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Bilingual children as “laboratories” for studying contact outcomes: Development of perfective aspect

Pui Yiu Szeto, Stephen Matthews and Virginia Yip
From the journal Linguistics

Abstract

This paper examines the close parallels between the contact phenomena in Cantonese-English bilingual children and Southeast Asian creoles, especially in the domain of perfective aspect marking. ‘Already’ is a cross-linguistically common lexical source of perfective aspect markers given its conceptual link with the sense of perfectivity. In contact scenarios involving a European lexifier and Southeast Asian substrates, the development of ‘already’ into a perfective marker is further triggered by the incompatibility between the verbal morphology of the former and the isolating typology of the latter. Adopting an ecological approach to language transmission and creole genesis we discuss how the transient grammaticalization phenomena in the bilingual children can be compared to decreolization, and how the study of bilingual acquisition can contribute to contact linguistics. Despite the prevalence of unpredictable factors in contact scenarios, we argue that bilingual children can still serve as powerful “laboratories” for studying contact outcomes at the communal level.

Acknowledgements

An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Language Contact in Asia and the Pacific conference held at the University of Macau in September 2016. We'd like to thank the audience and organizers for their insightful feedback. This research is supported by a General Research Fund from the Hong Kong Research Grants Council (Project no. 14632016) and CUHK funding for the University of Cambridge-CUHK Joint Laboratory for Bilingualism, CUHK–Peking University–University System of Taiwan Joint Research Centre for Language and Human Complexity and Childhood Bilingualism Research Centre.

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Published Online: 2019-04-30
Published in Print: 2019-05-27

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