The development of verbal morphology and word order in an Indonesian-German bilingual child: A case study

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Abstract

The contexts and circumstances of the occurrence of cross-linguistic influence in bilingual children’s language development are still a matter of debate. The present study argues that in the early development of a bilingual child exposed to two typologically distinct languages (Indonesian and German), the child developed two separate linguistic systems. The child, raised in Indonesia, was exposed to Indonesian by her Indonesian mother and to German by her German father. The study focuses on the early stages of verbal morphology and word order, from ages 1;3 to 2;2. The corpus took the form of conversational text or speech based on spontaneous interactions in natural settings. The data was collected using diary records, supplemented by weekly video recordings. In analysing the data, two software systems were used: ELAN and Toolbox. The speech was segmented based on utterances. All verbal morphology and word order was coded. The results show that verbal morphology in Indonesian and German was acquired by the child at different times, with the development of German verbs occurring later than Indonesian verb acquisition. In addition, there is evidence of interaction between the two developing systems. Cross-linguistic interference was identified when the child used the Indonesian vocatives-predicate combination in German utterances while, at the same time, the child also applied the German verb-final clause structure in Indonesian utterances when she should have produced German utterances. Thus, the results from this case study suggest that both language external and internal factors account for the occurrence of cross-linguistic influence.

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