image of Shared syntax and cross-linguistic influence in bilingual children



This paper investigates the role of structural priming in cross-linguistic influence, a well-established yet poorly understood characteristic of bilingual language development. More specifically, we test the proposal that cross-linguistic influence may be conceptualized as between-language priming, that is, as the result of prior linguistic exposure ( ) and shared syntactic representations between languages ( ). In Experiment 1, we primed bilingual English-Dutch children between languages using possessive structures (e.g., ). In Experiment 2, we compared the same group of children with bilingual Spanish-Dutch and monolingual Dutch children using within-language priming. Within-language priming was stronger than between-language priming. In both experiments, we examined the relation between priming behaviour and individual differences in language exposure, use and proficiency. Experiment 1 found between-language priming with long-lasting effects modulated by proficiency. The results of Experiment 2 were consistent with inverse priming effects in within-language priming modulated – to a degree – by properties of the bilingual children’s other language. Taken together, these findings are consistent with the proposal that between-language priming is a plausible mechanism underpinning cross-linguistic influence and that bilingual children develop shared syntactic representations for structures which are similar across their two languages.

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