01/11/2021 Computer Science Linguistics Medicine
DOI: 10.1111/cogs.13062 SemanticScholar ID: 244040085

What Can Bilingual Children Tell Us About the Developmental Relationship Between Vocabulary and Grammar?

Publication Summary

Strong correlations between vocabulary and grammar are well attested in language development in monolingual and bilingual children. What is less clear is whether there is any directionality in the relationship between the two constructs, whether it is predictive over time, and the extent to which it is affected by language input. In the present study, we analyzed data from 100 bilingual children with English as an additional language who were tested on measures of vocabulary breadth and depth, morphology, and syntax at three time points at 6-month intervals from the age of 5 and 8. We used bivariate growth models to test the directionality of the relationship between vocabulary breadth and depth, and measures of morphology and syntax; testing bilingual children allowed us to use measures of English input as covariates in the analyses. All the models showed a correlation between vocabulary and grammar, but no correlation between their growth slopes, suggesting that vocabulary and grammar grow independently. Three of the four bivariate models showed a significant correlation between the intercept of grammar skills and the slope of vocabulary growth. Length of exposure to English predicted the intercept of vocabulary breadth and grammar, suggesting that children exposed to English earlier had larger vocabularies and better morpho-syntactic skills. Current English input predicted the intercept of both measures of vocabulary as well as the slope for vocabulary depth, the only measure for which there was a significant relationship between intercept and slope, suggesting a Matthew effect for this dimension of vocabulary. All materials, data, and code are available at https://osf.io/vaq56/. Research highlights Vocabulary breadth and morphological and syntactic skills increased linearly for all participants, without any difference between lower and higher achieving children. Vocabulary depth grew more over time for those children with deeper vocabulary knowledge and higher levels of current English input at the start of the study. All of the bivariate growth models showed a correlation between vocabulary and grammar, but failed to show any correlation between their growth. Significant relationships between the intercept of grammar and the growth of vocabulary showed steeper lexical growth in children with better grammar skills. Length of exposure to English had an effect on morphological and syntactic skills, while only current English input had an effect on vocabulary depth.

CAER Authors

Avatar Image for Ludovica Serratrice

Prof. Ludovica Serratrice

Reading University - Professor of multilingualism

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