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Motion events in bilingual first language acquisition: the impact of typology on crosslinguistic interactions

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Recent crosslinguistic research has revived debates concerning the relative impact of language-specific and general cognitive constraints on language acquisition (Bowerman & Choi 2003, Allen et al. 2007). In this talk, I examine the implications of Talmy’s (2000) proposed typological contrast between verb-framed and satellite-framed languages for bilingual language acquisition of English and French. I present results of an experimental study testing the effect of language-specific ways of packaging information on bilingual production strategies.

In an elicited production task, simultaneous bilingual children (aged 4, 6, 8 and 10) and age-matched monolingual controls described animated cartoons showing complex caused motion and simpler voluntary motion events. Results indicated a unidirectional pattern of crosslinguistic influence: whilst bilinguals’ English responses closely paralleled monolingual development, bilingual children’s French descriptions showed a preference for English information packaging. I discuss how the directionality of this crosslinguistic interaction may be linked to (i) task-specific requirements, (ii) the degree of variation of lexicalization patterns, and (iii) the formal complexity required for information-dense descriptions.

This talk is part of the RCEAL Tuesday Colloquia series.

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