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

Pui Yiu Szeto 1 , Stephen Matthews 1  and Virginia Yip 2
  • 1 Department of Linguistics, The University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam, Hong Kong, Hong Kong
  • 2 Department of Linguistics and Modern Languages, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, Hong Kong
Pui Yiu Szeto
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  • Department of Linguistics, The University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam, Hong Kong, Hong Kong
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, Stephen Matthews and Virginia Yip
  • Department of Linguistics and Modern Languages, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, Shatin, New Territories, Hong Kong
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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.

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