Tag Archives: Syntax

E-Interview: Natascha Müller, Part 2 – Delay Effects in Bilingualism

Continuing with our e-interview, Natascha Müller talks about delay effects in childhood bilingualism:

“Meanwhile, there is ample evidence for delay effects of early child bilingualism. Bilingualism can slow down the acquisition process with respect to age of acquisition and MLU; in other words, for some grammatical properties, bilingual children reach the adult norm later (age and/or MLU) than monolingual peers. There is also evidence which shows that delay effects are observable in balanced as well as in unbalanced children (Müller & Patuto 2009), which means that an uneven development of the two languages is not a prerequisite for delay. Furthermore, although unbalanced language development can slow down acquisition with respect to age, it does not necessarily lead to differences between bilinguals and monolinguals with respect to MLU in the weakly developed language (Müller & Pillunat 2008). It looks as if delay is related to complexity in the following sense: Language A and B exhibit different degrees of complexity for a particular grammatical property. In Hulk & Müller (2000) and Müller & Hulk (2001), complexity is defined as the coordination of information from different modules, pragmatics and syntax for example. Delay is indicative of target-deviant grammatical representations which, during the course of acquisition, have to be “corrected”. The child will use the less complex analysis of language A in relation to grammatical property X when using language A and language B. Müller & Patuto (2009) further refine the scenario for delay effects of cross-linguistic influence and conclude that in addition to complexity defined as the coordination of information from different modules, the surface strings of the two languages A and B have to be analyzable in terms of the syntactic derivation of language A (which is less complex). This prerequisite looks trivial at first sight, but it excludes the possibility that children come up with analyses for the more complex language B which are not also “supported” by the evidence from language B. Also, it makes the interesting prediction that if the more complex language B is acquired together with a language which encodes the respective grammatical property in such a radically different way than in language A (the less complex language), the derivation of language A would not be “supported” by the evidence of language B when used by the child while speaking language B. Continue reading

E-Interview: Natascha Müller, Part 1 – Two Approaches to Bilingualism

Along with our series on blogs around the world we are also featuring e-interviews with researchers in the field of bilingualism.  We have the privledge this week to present the thoughts of Natascha Müller of the Bergische Universität Wuppertal.  We asked her why the study of bilingualism in children is relevant:


The Wuppertal research group on bilingual first language acquisition, funded by the DFG (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, German Science Foundation)

Row 1: Veronika Jansen, Natascha Müller, Elisa Turano, Mayte Jiménez Lopez, Laia Arnaus Gil
Row 2: Dunja Stachelhaus, Annette Pötzsch, Nadine Eichler, Vanessa Colado Miguel, Alban Beysson, Tobias Stallknecht, Marisa Patuto.

“Research in bilingual first language acquisition has been guided by two main approaches: Either it has been argued that bilingual children are not able to separate their two languages from early on since the two languages influence each other (Volterra & Taeschner 1978) or it has been shown that separation is possible from early on and that there is no evidence for cross-linguistic influence (Meisel 1989, Genesee 1989, Genesee, Nicoladis & Paradis 1995). Put differently, separation and cross-linguistic influence have been considered as being mutually exclusive in describing early child bilingualism. The main reason for the assumption of mutual exclusiveness is that most research has conceptualized separation and influence as involving whole language systems (or languages). Among the first to question this view were Gawlitzek-Maiwald & Tracy (1996). The main observation is that some grammatical domains develop separately in early child bilingualism while the bilingual child uses language A to bootstrap aspects of the syntactic system of language B for others.

 What does ‘bootstrap’ in this context mean? Gawlitzek-Maiwald & Tracy analyze the monolingual (containing only elements of the context language) and the mixed utterances of Hannah, a bilingual English-German child. On the basis of the respective monolingual utterances, they find that German is much more advanced than English with respect to lexical and syntactic aspects of temporal and modal auxiliary verbs. In order to ‘help herself out’ when speaking English, Hannah produces mixed utterances of the following type:

 (1) Kannst du move a bit                (Hannah, 2;4-2;9, Gawlitzek-Maiwald     
      Can you move a bit                                     &   Tracy 1996:915)

 In example (1), the left periphery comes from German, while the lexical verb and the adverb are in English. Until the English system of modal and temporal auxiliaries has been fully acquired by the child, she will fill in lexical material from German, a strategy which may also help the child to instantiate the English system: “Something that has been acquired in language A fulfils a booster function for language B.” (Gawlitzek-Maiwald & Tracy 1996: 903) The situation can be reversed for other grammatical phenomena

(Click to Read More and Stay Tuned for parts 2 and 3 with Nascha Müller)

Continue reading

Bilingualism Labs Around the World: Bangor

We’re starting a new series of posts about bilingualism labs around the world.  Our very first lab is the ESRC Centre at Bangor University.

The ESRC Centre for Research on Bilingualism in Theory and Practice (http://bilingualism.bangor.ac.uk/)  was established at Bangor on 1st January 2007 for an initial five-year period, with funding from the ESRC, HEFCW, and the Welsh Assembly Government.

It is the first research centre in the UK to focus specifically on bilingualism. As such it will be part of an international network of similar research centres with whom we would like to interact.

Research within the centre is centred around five research groups: Neuroscience Research Group , Experimental-Developmental Research Group, Corpus-Based Research Group, Survey and Ethnography Research Group, Speech Research Group. There is more information on the work of each of these groups in the following link:


The centre offers both an MA and a PhD in Bilingualism. For more information on our postgraduate programmes go to:


Whether you are a researcher or a practitioner interested in bilingualism, we hope that you will interact with us by visiting, writing, phoning, or attending one of our conferences and workshops. This weekend past (Oct. 2nd-3rd), the centre hosted the first Bangor Postgraduate Conference on Bilingualism and Bimodalism. It is aimed at Masters’ and doctoral level students to come together, present their work and come in contact with new ideas. The main goal of the conference is to establish a forum for postgraduate students interested in all linguistic aspects of Bilingualism and Bimodalism. The area of bilingualism being by definition interdisciplinary, the conference reunites contributions from numerous fields, ranging from linguistics to psychology, education and sociology. English-BSL interpreters will be provided for the duration of the conference to enable Deaf and hearing participants to fully engage in all conference activities. The invited speakers are: Marianne Gullberg (Radboud University Nijmegen and Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen), Ineke Mennen (ESRC Centre for Research on Bilingualism in Theory and Practice, Bangor University), and Adam Schembri (Deafness Cognition and Language Research Centre (DCAL), Univeristy College London). To see the full conference program, please go to:


At the moment the centre has two calls for funding opportunities: the development fund  (http://bilingualism.bangor.ac.uk//devfund/index.php.en?catid=&subid=7211) and the visiting researcher programme http://bilingualism.bangor.ac.uk//research/VisitingResearchers.php.en?catid=&subid=7237).

If you are interested in bilingualism and in working with us, you can always apply for research associate status. Forms can be found on our website!

UIC TiL: Chris Kennedy

Once again we will be having UICTiL tomorrow, October 2nd from 3 to 5.  Our speaker this week is Chris Kennedy from the University of Chicago.  His talk, entitled ‘Aspectual Composition and Scalar Change’, will take place in 1750 University Hall, 601 S. Morgan Street, Chicago IL 60607.  Feel free to join us at 3 for the talk, with light refreshments being served as always.



Current theories of aspect acknowledge the pervasiveness of verbs of variable telicity, and are designed to account both for why these verbs show such variability and for the complex conditions that give rise to telic and atelic interpretations. Previous work has identified several sets of such verbs, including incremental theme verbs, such as eat and destroy; degree achievements, such as cool and widen; and (a)telic directed motion verbs, such as ascend and descend. As the diversity in descriptive labels suggests, most previous work has taken these classes to embody distinct phenomena and to have distinct lexical semantic analyses. Continue reading

UIC TiL: Dennis Ott

This Friday, April 10th, Dennis Ott from Harvard will give his talk entitled, “Stylistic fronting as remnant movement”. 

Join us in University Hall room 1750 from 2 until 4pm and, as always, light refreshments will be provided.


In this paper, I discuss a peculiar movement type found in Icelandic, known since Maling’s (1980) seminal work as *stylistic fronting* (SF), which shifts a postverbal constituent to the left of the finite verb. SF poses nontrivial problems for syntactic theory, as it appears to contradict a number of widely-held theoretical assumptions (see Holmberg 2006 for a survey); in particular, it appears to move heads (adverbs, participles, particles) into a specifier position (Spec-T), which in addition should be occupied by a trace/copy. SF only applies in clauses with a “subject gap” (basically, embedded clauses with relativized/extracted subjects and impersonal constructions); it is  semantically vacuous, optional and (for the most part) in complementary distribution with expletive-insertion. I will show that my account can derive all of these properties while relying on a minimal set of assumptions. Previously, SF in Icelandic has been analyzed as head movement (Jónsson 1991), as a subcase of topicalization (Rögnvaldsson & Thráinsson 1990), or as movement of phonological features (Holmberg 2000). I argue that these approaches are  empirically and conceptually problematic and propose instead to analyze SF as EPP-driven phrasal A-movement of a (potentially remnant) XP to Spec-T. This novel approach to Icelandic SF not only allows for a unified treatment of its  various manifestations but is also shown to make a number of desirable predictions concerning the observed properties and restrictions. Thus, SF turns out to be yet another phenomenon in Germanic syntax for which a  remnant-movement analysis proves superior to alternative accounts.

International Conference on Minority Languages in Estonia

In May (28th-30th) there will be the 12th International Conference on Minority Languages (ICML XII) in Tartu, Estonia.  The ICML is hosted by the University of Tartu, but there are colloquia being held by affiliate departments.  One such department is the Department of Modern Philology at the Universitá degli Studi di Firenze, which will be holding a colloquium (themed session) entitled “Language contact and change in multiply and multimodally bilingual minority situations.”

The colloquium deals with bimodal bilingualism approached as a minority language in need of typological standardization and contact-induced grammatical change.

The colloquium’s homepage:


The ICML XII website:



Coming up in March the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is hosting their 10th annual Generative Approaches to Second Language Acquisition Conference.  The invited speakers are Antonella Sorace, Roumyana Slabakova, and Alan Juffs.

GASLA-10 will take place from March 13th-15th.  See the website for more details.


UIC TiL: Anastasia Giannakidou

The University of Illinois at Chicago’s Talks in Linguistics is proud to be hosting Anastasia Giannakidou from the University of Chicago.  Tomorrow she’ll be presenting a talk entitled “Negative polarity in natural language: Variation, scalarity, and dependent reference.”  The talk will take place in the Language Oasis in Grant Hall on UIC campus at 2pm.

For further information visit our UIC TiL homepage: