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Dissertation Information

Title: Motion Event Expression in Bilingual First Language Acquisition Add Dissertation
Author: Helen Engemann Update Dissertation
Email: click here to access email
Degree Awarded: University of Cambridge , PhD in Linguistics
Completed in:
Linguistic Subfield(s): Psycholinguistics; Typology; Language Acquisition;
Director(s): Henriëtte Hendriks

Abstract: The thesis explores the implications of Talmy’s typology of motion expression
(Talmy 2000) for bilingual first language acquisition of English (satellite-framing)
and French (verb-framing), addressing the following question: How does the
expression of motion develop in simultaneous bilingual children in comparison to
monolinguals? The particular focus is on the role of crosslinguistic interactions
and the extent to which their occurrence and directionality are affected by
language-specific properties, children’s age and task complexity. The thesis
pursues two goals. First, it aims to contribute to the understanding of the role of
language-specific factors in the acquisition process (Allen et al. 2007, Choi and
Bowerman 1991, Hickmann et al. 2009). Secondly, by testing various proposals
regarding crosslinguistic interactions (Müller and Hulk 2001, Gawlitzek-Maiwald
and Tracy 1996, Toribio 2004), it endeavours to shed light on bilingual speech
production processes.

Oral event descriptions elicited by means of short video clips from bilingual and
monolingual children aged 4 to 10 years are analysed and compared across two
production tasks of varying semantic complexity: a simpler voluntary motion
task, showing agents performing spontaneous movements along various paths,
and a more complex caused motion task, portraying a human agent causing the
displacement of various objects in different manners along various paths.
Bilinguals' event descriptions are analysed quantitatively and qualitatively in
relation to monolingual English and French control groups across various
aspects of verbalisation: (i) the linguistic devices used for information encoding
(information packaging), (ii) the number of information components expressed
(semantic density), and (iii) their syntactic complexity and compactness
(utterance architecture).

The results indicate both parallels and differences to monolingual performance
patterns. Although bilinguals’ event descriptions generally follow the typological
tendencies characterising monolinguals’ English and French verbalisation
tendencies, they also exhibit significant departures from the monolingual range in
both languages, at all tested ages and in both tasks. However, these differences
are most prominent in French caused motion expressions. In this task, bilinguals
display a striking preference for satellite-framing encoding, resulting both in the
overuse of crosslinguistically overlapping packaging strategies and in
qualitatively deviant extensions of French locative satellites. Syntactically,
bilinguals show a strong tendency to use compact structures compared to
French monolinguals. An unexpected finding concerns the occurrence of a
number of divergent production phenomena that are shared by bilinguals’
productions in both languages and tasks, and suggest a bilingual-specific pattern
of use.

The findings are discussed in the context of recent proposals regarding
crosslinguistic interactions in simultaneous bilingualism. The persistence of
bilingual-specific effects even at age 10 suggests that crosslinguistic interactions
characterise bilinguals’ verbal behaviour throughout development. This supports
the notion that the bilingual is a unique speaker-hearer in his own right (Grosjean
2008). With regard to the impact of typological and general determinants, the
findings indicate that bilinguals’ verbalisation choices are guided by a complex
interplay of event-specific factors and the perceived overlap of language-specific
properties of both languages.