May 17, 2016

Guest speakers: Jason Rothman (University of Reading) and Elena Valenzuela (University of Ottawa)

The Jackman Humanities Institute is hosting two talks on Friday the 20th from 1 to 3 PM in room 100 of the Jackman Humanities Building (170 St. George Street). The talks are being co-sponsored by a JHI working group dedicated to the topic of multilingualism in Canada and by the Department of Language Studies at our Mississauga campus.

Jason Rothman (University of Reading):
“On the sources of differences in heritage language bilinguals: Why different is not incomplete.”

In this talk, I will first introduce the audience to and problematize both the concept of what a heritage language bilingual is and the literature that has studied their competence outcomes in adulthood over the past two decades.  Heritage speakers are native – often child L1 or 2L1 – speakers of a minority 'home' language who (usually) become dominant speakers starting at school-age in the external societal majority language of the national community in which they grow up and are educated.  Typically, heritage speakers show interesting differences in their knowledge and performance in the heritage language as compared to age-matched monolinguals. Often, such differences have been labelled as instances of incomplete acquisition (e.g. Montrul 2008) or attrition (Polinsky 2011). Under both accounts, although for different reasons, heritage language bilingual differences are viewed as some type of deficiency. I will propose that many differences, alternatively, could have only developed the way we see them in heritage grammars for reasons related to qualitative differences in the input heritage speakers receive (e.g. Rothman 2007; Pires and Rothman 2009;  Pascual y Cabo and Rothman 2012). In doing so, I will link a process of cross-generational attrition to (some) outcomes in heritage language development. I conclude by suggesting that many aspects argued to be incompletely acquired in heritage language grammars are in fact complete, but unavoidably different.

Elena Valenzuela (University of Ottawa):
“Attachment strategies in code-switched relative clauses.”

It has been argued that monolinguals and bilinguals differ in how they resolve ambiguities in relative clause attachment. Sentences (1) and (2) contain a complex NP of the type “NP of NP” followed by a relative clause (RC). Cuetos and Mitchell (1988) were the first to note that sentences as in (1) and (2) are parsed differently depending on the language:

(1) She kissed the brother (NP1) of the poet (NP2) that was on the balcony.

(2) Ella besó al hermano (NP1) del poeta (NP2) que estaba en el balcón.

In English (1), the poet is on the balcony; in the same sentence in Spanish (2), it is the brother who is on the balcony.

Languages can be grouped according to the parsing strategy for monolinguals: high attachment (Spanish, French, Greek, Italian, Japanese, etc.) and low attachment (English, Arabic, Brazilian Portuguese, Romanian, etc.). Dussias and Sagarra (2007) found that Spanish-dominant bilinguals with limited exposure to English preferred high attachment in both languages, while bilinguals with extensive exposure to English preferred low attachment in both English and Spanish.

Using eye-tracking, this research examines parsing strategies in code-switched sentences to address the following research questions:

i. Does language dominance play a role in parsing strategies?

ii. Does direction of the language code-switch affect processing?

iii. Does the direction of the language code-switch affect processing differently based on individual’s language dominance?

Three groups of bilinguals (Spanish Heritage speakers, L2 Spanish, and L1 Spanish) were tested on their parsing strategies of Spanish/English code-switched ambiguous relative clauses. Results show that the two English dominant groups, both the L2 Spanish and the early bilinguals, had slower reading times in Spanish across the board. In contrast, the L1 Spanish group had similar reading times in both languages, which may indicate that, as in Dussias and Sagarra (2007), language exposure plays an important role. Results will be discussed in terms of processing costs and language dominance.

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