University of Cambridge > > Cambridge Linguistics Forum > Seeking cross-linguistic interaction in the phonetic and phonological development of bilingual French-speaking children

Seeking cross-linguistic interaction in the phonetic and phonological development of bilingual French-speaking children

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There will be a tea reception from 4pm.

This study seeks evidence of cross-linguistic interaction across different phonetic/phonological measures and age ranges of children. It focuses on syllable structure, Voice Onset Time (VOT) and word prosody in monolingual and bilingual French-speaking children, aged 2;6, 3 to 4, and 5 to 6 years. The bilingual children all speak French at crèche and at school but they have differing first languages (L1s) (e.g., Spanish, Portuguese, German, and English). The bilingual’s L1s were coded in terms of the complexity of phonological features and predictions were made about the nature and direction of cross-linguistic interaction. In addition, the parents completed a questionnaire on their child’s language experience/dominance. In the case of the younger children, parents also completed a vocabulary checklist whereas the older children were administered a French vocabulary test. Specifically, we examined whether bilingual children showed delay or acceleration in the acquisition of word-final codas and onset clusters in comparison to monolinguals; whether bilingual children produced target voiceless stops with longer VOTs and target voiced stops with less lead voicing than monolingual children; and whether they exhibited different duration ratios between final and initial syllables, and increased presence of pitch accent on the initial syllable in their disyllabic word productions in comparison to monolinguals. Results showed evidence of cross-linguistic interaction in syllable structure in the youngest children. Bilingual children whose L1 was characterized by high complexity syllable structure obtained better scores than monolinguals and bilinguals whose L1 was characterized by low complexity syllable structure. There was no influence of L1 phonological complexity on L2 production in the older children. Rather, children who had higher scores on a French vocabulary test obtained the best results. There were no monolingual-bilingual differences in the use of short-lag voicing, but bilinguals, aged 3 to 6 years, produced fewer tokens with lead voicing. There was little influence of bilingualism on word prosody. The duration ratios of final to initial syllables were similar across monolingual and bilingual children and both groups of children realized a high pitch accent on the initial syllable to similar degrees. Overall, cross-linguistic interaction was less present in the data than we had predicted. The relevance of these results for models of cross-linguistic interaction is discussed.

This talk is part of the Cambridge Linguistics Forum series.

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