French-English bilingual children's encoding of old and new information

UoM administered thesis: Unknown

  • Authors:
  • Coralie Herve


This thesis examines the issue of cross-linguistic influence (CLI), i.e. language interaction, in context of the bilingual first language acquisition of French and English. It establishes itself in the current line of research that aims to refine the language-internal and language-external predictors of CLI (Hulk & Müller, 2000; Nicoladis, 2006; Serratrice, Sorace, & Paoli, 2004). A large body of research has shown that referential markers of discourse-pragmatics (i.e. determiners, pronouns, dislocations) are ideal candidates to investigate CLI (Hacohen & Schaeffer, 2007; Kupisch, 2007; Müller & Hulk, 2001; Notley, van der Linden, & Hulk, 2007; Serratrice, Sorace, Filiaci, & Baldo, 2009; Unsworth, 2012b). The study of the local and global markers of old and new information is particularly interesting in the context of French-English bilingualism as it provides a unique opportunity to examine a range of variables that may affect CLI. The first two studies investigate the role of typological differences and similarities on CLI by examining whether the contrasting distribution of determiners (i.e. presence vs. absence of definite articles in generic noun phrases), and the comparable pronominal systems (i.e. two non-null argument languages) in French and English predict this phenomenon. The analyses are based on the longitudinal corpus of two French-English children (Anne 2;4-3;4 and Sophie 2;6-3;7). At the determiner level, the results indicate the existence of bi-directional CLI that is determined by both structural overlap (Hulk & Müller, 2000) and economical considerations (Chierchia, 1998) as a function of language proficiency. At the pronominal level, the data indicates that CLI does not occur for structurally similar constructions.Aside from moving the issue of CLI from local referential expressions to the sentence level (i.e. dislocations), the third study investigates the role of input quality, language dominance, frequency, and structural complexity on CLI in the longitudinal corpus. The findings clearly show that input quality does not affect this phenomenon. In fact, the data displays a rather complex picture for CLI. It suggests that a multitude of variables interact with one another and drive this phenomenon. In particular, two measures of language dominance (i.e. children's language exposure and their expressive skills) affect CLI differently as a function of the frequency and complexity of the structure vulnerable to this phenomenon (i.e. determiners vs. dislocations). Finally, the corpus-based analyses are supplemented by two experimental studies using the priming paradigm to investigate the role of language processing and language exposure on CLI. The findings indicate that (i) bilingual children's mental representation of syntactic structures is affected by the simultaneous acquisition of two languages; and that (ii) language exposure plays a role on the degree of activation of a particular structure in bilingual children's processing.Ultimately, the present research shows that CLI is caused by the interaction of a multitude of variables (i.e. language processing, language dominance, frequency, structural complexity) rather than being the consequence of a combination of two factors (e.g. structural overlap, discourse-pragmatics interface) (Hulk & Müller, 2000).


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date1 Aug 2015