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LINGUIST List 23.3431

Wed Aug 15 2012

Diss: Language Acquisition/ Inuktitut, Eastern Canadian: Sherkina-Lieber: 'Comprehension of Labrador Inuttitut...'

Editor for this issue: Lili Xia <lxialinguistlist.org>

Date: 15-Aug-2012
From: Marina Sherkina-Lieber <marina.liebergmail.com>
Subject: Comprehension of Labrador Inuttitut functional morphology by receptive bilinguals
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Institution: University of Toronto
Program: Department of Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2011

Author: Marina Sherkina-Lieber

Dissertation Title: Comprehension of Labrador Inuttitut functional morphology by receptive bilinguals

Linguistic Field(s): Language Acquisition

Subject Language(s): Inuktitut, Eastern Canadian (ike)

Dissertation Director:
Ana-Teresa Perez-Leroux
Alana Johns

Dissertation Abstract:

This study examines knowledge of grammar by receptive bilinguals
(RBs) - heritage speakers who describe themselves as capable of
fluent comprehension in Labrador Inuttitut (an endangered dialect of
Inuktitut), but of little or no speech production in it. Despite the growing
research on incomplete acquisition, RBs have yet to be studied as a
specific population.

Participants (8 fluent bilinguals, 17 RBs, 3 low-proficiency RBs)
performed a morpheme comprehension task and a grammaticality
judgment task. General measures of their comprehension and
production abilities included a story retelling task as an overall
assessment of comprehension, a vocabulary test, an elicited imitation
task, and a production task. This data was complemented by language
behaviour interviews.

The results showed that RBs have good, though not perfect,
comprehension and basic vocabulary, but speech production is very
difficult for them. They have grammatical knowledge, but it is
incomplete: Knowledge of some structures is robust, and their
comprehension is fluent (past vs. future contrast, aspectual
morphemes); others are missing (temporal remoteness degrees); and
yet for others (case and agreement), RBs have the category and know
its position in the word structure, but have difficulty connecting the
features with the morphemes expressing them. These findings explain
the significant asymmetry between comprehension and production in
RBs: In comprehension, incomplete knowledge may result in loss of
some aspects of meaning, but in many cases it can be compensated
for by pragmatic knowledge and extralinguistic context, while in
production, it can result in the selection of an incorrect morpheme or
inability to select a morpheme.

Low-proficiency RBs have partial comprehension, small vocabulary,
and almost no production. They do not understand most functional
morphemes; however, they show knowledge of the basic properties
such as the position of the obligatory agreement marker on the verb.

This study provides data on an understudied language and an
understudied population at the extreme end of unbalanced
bilingualism. The findings have implications both for the
psycholinguistics of bilingualism and for language revitalization,
especially in the context of a language shift in indigenous language
communities, where RBs are often the last generation to have
competence in the indigenous language.

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