Delay and acceleration in bilingual first language acquisition

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Research on bilingual first language acquisition has shown that bilingual children do not develop both of their two languages similarly to monolingual children. Two opposing views exist for the difference between bilingual and monolingual development. According to the first, cross-linguistic effects may either slow down or accelerate language acquisition. The opposing view holds that processing is at the heart of the difference between bilingual and monolingual language development. In the present article we will argue in favor of the position that delay is the outcome of cross-linguistic influence, where a linguistically less complex analysis is applied to both languages, A and B. We will show that delay effects depend on the language combination, and will compare German-Italian, German-Spanish and Italian-French children with respect to non-null-subject usage. At the same time, acceleration effects are visible in all bilingual children, regardless of the language combination. We will also argue that acceleration results from processing preferences. The grammatical phenomenon under investigation here is finite verb placement in bilingual German, which seems to be guided by principles of efficient computation. The empirical results allow for an interpretation of acceleration effects not in terms of cross-linguistic influence, but in terms of an effect of bilingualism as such. As a result, the differences between early child bilingualism and monolingual language development should be described in terms of the interaction of two knowledge systems and of processing effects in bilinguals.


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