Grohmann Colloquium

April 3
Wieboldt 408
University of Cyprus
Comparative Bilingualism

Bilingualism comes in many flavors, such as simultaneous vs. sequential acquisition, and the line to (early) second language acquisition is often blurred. This is not helped by different understandings of the term itself, defined through mastery or use, for example. We know that native or early acquisition of more than one language involves a variety of factors, primarily (i) age of onset of exposure to the language(s) and (ii) the role of the input (Genesee et al., 2004; Meisel, 2009; Unsworth et al., in press). Tsimpli (forthcoming) suggests an additional factor: (iii) the timing in L1 development of the phenomena examined in bilingual children’s performance. In this talk, I will summarize this state of the art and add a fourth relevant factor, (iv) the proximity between the languages involved in the acquisition process. That is, just as language development in bilingual children should be compared to that of monolinguals (as well as atypically developing and impaired populations), different language combinations in bi- and multilingual children should also be taken into consideration. Let’s call this approach comparative bilingualism.

The empirical discussion will revolve around language development in different groups of children growing up in Greek-speaking Cyprus, with a focus on clitic placement. Emphasis will be put on Greek Cypriots, who are classified as bilectal speakers of Cypriot Greek (CG) and some sort of Standard Modern Greek (SMG) as well as mixed-marriage bilingual children from Russian-speaking mothers. Looking at the four purported dynamic metrics of assessment, we do not yet know how much Greek input the bilingual children in Cyprus receive, and how SMG-like it is (which also holds for the bilectals). The same goes for the age of onset of SMG, if indeed prior to formal schooling. However, we do know for timing that clitics appear very early in Greek (see Marinis, 2000, for SMG and our own CAT lab research for CG). And lastly, with respect to language proximity, CG as a ‘dialect’ of Greek is by definition very close to SMG (as opposed to, say, Russian). A valuable tool for further teasing apart timing and proximity from onset and input is Tsimpli’s (2003) Interpretability Hypothesis (cf. Tsimpli & Mastropavlou, 2007), which has recently been assessed for Russian–Greek-speaking adults residing in Cyprus (Karpava, 2014): There is no correlation between age/onset/input and the production of clitics, for example, which express uninterpretable features — and for which native-like attainment cannot be reached.

I will close with a final note on the bilingual status of Greek Cypriot bilectal children and its relevance for more gradient, comparative bilingualism. The results from a number of executive control tasks administered to monolingual SMG-speaking children (in Greece) as well as CG–SMG bilectal and Greek–English bilingual children (in Cyprus) suggest that the bilectal children behave much more like their bilingual rather than their monolingual peers (Antoniou et al., in press).