We investigated how two groups of Turkish–Dutch bilinguals and two groups of monolingual speakers of the two languages described static topological relations. The bilingual groups differed with respect to their first (L1) and second (L2) language proficiencies and a number of sociolinguistic factors. Using an elicitation tool that covers a wide range of topological relations, we first assessed the extensions of different spatial expressions (topological relation markers, TRMs) in the Turkish and Dutch spoken by monolingual speakers. We then assessed differences in the use of TRMs between the two bilingual groups and monolingual speakers.
In both bilingual groups, differences compared to monolingual speakers were mainly observed for Turkish. Dutch-dominant bilinguals showed enhanced congruence between translation-equivalent Turkish and Dutch TRMs. Turkish-dominant bilinguals extended the use of a topologically neutral locative marker.
Our results can be interpreted as showing different “bilingual optimization strategies” (Muysken, 2013) in bilingual speakers who live in the same environment but differ with respect to L2 onset, L2 proficiency, and perceived importance of the L1.