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New research on bilingualism puts received wisdom on grammatical change to the test

Catherine Travis

Date: 18 August 2015

A special issue of the International Journal of Bilingualism, edited by Catherine Travis and Rena Torres Cacoullos, investigates the question of whether bilinguals' switching between two languages promotes grammatical change.

“With this volume we wanted to bring the scientific method to bear on issues of bilingualism,” says Travis.

The pursuit of this ambitious objective by means of a remarkable data set has been a matter of great scholarly satisfaction.

As Torres Cacoullos put it, “It is a real privilege—and revealing—to work with data of spontaneous speech by life-long bilinguals.”


Code-switching within and across Intonation Units

The papers in the volume test the convergence via code-switching hypothesis capitalising on a unique bilingual corpus. Comprising copious multiword code-switching by members of a longstanding community, the New Mexico Spanish-English Bilingual (NMSEB) corpus makes it possible to probe the workings of spontaneous bilingual speech, from the syntax and prosody of borrowing and code-switching to cross-language structural priming.

 Comparisons of variation patterns to test convergence (Torres Cacoullos and Travis 2015:378)

 The convergence via code-switching hypothesis is tested by a novel real-time measure: speakers’ juxtaposition of multiword sequences of each language is included in analyses as a predictor variable. Implementation of this test indicates a disjunction between bilinguals’ phonology, which may be labile, and morphosyntax, which is stable, confirming that grammatical convergence is far from a foregone conclusion of bilingualism.

Bilingual lexical representation and cognate effects from Brown (2015:401). In spontaneous bilingual discourse, the reduction of Spanish word-initial d- occurs less in cognates (e.g., doctor) than in non-cognates (e.g., dolor ‘pain’). The widely cited distinction between cognates and non-cognates is shown to be emergent from the cumulative effect of their frequency of use in different contexts, taking into account usage in both languages. Bilinguals' linguistic experience, just like that of monolinguals, is represented in lexical connections, which are gradient.

Have a look inside!

Rena Torres Cacoullos and Catherine E Travis: Gauging convergence on the ground: Code-switching in the community

Esther L Brown: The role of discourse context frequency in phonological variation: A usage-based approach to bilingual speech production

Nicole M Benevento and Amelia J Dietrich: I think, therefore digo yo: Variable position of the 1sg subject pronoun in New Mexican Spanish-English code-switching

Colleen Balukas and Christian Koops: Spanish-English bilingual voice onset time in spontaneous code-switching

Damián Vergara Wilson and Jenny Dumont: The emergent grammar of bilinguals: The Spanish verb hacer ‘do’ with a bare English infinitive

Jessi Elana Aaron: Lone English-origin nouns in Spanish: The precedence of community norms 

  • Australian Government
  • The University of Queensland
  • Australian National University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • Western Sydney University