Complex Structures in the Child-Directed Speech of Native and Nonnative Speakers

Complex Structures in the Child-Directed Speech of Native and Nonnative Speakers

Aslı Altan (Okan International University, USA) and Erika Hoff (Florida Atlantic University, USA)
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 13
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-4009-0.ch007
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Children in bilingual communities are frequently exposed to speech from nonnative speakers, but little research has described how that input might differ from the input of native speakers. There is evidence that input from nonnative speakers might be less useful to language learning children, but little research has asked why. This chapter analyzes the frequency of complex structures in the child-directed speech of 30 native English speakers and 36 nonnative speakers who were late learners of English, all speaking English to their two-and-a-half-year-old children. All instances of nine categories of complex structures were coded in transcripts of mother-child interaction. The frequency of all but one category was greater in the speech of native speakers. These findings suggest that input provided by native speakers provides more frequent models of complex structures than nonnative input.
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Previous Studies

The Role of Complex Syntax in Children’s Input

The frequency of complex structures in input is positively related to children’s lexical and grammatical development. Marchman et al. (2016) worked on caregiver talk to young Spanish-English bilinguals and they reported a critical role of verbal engagement between caregivers and children in shaping children’s early language outcomes in both of the languages they were learning. Huttenlocher et al. (2010) found, in a study of caregiver input and language growth between 14-46 months, caregiver clausal diversity and number of caregiver uses of complex clauses both predicted children’s clausal diversity. More generally, it has been argued that the human language processor is sensitive to frequency (Bybee & Hopper, 2001; Ellis, 2002; Gennari & MacDonalds, 2008; Wells et al., 2009), and thus the frequency with which particular structures appear is likely to be a relevant feature of children’s input. Consistent with that argument, Valian (2013) found, in a study with children between 2;6 and 3;2, that children who heard auxiliary structures more produced more auxiliary sentences than a control group who had less auxiliary exposure. Relatedly, Altınkamış et al. (2013) studied the use of relative clauses in child-directed speech in Turkish and concluded that lack of input frequency should also be regarded as a contributor to monolingual Turkish children’s late emergence and rare use of relative clauses.

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