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Early, late or very late? Timing acquisition and bilingualism

Tsimpli, I. (2014) Early, late or very late? Timing acquisition and bilingualism. Linguistic Approaches to Bilingualism, 4 (3). pp. 283-313. ISSN 1879-9272

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1075/lab.4.3.01tsi


Research on child bilingualism accounts for differences in the course and the outcomes of monolingual and different types of bilingual language acquisition primarily from two perspectives: age of onset of exposure to the language(s) and the role of the input (Genesee, Paradis, & Crago, 2004; Meisel, 2009; Unsworth et al., 2014). Some findings suggest that early successive bilingual children may pattern similarly to simultaneous bilingual children, passing through different trajectories from child L2 learners due to a later age of onset in the latter group. Studies on bilingual development have also shown that input quantity in bilingual acquisition is considerably reduced, i.e., in each of their two languages, bilingual children are likely exposed to much less input than their monolingual peers (Paradis & Genesee, 1996; Unsworth, 2013b). At the same time, simultaneous bilingual children develop and attain competence in the two languages, sometimes without even an attested age delay compared to monolingual children (Paradis, Genesee & Crago, 2011). The implication is that even half of the input suffices for early language development, at least with respect to ‘core’ aspects of language, in whatever way ‘core’ is defined.My aim in this article is to consider how an additional, linguistic variable interacts with age of onset and input in bilingual development, namely, the timing in L1 development of the phenomena examined in bilingual children’s performance. Specifically, I will consider timing differences attested in the monolingual development of features and structures, distinguishing between early, late or ‘very late’ acquired phenomena. I will then argue that this three-way distinction reflects differences in the role of narrow syntax: early phenomena are core, parametric and narrowly syntactic, in contrast to late and very late phenomena, which involve syntax-external or even language-external resources too. I explore the consequences of these timing differences in monolingual development for bilingual development. I will review some findings from early (V2 in Germanic, grammatical gender in Greek), late (passives) and very late (grammatical gender in Dutch) phenomena in the bilingual literature and argue that early phenomena can differentiate between simultaneous and (early) successive bilingualism with an advantage for the former group, while the other two reveal similarly (high or low) performance across bilingual groups, differentiating them from monolinguals. The paper proposes that questions about the role of age of onset and language input in early bilingual development can only be meaningfully addressed when the properties and timing of the phenomena under investigation are taken into account.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Life Sciences > School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences > Department of Clinical Language Sciences
ID Code:38586
Publisher:John Benjamins
Publisher Statement:contents © John Benjamins.

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