Tag Archives: Children

UIC TiL: Kim Potowski

This Friday, April 9th, UIC’s very own Kim Potowski will be presenting a talk entitled, “Intrafamilial dialect contact: The Spanish of MexiRicans in Chicago.”

Join us at 3 PM in 1750 University Hall (601 S. Morgan St. Chicago, IL 60607) for the talk and as usual light refreshments will be provided.

Kim Potowski (University of Illinois at Chicago)
Intrafamilial dialect contact: The Spanish of MexiRicans in Chicago

When speakers of different dialects share social space, interact frequently, and wish to gain each other’s approval or show solidarity, there exists the very strong possibility that they will adopt features from each other’s dialect. This process is known as accommodation, and when individual accommodations spread through a speech community over a long term, a common result is dialect mixing. Dialect mixing has received considerable attention in English (Trudgill 1986; Schneider 2003; Bauer 1994; Kerswill 2002) and in some parts of the Spanish-speaking world. However, there is a gap in our knowledge of Spanish dialect contact in the United States, which at approximately 30 million speakers is the fifth largest Spanish-speaking nation and the most dialectally diverse.

In addition, there is an increasingly common and particularly interesting case of Spanish dialect contact in the U.S.: What does a child’s Spanish look like when members of two different ethnolinguistic groups – a Mexican and a Puerto Rican, for example – marry and each speak their own Spanish dialect in the home? This situation, referred to as intrafamilial dialect contact, falls within Hazen’s (2002) call for research on the family as an intermediate grouping between the individual and the speech community. I will present a brief summary of general principles of dialect contact before examining studies of Spanish dialect contact in the U.S. and then focusing on cases of intrafamilial dialect contact in Chicago.

Being Bilingual Can Make You a Hero

Oscar Rodriguez,  11, talks to Gila River paramedics in his room at Maricopa Medical Center. Despite his injuries, the boy helped paramedics on the scene by translating for patients who didn't speak English. The paramedics were so appreciative of Oscar'sThis past Saturday an 11-year-old proved what most of us already knew: being bilingual can make you a hero.

Oscar Ramirez, a 4th grader from Las Vegas, was one of 16 people injured in a bus crash in Arizona last Friday.  The bus was on its way to Los Angeles from Zacatecas carrying 22 passengers, some of which did not speak English.

Ramirez helped the paramedics identify the injuries sustained by the other passengers, allowing them to be treated. The paramedics were so grateful that they brought him a few gifts, including a certificate honoring him as “Hero of the Day.”
For more information, check the Arizona Republic or the Associated Press.

Babies cry in their first language: Tränen, tears, o lágrimas?

In the newest edition of the journal Current Biology an interesting article was published about the language in which babies cry.

Apparently infants have already begun acquiring phonology at such an early stage that long before they can speak, they already cry in their native language.  In fact, the authors suggest that fetuses can “memorize auditory stimuli from the external world by the last trimester of pregnancy, with a particular sensitivity to melody contour in both music and language.”  It is not surprising then that their first sounds be somewhat language-specific.  French infants, for example, were found to prefer rising intonations in their cries and German infants preferred falling tones.  Further, the suggested effect is that “adult-like processing of pitch intervals allows newborns to appreciate musical melodies and emotional and linguistic prosody.”

“Newborns’ cry melody is shaped by their native language”. Birgit Mampe, Angela D. Friederici, Anne Christophe, Kathleen Wermke. Current Biology 2009, Nov 5, doi 10.1016/j.cub.2009.09.064

Other publications have begun taking notice as well.  The University of Würzburg has a discussion of the implications in German and English. And Uruguay’s LR21 has posted an article in Spanish.

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)

Continue reading

Childhood Bilingualism

In this month’s issue of Science, an article appeared from two researchers, Ágnes Melinda Kovács and Jacques Mehler, at the Scuola Internazionale Superiore di Studi Avanzati–SISSA in Trieste, Italy. They used an eye-tracking study involving speech patterns and toys which found that bilingual infants (12 months) could better distinguish between “two different regularities.” That is, when presented with two different speech patterns of nonce syllables, the bilingual children learned to associate the distinct patterns with the location of the toys. Thus, in the absence of the toys, the bilingual children were statistically more likely than monolingual children to look to the previous location of the toy associated with the pattern they hear. The monolingual children only learned the pattern for one of the locations.

What gives the bilingual infant the advantage? The researchers suggest that a bilingual infant can learn multiple structures simultaneously as a result of the mixed speech they’ve been exposed to. This mixed speech either allows the children to filter out interference possibly due to the development of what the researchers call the “precocious development of control and selection abilities” as documented in other sources.

To see the article and the documented sources: