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Title: Growing up in an immigrant community : the phonemic development of sequential bilingual children
Author: McCarthy, K. M.
Awarding Body: University College London (University of London)
Current Institution: University College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 2013
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The majority of bilingual speech research has focused on simultaneous bilinguals. Yet, in immigrant communities, children are often initially exposed to their heritage language (L1) before becoming gradually immersed in the host country’s language (L2) when they start full-time education. This is typically referred to as sequential bilingualism. These children are often exposed to differing amounts of the L1 and L2, as well as accented variants. To date, little is known about the developmental trajectories of such children. This thesis investigates the influence of this highly variable language environment on the acquisition of L2 phonemes. Specifically this thesis focuses on Sylheti-English speaking children from the London-Bengali community. To provide a baseline of the children’s speech environment, Study 1 investigated the speech production of Sylheti (L1) and English (L2) by adult speakers from the London-Bengali community. The results show differences in production of both the L1 and L2 depending on the speaker’s language background. Studies 2 and 3 tracked the acquisition of English vowel and plosive contrasts, both perception and production, by Sylheti-English bilingual children and their monolingual peers. Using a longitudinal design, children were tested at two time points: after seven months of English language experience in nursery (Time 1) and approximately one year later, when the children were in the first year of Primary school (Time 2). At Time 1 the bilingual children displayed difficulties with phonemic contrasts that do not exist in Sylheti. However, by Time 2, the bilingual children had rapidly changed to match that of their monolingual peers. Studies 4 and 5 explored the influence of language exposure and caregiver speech on the bilingual children’s English phoneme acquisition. The results suggest that sequential bilingual children are particularly sensitive to the amount of language exposure to each language as well as fine-grained phonetic differences in caregiver speech.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available