General programme, activity sheet

Thursday 8 September, 2016 17:30 to 18:00 Oral presentation
Complexity of code-mixed utterances – calculating MLU in German-English bilingual children
Speaker: Antje Endesfelder Quick, University of Leipzig

Authors: Antje Endesfelder Quick, Elena Lieven, and Michael Tomasello


Language development in bilingual children is often related to the notion of language dominance. Objective measurements of bilingual development include MLU, UB5, MMU and many more. It is usually assumed that the dominant language is the one in which one or more of these measures is higher compared to the other language. Studies employing MLU measurements usually calculate MLU for the complete language context, including utterances in each language (i.a. Bernardini & Schlyter, 2004; Döpke,1998, Kupisch, 2008). But many bilingual children also use code-mixing or the non-target language in each context and calculating separate MLUs for these utterances would support identifying different proficiencies. Therefore, in the current study we calculated MLU not only for the language contexts but also for the monolingual and mixed utterances in the languages of three German-English bilingual children, aged 2;01 – 3;11 (n=109.815). We also compared these MLU results with the relative proportions of these three types of utterance for each recorded month. To support the results we further analyzed each utterance in terms of construction type, such as phrases, sentence types, as well as fragments. Results show that language preference was reflected in MLU values: the more children spoke in one language the higher the MLU was in that language. However, it was the mixed utterances that had the highest MLU for all three children. Analyses for the construction types showed, that code-mixed utterances were significantly more complex in comparison to their monolingual utterances, i.e. children produced more sentence level constructions consequently, children produced more fragments and phrases in their monolingual utterances. These results raise two important issues which will be discussed: first, the question of how to conceptualize the relationship of the child’s two developing languages in terms of language dominance and, second, the constructional basis of the more complex mixed utterances. References Bernardini, P., & Schlyter, S. (2004). Growing syntactic structure and code-mixing in the weaker language: The Ivy Hypothesis. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 7, 49-69. Döpke, S. (1998). Competing language structures: the acquisition of verb placement by bilingual German-English children. Journal of Child Language, 25, 555-584. Kupisch, T. (2008). Dominance, mixing, and cross-linguistic influence: On their relation in bilingual development. In, P. Guijarro-Fuentes, P. Larrañaga & J. Clibbens (Eds.), First language acquisition of morphology and syntax: Perspectives across languages and learners (pp. 209-234). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
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Development in bilingual and multilingual contexts
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