Date of Degree

2-2019

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Linguistics

Advisor

Gita Martohardjono

Committee Members

Isabelle Barriere

Gisela Jia

Subject Categories

First and Second Language Acquisition

Keywords

Bilingualism, Language Acquisition, Chinese

Abstract

Immigrant children who grow up in linguistically and culturally diverse households are at risk for misdiagnosis for language impairment and inappropriate placement in or exclusion from special education classes. Research shows that native language testing is essential in determining eligibility for disability services, as reflected both in federal law (Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004). However, despite growing agreement that native language assessment is a critical component to understanding the abilities and challenges bilingual students face, the standard assessments currently used are largely administered in Standard English and normed on monolingual English speakers. Few options are available to practitioners who work with speakers raised in multilingual households.

This investigation presents a pilot study of syntax comprehension in English and Mandarin in 24 four-year-old children who live in Chinese-speaking households in New York City. The study has two aims. One is to show how children from Mandarin-speaking homes perform on language assessments in English and Mandarin. The structures selected for this investigation are coordination and relative clauses, which are cross-linguistically robust and have been previously studied in child language acquisition research in both English and Mandarin monolinguals; as well as Chinese-specific classifiers, or nominal modifiers. Results show that the children had similar accuracy on the coordination sentences in Mandarin and English; however, for the relative clause structures, children had higher accuracy in Mandarin than English, emphasizing the need for multilingual testing. This study concludes with recommendations for a touch-screen tablet based assessment that would be useful to schools and replicable to other languages, potentially addressing the gap between policy and practice.

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