Current projects Current projects

Return to Full Page
Back

The Role of Language Similarity in the Development of the Infant Bilingual lexicon

The Role of Language Similarity in the Development of the Infant Bilingual lexicon

The Role of Language Similarity in the Development of the Infant Bilingual lexicon

How do infants growing up in bilingual homes learn words and how are these words represented in the infant bilingual mind? We propose that answers to these questions are heavily influenced by the similarity of the languages involved. For instance, Dutch and English are close languages, while Chinese and English are distant. At the word level, language similarity is reflected in the percentage of 'cognate' words that two languages share. Cognates are word translations that share the same etymological origin and sound similar (such as father and vader in English and Dutch). Evidence for the importance of cognates in bilinguals comes from naming studies with adults. For example, adult bilinguals can name pictures faster when they correspond to cognates (father/vader) than pictures corresponding to non-cognates(bicycle/fiets). A critical property of adult bilingualism is that of non-selective access to the words in both languages.
Bilinguals activate all potential word candidates from either language consistent with what they hear or want to say, even in fully monolingual situations. Such findings point to important interactions between the two languages in the bilingual mind. Such interactions are likely to be even more important in the case of infants raised bilingually. Such infants often know only one word in one of their languages to refer to a concept. In this situation, cross-language lexical similarity may facilitate word recognition, but it may hinder the establishment of language-specific lexicons. We propose to conduct a series of experimental studies to uncover the structure of the mental lexicon in bilingual infants, and to construct brain-inspired models to explore theoretical accounts of the structure of their lexicon(s).

Principal researchers

Nuria Sebastian

Funding from the ESRC Economic and Social Research Council project awarded to Oxford University

Id. ES/S010947/1

Dates: 01/09/2019 to 31/05/2022
 
Funding: 249.108 €