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Recent Research on Child Bilingualism Julia Herschensohn University of Washington.

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Presentation on theme: "Recent Research on Child Bilingualism Julia Herschensohn University of Washington."— Presentation transcript:

1 Recent Research on Child Bilingualism Julia Herschensohn University of Washington

2 What is bilingualism? The practice of alternately using two languages, L1, L2 (Weinreich) Native-like control of two languages (balanced bilingualism, 2L1) The ability to produce complete meaningful utterances in two languages Knowing two languages is a normal part of existence for most human beings (Cook)

3 Earlier is better Research on L1A show that infants begin acquisition of language before birth (de Boysson-Bardies, Kuhl) Children use unconscious ‘less is more’ learning strategies (Newport, Herschensohn) Studies of early and late learners of L2 show earlier is better for mastering phonology and morphosyntax (Birdsong)

4 Phonology, the sound system Newborn infants can recognize their mother’s voice and are sensitive to the rhythmic features of the language (Boysson- Bardies) Two month olds begin parsing their language according to its syllable type (Mehler) Six month olds have established language- specific prototypes of its sounds (Kuhl)

5 Phonology Evidence for a Critical Period: Remnants from forgotten languages (Larson-Hall & Connell) Comparison of L1 Japanese perception and production of English /l/ and /r/ Three groups: Early Immersionists (AoA 0- 7); Late Immersionists (AoA 18+); Non Immersionists (instructed learning)

6 Remnants of language On all tests of perception and production the Early Immersionists outperformed the other two groups, even though they hadn’t spoken English since age 7 Conclusions – There are age effects separate from education – There are age effects separate from use – Advantages for age can persist

7 Morphology, word construction Verbal tense / agreement (person) inflection is gained by children around age two (Guasti) Less is More: the limitations of the child’s processing powers furnish the basis for language acquisition (Newport) Limited cognitive abilities allow children to perceive and store only component parts, not complex wholes

8 Less is more Child L2A of verb inflection and word order (Herschensohn et al.) 6-7 year olds in a Spanish immersion academic setting develop (over two years) nearly perfect word order in Spanish production Verbal morphology (third person present tense inflection) is at less than 50% accuracy

9 Less is more


11 Young children follow a pattern of acquisition of morphosyntax resembling both L1A and adult L2A They show a sensitivity to the morphological ending of the verb This sensitivity to bound morphemes suggests “less is more” They also show L2A pattern in the quality of the errors and the accurate syntax compared to the flawed morphology

12 Syntax, word sequencing Processing: Gender concord (la table) facilitates native speaker processing in reaction time to word access Processing data from behavioral studies of French-English / German / bilinguals show that L1 gender affects processing of L2 gender

13 French L2 gender le [m,sg] livre [m,sg] anglais [m,sg] ‘the English book’ les [m,pl] livres [m,pl] blancs [m,pl] ‘the white books’ la [f,sg] livre [f,sg] anglaise [f,sg] ‘the English pound’ les [f,pl] lèvres [f,pl] blanches [f,pl] ‘the white lips’ French gender is not signaled morphologically Gender must be learned idiosyncratically for each noun Lack of direct evidence = difficulty for acquisition

14 French L2 gender Children with L1 grammatical gender rapidly acquire knowledge that nouns have different gender and make very few errors, even early on (French, German, Hebrew, Spanish) They acquire determiner+noun as a single unit Phonological properties of the noun (ending) initially guide gender classification and choice of determiner

15 French L2 gender Natives take longer to access words with incorrect (*le table) or no gender information (les tables) than correct (la table) Bilingual replication of study (Guillelmon & Grosjean) French mono & early bilinguals show both facilitation (gender-correct) & inhibition (gender-incorrect) Late Anglo-French bilinguals show neither « …it would seem that certain processing mechanisms in a second language are never acquired after a certain (critical) point. »

16 French L2 gender French and German have gender classes and gender concord in the DP; English has neither. Few nouns have same gender between French and German der [-fem] Sand [-fem] der weißer Sand ein weißer Sand die [+fem] Milch [+fem] die weißer Milch eine weiße Milch das Meer [neu] das weißer Meer ein weißes Meer N= 16 Germ-Fren adv bilinguals, LOR = 6 mos, formal study = 6 yrs; 16 Eng-Fren int bilinguals, LOR = 6 mos, formal study =4 yrs; 16 Fren monolinguals

17 French L2 gender Task & design: identify visually presented French nouns preceded by a definite / no article as “known / unknown” (singular = gender marked, no art = neutral) 6 conditions: same / opposite gender (Germ) x correct gen / incorrect gen / neut gen Target nounCor genIncor genNeu gen Same genLe pneuLa pneuxx pneu Same gen Le choixLa choixxx choix Opposite genLe laitLa laitxx lait Opposite genLa chaiseLe chaisexxchaise

18 French L2 gender

19 Germ-Fren bilinguals: both facilitation & inhibition of lexical access, independent of the German gender of the target nouns Eng-Fren bilinguals show no significant differences Conclusion: Gender clearly affects lexical processing for individuals with L1 gender, maybe to accelerate access

20 Cognition Child balanced bilinguals show greater ability in certain metalinguistic tasks than monolinguals (Bialystok) Symbol substitution (e.g. ‘spaghetti’ for ‘we’) is easier for bilinguals They are better at judging grammaticality However, there is no blanket advantage

21 Conclusion I’d hoped that language might come on its own, the way it comes to babies, but people don’t talk to foreigners the way they talk to babies. They don’t hypnotize you with bright objects and repeat the same words over and over, handing out little treats when you finally say “potty” or “wawa.” It got to the point where I’d see a baby in the bakery or grocery store and instinctively ball up my fists, jealous over how easy he had it. I wanted to lie in a French crib and start from scratch, learning the language from the ground floor up. (Sedaris)

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