Dissertation: Language Contact and Children's Bilingual Acquisition: Learning a mixed language and Warlpiri in northern Australia

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Tue Apr 3 12:11:27 UTC 2007

Language Contact and Children's Bilingual Acquisition: Learning a mixed
language and Warlpiri in northern Australia

From: Carmel O'Shannessy <carmeloshannessygmail.com>

Institution: University of Sydney Program: Department of Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed Degree Date: 2006 Author: Carmel

Dissertation Title: Language Contact and Children's Bilingual Acquisition:
Learning a mixed language and Warlpiri in northern Australia

Dissertation URL: http://hdl.handle.net/2123/1303

Dissertation Director:
Melissa Bowerman
Penelope Brown
Bhuvana Narasinham
Jane Simpson

Dissertation Abstract:

This dissertation documents the emergence of a new language, Light
Warlpiri, in the multilingual community of Lajamanu in northern Australia.
It then examines the acquisition of this language, and of the heritage
language, Warlpiri, by children. Light Warlpiri has arisen from contact
between Warlpiri (a Pama-Nyungan language), Kriol (an English-based
creole), and varieties of English. It is a Mixed Language, meaning that
none of its source languages can be considered to be the sole parent
language. Most verbs and the verbal morphology are from Aboriginal English
or Kriol, while most nouns and the nominal morphology are from Warlpiri.

The language input to children is complex. Adults older than about thirty
speak Warlpiri and code-switch into Aboriginal English or Kriol. Younger
adults, the parents of the current cohort of children, speak Light
Warlpiri and code-switch into Warlpiri and into Aboriginal English or
Kriol. Warlpiri and Light Warlpiri, the two main input languages to
children, both indicate A arguments with ergative case-marking (and they
share one allomorph of the marker), but Warlpiri includes the marker much
more consistently than Light Warlpiri. Word order is variable in both
languages. Children learn both languages from birth, but they target Light
Warlpiri as the language of their everyday interactions, and they speak it
almost exclusively until four to six years of age. Adults and children
show similar patterns of ergative marking and word order in Light
Warlpiri. But differences between age groups are found in ergative marking
in Warlpiri - for the oldest group of adults, ergative marking is
obligatory, but for younger adults and children, it is not.

Determining when children differentiate between two input languages has
been a major goal in the study of bilingual acquisition. But this has not
before been investigated in a multilingual setting as complex as the one
studied here, where the input languages share much lexicon and grammar and
there is considerable language mixing.  To investigate language
differentiation, focusing on ergative marking and word order patterns,
narrative production data was elicited in both languages from adults, and
children aged 6-9 years, using stimulus picture books designed to promote
more usage of overt A arguments than is usually found in spontaneous
speech. The youngest group of children, age 6-7, who are just starting to
speak Warlpiri, already show an adult-like differentiation between the two
languages in their distribution of ergative case-marking.

The children's word order patterns also resemble those of adults by being
similar in the two languages, but there is an interesting age difference.
In both languages adults apply ergative marking more often to A arguments
that are postverbal than to those that are preverbal. The children
reproduce these patterns even more often than adults do, suggesting that
they are regularising the patterns in both languages. A comprehension
study examining sentence interpretation in Warlpiri and Light Warlpiri
found that adults use a case-marking strategy to identify the A argument
in both languages (i.e. N+erg = A argument, N-erg = O argument). The
children were not adult-like in using this strategy at age 5, when they
also used a word order strategy, but they gradually moved towards being
adult-like with increased age.



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