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The acquisition of caused motion by Uyghur-Chinese early successive bilinguals

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The relative role of universal cognitive factors versus language-specific properties is a prominent theme of research in child language development. This study extends the discussion to the context of early successive bilingualism (ESB) by focusing on the acquisition of caused motion expressions by Uyghur-Chinese bilinguals. Our findings reveal a simultaneous but differential impact of the aforementioned two sets of factors. The observed differences in the developmental trajectories of the two languages, especially as evidenced by children’s consistently higher utterance density in Chinese, points to the weightier role of language-specific constraints. However, the increase in utterance density, i.e. children’s ability to focus on and retain more semantic components for expression over time regardless of language indicates the contribution of their developing general cognitive abilities. Bilinguals follow the adult pattern of expressing caused motion in their L1. In their L2 Chinese, they bypass the shared constructions in their two languages up until age 8 and employ the structure unique to their L1, presumably because this option is structurally less complex (mono-clausal) compared to the shared bi-clausal option. As such, cross-linguistic influence seems to be shaped by structural/typological overlap on the one hand and the syntactic complexity of the structures involved on the other.

This talk is part of the MEITS Multilingualism Seminars series.

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