptible than adults to a specific kind of lexical error. I especially liked this chapter because it certainly becomes clear to the reader that there is almost always a 'logical' reason for most SOTs (in some cases it is the context, in others a preceding utterance, and so forth).
In Chapter 5 Jaeger expounds her criteria for deciding whether or not two words involved in a particular lexical SOT share a semantic relationship. The data of this study are compared to the data offered by other studies related to semantic SOTs and the author remarks upon the main similarities and differences. Above all, she wants the reader to take notice of two facts: a) conceptual-semantic relationships organize children's lexicon at a very young age—1 year and 7 months; and b) at about age 2 years and 6 months lexicon starts being organized by lexical-semantic relationships.
Chapter 6 focuses on morphological and syntactic SOTs. Jaeger's findings help to answer some of the questions on the development of morphology and syntax, and also make clear that the acquisition of morphology is interrelated with the acquisition of syntax. At the end of this chapter the author clearly expresses her wishes: that other researchers can use, explore and analyse the data of her study from different perspectives; she also emphasizes how useful it would be to have the same kind of study in other languages apart from English.
A noticeable merit of Jeri J. Jaeger's book is that it usually includes a summary and conclusions at the end of every chapter, this way she brings together all the most important ideas; sometimes we can even find summaries at the end of every single section.
The enormous amount of data (a total of 1,383 examples), which was collected between 1983 and 1992, is perfectly well-organized in 91 tables throughout the different chapters; figures and diagrams are also very helpful to clarify some points. The interpretation of these data took Dr Jaeger another decade; therefore, when we have the book in our hands, it is difficult to forget that the author had to dedicate about 20 years of her life as a psycholinguist to compile and analyse all this interesting material. I am sure she and her three children, whom the book is dedicated to, will not forget it either.
After the useful 17-page reference section, we find a compilation of the children's SOTs used for this study; they are organized into four groups: phonological, lexical, syntactic and propositional (the adult data are provided on a website mentioned in the book). This compilation is another positive feature of the volume since there might be some linguistics-related professionals who could use Jaeger’s book just to get all the data and work with them from a totally different angle; were this the case, such valuable material is located at the end of the book (throughout 209 pages).
In spite of this elaborate book being addressed at specialists, as I have already mentioned, a minor flaw is that it does not include either a glossary or a conceptual index (though it does include an author index). Had the author added a glossary of technical terms, it would have been very helpful for non-specialists; the reader would also benefit from a conceptual index if it were to be included in further editions to come. Apart from this small criticism, I have nothing but praise for Jeri J. Jaeger's new publication.
In summary, this is an insightful and excellently researched book which I would certainly recommend reading. It has already become a really interesting contribution to the wide literature on developmental linguistics and psychology.
Carmen-Pilar Serrano-Boyer is an EFL teacher at IES Torreón del Alcázar, a state secondary school in Ciudad Real, Spain. She has been teaching English for fourteen years. She is the Head of the English Department.