The role of input in the early trilingual acquisition of English, Afrikaans and isiXhosa

Potgieter, Anneke Perold (2014-12)

Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2014.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: The study investigates the acquisition of vocabulary and passive constructions by 11 four-year-old children simultaneously acquiring South African English, Afrikaans and isiXhosa in low socio-economic status areas in South Africa, with specific focus on the role that input plays in this process. Input is measured in terms of quantity of exposure (at the time of testing and cumulatively over time) and in terms of quality (as determined by the proficiency levels of the speaker(s) providing the input). Results revealed a significant positive correlation between input and proficiency levels in the case of all three the trilinguals’ languages. The interaction between these variables seems to be narrower at lower levels of input, and the effect of reduced quantity of exposure stronger in the case of lexical development than in grammatical development. The proficiency levels of the early developing trilinguals are furthermore compared to those of 10 age-matched monolingual controls for each language. Trilinguals are found to be monolingual-like in their lexical development in the language to which, on average, they have been exposed most over time, i.e. isiXhosa. Thus, as previously found for bilingual development, necessarily reduced quantity of exposure does not hinder lexical development in the input dominant language. Whilst the trilinguals lag behind monolinguals significantly in terms of lexical development in their languages of less exposure, no developmental delay is found in their acquisition of the passive, regardless of the language of testing. This is despite their lower lexical proficiency in English and Afrikaans and their lesser amount of exposure to all three their languages. Although the passive is considered a typically later-developing construction type across languages, research has shown it to be acquired earlier in Bantu languages (of which isiXhosa is an example) than in Germanic languages such as English and Dutch (from which Afrikaans stems). Consequently, the fact that the trilinguals do not exhibit delay in their acquisition of the passive, despite sometimes drastically reduced levels of input, is interpreted as evidence of cross-linguistic bootstrapping: trilinguals seem to be transferring their knowledge of the passive in isiXhosa to English and Afrikaans, enabling the earlier acquisition of this construction in the latter two languages. The study is the first on the trilingual acquisition of English, Afrikaans and isiXhosa by young children, and will hopefully encourage additional research on multilingual language acquisition within the African context.

AFRIKKANSE OPSOMMING: Die studie ondersoek die verwerwing van woordeskat en passiefkonstruksies deur 11 vierjarige kinders wat in lae sosio-ekonomiese areas in Suid-Afrika gelyktydig Suid-Afrikaanse Engels, Afrikaans en isiXhosa verwerf. Die fokus van die studie is op die rol van toevoer in hierdie spesifieke verwerwingsproses. Toevoer word gemeet in terme van hoeveelheid blootstelling (ten tyde van toetsing en kumulatief oor tyd heen) en in terme van kwaliteit (soos bepaal deur die vaardigheidsvlakke van die persone wat die toevoer verskaf). Die resultate toon ’n beduidende positiewe verhouding tussen toevoer en vaardigheidsvlakke in geval van al drie die drietalige kinders se tale. Die interaksie tussen hierdie veranderlikes blyk nouer te wees by laer vlakke van toevoer, en die effek van afname in hoeveelheid toevoer sterker in geval van leksikale teenoor grammatikale ontwikkeling. Die vaardigheidsvlakke van die jong ontwikkelende drietalige kinders is verder ook vergelyk met, in die geval van elkeen van die afsonderlike tale, díé van 10 eentalige sprekers van soortgelyke ouderdom. Die drietalige kinders vertoon soos eentaliges in terme van leksikale ontwikkeling in die taal waaraan hulle gemiddeld die meeste blootgestel is oor tyd heen, d.i. isiXhosa. Dus, soos vantevore bevind vir tweetalige ontwikkeling, vertraag noodwendig verminderde hoeveelhede toevoer nie leksikale ontwikkeling in die toevoer-dominante taal nie. Alhoewel die drietaliges in geval van hulle tale van minder blootstelling beduidend stadiger leksikale ontwikkeling toon as die eentaliges, is daar geen blyke van vertraagde ontwikkeling in terme van hulle verwerwing van die passief nie, ongeag die taal van toetsing ̶ dít ten spyte van hulle laer leksikale vaardigheidsvlakke in Engels en Afrikaans en verminderde toevoer in al drie tale. Die passief word oor tale heen beskou as ’n tipies laat-ontwikkelende konstruksietipe, maar navorsing het bewys dat dit tog vroeër verwerf word in Bantoetale (waarvan isiXhosa ’n voorbeeld is) as in Germaanse tale soos Engels en Nederlands (die taal waarin Afrikaans sy oorsprong het). Die feit dat die drietaliges nie vertraagde ontwikkeling toon in hulle verwerwing van die passief nie, ten spyte van soms drasties verminderde toevoer, word gevolglik beskou as bewyse van kruis-linguistiese ondersteuning (“bootstrapping”): die drietaliges blyk hulle kennis van die passief in isiXhosa oor te dra na Engels en Afrikaans, wat sodoende die verwerwing van hierdie konstruksie in laasgenoemde twee tale bespoedig. Die studie is die eerste oor die drietalige verwerwing van Engels, Afrikaans en isiXhosa deur jong kinders, en die hoop is dat dit sal lei tot verdere navorsing oor veeltalige taalverwerwing binne die Afrika-konteks.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/95835
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