Academic journal article Journal of Slavic Linguistics

The 'Bare Bones' of Language Attrition

Academic journal article Journal of Slavic Linguistics

The 'Bare Bones' of Language Attrition

Article excerpt

Abstract: This study focuses on the analysis of bare forms that are discussed in terms of composite code-switching, i.e., code-switching that involves convergence at one or more levels of abstract lexical structure. The analysis of the young immigrants' free production indicates that Russian is the Matrix Language that sets the grammatical frame, whereas English is responsible for supplying some of the content and early system morphemes. The study shows that all major speech categories that participate in code- switching may be used as bare forms. The mechanism that underlies the formation of bare forms is hypothesized to be the same for nouns, verbs, and adjectives.

1. Introduction

Recent studies on language attrition among immigrant children that focus on structural aspects of language loss find a variety of ways in which participating languages may interact in the production of an utterance. The two major manifestations of language loss are code-switching (CS), i.e., overt mixing of the two languages (see Merino 1983, Pfaff 1991, Halmari 1992, Kinder 1993, and De Bot and Clyne 1994) and convergence, i.e., covert incorporation of one language into the surface forms produced by the other language (Lanza 1997; Bolonyai 1999, 2000; and Schmitt 2000, 2001). Examples (1) and (2) below illustrate the use of CS and convergence, respectively. (1)

   (1) Vot    tebe               cookie,   papa.
       here   [you.sub.DAT.SG]   cookie    daddy

       'Here is a cookie for you, Daddy.'

   (2) Zacem   ty                smotr-is'
       why     [you.sub.NOM.SG]  [look.sub.2ND.SG.PRES]

       cerez     knig-u?
       through   [book.sub.ACC.SG.FEM]

       SR: Zacem   ty                 pro-smatriva-es' knigu?
           why     [you.sub.NOM.SG]   [through-look.sub.2ND.SG.PRES]

       'Why are you looking through the book?'

The analysis of the Russian-English attrition data for this and several other studies has shown that the distinction between CS and convergence is not always clear-cut. At times both are present in speech, resulting in the production of forms that have been called non-target forms, without further discussion of their structural peculiarities. This article proposes an account of such forms, referring to them as "bare" forms (Myers-Scotton and Jake 1995) since they do not contain late system morphemes such as case and agreement markers from either of the participating languages. I will also demonstrate how the presence of CS, convergence, and bare forms reflects the state of language maintenance and/or attrition.

This article is structured so as to familiarize the reader with the type of data and collection methods (Section 2), to introduce the major constructs and principles of the approach used for the analysis of the data (Section 3), to provide an analysis of bare form production (Section 4), and finally to discuss the impact of CS, convergence, and bare forms used by the speaker on language maintenance and/or loss (Section 5).

2. Data Collection

2.1. Subjects

The data for this longitudinal study have been collected from five Russian boys whose families immigrated from the former Soviet Union to the U.S. in the early 1990s. They were brought to this country at the median age of four.

The parents of the subjects report that, despite the fact that they were brought to this country at a very young age, their Russian at the time of arrival was well developed. They had full command of the case system, i.e., they were able to employ all the appropriate case endings required by Russian; they had mastered the verb conjugation system, i.e., they were able to create agreement between the subject and the verb and to produce the appropriate verbal inflection required by such agreement. And they dropped pronominal subjects as required by the pro-drop parameter of Russian. In other words, these boys had mastered the Russian grammatical system and were able to construct a standard Russian grammatical frame for any utterance they wished to produce. …

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