How ordinary child language acquisition processes can lead to the unusual outcome of a mixed language
Aims and Objectives:
The aim of this study is to examine the language processing mechanisms involved when young children bring structural innovations into their community way of speaking, as part of conventionalising code-switching practices to become a mixed language.
The study takes a qualitative approach to the analysis of child language acquisition and adult speech data in two contexts.
Data and Analysis:
The study analyses naturalistic and spontaneous speech data of children and adults speaking the mixed language, Light Warlpiri, and adults older than that age group who do not speak the new mixed language. It compares an innovative auxiliary form in Light Warlpiri to child non-target speech in English with data taken from the Child Language Data Exchange System corpus.
The findings are that the Light Warlpiri-speaking children used processes of re-analysis that are commonly found in child first language acquisition in other contexts to re-analyse elements of the verbal input, but because of the sociolinguistic context they created an innovative structure.
The study is the first to directly compare processes of innovation in language contact with those of non-target structures in monolingual child language acquisition, identifying the same processes in each. It is also the first to show that a dramatic structural change from a linguistic perspective may be a small, incremental change from a child learner’s perspective.
The significance of the study is that until now processes of innovation in language contact situations have been thought by many to differ in quality from those in monolingual child language acquisition contexts. This study shows that the child language acquisition processes are the same in each situation, but different sociolinguistic contexts lead to different outcomes for the communities’ ways of speaking. It also shows that children do not bring in new structure that is not motivated by their input; rather, they make small changes to the input they receive.