Dr. Sharon Unsworth

Sharon Unsworth

Radboud University, Nijmegen, Netherlands

Production and processing in bilingual children:  Predicting the extent of cross-linguistic influence

The general consensus in the bilingual first language acquisition literature is that there is separate development of the child’s two languages. At the same time, however, there is clear evidence that under certain circumstances, one language may influence the other (Paradis & Genesee, 1996). This cross-linguistic influence (CLI) varies across linguistic domains, language combinations and children, and several language-level and individual-level factors have been invoked to explain this variation (see Serratrice, 2013 for review), including surface overlap and language dominance (e.g., Döpke, 1998; Hulk & Müller, 2000; Yip & Matthews, 2000). Which of these factors constitute necessary and/or sufficient conditions for CLI and the exact mechanisms by which CLI occurs remain unknown, however. In this talk, I will report on the first results from a 5-year project in which we try to arrive at a better understanding of CLI in bilingual language development by drawing on insights from the bilingual adult psycholinguistic literature (e.g., Hartsuiker et al., 2004). Our central hypothesis, following work by Serratrice (2014, 2015), is that CLI in bilingual children is driven by (structural) priming and reflects a certain level of cross-language sharing. Consequently, we predict that as a result of parallel co-activation of a child’s two languages, the magnitude of CLI should be predicted by factors which have been shown to affect the magnitude of co-activation and priming, such as language exposure, use and proficiency (Bernolet et al., 2007; Kootstra et al., 2010; Poort et al, 2015; Van Hell & Tanner, 2012).