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Bilinguals Are Not Two Monolinguals In One Head

2272 words - 10 pages

The bilingual is not two monolinguals in one person

Early studies on bilingualism have spread the idea that bilingualism was a disadvantage, that it might help developing anomalies (Pichon and Borel-Maisonny, 1937) or deteriorate children’s intelligence (Eichorn-Jones: 1952). From the 1970s onwards, more extensive and in-depth studies have discredited this idea that bilingualism was cognitively damaging and have shown the complexity and the specific characteristics of bilingual acquisition. Among these fundamental research, we can find Volterra & Taeschner (1978), Grosjean (1989), Romaine (1989), De Houwer (1995) and Genesee (1996), to name but a few. These research have highlighted ...view middle of the document...

Grosjean (1989) stipulated that bilinguals couldn’t be overgeneralised as being two monolinguals. He emphasised on the fact that since bilinguals have more opportunities to shift between different languages, their proficiency may not be compared to individuals who only speak one language. Bilinguals, in their social environment, can choose to speak either in one of their two languages or in a ‘third’ language which mixes the grammar and lexicon of both languages. Therefore, he explained that according to which context bilinguals are confronted, they might choose one language over the other because the feel more familiar with it or because they feel more conformable speaking this language for this specific topic. Grosjean (1999) explained that bilinguals activate their knowledge of each of their languages more or less strongly, in relation to the multifaceted social contexts in which they interact with others.

In order to identify in what circumstances monolingual and bilingual acquisitions contrast, we first need to determine the similarities in language acquisition that both monolinguals and bilinguals go through.
All monolinguals across the world achieve language competences through similar milestones occurring at fairly similar ages. They first go through a babbling stage, a holophrastic stage, a two-word stage, a telegraphic stage to finish with the later multiword stage at around 30 months old where children are able to create complex sentences. It appears to be the same for bilinguals as they ”develop their grammars along the same lines as monolingual children“ (Fromkin: 2003, 377). Bilinguals therefore follow the same ‘learning schedule’ as their counterpart monolinguals, but with some particularities. For example, according to Maneva and Genesee (2002:8), bilinguals tend to integrate sounds from both languages when they babble, due to a widened input of languages. Another particularity would be the fact that ”bilingual children produce translation equivalents from the time they first begin to speak” (Pearson, Fernández & Oller, 1995), whereas monolinguals follow the principle of mutual exclusivity (Genesee and Nicoladis: 2006, 7). This means that the quality of their vocabulary differs from the one of monolinguals. Bilinguals will have different words to designate the same object or concept whereas monolinguals will only have one word. Thus, bilinguals have a different approach to what language is and to how it can be produced.
The fact that bilingual children exhibit the same rate of morphosyntactic development as monolingual children is another similitude. Bilinguals acquire ”language-specific properties of the target languages early in development”, which are matching those of monolingual children of the same age (Genesee and Nicoladis: 2006, 4). Let’s analyse how children structure their sentences. Monolinguals seem to be aware of some parameters of their language early on. For example, they know whether they should put...

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