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Residual optionality in L1 syntax: effects of delayed onset of acquisition

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Recent research comparing simultaneous and successive acquisition of bilingualism suggests that successive acquisition of languages is affected by age-related changes much earlier than had previously been assumed. As of age (of onset of acquisition) 4, approximately, one can observe differences in the grammatical knowledge acquired by child second language (cL2) learners, as compared to monolingual or bilingual L1 development.

Social and situational varieties of languages frequently differ in core features of syn­ tax. Since young children are exposed to colloquial varieties, they do not encounter all properties of more formal varieties of their L1 during early years. If the acquisition of a given property is delayed until age 5 or later, it is conceivable that this represents an instance of L2 acquisition embedded in L1 devel­opment.

This is claimed to be the case in French where certain interrogative constructions (e.g. clitic inversion) are virtually non-existent in colloqui­al speech. Children tend not to be exposed to some inversion patterns during the first five years. They therefore acquire these constructions in much the same way as L2 learners, i.e. their knowledge of these aspects of syntax is characterized by residual optionality. This explains why mature monolingual speakers of French behave, in some respects, like advanced L2 learners in using or judging certain constructions of their ‘mother tongue’.

This talk is part of the RCEAL Tuesday Colloquia series.

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