Childhood Bilingualism: Aspects of Linguistic, Cognitive, and Social Development

By Peter Homel; Michael Palij et al. | Go to book overview

6
Acquiring and Processing First and Second Languages: Comments on Hakuta, Cummins, and Aaronson and Ferres

Martin D. S. Braine New York University

I found all three chapters interesting and often provocative, and almost all my comments are associations to topics discussed, rather than direct comments on the chapters.

My first point is a rather obvious one that is implicit in many discussions. It deals with the question of what the learner's errors are due to, and the relation of this to interference between L-1 and L-2. What I suggest is that an important source of errors occurs when the learner has an idea to express but doesn't have the means to express it; i.e., the learner is trying to say something and lacks some of the rules of the language needed to map the desired meaning into speech. Of course, for this source of error it doesn't matter whether it is first or second language learning, but the available strategies to cope with the situation are not quite the same in the two cases; in particular, the second language learner has more options than the first.

For example, it may be just some morphological exceptions that the learner lacks. Suppose that a learner is at the stage of learning English when the only way he or she knows how to form a past tense is to put a /d/ at the end of a verb. Then if they want to say that somebody went somewhere they are going to have to generate the form goed; they have no other way of saying it. Thus, the error is due to the learner's taking the line of least resistance; he or she is expressing the idea in the only way they know how.

Now let me take another example, from my former 24-month-old subject Andrew. His parents want to put Andrew to bed, but he doesn't want to go, and wants them to know that. He has one negation form in his repertory, used for negative requests: it consists of saying no followed immediately by a word for whatever it is he doesn't want, all put under one intonation contour. His utterance, No bed, expresses his rejection in the only way he knows how.

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