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Cross-linguistic comparisons in child language research

  • RUTH A. BERMAN (a1)

Abstract

Major large-scale research projects in the early years of developmental psycholinguistics were English-based, yet even then numerous studies were available or under way in a range of different languages (Ferguson & Slobin, 1973). Since then, the field of cross-linguistic child language research has burgeoned in several directions. First, rich information is now available on the acquisition of dozens of languages from around the world in numerous language families, spearheaded by the five-volume series edited by Slobin (19851997) and complemented by in-depth examination of specific constructions – e.g. causative alternation, motion verbs, passive voice, subject elision, noun compounding – in various languages, culminating in an in-depth examination of the acquisition of ergativity in over a dozen languages (Bavin & Stoll, 2013). A second fruitful direction is the application of carefully comparable designs targeting a range of issues among children acquiring different languages, including: production of early lexico-grammatical constructions (Slobin, 1982), sentence processing comprehension (MacWhinney & Bates, 1989), expression of spatial relations (Bowerman, 2011), discourse construction of oral narratives based on short picture series (Hickmann, 2003) and longer storybooks (Berman & Slobin, 1994), and extended texts in different genres (Berman, 2008). Taken together, research motivated by the question of what is particular and what universal in child language highlights the marked, and early, impact of ambient language typology on processes of language acquisition. The challenge remains to operationalize such insights by means of psychologically sound and linguistically well-motivated measures for evaluating the interplay between the variables of developmental level, linguistic domain, and ambient language typology.

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Cross-linguistic comparisons in child language research

  • RUTH A. BERMAN (a1)

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