Special Issue "Children’s Acquisition of Morpho-Syntax: The Interplay of Input, Complexity and Learner Cognitive Skills"

A special issue of Languages (ISSN 2226-471X).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (30 November 2020).

Special Issue Editors

Dr. Christina Schelletter
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
School of Humanities, University of Hertfordshire, College Lane, Hatfield AL10 9AB, UK
Interests: bilingual language acquisition; bilingual language processing; language development
Dr. Anja Steinlen
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Philosophische Fakultät und Fachbereich Theologie, Foreign Language Teaching, Friedrich-Alexander Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, Glückstr. 5, 91054 Erlangen, Germany
Interests: language acquisition; language learning strategies; language teaching; second and third language acquisition

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

This Special Issue focuses on the variables that affect children’s morpho-syntactic development, particularly in the context of monolingual vs. bilingual language learning. Within usage-based accounts (Tomasello 2009, Bybee 2006), it is suggested that children learn what they hear most frequently. This applies not only to the acquisition of vocabulary, but also inflectional morphology and syntactic constructions (Ambridge et al. 2015).

Input frequency has been identified as an important factor for both monolingual and bilingual development, as well as early L2 learning, where it has been found to be at least as significant as the age of onset in the acquisition of verb morphology (Unsworth 2016). Children who grow up with two languages seem to have less exposure to each of their languages and should show slower acquisition, yet studies show that other factors, such as the complexity of the structure to be learnt, also have an influence on learners (Paradis 2010). This is in line with a constructivist account (Gathercole’s 2007), which assumes an interaction between learner knowledge and structure.

On the other hand, it has been found that children growing up with two languages (both from birth as well as with later onset in an immersion setting) have enhanced skills in executive functions (Bialystok 2018). This raises the question to what extent the cognitive skills of the learner impact on the acquisition of morpho-syntax and how these interact with the variables outlined above, i.e., input frequency and structural complexity.

The Special Issue aims to make a contribution to the discussion of the interplay of these variables in monolingual versus bilingual/early L2 learners of different languages. While input frequency has been discussed in the context of monolingual and bilingual acquisition, the constructivist account and the presence of a cognitive advantage have been studied mainly in the context of bilingual learning. However, the advantage also seems to extend to early L2 learners who have been attending immersion schools for some time (Bialystok & Barac 2012).  

We request that, prior to submitting a manuscript, interested authors initially submit a proposed title and an abstract of 400–600 words summarizing their intended contribution. Please send it to the guest editors ([email protected] & [email protected]) or to /Languages/ editorial office ([email protected]). Abstracts will be reviewed by the guest editors for the purposes of ensuring a proper fit within the scope of the Special Issue. Full manuscripts will undergo a double-blind peer review.

Schedule:

  • Abstract Submission Deadline: 15th September 2020;
  • Notification of Acceptance: 30th September 2020;
  • Full manuscript deadline: 30th November 2020.

References

Ambridge, B., Kidd, E., Rowland, C, & Theakston, A. (2015). The ubiquity of frequency effects in first language acquisition. Journal of Child Language 42 (2), 239-273.

Bybee, J. (2006). From usage to grammar: The mind’s response to repetition. Language, 82 (4), 711–733.

Bialystok, E. (2018). Bilingualism and executive function. In D. Miller, F. Bayram, J. Rothman & L. Serratrice, (Eds.), Bilingual Cognition and Language (pp. 283–306). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Bialystok, E. & Barac, R. (2012). Emerging bilingualism: Dissociating advantages for metalinguistic awareness and executive control. Cognition, 122, 67–73.

Gathercole, V. (2007). Miami and North Wales, so far and yet so near: A Constructivist account of morpho-syntactic development in bilingual children. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 10, 22–247.

Paradis, J (2010). Bilingual Children's Acquisition of English Verb Morphology: Effects of Language Exposure, Structure Complexity, and Task Type. Language Learning 60 (3), 651–680.

Tomasello, M. (2009). The usage-based theory of language acquisition. In E. Bavin, (Ed.), The Cambridge Handbook of Child Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Unsworth, S. (2016). Early child L2 acquisition: Age or input effects? Neither, or both? Journal of Child Language, 43 (3), 608-634.

Dr. Christina Schelletter
Dr. Anja Steinlen
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a double-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Languages is an international peer-reviewed open access quarterly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1200 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • input frequency
  • structure complexity
  • learner cognitive skills

Published Papers (6 papers)

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Research

Article
Quality of L2 Input and Cognitive Skills Predict L2 Grammar Comprehension in Instructed SLA Independently
Languages 2021, 6(3), 124; https://0-doi-org.brum.beds.ac.uk/10.3390/languages6030124 - 26 Jul 2021
Viewed by 912
Abstract
Input is considered one of the most important factors in the acquisition of lexical and grammatical skills. Input has been found to interact with other factors, such as learner cognitive skills and the circumstances where language is heard. Language learning itself has sometimes [...] Read more.
Input is considered one of the most important factors in the acquisition of lexical and grammatical skills. Input has been found to interact with other factors, such as learner cognitive skills and the circumstances where language is heard. Language learning itself has sometimes been found to enhance cognitive skills. Indeed, intensive contact with another language has been found to sometimes boost cognitive skills, even in intensive instructed settings, such as immersion programs (bilingual advantage hypothesis). In this paper, we report a cross-sectional study to assess grammar learning of 79 fourth grade German students learning L2 English in two immersion schools. Verbal teacher input was assessed using the Teacher Input Observation Scheme (TIOS, Items 14–25), and the learners’ L2 grammar comprehension was tested with the ELIAS Grammar Test II. Cognitive skills, including phonological awareness, working memory, and non-verbal intelligence, were determined using standardized assessment procedures. The results show that verbal input quantity and quality correlated significantly with the learners’ L2 grammar comprehension. None of the cognitive skills moderated the effect of input on grammar comprehension but all predicted it independently. The combination of L2 input and phonological awareness was found to be the most robust predictor of L2 grammar comprehension. Full article
Article
Regular and Irregular Inflection in Different Groups of Bilingual Children and the Role of Verbal Short-Term and Verbal Working Memory
Languages 2021, 6(1), 56; https://0-doi-org.brum.beds.ac.uk/10.3390/languages6010056 - 22 Mar 2021
Viewed by 806
Abstract
Bilingual children often experience difficulties with inflectional morphology. The aim of this longitudinal study was to investigate how regularity of inflection in combination with verbal short-term and working memory (VSTM, VWM) influences bilingual children’s performance. Data from 231 typically developing five- to eight-year-old [...] Read more.
Bilingual children often experience difficulties with inflectional morphology. The aim of this longitudinal study was to investigate how regularity of inflection in combination with verbal short-term and working memory (VSTM, VWM) influences bilingual children’s performance. Data from 231 typically developing five- to eight-year-old children were analyzed: Dutch monolingual children (N = 45), Frisian-Dutch bilingual children (N = 106), Turkish-Dutch bilingual children (N = 31), Tarifit-Dutch bilingual children (N = 38) and Arabic-Dutch bilingual children (N = 11). Inflection was measured with an expressive morphology task. VSTM and VWM were measured with a Forward and Backward Digit Span task, respectively. The results showed that, overall, children performed more accurately at regular than irregular forms, with the smallest gap between regulars and irregulars for monolinguals. Furthermore, this gap was smaller for older children and children who scored better on a non-verbal intelligence measure. In bilingual children, higher accuracy at using (irregular) inflection was predicted by a smaller cross-linguistic distance, a larger amount of Dutch at home, and a higher level of parental education. Finally, children with better VSTM, but not VWM, were more accurate at using regular and irregular inflection. Full article
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Article
Morphosyntactic Development in First Generation Arabic—English Children: The Effect of Cognitive, Age, and Input Factors over Time and across Languages
Languages 2021, 6(1), 51; https://doi.org/10.3390/languages6010051 - 17 Mar 2021
Viewed by 973
Abstract
This longitudinal study examined morphosyntactic development in the heritage Arabic-L1 and English-L2 of first-generation Syrian refugee children (mean age = 9.5; range = 6–13) within their first three years in Canada. Morphosyntactic abilities were measured using sentence repetition tasks (SRTs) in English and [...] Read more.
This longitudinal study examined morphosyntactic development in the heritage Arabic-L1 and English-L2 of first-generation Syrian refugee children (mean age = 9.5; range = 6–13) within their first three years in Canada. Morphosyntactic abilities were measured using sentence repetition tasks (SRTs) in English and Syrian Arabic that included diverse morphosyntactic structures. Direct measures of verbal and non-verbal cognitive skills were obtained, and a parent questionnaire provided the age at L2 acquisition onset (AOA) and input variables. We found the following: Dominance in the L1 was evident at both time periods, regardless of AOA, and growth in bilingual abilities was found over time. Cognitive skills accounted for substantial variance in SRT scores in both languages and at both times. An older AOA was associated with superior SRT scores at Time−1 for both languages, but at Time-2, older AOA only contributed to superior SRT scores in Arabic. Using the L2 with siblings gave a boost to English at Time−1 but had a negative effect on Arabic at Time-2. We conclude that first-generation children show strong heritage-L1 maintenance early on, and individual differences in cognitive skills have stable effects on morphosyntax in both languages over time, but age and input factors have differential effects on each language and over time. Full article
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Article
Contribution of Nonverbal Cognitive Skills on Bilingual Children’s Grammatical Performance: Influence of Exposure, Task Type, and Language of Assessment
Languages 2021, 6(1), 36; https://0-doi-org.brum.beds.ac.uk/10.3390/languages6010036 - 27 Feb 2021
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 1160
Abstract
This study explores the contribution of nonverbal working memory and processing speed on bilingual children’s morphosyntactic knowledge, after controlling for language exposure. Participants include 307 Spanish–English bilinguals in Kindergarten, second, and fourth grade (mean age = 7;8, SD = 18 months). Morphosyntactic knowledge [...] Read more.
This study explores the contribution of nonverbal working memory and processing speed on bilingual children’s morphosyntactic knowledge, after controlling for language exposure. Participants include 307 Spanish–English bilinguals in Kindergarten, second, and fourth grade (mean age = 7;8, SD = 18 months). Morphosyntactic knowledge in English and Spanish was measured using two separate language tasks: a cloze task and a narrative language task. In a series of four hierarchical linear regressions predicting cloze and narrative performance in English and Spanish, we evaluate the proportion of variance explained after adding (a) English exposure, (b) processing speed and working memory, and (c) interaction terms to the model. The results reveal the differential contribution of nonverbal cognitive skills across English and Spanish. Cognition was not significantly related to performance on either grammatical cloze or narrative tasks in Spanish. Narrative tasks in English were significantly predicted by processing speed, after controlling for age and exposure. Grammatical cloze tasks in English posed an additional cognitive demand on working memory. The findings suggest that cognitive demands vary for bilinguals based on the language of assessment and the task. Full article
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Article
Where Are the Goalposts? Generational Change in the Use of Grammatical Gender in Irish
Languages 2021, 6(1), 33; https://0-doi-org.brum.beds.ac.uk/10.3390/languages6010033 - 22 Feb 2021
Viewed by 934
Abstract
The Irish language is an indigenous minority language undergoing accelerated convergence with English against a backdrop of declining intergenerational transmission, universal bilingualism, and exposure to large numbers of L2 speakers. Recent studies indicate that the interaction of complex morphosyntax and variable levels of [...] Read more.
The Irish language is an indigenous minority language undergoing accelerated convergence with English against a backdrop of declining intergenerational transmission, universal bilingualism, and exposure to large numbers of L2 speakers. Recent studies indicate that the interaction of complex morphosyntax and variable levels of consistent input result in some aspects of Irish grammar having a long trajectory of acquisition or not being fully acquired. Indeed, for the small group of children who are L1 speakers of Irish, identifying which “end point” of this trajectory is appropriate against which to assess these children’s acquisition of Irish is difficult. In this study, data were collected from 135 proficient adult speakers and 306 children (aged 6–13 years) living in Irish-speaking (Gaeltacht) communities, using specially designed measures of grammatical gender. The results show that both quality and quantity of input appear to impact on acquisition of this aspect of Irish morphosyntax: even the children acquiring Irish in homes where Irish is the dominant language showed poor performance on tests of grammatical gender marking, and the adult performance on these tests indicate that children in Irish-speaking communities are likely to be exposed to input showing significant grammatical variability in Irish gender marking. The implications of these results will be discussed in terms of language convergence, and the need for intensive support for mother-tongue speakers of Irish. Full article
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Article
Transfer Phenomena in Bilingual Language Acquisition: The Case of Caused-Motion Constructions
Languages 2021, 6(1), 25; https://0-doi-org.brum.beds.ac.uk/10.3390/languages6010025 - 02 Feb 2021
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 762
Abstract
Usage-based approaches suggest that children gradually build abstract syntactic patterns, called constructions, through processes of abstraction and schematization from the input they receive. Bilingual children have the challenge of learning two sets of non-equivalent constructions when they build their constructicon. This can result [...] Read more.
Usage-based approaches suggest that children gradually build abstract syntactic patterns, called constructions, through processes of abstraction and schematization from the input they receive. Bilingual children have the challenge of learning two sets of non-equivalent constructions when they build their constructicon. This can result in deviations from monolinguals, which are commonly referred to as transfer. Targeting the expression of the caused-motion construction, the present study focuses on idiosyncratic utterances, those that do not correspond to monolingual adult language use, in three different age groups (4, 6, and 8 years old) of German–French bilingual children in comparison to monolingual control groups. The quantitative analysis showed that idiosyncrasies could be found in both groups, but with significantly higher rates in bilinguals at all ages. In a qualitative analysis, idiosyncratic utterances were clustered into three different types: syntactic patterns, use of verbs, and directional phrases. Regarding the analysis of these types, the influence of French could be shown. In order to classify this linguistic phenomenon in a usage-based approach, we propose to consider transfer as a form of overgeneralization within the bilingual constructicon. Full article
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