This paper aims at investigating the role of the critical period with respect to the typological distance between the source language and the target language of three immigrant children aged from four to five. The three subjects have been observed and interviewed for approximately a year, since the first months of their insertion in an Italian school. Their L2 is Italian; their mother tongues are Chinese wú, Romanian and Urdu, three languages quite different from each other (isolating the first one, inflected the second and the third ones), and more or less distant from Italian in typological terms. From a methodological viewpoint, my study has longitudinal characters since the subjects have been interviewed every month and a half with respect to a series of tasks, that have been repeated during the year of observation. The theoretical framework adopted is functional and textual. Most of the tasks have a narrative nature. Some of them imply that the child reports the content of what he is seeing or has just seen to a listener who does not know it; some others involve a sharing of knowledge between the narrator and the listener. The stimuli consist of short cartoons, video clips and picture stories. Longitudinal studies about very young immigrant children learning Italian are rare (cf., nevertheless, for instance, chap. 1 in Pallotti 2000). For the data that I present I will focus on narrations, especially on the evolution of the morphology and syntax of the VP during the observation period. The age of acquisition being 4;6 for the Urdu child and 5;6 for Chinese and Romanian subjects, we can state that all three children are fully included in the “critical age”. Nevertheless, this factor cannot completely explain the different results observed for the three subjects. As a matter of fact, my results will show that the mastery of the VP is more or less performing according to the typological distance of the subject’s L1 from the target language. So the Urdu speaking child shows better results after a few months with respect to the Chinese child for the same period; the narrations of the latter contain more basic features, which demonstrate the influence of the more inflectional morphology of Urdu in comparison to the isolating influence of Chinese. The genetic relationship plays an additional role, which emerges from the narrations of the Romanian child, where the mastery of clitics inside the VP, for instance, is more precocious. The theory of the “critical age” is of course well founded and unquestionable, as several neuro-linguistic studies of the last decades have otherwise demonstrated (cf., for instance, Paradis 1994; Ullman 2001). The rapid acquisition of Italian VP in our subjects narrations certainly prove the very high potentiality of the procedural memory, thanks to which the young child memorizes the morpho-syntactic mechanisms of the L2 quite rapidly and grammaticalizes his interlanguage much more quickly and better than second language adult learners. Nevertheless, the theory in question must be integrated with some other factors (the typological and genetic ones being among these) if we want to explain the observed results for very young children in a completely exhaustive way (cf. also Cummins 1991). As a matter of fact, I will demonstrate that without the inclusion of extra-neurological factors, my data cannot receive an adequate interpretation with respect to the way the morphology and syntax of VP is mastered by the subjects studied. Bibliography CUMMINS, JIM (1991) “Interdependence of first- and second-language proficiency in bilingual children”. In BIALYSTOCK, ELLEN (a c. di), Language Processing in Bilingual Children, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press: 70-89. PALLOTTI, GABRIELE (2000), La Seconda Lingua, Milano, Bompiani. PARADIS, MICHEL (1994) “Neurolinguistic aspects of implicit and explicit memory: implications for bilingualism and second language acquisition”. In Ellis, Nick (a c. di), Implicit and Explicit Language Learning, Academic Press, London: 393-419. ULLMAN, MICHAEL (2001) “The neural basis of lexicon and grammar in first and second language”: the declarative/procedural model”. Bilingualism. Language and Cognition 4/1: 327-369.

The role of the critical period and the typological distance in the acquisition of Italian as L2 by immigrant children

GIULIANO, PATRIZIA
2015

Abstract

This paper aims at investigating the role of the critical period with respect to the typological distance between the source language and the target language of three immigrant children aged from four to five. The three subjects have been observed and interviewed for approximately a year, since the first months of their insertion in an Italian school. Their L2 is Italian; their mother tongues are Chinese wú, Romanian and Urdu, three languages quite different from each other (isolating the first one, inflected the second and the third ones), and more or less distant from Italian in typological terms. From a methodological viewpoint, my study has longitudinal characters since the subjects have been interviewed every month and a half with respect to a series of tasks, that have been repeated during the year of observation. The theoretical framework adopted is functional and textual. Most of the tasks have a narrative nature. Some of them imply that the child reports the content of what he is seeing or has just seen to a listener who does not know it; some others involve a sharing of knowledge between the narrator and the listener. The stimuli consist of short cartoons, video clips and picture stories. Longitudinal studies about very young immigrant children learning Italian are rare (cf., nevertheless, for instance, chap. 1 in Pallotti 2000). For the data that I present I will focus on narrations, especially on the evolution of the morphology and syntax of the VP during the observation period. The age of acquisition being 4;6 for the Urdu child and 5;6 for Chinese and Romanian subjects, we can state that all three children are fully included in the “critical age”. Nevertheless, this factor cannot completely explain the different results observed for the three subjects. As a matter of fact, my results will show that the mastery of the VP is more or less performing according to the typological distance of the subject’s L1 from the target language. So the Urdu speaking child shows better results after a few months with respect to the Chinese child for the same period; the narrations of the latter contain more basic features, which demonstrate the influence of the more inflectional morphology of Urdu in comparison to the isolating influence of Chinese. The genetic relationship plays an additional role, which emerges from the narrations of the Romanian child, where the mastery of clitics inside the VP, for instance, is more precocious. The theory of the “critical age” is of course well founded and unquestionable, as several neuro-linguistic studies of the last decades have otherwise demonstrated (cf., for instance, Paradis 1994; Ullman 2001). The rapid acquisition of Italian VP in our subjects narrations certainly prove the very high potentiality of the procedural memory, thanks to which the young child memorizes the morpho-syntactic mechanisms of the L2 quite rapidly and grammaticalizes his interlanguage much more quickly and better than second language adult learners. Nevertheless, the theory in question must be integrated with some other factors (the typological and genetic ones being among these) if we want to explain the observed results for very young children in a completely exhaustive way (cf. also Cummins 1991). As a matter of fact, I will demonstrate that without the inclusion of extra-neurological factors, my data cannot receive an adequate interpretation with respect to the way the morphology and syntax of VP is mastered by the subjects studied. Bibliography CUMMINS, JIM (1991) “Interdependence of first- and second-language proficiency in bilingual children”. In BIALYSTOCK, ELLEN (a c. di), Language Processing in Bilingual Children, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press: 70-89. PALLOTTI, GABRIELE (2000), La Seconda Lingua, Milano, Bompiani. PARADIS, MICHEL (1994) “Neurolinguistic aspects of implicit and explicit memory: implications for bilingualism and second language acquisition”. In Ellis, Nick (a c. di), Implicit and Explicit Language Learning, Academic Press, London: 393-419. ULLMAN, MICHAEL (2001) “The neural basis of lexicon and grammar in first and second language”: the declarative/procedural model”. Bilingualism. Language and Cognition 4/1: 327-369.
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: http://hdl.handle.net/11588/630472
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