E11: Linguistic Features of First Language Attrition and Second Language Acquisition in Adult Bilinguals (German-French and German-Italian)
Principal investigator: Tanja Kupisch
Research assistants: Giulia Bianchi, Dagmar BartonLanguage attrition is understood as language loss at the individual level which is not due to any physical deficits (Polinsky 1997). Such non-pathological cases of language loss have most often been discussed in the context of bilingual acquisition and have raised increasing interest in research throughout the past few years (z.B. Köpke & Schmid 2004; Schmid, Köpke, Keijzer & Weilemar 2004; Köpke 2004; Köpke, Schmid, Keijzer & Dostert 2007; Montrul 2002, 2004, 2005, 2008; Polinsky 1997; Seliger & Vago 1991; Silva-Corvalán 1994, 2003; Sorace 2000; Tsimpli, Sorace, Heycock & Filaci 2004; Tsimpli 2007; Valdéz 1995).
This project targets individuals who have acquired two languages (German/French, German/Italian) simultaneously from birth in a naturalistic environment, i.e. so-called heritage learners. In keeping with most work on the topic we assume that one of their two languages, the language of the environment, is dominant/stronger. The weaker language, by contrast, represents a minority language.
The weaker language has been argued to differ from the language of monolinguals. While most researchers seem to agree that this typically holds for pronunciation and the lexicon, some have argued that even morphosyntax may be affected (in both competence and performance). Many studies have in fact reported similarities between Heritage-Speakers and second language (L2) learners (z.B. Au, Knightly, Jun & Oh 2002; Bruhn de Garavito 2002; Montrul 2004, 2006, 2008; O’Grady, Llee & Choo 2001; Schlyter 1993; Schlyter & Håkansson 1994). This project will collect a corpus of German/French and German/Italian speakers to examine whether previous results can be supported by new data. Based on particular morphological and syntactic phenomena we determine similarities and differences (or their absence) between stronger and weaker language and well as between the weaker language and a second language (L2).
Our project examines the following questions of general theoretical importance:
- modularity: If language attrition occurs only with particular phenomena, this can be taken to imply that the human language faculty is organized in a modular fashion
- age at contact with the second language: If we can show strong similarities between 2L1 and L2, it seems implausible to assume that contact with two languages from birth guarantees native-like proficiency in adulthood
- competence or performance: If attrition is restricted to naturalistic data, while not being mirrored in the corresponding grammaticality judgments of these speakers, we can assume that linguistic knowledge is not lost, but that access to it is merely blocked.
- Language influence: Through the comparison of data in Germany and Italy/France, we can test whether attrition is exclusively due to the properties of the simultaneously acquired (and dominant) language.
The project establishes a corpus for examining language attrition in adult bilingual speakers. The possibility of language loss in the weaker language will be examined in an exemplary fashion with regard to morphological and syntactic phenomena. By separating naturalistic and elicited data we hope to uncover potential differences between competence and performance.
We administer a placement test in both languages (German and Italian/French) to see whether we can confirm the expected differences in the proficiency of our subjects’ two languages.
The focus will then be on the weaker language. Control data from L2-speakers (with exposure to the relevant language after the age of 12 years) and bilingual speakers speaking the respective language as their stronger language will be used to establish potential language loss. If the weaker language of a bilingual speaker has been subject to attrition, we expect (at least superficial) similarities with a L2. We further expect noticeable differences with respect to the stronger language of a bilingual speaking the same two languages.
Through the comparison of three morpho-syntactic phenomena (gender, adjective placement, article choice in generic DPs) we will test the vulnerability of particular linguistic modules or interfaces.
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- O’Grady, W., M. Llee & M. Choo (2001). The acquisition of relative clauses by heritage and non-heritage learners of Korean as a second language. A comparative study. Journal of Korean Language Education 12. 283-294.
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- Tsimpli, I., A. Sorace, C. Heycock & F. Filaci (2004). First language attrition and syntactic subjects: a study of Greek and Italian near- native speakers of English. International Journal of Bilingualism 8. 157-177.
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