2007 Linguistics Psychology
SemanticScholar ID: 17108859 MAG: 264855913

Plural Noun Phrases in Late Simultaneous Bilingualism: A Study of English-Italian and Spanish-Italian Children

Publication Summary

The nature of syntactic representations in simultaneous bilingual children has been the object of a debate ever since systematic investigation of bilingual first language acquisition started in the late 1970s (Genesee, 1989; Taeschner, 1983; Volterra & Taeschner, 1978). The current prevailing understanding is that bilingual children who are regularly exposed to two languages from birth or thereafter have separate syntactic representations for each of their two languages. The bulk of the evidence for this claim comes from studies focusing on cross-linguistic differences in word order where young bilinguals have been shown to use language-specific word order in each of their languages (Meisel, 1989; Meisel, 1994; Paradis & Genesee, 1996). If language A has the word order X1-X2 and language B has the word order X2-X1 and a bilingual child acquiring languages A and B uses the appropriate grammatical word order in each of her languages, then we can conclude that this child has separate syntactic representations for the two languages and that there is no evidence for cross-linguistic influence. More interestingly, however, recent work has started to shed light on the nature of syntactic representations and on the mechanisms of language comprehension and production in cases where there is no such clear-cut opposition between the two languages, but where there is a degree of cross-linguistic overlap (Bernardini, 2003; Nicoladis, 2006; Van der Linden & Blok-Boas, 2005). For example, if language A has both word order X1-X2 and word order X2-X1, and language B only has X1-X2 the prediction is that the word order attested in both languages (X1-X2) will be preferred in the language that has both and it will be extended to contexts in which it is not grammatical or pragmatically acceptable. Evidence to this effect comes from a number of studies on the issue of cross-linguistic influence. Dopke (1998) found that German-English bilingual children overgeneralized the VO order in German, where both VO and OV are possible, under the influence of English where VO is the only possible order. Van der Linden & Blok-Boas (2005) reported that three French-Dutch bilingual children and one Italian-Dutch bilingual child growing up in the Netherlands had a tendency to use the Romance word order (possessee-possessor) in Dutch nominal possessive constructions more often than Dutch monolingual children. Both possessee-possessor and possessor-possessee constructions exist in Dutch while Italian only has the possessee-possessor order. The same bilingual children also used the Dutch word order in their Romance language, an error that is unattested in their monolingual peers. Along similar lines, Bernardini (2003) showed that Swedish-dominant Swedish-Italian bilingual children overused the Swedish Adj-N word order in Italian where the preferred word order is N-Adj but the Adj-N order also exists. In a study of adjective placement in English-French bilingual children, Nicoladis (2006) likewise reported the overgeneralization of the English Adj-N word order in French where both Adj-N and N-Adj exist. More puzzlingly, Nicoladis also found that the bilingual children used the N-Adj in English, although this word order is unattested in the adult language and was used only marginally by monolingual peers. At the clause level, Argyri & Sorace (in press) observed a preference for SV word order in wh-embedded clauses in the Greek of Englishdominant English-Greek bilinguals. Both SV and VS are possible word orders in Greek while only SV is attested in English. Once again, the preference for SV is attributed to cross-linguistic influence from English. In sum, there seems to be an emerging body of evidence suggesting that a degree of cross-linguistic influence is indeed attested in simultaneous bilingual children. Additional support for this hypothesis comes from studies investigating this issue in terms of the interface between syntax and discourse pragmatics (Hulk & Muller, 2000; Paradis & Navarro, 2003; Serratrice, Sorace & Paoli, 2004). More specifically, the argument has been made that constructions whose distribution is constrained by discourse pragmatics are particularly vulnerable to crosslinguistic influence when they partially overlap across languages.

CAER Authors

Avatar Image for Ludovica Serratrice

Prof. Ludovica Serratrice

Reading University - Professor of multilingualism

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