Lecture by Fred Genesee, February 7, 2003

Portrait of the Bilingual Child

by Fred Genesee, Professor in Psychology, McGill University

Researchers/theoreticians, professionals, and laypersons alike often view the simultaneous acquisition of two languages during the pre-school years with reservation and outright apprehension because it is thought to exceed the language learning capacity of the young child and, thus, to incur potential costs, such as delayed or incomplete language development or even deviant development.  Such views are often evident in communities and among individuals who themselves are monolingual.  They are reinforced in the research community by the overwhelming attention paid to monolingual acquisition by researchers and in research journals and textbooks.  Most linguistic and psycholinguistic theories of language acquisition are silent on the matter of bilingual acquisition, reinforcing the notion that monolingualism is the norm and bilingualism is not.  What is normal is usually regarded as risk-free; and by default bilingual acquisition is, thus, often viewed as extraordinary and potentially putting the individual at some kind of risk.

This presentation will review current scientific evidence concerning the simultaneous acquisition of two languages during the first years of life with a vies to evaluating these pessimistic views.  The focus will be on one aspect of bilingual acquisition, namely bilingual code-mixing.  Bilingual code-mixing is the use of elements (phonological, lexical, and morpho-syntactic from two languages in the same utterance and a significant source of misperception concerning bilingual development.  It will be discussed in the presentation from multiple perspectives:  pragmatic, grammatical, and cognitive.  The interpretation of the evidence that is offered will challenge the view that simultaneous acquisition of two languages is burdensome and puts the learner at risk.

Friday, February 7, 2003
3:00 – 5:00 pm, B-4 Dwinelle Hall