Date of Degree

5-2018

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

M.A.

Program

Linguistics

Advisor(s)

Irina Sekerina

Keywords

Heritage language acquisition, bilingualism, longitudinal case study

Abstract

Heritage language (HL) acquisition is characterized by substantial variation that is claimed be the result of reduced input. HL grammars demonstrate systematic processes of grammatical restructuring and are often incomplete, divergent, and reduced in comparison to the standard language. The present study investigates the role of the quantity and quality of linguistic input in the vocabulary and grammar development of HL Russian-English children during their third year of life. Particular attention is paid to the development of the grammatical categories of Russian verbs (aspect, tense, person, and number). The current thesis employs several research tools: parental questionnaires measuring language exposure and performance, LENATM analysis of adults’ and children’s linguistic activity based on the day-long recordings, and the analysis of a transcribed naturalistic dense corpus.

The results of longitudinal analysis show that the rate of development of the child’s two languages reflect her relative amount of language exposure. Despite the small amount of English, the effect of the presence of the second language in the input was found: there was a slight delay in vocabulary and grammar development in the child’s two languages at age 2. However, at age 3, vocabulary and grammar scores in both languages rose, evidence of acquisition of the two linguistic systems.

Additionally, despite the reduced relative amount of Russian, children follow the same developmental path acquiring Russian verbal categories as the Russian monolinguals do. Moreover, the evidence demonstrates that heritage Russian input differs significantly from monolingual Russian input in terms of the verb forms used. Heritage Russian quantitative characteristics of verb forms use in output showed a strong interrelation with input.

The dense description of familial language use proved useful in that it provided a means of quantifying and qualifying the actual distribution of languages in the home environment as well as the features present in parental child-directed speech. The results of the current analysis demonstrate the importance of undertaking a composite approach when examining children’s bilingual living environments and their bilingual development.

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