Bilingual construction of two systems to interact or not to interact ? 1



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BILINGUAL CONSTRUCTION OF TWO SYSTEMS – TO INTERACT OR NOT TO INTERACT ? 1
Virginia C. Mueller Gathercole
Rocío Pérez Tattam
Hans Stadthagen-González

Address for Correspondence:

V. Mueller Gathercole

Linguistics Program

Florida International University

Miami, FL 33199

USA
vmueller@fiu.edu

305-348-6390


In E. M. Thomas & I. Mennen (Eds.) (in press). Unravelling bilingualism: A cross-disciplinary perspective. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.



ABSTRACT
This chapter focuses on bilingual children’s construction of their linguistic system(s), with attention to the question of where interaction between the two languages is or is not observed. We examine data concerning the development and relationship of the morphosyntactic systems and the organization of the semantic systems. With regard to the acquisition of the morphosyntactic system in each language, the role of the input, influences on the timing of development, and the question of possible acceleration when there are commonalities across the languages are discussed. In relation to semantics, the influence of linguistic differences across the two languages and the fact that the construction of the semantic system(s) is grounded in a common cognitive space will be proposed as key. A model of development is presented according to which predictions regarding interaction revolve around this construction of the two languages linked to a common cognitive base.

 
One of the key questions concerning the acquisition of language in bilingual children is the extent to which the two languages the child is learning interact and influence one another in development. Are developments in the two languages different from corresponding developments in the linguistic systems of their monolingual peers, and if so, where do the differences lie? A great deal of research on these questions has focused on grammatical development. A number of theoretical stances make predictions concerning the most likely components of the grammar to undergo interaction and concerning the nature of the relationship between the grammars of the two languages necessary for such interaction to occur. Recent research has also focused increasingly on semantic knowledge in bilinguals, and has documented a wide variety of cases of interaction (Ameel, Storms, Malt, & Sloman, 2005; Ameel, Malt, Storms, & Van Assche, 2009; Brown & Gullberg, 2008a, 2008b; Jarvis & Pavlenko, 2008; Pavlenko, 2003, 2009; Wolff & Ventura, 2009) between the two systems. This chapter will explore the question of interaction in these two domains. First, we will examine whether predictions regarding morphosyntactic systems hold in relation to Welsh-English-speaking children's acquisition of grammatical forms in their two languages. The data will suggest that any relationship that is observed in acquisition is more likely due to cognitive, metalinguistic, and metacognitive advances in the child than it is to specific grammatical comparisons across the two languages. The chapter will then examine possible interactions in the semantic systems of bilinguals. We will present some of the work we have been doing to examine this question, and will argue for a model in which the semantic systems of the bilingual's languages interact with that bilingual's cognitive understanding of the world. Finally, a model of development that draws on constructivist-emergentist approaches to language learning in children can help to explain the effects documented here—the low occurrence of interaction in developing morphosyntactic systems, and the higher incidence of convergence in the bilingual's semantic systems.






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