Category Archives: Interviews

E-Interview: Natascha Müller, Part 3 – Testable Assumptions

In the final segment of our e-interview with Natascha Müller she presents some testable assumptions, which she has corroborated in her own research.

“The two assumptions for delay effects are testable, since they make different predictions. In my research I have argued against Serratrice, Sorace & Paoli (2004) and I have assumed that the presence and direction of the influence is not a question of MORE-or-LESS constraints, but a question of whether pragmatics decides on syntactic options or not. The invasive function of pragmatics is complex (Italian, Spanish), non-invasiveness is derivationally neutral (English, German, French). If delay is not due to a default strategy (processing load in one language) but motivated by cross-linguistic influence where the linguistically more complex analysis of language A is avoided in favor of the less complex analysis of language B, we can make the following predictions which have been corroborated in the child data we have analyzed:

a)  The effect should only be observable in bilingual children with particular language combinations, i.e. it is not due to the fact that the children acquire two languages, one with more, the other with less constraints, generally speaking. Only an approach to delay effects which takes into account the structure of the two languages involved will be able to account for Continue reading

E-Interview: Natascha Müller, Part 2 – Delay Effects in Bilingualism

Continuing with our e-interview, Natascha Müller talks about delay effects in childhood bilingualism:

“Meanwhile, there is ample evidence for delay effects of early child bilingualism. Bilingualism can slow down the acquisition process with respect to age of acquisition and MLU; in other words, for some grammatical properties, bilingual children reach the adult norm later (age and/or MLU) than monolingual peers. There is also evidence which shows that delay effects are observable in balanced as well as in unbalanced children (Müller & Patuto 2009), which means that an uneven development of the two languages is not a prerequisite for delay. Furthermore, although unbalanced language development can slow down acquisition with respect to age, it does not necessarily lead to differences between bilinguals and monolinguals with respect to MLU in the weakly developed language (Müller & Pillunat 2008). It looks as if delay is related to complexity in the following sense: Language A and B exhibit different degrees of complexity for a particular grammatical property. In Hulk & Müller (2000) and Müller & Hulk (2001), complexity is defined as the coordination of information from different modules, pragmatics and syntax for example. Delay is indicative of target-deviant grammatical representations which, during the course of acquisition, have to be “corrected”. The child will use the less complex analysis of language A in relation to grammatical property X when using language A and language B. Müller & Patuto (2009) further refine the scenario for delay effects of cross-linguistic influence and conclude that in addition to complexity defined as the coordination of information from different modules, the surface strings of the two languages A and B have to be analyzable in terms of the syntactic derivation of language A (which is less complex). This prerequisite looks trivial at first sight, but it excludes the possibility that children come up with analyses for the more complex language B which are not also “supported” by the evidence from language B. Also, it makes the interesting prediction that if the more complex language B is acquired together with a language which encodes the respective grammatical property in such a radically different way than in language A (the less complex language), the derivation of language A would not be “supported” by the evidence of language B when used by the child while speaking language B. Continue reading

E-Interview: Natascha Müller, Part 1 – Two Approaches to Bilingualism

Along with our series on blogs around the world we are also featuring e-interviews with researchers in the field of bilingualism.  We have the privledge this week to present the thoughts of Natascha Müller of the Bergische Universität Wuppertal.  We asked her why the study of bilingualism in children is relevant:


The Wuppertal research group on bilingual first language acquisition, funded by the DFG (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, German Science Foundation)

Row 1: Veronika Jansen, Natascha Müller, Elisa Turano, Mayte Jiménez Lopez, Laia Arnaus Gil
Row 2: Dunja Stachelhaus, Annette Pötzsch, Nadine Eichler, Vanessa Colado Miguel, Alban Beysson, Tobias Stallknecht, Marisa Patuto.

“Research in bilingual first language acquisition has been guided by two main approaches: Either it has been argued that bilingual children are not able to separate their two languages from early on since the two languages influence each other (Volterra & Taeschner 1978) or it has been shown that separation is possible from early on and that there is no evidence for cross-linguistic influence (Meisel 1989, Genesee 1989, Genesee, Nicoladis & Paradis 1995). Put differently, separation and cross-linguistic influence have been considered as being mutually exclusive in describing early child bilingualism. The main reason for the assumption of mutual exclusiveness is that most research has conceptualized separation and influence as involving whole language systems (or languages). Among the first to question this view were Gawlitzek-Maiwald & Tracy (1996). The main observation is that some grammatical domains develop separately in early child bilingualism while the bilingual child uses language A to bootstrap aspects of the syntactic system of language B for others.

 What does ‘bootstrap’ in this context mean? Gawlitzek-Maiwald & Tracy analyze the monolingual (containing only elements of the context language) and the mixed utterances of Hannah, a bilingual English-German child. On the basis of the respective monolingual utterances, they find that German is much more advanced than English with respect to lexical and syntactic aspects of temporal and modal auxiliary verbs. In order to ‘help herself out’ when speaking English, Hannah produces mixed utterances of the following type:

 (1) Kannst du move a bit                (Hannah, 2;4-2;9, Gawlitzek-Maiwald     
      Can you move a bit                                     &   Tracy 1996:915)

 In example (1), the left periphery comes from German, while the lexical verb and the adverb are in English. Until the English system of modal and temporal auxiliaries has been fully acquired by the child, she will fill in lexical material from German, a strategy which may also help the child to instantiate the English system: “Something that has been acquired in language A fulfils a booster function for language B.” (Gawlitzek-Maiwald & Tracy 1996: 903) The situation can be reversed for other grammatical phenomena

(Click to Read More and Stay Tuned for parts 2 and 3 with Nascha Müller)

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