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Rethinking Language Dominance in Bilingual Children

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Abstract:

Ever since the analysis of language development in bilingual children, researchers have been confronted with the issue of language dominance. The present study aims at discussing language dominance from a new perspective. In comparing the development of the two languages of seven bilingual children acquiring German simultaneously with French or Italian, we address the question whether the languages evolve (a) at the same rate and (b) at a “normal” rate. In other words, bilinguals can develop their two languages similarly (if not throughout, at least for certain periods of time) and at a normal rate, that is, not slower than other bilingual (and monolingual) children. In order to examine this hypothesis, we measure the distance between the two languages in the bilingual child and the distance of each language to a pre-calculated norm for the respective language. Based on these results, we establish bilingual learner types, who may be distinguished along the following parameters: (i) Do the languages develop at the same rate? If not, which language develops faster? (ii) Do the languages differ from the “bilingual norm”? If yes, to what extent do they differ from it and do they do so in both languages? The establishment of these types allows us to reconsider the concept of “language dominance”. We assume that dominance may but need not be related to other phenomena of bilingual first language acquisition, such as lack of language separation, cross-linguistic influence and language mixing.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: August 1, 2008

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  • "Linguistische Berichte" is open-minded regarding linguistic subjects and methods, but attaches great importance to theoretical reasoning and empirical validation.
    Since its foundation in 1969 by Peter Hartmann and Arnim von Stechow, the journal is an academic forum where serious views within linguistics and similar fields of studies (psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics, language acquisition and teaching, literary studies, philosophy, and computer linguistics) are discussed equally.
    The purpose is to provide an objective and critical documentation of linguistic developments. Besides, the forum is open for each level of scientific work, i.e. for everyone who is dealing with linguistic-based work (undergraduates, assistants, and professors).
    New research results and linguistic developments are published quickly and comprehensively, and contributions are normally published within one year after acceptance by the editors.
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