From: Carmel O'Shannessy <carmeloshannessygmail.com>
Subject: Language Contact and Children's Bilingual Acquisition: Learning a mixed language and Warlpiri in northern Australia
Institution: University of Sydney
Program: Department of Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2006
Author: Carmel O'Shannessy
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
Subject Language(s): English (eng)
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
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