Simultaneous bilingualism

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See also: Multilingualism

Simultaneous bilingualism is a form of bilingualism that takes place when a child becomes bilingual by learning two languages from birth. According to Annick De Houwer, in an article in The Handbook of Child Language, simultaneous bilingualism takes place in “children who are regularly addressed in two spoken languages from before the age of two and who continue to be regularly addressed in those languages up until the final stages” of language development.[1] Both languages are acquired as first languages. This is in contrast to sequential bilingualism, in which the second language is learned not as a native language but a foreign language.

A bilingual sign in a Quebec supermarket

Prevalence[edit]

It is estimated that half of the world is functionally bilingual, and the majority of those bilinguals are 'native speakers' of their two languages.[2] Wölck has pointed out that there are many "native bilingual communities", typically in South America, Africa, and Asia, where "monolingual norms may be unavailable or nonexistent".[3]

Beliefs about simultaneous bilingualism[edit]

Some popular misconceptions about bilingualism include the ideas that bilingual children will not reach proficiency in either language and that they will be cognitively disadvantaged by their bilingualism.[4] Many studies in the early 20th century found evidence of a “language handicap” in simultaneously bilingual children, linking bilingualism with a lower intelligence.[5] However, many of these studies had serious methodological flaws.[6] For example, several studies relating bilingualism and intelligence did not account for socioeconomic differences among well-educated, upper class monolingual children and less-educated (often immigrant) bilingual children.[7]

Some recent research on simultaneous bilinguals has actually found some evidence that they have a cognitive advantage over their monolingual counterparts, particularly in the areas of cognitive flexibility,[8] analytical skill,[9] and metalinguistic awareness.[10] However, most studies agree that simultaneous bilinguals do not have any definitive cognitive edge over monolinguals.[11]

Despite these findings, many therapists and other professionals are at odds with still believing that simultaneous bilingualism can be harmful for a child’s cognitive development. One side argues that only one language should be spoken until fluently spoken and then incorporate the second language. The other side argues that the child, whether simultaneously bilingual or not, would still have speech issues. Some bilingual families have chosen to stop speaking a language after hearing about the supposed negative developmental effects of child bilingualism from people in authority.[12]

Bilingual acquisition[edit]

According to De Houwer, there is no established normal development pattern for simultaneous bilinguals.[13] However, similar language development patterns have been seen in bilingual and monolingual children.[14] Language acquisition in simultaneous bilinguals generally take two common forms of exposure to a second language:[15]

• A one-person–one-language pattern, where each parent communicate in only one of the two languages to the child or

• both parents speak both languages to the child.

Language input in bilingual acquisition[edit]

The most influential factor in bilingual language acquisition is the languages spoken by parents to their children, and the languages spoken by others with whom the child comes into contact.[16] This language exposure is called comprehensible input. In a 1984 edition of Bilingual Education Paper Series, Carolyn Kessler claimed that “children develop faster in the language which is used most in their environment”,[17] which may or may not reflect the language of the surrounding community. However, bilingual acquisition can also be affected by the amount of input, the separation of input, and the stability of input, as well as attitudes about bilingualism.

Amount of language input[edit]

It is important to consider amount of input, because not only do the languages of each person affect on bilingualism; the amount of time each main input carrier spends with the child also has an effect.[18]

Separation of language input[edit]

There is a spectrum ranging from zero to total separation of language by person. Usually, a simultaneous bilingual child's situation is somewhere in the middle.[19] Some linguistic experts, dating from the early 20th century, have maintained that the best way to facilitate bilingual acquisition is to have each main input carrier (usually parents) use one and only one language with the child. By having each parent speak one of the two languages, this method (known as the “one person, one language” approach) attempts to prevent the child from confusing the two languages.

However, the lack of language separation by person does not necessarily lead to failure to communicate effectively in two languages.[20] Further studies have shown that a “one person, one language” approach may not be necessary for the early separation of language systems to occur.[21] Children appear to be able to disentangle the two languages themselves.

There has been little research done on other methods of language separation. De Houwer points out that input may be separated by situation: for example, "Finnish spoken by all family members inside the home but Swedish once they are outside."[22]

Input stability[edit]

A change in a child’s linguistic environment can trigger language attrition.[23] Sometimes, when input for one language is lost before the final stage of development, children may lose their ability to speak the “lost” language. This leaves them able to speak only the other language, yet fully capable of understanding both.

Attitudes[edit]

The parents’ expectations and knowledge about language development can be instrumental in raising simultaneously bilingual children. Parental attitudes toward “their roles and linguistic choices” also play a part in the child’s linguistic development.[24] The attitudes of the child’s extended family and friends have been shown to affect successful bilingualism.[25]

Theories of simultaneous bilingual acquisition[edit]

Unitary Language System Hypothesis[edit]

Virginia Volterra and Traute Taeschner put forth an influential[citation needed] study in 1978, positing that bilingual children move from a stage where the two languages are lexically mixed into eventual structural differentiation between the languages.[26] They theorized that until age two, a child does not differentiate between languages.[27] There are 3 main stages identified by this hypothesis:[28]

Stage One - L1 and L2 comprise one language system until approximately 3 years of age.

Stage Two - L1 vocabulary separates from L2 but the grammar remains as one language

Stage Three - The language systems become differentiated. The child is fully bilingual

This “Unitary language system hypothesis,” has been the subject of much debate in the linguistic world.[29] Since its publication, this system has been discredited, and current linguistic evidence now points to two separate language systems.[30]

Dual Language System Hypothesis[edit]

In contrast, the Dual language system hypothesis states that bilinguals have a separate system for the L1 and L2 which they learn right from the start, so both languages can be acquired simultaneously.[31] Research on vocabulary development have generally provided strong support for this theory.[32][33][34] Monolingual children in early language development learn one term for each concept, so does a bilingual child, just that the bilingual child does so for both L1 and L2, and hence they know two language terms of the same concept that has similar meaning, which is also known as translational equivalents. The awareness of synonyms do not appear till a much later age. For example, they know that both 'two' in English and 'dos' in Spanish refer to the numerical number '2'.

Bilingual Acquisition versus Monolingual Acquisition[edit]

The study of simultaneous bilingualism supplements general (monolingual) theories of child language acquisition. It particularly illuminates the critical role of the nature of language input in language development. This indicates that the form of language input must be similarly influential in monolinguals.[35]

Difficulties[edit]

However, it has proven difficult to compare monolingual and bilingual development, for a number of reasons:

  • Many languages don’t have much data
  • The data that there is may not represent the normal population of children
  • There are contradictions in the literature concerning normal monolingual development
  • There are a large number of variables between bilingual and monolingual children besides the number of languages they speak[36]
  • It can be difficult to differentiate between universal developmental processes and cases of language transfer[37]

Findings[edit]

Meisel claims “there is no reason to believe that the underlying principles and mechanisms of language development [in bilinguals] are qualitatively different from those used by monolinguals."[38] Döpke has hypothesized that communication styles that facilitate monolingual development are a major variable in successful bilingual development.[39] Meisel proposed in a 1990 article that “bilinguals tend to focus more on formal aspects of language and are therefore able to acquire certain grammatical constructions faster than many or most monolinguals."[40]

Dominance[edit]

Though the simultaneous bilingual child learns two languages at once, this does not mean that he or she speaks them with identical competence. It is common for young simultaneous bilinguals to be more proficient in one language than the other,[41] and this is probably related to each child’s relative exposure to each language; for example, many bilingual children are more proficient in the mother’s than the father’s language, arguably because their mothers assume most of the childcare responsibilities and/or simply spend more time with their children. The dominant language is almost always the language spoken by the greatest number of the people the child interacts with (generally the language the child is educated in). The child sees this language as most effective and begins to favor it.[42] However, their dominant language need not be their L1. In addition, it is possible to show language dominance in one language for one domain and dominance in the other language for another domain. For example, a child may be dominant in his or her L1 at home, but in the school context, his or her L2 becomes the dominant language being used.[43]

Code-switching[edit]

Main article: Code-switching

Code-switching occurs when a child combines more than one language in a single utterance. This phenomenon is also seen in bilingual adults. Bilingual children most often engage in intrasentential code-switching, switching languages in the middle of a sentence.[44] Bilingual children code-switch for several reasons, including the following:

Equivalency Problems[edit]

Bilingual children often interject words from the other language when they do not know or cannot remember the equivalent, and when one language has no suitable equivalent in the other.[45] Taeschner found that bilingual children prefer to insert elements of the other language rather than use simplified forms.[46]

Social Norms[edit]

Code-switching has also been tied to the bilingual child’s socialization process.[47] According to Poplack, a bilingual child code-switches based on the perceived linguistic norms of the situation and the perceived bilingual ability of the hearer.[48]

Parental Interaction[edit]

Children will mirror their parents in this aspect of speech. If a child’s parents engage in code-switching in their own speech, this will affect the child’s perception of the appropriateness of mixing languages.[49]

Further Research[edit]

There is currently no differentiation of normal and deviant bilingual development.[50]

Further study into the effects of changing a child’s linguistic environment could uncover the minimal language input required to maintain "active use potential" in a particular language.[51]

Simultaneous trilingualism is also possible. There is significantly less research in this area than in simultaneous bilingualism. However, trilingual language acquisition in young children has been shown to generally mirror bilingual acquisition.[52]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ De Houwer 1996, sec. 3.
  2. ^ Wölck 1987, p. 9.
  3. ^ Wölck 1987, p. 9.
  4. ^ Tucker and D’Anglejan qtd. in Diaz 1984, p. 24.
  5. ^ Diaz 1984, p. 25.
  6. ^ Diaz 1984, p. 25.
  7. ^ Diaz 1984, p. 25.
  8. ^ Diaz 1984, p. 35.
  9. ^ Diaz 1984, p. 36.
  10. ^ Diaz 1984, p. 37.
  11. ^ Arnberg 1987, p. 31.
  12. ^ De Houwer 1996, sec. 2.
  13. ^ De Houwer 1996, sec. 7.
  14. ^ Taeschner 1983, p. 198.
  15. ^ http://www.learninglinks.org.au/pdf/infosheets/LLIS%2050_Bilingualism.pdf
  16. ^ Romaine 1989 p. 166-8.
  17. ^ Kessler qtd. in De Houwer 1996, sec. 4.3.
  18. ^ Lanza qtd. in De Houwer 1996, sec. 4.1.
  19. ^ De Houwer 1996, sec. 4.2.
  20. ^ García qtd. in De Houwer 1996, sec. 4.2.
  21. ^ De Houwer 1996, sec. 5.3.
  22. ^ De Houwer 1996, sec. 4.2.
  23. ^ Kessler qtd. in De Houwer 1996, sec. 4.3.
  24. ^ De Houwer 1996, sec. 4.5.
  25. ^ Romaine 1989, p. 213.
  26. ^ Volterra and Taeschner 1978.
  27. ^ De Houwer 1996, sec. 5.2.
  28. ^ http://www.biculturalfamily.org/may06/achildsjourney.html
  29. ^ De Houwer 1996, sec. 5.2.
  30. ^ De Houwer 1996, sec. 7.
  31. ^ Genesee, F. (1989). Early bilingual development: One language or two? Journal of Child Language, 6, 161-179.
  32. ^ Nicoladis, E. & Secco, G. (1998). The role of translation equivalents in a bilingual family’s code-switching. In A. Greenhill, M. Hughes, H. Littlefield, & H. Walsh (Eds.), Proceedings of the 22nd Annual Boston University Conference on Language Development (pp. 576-585). Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press.
  33. ^ Nicoladis, E. & Genesee, F. (1996). Bilingual communication strategies and language dominance. In A. Stringfellow, D. Cahana-Amitay, E. Hughes, & A. Zukowski (Eds.), Proceedings of the 20th Annual Boston University Conference on Language Development (pp. 518-527). Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press.
  34. ^ Genesee, F. & Nicoladis, E. (1995). Language development in bilingual preschool children. In E. Garcia & B. MacLaughlin (Eds.), Meeting the challenge of linguistic and cultural diversity (pp. 18-33). New York: Teachers College Press.
  35. ^ De Houwer 1996, sec. 2.
  36. ^ De Houwer 1996 sec. 5.3.3.
  37. ^ De Houwer 1996, sec. 5.3.
  38. ^ Meisel qtd. in De Houwer 1996, sec. 5.3.3.
  39. ^ Döpke qtd. in De Houwer 1996, sec. 4.4.
  40. ^ qtd. in De Houwer 1996, sec. 2.
  41. ^ Taeschner 1983, p. 4.
  42. ^ Taeschner 1983, p. 198.
  43. ^ http://literacyencyclopedia.ca/pdfs/Defining_Bilingualism.pdf
  44. ^ De Houwer 1996 sec. 6.
  45. ^ Taeschner 1983, p. 4.
  46. ^ Taeschner qtd. in De Houwer 1996, sec. 6.
  47. ^ De Houwer 1996, sec. 6.
  48. ^ Poplack qtd. in De Houwer 1996, sec. 6.
  49. ^ Lanza qtd. in De Houwer 1996, sec. 4.4.
  50. ^ De Houwer 1996, sec. 7.
  51. ^ De Houwer 1996, sec. 4.3.
  52. ^ Hoffmann 2001, p. 1.

Bibliography[edit]

  • Arnberg, Lenore. Raising Children Bilingually: The Preschool Years. Philadelphia: Multilingual Matters, 1987.
  • Barron-Hauwaert, Suzanne. "The One-Parent-One-Language Approach. What Is It?" The One-Parent-One-Language Approach. Ebrary. Web. 10 Dec. 2010.
  • De Houwer, Annick. "Bilingual Language Acquisition." The Handbook of Child Language. Ed. Paul Fletcher and Brian MacWhinney. Blackwell, 1996. Blackwell Reference Online. Web. 09 Dec. 2010.
  • Diaz, Rafael M. "Bilingualism." Review of Research in Education 10 (1983): 23-54. JSTOR. Web. 10 Dec. 2010.
  • Garcia, Eugene E. "Bilingual Development and the Education of Bilingual Children during Early Childhood." American Journal of Education 95.1 (1986): 96-121. JSTOR. Web. 10 Dec. 2010.
  • Goodz, Naomi S. "Parental Language Mixing in Bilingual Families." Infant Mental Health Journal 10.1 (1989): 25-44. EBSCO. Web. 10 Dec. 2010.
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  • Romaine, Suzanne. Bilingualism. Oxford, OX, UK: B. Blackwell, 1989. Print.
  • Saunders, George. Bilingual Children: From Birth to Teens. Philadelphia: Clevedon Avon, 1988. Print.
  • Taeschner, Traute. The Sun Is Feminine: a Study on Language Acquisition in Bilingual Children. New York: Springer-Verlag, 1983. Print.
  • Volterra, Virginia, and Traute Taeschner. "The Acquisition and Development of Language by Bilingual Children." Journal of Child Language 5.2 (1978): 311-26. Print.
  • Wölck, Wolfgang. "Types of Natural Bilingual Behavior: A Review and Revision." Bilingual Review 14.3 (1987): 2-16. Periodicals Archive Online. Web. 10 Dec. 2010.