Cantonese-English Bilingual Children’s Interpretation of Omitted Objects: An experimental study

Symposium 2-2Time:08:30 - 10:00

Zhou Jiangling1,Virginia Yip2
1CUHK-PKU-UST Joint Research Centre for Language and Human Complexity,

2Childhood Bilingualism Research Centre, Chinese University of Hong Kong

Previous corpus-based studies have found that Cantonese-English bilingual children show more non-target object omissions in English than their monolingual peers (Yip & Matthews, 2007; Zhou et al., 2015). Whereas English disallows object omission except for generic objects of optionally transitive verbs (e.g., eat) Cantonese allows omission of objects referring to a discourse topic. It is unclear whether bilingual children distinguish the different semantic properties of omitted objects in comprehension. Given this, we designed a picture selection task to find out how they interpret omitted objects in English and Cantonese. Participants were asked to select the picture(s) that matched a seemingly intransitive sentence (e.g., Winnie was eating) contextualized with a discourse topic serving as a potential object of the verb. Each test sentence was paired with three pictures, one of which was compatible with a non-referential reading of the omitted object but incompatible with a referential reading.   Sixty-eight Cantonese-English bilingual children (3;4-7;4) participated in the experiment. The results show that between 51% to 63% of omitted objects in English were interpreted only as the discourse topic by bilingual children at different ages, as compared to 1% in adult controls in this study and 10% in monolingual peers reported in Grüter (2006). Omitted objects in Cantonese were interpreted non-referentially by 3- to 4-year-old bilinguals at a higher rate (40%) than by their monolingual peers (13%). The rate of non-referential readings decreased to 22% in 6- to 7-year old bilinguals, which was nevertheless higher than that of adults (6%).    The findings suggest that bilingual children allow the referential reading of omitted objects in English and non-referential reading of omitted objects in Cantonese. We will discuss factors such as cross-linguistic influence and input ambiguity that may explain the non-target representations and/or processing.

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 Important Dates

Submissions Open:
December 10, 2016

Symposia submissions due:
March 1, 2017

Abstract submissions due:
April 10, 2017

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May 20-22, 2017

Registration open:
May 21, 2017

September 1-3, 2017