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Previous studies suggest that language dominance and input ambiguity are the two major determinants of crosslinguistic influence in bilingual language acquisition. This article reports a case of bi-directional crosslinguistic transfer in the acquisition of dative constructions by Cantonese-English bilingual children. Longitudinal data of five bilingual children reveal qualitative and quantitative differences between bilingual and monolingual children in the development of English prepositional datives and Cantonese inverted double object datives. Individual differences among the five bilingual children largely correspond to their language dominance patterns, and input ambiguity also helps to explain some transfer effects. It is found that crosslinguistic influence is most likely to take place at vulnerable domains in language acquisition, and a great deal of the interaction between the two languages is observed in such domains. The findings suggest that crosslinguistic influence is pervasive in both directions of bilingual acquisition.
Cantonese-English bilingual children
Many cases of crosslinguistic influence in the bilingual first language acquisition literature are accounted for by both language dominance and input ambiguity factors (e.g. Paradis & Genesee, 1996; Muller & Hulk, 2001). According to Paradis and Genesee (1996), there are three major instantiations of crosslinguistic influence: acceleration, delay and transfer. Acceleration/ delay refers to precocious/postponed development in one language, while transfer is defined as 'the incorporation of a grammatical property into one language from the other' (Paradis & Genesee, 1996: 3).
Transfer reflects the interdependence of two grammars in bilingual first language acquisition, as one of the two languages serves as a guide for the other to build certain syntactic properties on it. Two major proposals have been suggested to explain why one of the languages becomes the 'model' language in the development of a particular structure. The first proposal holds that language dominance patterns greatly influence the direction of crosslinguistic influence, as the 'model' language is very often the dominant language. Certain structures in the weak language may take longer to acquire, or reflect (target-deviant) syntactic properties that resemble the dominant language. However, there is also some evidence that suggests that certain types of crosslinguistic influence do not take place from the dominant language to the weak language (Muller & Hulk, 2001). This type of crosslinguistic influence is taken care of by the second proposal, which argues that one language becomes the 'model' language because it contains little input ambiguity with regard to a particular construction, whereas more ambiguity is found in the other language (Muller, 1998; Muller & Hulk, 2001). The two proposals make different predictions when the language that contains more ambiguous input is the dominant language.
In addition to the directionality issue, more details need to be sorted out about the domains in which crosslinguistic influence is likely to take place. Muller and Hulk (2001) argue that crosslinguistic influence occurs at the exact syntactic domains in which monolingual children also have trouble with--though to a less extent. Such domains can be referred to as vulnerable domains in language acquisition, and Muller (2003) defines them as domains thus: 'children develop particular grammatical phenomena much later than others', adding that they 'are prone to error in acquisition in the sense that children will deduce systems for these domains which do not correspond to the target system' (Muller, 2003: vii). Thus, predictions about the locus of crosslinguistic influence heavily depend on identification of vulnerable domains in language acquisition.
Acquisition of dative constructions is of special interest to our study of vulnerable domains and crosslinguistic influence, as this is an area where both monolingual and bilingual children are prone to error or delay. Snyder and Stromswold (1997) report that monolingual English-speaking children start to produce English prepositional datives at a later stage than double object datives. In the case of monolingual Cantonese-speaking children, previous studies show that many such children find a language-specific inverted double object dative construction difficult to acquire (Chan, 2003; Yip and Matthews, 2007). This article looks at the acquisition of dative constructions in bilingual children, with emphasis on vulnerable domains and crosslinguistic influence. In particular, we examine the role language dominance and input ambiguity play regarding the direction and patterns of crosslinguistic influence. More details on the properties of English and Cantonese dative constructions are given in the next section.
Dative constructions in English and Cantonese
In English (and a number of other languages), dative verbs have two argument realization options, namely the double object dative (DOD) (1a), and the prepositional dative (PD) (1b). In prepositional datives, there is a non-benefactive vs. benefactive distinction, realized by different choices of to (1b) and for (2b).
(1) a. John gave Mary a book. (double object dative) b. John gave a book to Mary. (prepositional to-dative) (2) a. John baked Mary a cake. (double object dative) b. John baked a cake for Mary. (prepositional for-dative)
Cantonese, like English, has double object datives and prepositional-like serial verb dative constructions (in which a grammaticalized dative marker bei2--originally meaning 'give'--introduces the goal/benefactive argument as the English prepositions do). Cantonese also has an inverted double object dative (IDOD) which places the theme and the goal in the reverse order of an English double object dative. These three types of Cantonese dative constructions can be categorized as follows:
(3) a. DOD: Verb-Goal-Theme b. SVD: Verb-Theme-Dative Marker (bei2)-Goal c. IDOD: Verb-Theme-Goal (adapted from Tang, 1998)
Unlike English, most Cantonese dative verbs only appear in one type of dative construction. (1) Tang (1998) sub-categorized these verbs into three groups: (a) teach verbs, (b) send, fry, pluck verbs and (c) give verbs. The first two classes consist of many dative verbs, but the give class only has one verb bei2 ('give'). Teach verbs appear in the double object dative (4), send, fry, pluck verbs appear in the serial verb dative (5), and bei2 ('give') appears in the inverted double object dative (6).
(4) Ngo5 gaau3 keoi5 Gwong2dunglwaa2 (DOD) [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] I teach 3sg Cantonese 'I teach him/her Cantonese.' (Tang, 1998) (5) Siu2ming4 gei3 zo2 jat1 fung1 seon3 bei2 ngo5 (SVD) [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] Siuming send PERF one CL letter give I 'Siuming sent a letter to me.' (Tang, 1998) (6) Ngo5 bei2 zo2 jat1 zil bat1 keoi5 (IDOD) [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] I give PERF one CL pen 3sg 'I gave a pen to him/her.' (Tang, 1998)
It is suggested that the Cantonese inverted double object dative is derived from the underlying serial verb form [bei2-Theme-bei2-Goal] (Tang, 1998; Yip and Matthews, 2007). The second bei2 is deleted due to haplology effect, which penalizes repetition of the same phonological element:
(7) SVC: bei2-Theme-bei2-Goal
(adapted from Tang, 1998)
Similarities and differences between English and Cantonese dative constructions are summarized in Table 1. Both languages contain double object dative and prepositional/serial verb dative constructions, but Cantonese also has a special inverted double object dative which puts the two objects in the reverse order of double object datives. There is no dative alternation in Cantonese, as each construction is subcategorized for a specific class of verbs.
Prone-to-error dative constructions
Snyder and Stromswold (1997), …