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Morphology and Language Attrition  

Silvina Montrul and James Yoon

Language attrition is the loss of linguistic abilities or the regression of specific grammatical properties and overall fluency in linguistic skills. It impacts language use, lexical access, and grammatical integrity. Non-pathological attrition is natural in situations of language contact and bilingualism and can occur in the first, native, language as well as in a second language. As a gradual and dynamic process of accommodation that occurs when bilinguals use the second language extensively, attrition is a highly individualized phenomenon and hard to predict a priori. If attrition eventually happens, it affects individuals differently, with some exhibiting more widespread loss than others. Two factors that determine the extent of language attrition in bilinguals are the availability of input and the age of the individual at the onset of the reduction in input in their native language. An important question is whether attrition mainly occurs at the level of processing or whether it affects actual linguistic competence. Theoretical approaches to attrition have emphasized its relationship with L1 acquisition, the selectivity of attrition by linguistic modules, the effects of language use on memory, and the interplay between the L1 and the L2 along the life span. We still lack understanding of how attrition affects linguistic representations and processing and the external and individual cognitive factors that modulate, predict, or prevent attrition in bilinguals. Morphological attrition is far more common and extensive in children than in adults and it manifests itself in a variety of ways: morphophonemic leveling, morphological simplification, including omission of required morphology in obligatory contexts, paradigmatic reduction, simplification/reduction of suffixal allomorphy, regularization of irregular forms, and the replacement of synthetic forms for analytic/periphrastic forms. Morphological attrition has often been discussed in the context of language death and language loss at the community level for both child and adult bilinguals. The scant empirical evidence to date seems to indicate that the processes of omission, regularization, and suppletion that are common in attrition occur regardless of the dominant morphological type of a language. Both inflectional and derivational morphology are affected under language attrition and seem to undergo similar processes of reduction and simplification, regardless of the morphological type of the language. Within inflectional morphology, nominal morphology (gender, number, case) is more prone to attrition in the actual number of occurrences than verbal morphology (agreement, tense, aspect, mood), and attrition occurs more rapidly and extensively.

Article

Lexical Representations in Language Processing  

Gary Libben

Words are the backbone of language activity. An average 20-year-old native speaker of English will have a vocabulary of about 42,000 words. These words are connected with one another within the larger network of lexical knowledge that is termed the mental lexicon. The metaphor of a mental lexicon has played a central role in the development of theories of language and mind and has provided an intellectual meeting ground for psychologists, neurolinguists, and psycholinguists. Research on the mental lexicon has shown that lexical knowledge is not static. New words are acquired throughout the life span, creating very large increases in the richness of connectivity within the lexical system and changing the system as a whole. Because most people in the world speak more than one language, the default mental lexicon may be a multilingual one. Such a mental lexicon differs substantially from a lexicon of an individual language and would lead to the creation of new integrated lexical systems due to the pressure on the system to organize and access lexical knowledge in a homogenous manner. The mental lexicon contains both word knowledge and morphological knowledge. There is also evidence that it contains multiword strings such as idioms and lexical bundles. This speaks in support of a nonrestrictive “big tent” view of units of representation within the mental lexicon. Changes in research on lexical representations in language processing have emphasized lexical action and the role of learning. Although the metaphor of words as distinct representations within a lexical store has served to advance knowledge, it is more likely that words are best seen as networks of activity that are formed and affected by experience and learning throughout the life span.

Article

Learning and Using Morphology and Morphosyntax in a Second Language  

Laurie Beth Feldman and Judith F. Kroll

We summarize findings from across a range of methods, including behavioral measures of overall processing speed and accuracy, electrophysiological indices that tap into the early time course of language processing, and neural measures using structural and functional imaging. We argue that traditional claims about rigid constraints on the ability of late bilinguals to exploit the meaning and form of the morphology and morphosyntax in a second language should be revised so as to move away from all or none command of structures motivated from strict dichotomies among linguistic categories of morphology. We describe how the dynamics of morphological processing in neither monolingual or bilingual speakers is easily characterized in terms of the potential to decompose words into their constituent morphemes and that morphosyntactic processing is not easily characterized in terms of categories of structures that are learnable and those that are unlearnable by bilingual and nonnative speakers. Instead, we emphasize the high degree of variability across individuals and plasticity within individuals in their ability to successfully learn and use even subtle aspects of a second language. Further, both of the bilingual’s two languages become active when even one language is engaged, and parallel activation has consequences that shape both languages, thus their influence is not in the unidirectional manner that was traditionally assumed. We briefly discuss the nature of possible constraints and directions for future research.