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As the field of bilingual acquisition has made significant advances in recent years, there has been a surge of interest in the acquisition of Chinese languages in bilingual and multilingual contexts. This article serves a dual purpose: (1) to discuss some theoretical and methodological issues in bilingual acquisition with special reference to Chinese languages as target languages in bilingual and multilingual contexts; and (2) to highlight the important contributions made by the five articles in this volume, with some commentary on the issues raised by each study.
The five articles to be discussed present highly original and dynamic research involving the acquisition of a Chinese language in children acquiring two or more languages simultaneously from birth. The children featured in these studies come from three very different speech communities: Hong Kong, Australia and Paraguay. In most cases, either Mandarin or Cantonese (referred to collectively as Chinese here) is paired with English, with one case study also involving Taiwanese and Spanish. The combination of a Chinese language with English or another European language (such as Spanish in the case of Paraguay) being acquired by children in childhood raises new and challenging questions about bilingual development.
The diversity in the backgrounds of the children featured in this volume provides a window into the complexity of language acquisition across different bilingual and multilingual contexts. These studies provide important results that future work on bilingual development of a Chinese language will have to take into consideration. They are also valuable in contributing to the fast growing body of longitudinal corpus-based studies by expanding the empirical base of bilingual acquisition and addressing theoretical issues of interest to the field at large.
Significance of the acquisition of Chinese in bilingual and multilingual contexts
The study of how children acquire two or more languages is of both theoretical and practical significance. We shall discuss the theoretical significance of the acquisition of Chinese in bilingual and multilingual contexts from a typological perspective followed by its practical significance in informing parents and educators of how to nurture bilingualism, especially in immigrant and adopted children.
A major variable in bilingual development involves the pairing of target languages. Among the many possible permutations, some language pairs are typologically and/or genetically distant, while others are closer. By extending the database from pairing English and European languages to typologically unrelated languages with very different structures such as Chinese languages, childhood bilingualism will be better understood. Salient properties of Chinese such as lexical tone, topic prominence, word order, classifiers and null arguments raise new possibilities for interaction between a child's developing linguistic systems. We shall discuss each of these properties in turn. The pairing of a tonal language with a non-tonal one raises new questions such as the interaction between tone and intonation. Case studies of Chinese--English bilingual children may be used to address questions about the development of tone and intonation, such as: Is word stress realized as high tone? And how does sentence intonation affect the realization of tone? In a pioneering study, Light (1977) discussed some striking features of his daughter Claire's 'increasingly Anglicized' Cantonese that were argued to reflect the influence of English in her new linguistic environment upon her arrival in the USA at 16 months. The shift from Cantonese dominance to English dominance in Claire produced anomalies such as 'disintegration' of the Cantonese tonal system with Cantonese sentences taking on an English intonation pattern.
Chinese languages as target languages are of ever increasing interest to language acquisition researchers, and not simply because they are spoken by more than a quarter of the world's population. They are also intrinsically of great linguistic interest because of their genetic and typological distance from Indo-European languages. A well-known typological characteristic of Chinese is topic-prominence, which contrasts with subject-prominence in languages such as English (Li & Thompson, 1976; Shi, 2000). The acquisition of topic prominence and related structures in Chinese has been investigated in adult second language acquisition (SLA: see Jin, 1994; Yip, 1995; Yuan, 1995) but awaits investigation in bilingual acquisition. Chinese languages also exhibit a unique combination of word orders (Dryer, 2003). For example, only Chinese languages combine SVO word order with relative clauses preceding the noun; when this property is transferred to English in bilingual acquisition, it results in prenominal relatives as in example (1) from Yip and Matthews (2007b): (1)
(1) You buy that tape is English? [i.e. 'Is the video tape that you bought in English?'] (Timmy 2;10;22)
The example in (1) where the relative clause [you buy] precedes the head noun [that tape] illustrates a striking non-target structure that is not found in monolingual children acquiring English but regularly produced by the Cantonese--English bilingual children. Because of the unique combination of word orders involved, it is found that object relatives are acquired earlier than subject relatives in these children (Yip & Matthews, 2007a).
Another typological property of Chinese languages is that they are classifier languages. When paired with a non-classifier language such as English, there is evidence that the classifier system may pose problems: in their studies of Cantonese--English bilingual children, Light (1977) and Li and Lee (2002) reported reduction and overgeneralization in the Cantonese classifier system: the children show overuse of the general classifier go3 and incomplete acquisition of the full repertoire of classifiers. How this phenomenon may be related to shift of language dominance is a research question that awaits investigation, since both studies involve increasingly English-dominant children. It will be fruitful for future studies to investigate the difficulties posed by the syntactic and semantic complexity of the classifier system (Matthews & Pacioni, 1998; Xu, 1998) across different acquisition contexts.
Chinese is a pro-drop language that allows null subjects and objects in a sentence while English is a non-pro-drop language. Null objects in Cantonese turn out to be an important typological property in accounting for the difficulty in acquiring the word order in double object constructions in Cantonese (Chan, this volume). How null arguments develop in bilingual children's Chinese has yet to be investigated, while their development in English due to influence from Chinese is discussed in Yip and Matthews (2007b).
Given the different parts of the world in which children are acquiring Chinese languages, a word of caution is in order when comparing these children across different speech communities. For example, Taiwan Mandarin differs from Beijing Mandarin in striking ways, from phonology to syntax and the lexicon. The variability in the Mandarin input from different adults in various speech communities cannot be overestimated. An example is the series of affricates/s, ts, [ts.sup.h]/ in Beijing Mandarin, which are not contrastive in the Mandarin spoken in Taiwan (Yang & Zhu, this volume). An accurate and detailed description of the target Mandarin properties in terms of the different domains is a prerequisite for investigating the acquisition of Mandarin across acquisition contexts.
From an applied perspective, the number of children acquiring the Chinese-English language pair in early childhood is expected to increase enormously as both languages are of high prestige, with English as an international language and Mandarin, in particular, gaining ground as a lingua franca among Chinese people in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and overseas communities (e.g. in Australia, Canada, the UK and the USA). Chinese is rising in prominence as a widely learned second language in many parts of the world; one sign of this is the rapid spread and growth of Confucius Institutes established to promote Chinese language and culture around the globe.
Immigrant and adopted children
An emerging bilingual population around the world that deserves much more attention is that of Chinese children who move from Chinese-speaking communities to an English-speaking country. They are typically exposed to a Chinese language in the home and acquire the language of the speech community simultaneously or successively. They form a significant emerging group that is faced with the challenging task of preserving Chinese as their heritage language and acquiring English as the mainstream language of the community in which they grow up.
Investigating the development of Cantonese in a group of British-born Chinese--English bilinguals aged 5 to 16 who acquired Cantonese as L1 and English as L2 in the UK, Li and Lee (2002) report delayed and stagnated development of Cantonese in the domain of classifiers and quantifiers due to incomplete learning of their L1 Cantonese and the influence of English, a dominant language in the environment. It is likely that noun classifiers and quantification in Cantonese have not been fully acquired in L1 development as language dominance gradually shifts to English.
Though the focus here is on Chinese languages in bilingual development, equally interesting and important is the development of English in these immigrant settings especially since balanced development is a concern for parents and educators. Jia (2006) discusses the L2 acquisition of English in Chinese children from immigration families in the USA, suggesting that younger learners tended to switch their dominant language from L1 to L2 while leaving certain features of English morphology and syntax unacquired. In particular, such learners often fail to fully acquire morphological features, such as plurals and verb agreement, as well as articles (Jia, 2006: 67). Jia and Aaronson (2003) address the issue of switch of dominant language in younger learners and language maintenance in older learners in a longitudinal study where the age of arrival of Chinese children ranged between 5 and 16.
The practical importance attached to the study of childhood bilingualism includes informing parents and educators about how …