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McGill University
PSYC 341
Richard Koestner

PSYC 341 RD2: Bilingual acquisition, Genesee & Nicoladis Bilingual First Language Acquisition (BFLA) • Definition o Focuses on the simultaneous acquisition of two languages from birth • History o Ronjat  Published a description of his son’s simultaneous acquisition of German and French  Son showed excellent progress and little or no confusion in the two languages  Ronjat attributed this to their “one parent, one language” rule o Leopold  Published a diary on his daughter’s simultaneous acquisition of English and German  Also used the “one parent, one language” rule  Daughter passed through a stage where she used words from both languages, which Leopold interpreted as her functioning as a monolingual and confusing the two languages  Contributed to more general concerns that a child’s language learning capacity is not great enough to handle two languages simultaneously, and that attempting to do so may result in various linguistic deficits • Criteria for simultaneous vs. successive dual language learners o De Houwver  Cut-off for simultaneous learners is exposure to two languages within one month of birth o McLaughlin  Proposed cut-off of exposure to two languages before 3 years of age o Genesee and Nicoladis  Use those with simultaneous acquisition from birth up to 4 years of age in their discussion Development of two languages simultaneously • Unitary Language System Hypothesis o The idea that children exposed to two languages go through an initial stage when the languages are not differentiated (i.e. the child is essentially monolingual) o Stages as proposed by Volterra and Taeschner  1: Child has one lexical system with words from both languages  2: Child differentiates two different lexicons, but applies the same syntactic rules to both languages  3: Child fully differentiates the two languages o Autonomous vs. Interdependent development  Autonomous development is the simultaneous, but independent acquisition of the two languages, each in a similar way to monolingual acquisition  Interdependent development results from the influence of one language on the development of the other, causing the pattern of development to differ from monolingual acquisition o Can we compare bilingual development to monolingual development?  May stigmatize bilingual patterns of development  Scientific comparisons can be helpful in revealing how much BFLA differs from monolingual acquisition and what these differences mean • Morphosyntax o Acquire language-specific properties of target languages at times early in development that correspond to those of same-age monolingual children o Bilingual children exhibit same rate of morphosyntactic development as monolingual children (at least in dominant language)  Also true for children with specific language impairment (SLI) o Evidence of cross-linguistic transfer of certain morphosyntactic features from one language to the other  Often occurs if there is a certain overlap of the two systems at the surface level, but may happen even if the structures are non- overlapping  Language dominance could play a part • More likely to incorporate structures from dominant language into weaker  Asynchronous development of certain features may also be a factor • Transfer of a structure that is acquired earlier in one language to language where the corresponding structure is acquired later • Lexicon o Bilingual children produce first words at the same approximate age as monolingual children o Rates of vocabulary acquisition are within the same range for bilingual and monolingual children, as long as both languages are considered o Distribution of lexical categories in early lexicons in bilinguals is similar to that of monolinguals o Principle of Mutual Exclusivity  The acquisition of new words in monolinguals is guided by the assumption that new words tend to refer to new referents  Because they are learning two languages, bilingual children acquire translation equivalents, which violates this principle • Studies report bilingual children producing translation equivalents from very early in their speech development • Can be used to argue that bilingual children are, in fact, learning two languages instead of one • Research suggests that at least by age 1;5, bilingual children have two distinct lexical systems • Phonology o Bilingual children tend to have different patterns in development of prosodic and segmental phonology as compared to monolinguals  Young bilingual infants still have the ability to distinguish between two languages early in development  Children with dual language exposure from birth exhibit the same abilities as monolinguals, but often at a later age  Reorganize speech perception (ex. discrimination of phonemic contrasts) like monolinguals, but exhibit language-specific effects somewhat later  BFL children have shown a delay in ability to use phonetic contrasts in word learning  Age of onset of canonical babbling is the same  Show signs of prosodic differentiation quite early in development  Still unclear whether BFL children have two language-specific segmental phonological repertoires o Possible causes of variability in BFL phonological development  General development factors and individual differences  Unequal or limited exposure to or practice with each language  Asynchronous development
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