Crosslinguistic Encounters in Language Acquisition: Typical and Atypical Development

Crosslinguistic Encounters in Language Acquisition: Typical and Atypical Development

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This book presents diverse, original research studies on typical and atypical child language acquisition in monolingual, bilingual and bi-dialectal settings, with a focus on development, assessment and research methodology. Languages investigated in the studies include underrepresented languages, such as Farsi, Greek, Icelandic, isiXhosa, Maltese, Mandarin and Slovene, without excluding representative work in major languages like English and Spanish. The language areas of focus are phonology, lexicon, morphology and syntax and the book incorporates studies in under-researched language impairment, such as Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome and language impairment in 22q11.2 Deletion Syndrome. The book has practical significance in that it proposes tools and assessment practices that are of universal crosslinguistic relevance while also dealing with language-specific complications. The studies presented enhance existing knowledge and stimulate answers on what the acquisition of disparate languages in different contexts can teach us about language/communication development in the presence or absence of disorder.

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ISBN-13: 9781783099108
Publisher: Channel View Publications
Publication date: 11/20/2017
Series: Communication Disorders Across Languages
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
File size: 32 MB
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About the Author

Elena Babatsouli is Director of the Institute of Monolingual and Bilingual Speech in Chania, Greece. Her research focuses on phonology/phonetics and morphology, and her research interests include typical and atypical language acquisition (first, second, bilingual) and language use (dialects and speech errors).

David Ingram is Professor in the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences, Arizona State University, USA. His research interests include language acquisition in typically developing children and children with language disorders, with a crosslinguistic focus.

Nicole Müller is Professor and Head of the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences, University College Cork, Ireland. Her research interests include multilingualism and neurogenic and neurodegenerative conditions leading to cognitive-communicative impairments. She is co-editor (with Martin J. Ball) of the book series Communication Disorders Across Languages.

Elena Babatsouli is an Assistant Professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, USA. She is co-editor (with David Ingram and Nicole Müller) of Crosslinguistic Encounters in Language Acquisition (Multilingual Matters, 2017).

David Ingram is an Emeritus Professor in the Department of Speech and Hearing Science at Arizona State University. He received his BS from Georgetown University and his Ph.D. in Linguistics from Stanford University. His research interests are in language acquisition in typically developing children and children with language disorders, with a crosslinguistic focus. The language areas of interest are phonological, morphological and syntactic acquisition. He is the author of Phonological disability in children (1976), Procedures for the phonological analysis of children’s language (1981) and First language acquisition (1989). His most recent work has focused on whole word measures of phonological acquisition.  

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Speech Development in Three-year-old Children Acquiring isiXhosa and English in South Africa

Michelle Pascoe, Olebeng Mahura, Jane Le Roux, Emily Danvers, Aimée de Jager, Natania Esterhuizen, Chané Naidoo, Juliette Reynders, Savannah Senior and Amy van der Merwe


This chapter focuses on bilingual children simultaneously acquiring English and isiXhosa in Cape Town, South Africa. We aim to describe the typical speech acquisition of three-year-old children acquiring both these languages. The chapter starts by providing background regarding the language and demographics of South Africa, together with a rationale for why it is important, but challenging, to identify children with speech sound disorders in this context. This is followed by a description of the two languages. We then move into a review of the literature on monolingual acquisition of isiXhosa and South African English before considering our data from bilingual children.

South Africa is characterized by a culturally and linguistically diverse population. Our progressive constitution recognizes 11 official languages and advocates equal status for them all. These 11 languages include nine indigenous Bantu languages: isiZulu, isiXhosa, Sepedi, Setswana, Sesotho, Xitsonga, Siswati, Tshivenda and isiNdebele, together with the West Germanic languages of English and Afrikaans. Of course there are many more languages and dialects spoken beyond the officially recognized ones, especially by people who have immigrated to South Africa from neighbouring countries. Multilingualism is common in South Africa, with the exact combinations of languages and dialects spoken varying from region to region. In the Western Cape, the main languages spoken are Afrikaans (spoken by 49.7% of the population), isiXhosa (spoken by 24.7%) and English (spoken by 20.3%) (Statistics South Africa, 2011).

The rich linguistic diversity of Southern Africa offers many exciting research opportunities, yet the study of speech acquisition in this context remains relatively unresearched. Some of the Bantu languages, such as Sesotho, isiXhosa and isiZulu, now have small datasets and several papers documenting typical speech acquisition. Much of this work has focused on monolingual children, and where bi- or multilingual children have been investigated, the children's language exposure and abilities across all their languages have not been well documented. This focus on monolingual children is understandable since researchers wish to investigate these under-researched languages in their purest forms, uninfluenced by other languages. There are rural parts of the country where it is common to find children acquiring one language with little exposure to other languages. However, in cities in South Africa, monolingualism is less common and children will typically be exposed to multiple languages (Posel & Zeller, 2016). There are relatively few studies that have focused on the typical acquisition of multiple phonologies at the same time. According to Gxilishe (2004) and Tuomi et al. (2001), the interplay between the languages is often ignored.

Around the world, children with speech sound difficulties (SSDs) comprise a large proportion of speech-language therapists' caseloads. SSDs may affect more children than any other developmental communication disorder and, if left untreated, can result in long-term academic and psychosocial difficulties (Broomfield & Dodd, 2004; Fox & Dodd, 2001). The World Health Organization's (2007) International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health considers activity and participation to be profoundly affected by speech impairments. Although the prevalence of speech difficulties in South Africa has not yet been documented, in the United States it is estimated to be 7.5% of children between the ages of three and 11 years (Ruscello, 2008) and UK figures suggest that at least 48,000 children are referred for speech difficulties each year (Broomfield & Dodd, 2004).

For speech and language therapists working in South Africa, the lack of knowledge about typical speech development presents a challenge. Clinicians need to identify children with SSDs and assist them and their families. Being able to identify and manage such children requires a baseline of normative data, collected from the same population as that of the child. There are few speech assessments relevant for use with local indigenous languages (van der Merwe & Le Roux, 2014; van Dulm & Southwood, 2015). Many of the English assessments currently used by speech and language therapists in South Africa have been normed on different populations, e.g. monolingual British children, which could possibly result in therapists pathologizing children who are in fact typical (Holm et al., 1999). We are beginning to build knowledge about typical monolingual acquisition of isiXhosa and South African English, but knowledge about the nature of typical bilingual acquisition is limited. As a prelude to a description of current knowledge about phonological development in South Africa, the following sections provide a description of the phonology of isiXhosa and South African English, in turn.


isiXhosa is a Southern Bantu language belonging to the Nguni group of languages (Mesthrie et al., 2004). The isiXhosa phonological system is made up of 46 phonemes; five vowels (/a, i, u, e, [??]/), 38 consonants, and three basic clicks (/|, I, !/). The three basic clicks have 12 allophones, which occur when the clicks combine with guttural, nasal and palatal sounds. Consonantal features which are characteristic of the isiXhosa sound system include ejective plosives (/p'/), bilabial implosive (/[??]/), velar and lateral fricatives (/x, l/) and voiced affricate (/dz/) (Mowrer & Burger, 1991). Light /l/ is used. Consonant clusters are rarely found in isiXhosa and only occur in the form of borrowed words, e.g. ibrushi 'brush'; igreyivi 'gravy' (Demuth, 2003; Mohammed, 2001). isiXhosa is a tonal language, i.e. the meaning of a word can be altered by using contrastive tone, and consists of open syllables (syllables ending in vowels) (Mosaka, 2000). Lexical stress is not a feature of the isiXhosa sound system. The penultimate syllable of a word is, however, often lengthened (Mosaka, 2000).

isiXhosa is characterized by a number of dialects described in detail by Gxilishe (1996). These include the Thembu, Gcaleka, Bomvana, Mpondomise, Mpondo, Hlubi, Xesibe, Ntlangwini, Cele and Bhaca dialects. Each dialect is linked to a specific geographical region of the country. Although mutually intelligible, the differences between the dialects can be marked and there is a need to undertake further research into dialectal differences and to consider the dialect being spoken when working with children acquiring isiXhosa.

South African English

As with other varieties of English, dialectal variation is common in South African English (Mesthrie et al., 2004). As a result of South Africa's past, marked by racial segregation after the institution of Apartheid in 1948, distinct varieties of South African English have developed (de Klerk, 1999; Lass, 2004). The two main varieties of South African English commonly spoken in the Western Cape are termed Black South African English (BSAE) and White South African English (WSAE). BSAE refers to the dialect of English spoken by first language speakers of Bantu languages such as isiXhosa, in addition to being a regional dialect of some first language English speakers (de Klerk, 1999; de Klerk & Gough, 2004; van Rooy, 2000). Defining features of BSAE include reduced contrasts between tense and lax vowels due to neutralization, the use of fewer central vowels and lengthened duration of diphthongs. Consonant features include the realization of the dental fricatives /θ, d/ as plosives /t, d/; and palatal fricatives /[??], [??]/ realized as alveolars /s, z/ (de Klerk & Gough, 2004; Van Rooy, 2000). Devoicing processes, particularly word final and velar plosive devoicing, are frequently reported as defining characteristics of BSAE (Lass, 2004; Van Rooy, 2000).

WSAE is the dialect of English spoken by first language English speakers in South Africa (Bowerman, 2008). According to this model, the dialect of those with high socio-economic status (SES) (known as the conservative variety, Dialect 1) most closely resembles British Received Pronunciation (Bowerman, 2008; Lass, 2004). Dialect 2, most commonly associated with the middle class in terms of SES, shares many features with Received Pronunciation. A third variety (Dialect 3) is often associated with the lower SES groups and many Afrikaans speakers.

One of the defining features of WSAE is the pronunciation of vowels. South African English is characterized by the kit/bit split: in South African English the /1/ in kit is closer and more frontal than in other varieties, where it is more centralized (Lass, 2004). In no other variety of English do the words kit (produced [kit]) and bit (produced [b[??]t]) not rhyme (Lass, 2004). Defining consonant features include distinct contrasts between voiced and voiceless consonants, with consistently unaspirated voiceless variants (e.g. /t/ in tune realized as [tj]) in all three categories. In most varieties of South African English, light and dark /l/ are used as allophones. The influence of Afrikaans is particularly evident in Dialect 3. For example, where Dialects 1 and 2 produce [a] (as in rat), speakers of Dialect 3 use an alveolar trill [r] (Bowerman, 2008; Lass, 2004). The tendency for /θ/ to be produced as /f/ in the final word position is a further distinctive feature of Dialect 3 (Bowerman, 2008; Lass, 2004). In light of the variations within South African English, and the features that define it as a variety distinct from other varieties of English, including those in which the majority of standardized tests are normed, it is essential that assessment and therapy materials are adapted for the South African context.

isiXhosa speech acquisition in monolingual children

Although information on speech sound development in isiXhosa is limited, a number of studies have investigated the acquisition of isiXhosa segmental phonology in monolingual children. Children acquiring isiXhosa appear to develop most phonemes early (Gxilishe, 2004; Mowrer & Burger, 1991; Pascoe & Smouse, 2012; Tuomi et al., 2001). The small group of published studies that have focused on monolingual children's acquisition of isiXhosa are summarized in Table 1.1.

Most of the studies presented in Table 1.1 used small samples that cannot be generalized to the population (Gxilishe, 2004; Pascoe et al., 2016; Tuomi et al., 2001). These studies specified monolingual exposure to isiXhosa as inclusion criteria for their participants so that the influences of other languages did not confound results. Mowrer and Burger (1991) studied a relatively large sample of children, with the phonology of 70 monolingual isiXhosa children contrasted with that of a smaller group of monolingual English-speaking children for the phonemes shared across languages. Together, these studies highlight the early acquisition of vowels, a trend similar to that reported for children acquiring English (Dodd et al., 2003). Affricates and complex clicks appear to only develop after nasals, liquids, glides and plosives. The basic clicks, even though produced accurately at a low frequency rate, seem to emerge between 1;0 and 1;6 years (Tuomi et al., 2001). These clicks follow a specific order of acquisition: the dental click occurs first, often followed by the palatal, with the lateral being the last of the basic clicks to be acquired (Gxilishe, 2004; Mowrer & Burger, 1991; Tuomi et al., 2001).

Maphalala et al. (2014) carried out an investigation of 24 isiXhosa-speaking children aged three to six years. The children were typically developing and exposed to isiXhosa (as a first language) and English through their family, community and day care environment. Maphalala et al. (2014) describe the way in which many children in this study did not name pictures as expected for isiXhosa. For example, a picture expected to elicit the response uyatyhala's/he is pushing' was named as uyapusha (uya: isiXhosa, s/he is; push(a): English verb pushing/ verba indicates present stem in isiXhosa) by many of the participants. Maphalala et al. (2014) found that aspirated plosives and affricates were still developing in the five-year-old children in their sample, i.e. these consonants may be some of the last acquired in isiXhosa. Five- and six-syllable words appeared to continue to develop beyond six years. The paper by Maphalala et al. (2014) is one of few isiXhosa acquisition studies to have included bilingual children, and in this chapter we draw on some of the data from that project.

South African English in monolingual children

In contrast to adult South African English, children's acquisition of South African English has been minimally studied. Sociolinguistic literature documents dialectal features of this variety of English and the way in which it is influenced by other local languages such as Afrikaans and isiXhosa (Mesthrie et al., 2004; van Rooy, 2008) (see discussion above about BSAE and WSAE). This knowledge can inform research with a developmental focus, as knowing about acceptable adult targets allows for better understanding of what is typical for children. Knowledge of adult production of South African English suggests that the following might be observed in children acquiring SAE:

• Alveolar trill /r/ and post-vocalic /r/.

• Word final devoicing (e.g. dok for dog).

• Reduced contrasts between long and short vowels (seat/sit); fewer central vowels and avoidance of schwa. Schwa may be produced as /a/ in open syllables; and some diphthongs are reduced to monophthongs.

• Vowel raising (English L1 speakers), e.g. yis for yes; Efrica for Africa.

• A kit/bit split, i.e. the words kit [kit] and bit [bat] do not rhyme. [i] is used when it occurs before or after velars, after /h/, before /J/, and word initially. [a] is used elsewhere.

• Production of bath with a low and fully back /a:/.

The Current Study

Given the lack of knowledge about children's mono- and multilingual speech development in South Africa, and the need for assessments to identify children with speech difficulties, the present study focused on building knowledge about speech acquisition in isiXhosa and South African English.

The challenge of carrying out reliable, valid, culturally relevant assessment is a worldwide issue beyond South Africa and, in general, studies of bilingual speech acquisition are limited. The International Expert Panel on Multilingual Children's Speech has drafted a position paper setting aspirational standards for ways in which professionals working with multilingual children might best serve them. These include to:

... generate and share knowledge, resources, and evidence to facilitate the understanding of cultural and linguistic diversity that will support multilingual children's speech acquisition ... acknowledge and respect [children's] existing competencies, cultural heritage, and histories ... assessment and intervention should be based on the best available evidence. (International Expert Panel on Multilingual Children's Speech, 2012: 2)

This chapter aims to respond to this call through focusing on the specific needs of South Africa. As clinicians we must identify children with SSDs as early as possible, offer evidence-based treatment and prevent negative sequelae linked to speech difficulties. Here we focus on bilingual preschool children (ages 3;0–3;11) acquiring isiXhosa and South African English in Cape Town. Knowledge of the typical acquisition of these two languages in bilingual children is urgently required from a clinical perspective. These data can also contribute to debates about bilingual phonological acquisition. Interaction between two phonological systems may result in positive or negative transfer. Positive transfer indicates that a bilingual child will show phonological skills commensurate with or beyond those of his/her monolingual peers (Goldstein & Bunta, 2011). For example, Grech and Dodd (2008) found that children who spoke both Maltese and English had a higher percentage consonants correct score than their monolingual peers, and Fabiano-Smith and Goldstein (2010) found that children acquiring both English and Spanish had age-appropriate consonant accuracy in both languages when compared with monolingual norms. This often occurs when there are common characteristics between two languages; the frequent use of these structures can allow the child's knowledge in one language to aid acquisition in the other (Kehoe, 2015). In contrast to this, negative transfer may occur where phonological acquisition in bilingual children appears slower than that of monolingual peers. For example, Gildersleeve-Neumann et al. (2008) found children acquiring both English and Spanish presented with more errors in their English speech than their monolingual peers, while Goldstein and Washington (2001) found Spanish-English bilingual children had less accurate production of fricatives, flap and trill phonemes in Spanish. Given the limited research undertaken with bilingual children acquiring isiXhosa and English, it is difficult to make predictions about the relationship between the two phonological systems. The languages are quite distinct in terms of phonology, so it may be that there is little opportunity for positive transfer to occur. What seems clear from the literature is that the nature of phonological development differs in bilingual children as opposed to children who are only acquiring one language.


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Table of Contents

Elena Babatsouli, David Ingram and Nicole Müller: Introduction

Section A: Typical Language Acquisition

Chapter 1: Michelle Pascoe, Olebeng Mahura, Jane Le Roux, Emily Danvers, Aimée de Jager, Natania Esterhuizen Chané Naidoo, Juliette Reynders, Savannah Senior, Amy van derMerwe: Speech Development in 3-Year-Old Children Acquiring IsiXhosa and English in South Africa

Chapter 2: Anna V. Sosa: The Impact of Parent Communication Patterns on Infant Volubility During Play with Books

Section B: Methods in Language Analysis and Assessment

Chapter 3:  Elena Babatsouli, David Ingram and Dimitrios Sotiropouloson: The Weight of Phones in Computing Phonological Word Proximity

Chapter 4: Barbara May Bernhardt and Joseph Paul Stemberger: Investigating Typical and Protracted Phonological Development across Languages

Chapter 5: Helen Grech, Barbara Dodd and Sue Franklin: Bilingual Speech Assessment for Maltese Children

Chapter 6: Loukia Taxitari, Maria Kambanaros, Georgios Floros and Kleanthes K. Grohmann: Early Language Development in a Bilectal Context: The Cypriot Adaptation of the MacArthur Bates CDI

Section C: Language Acquisition in the Presence of a Disorder

Chapter 7: Georgia Andreou and Matina Tasioudi: Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome: Does It Really Affect Language Acquisition During Early Childhood?

Chapter 8: Maria Kambanaros, Loukia Taxitari, Eleni Theodorou, Marina Varnava and Kleanthes K. Grohmann: Language Impairment in 22q11.2 Deletion Syndrome: A Case Study from Cyprus

Chapter 9: Mª Isabel Navarro-Ruiz and Lucrecia Rallo Fabra: The Emergence and Development of Self-Repair: A Longitudinal Case Study of Specific Language Impairment from 3 to 6;10 Years.

Chapter 10: Froogh Shooshtaryzadeh: Local Assimilation in Children Acquiring Farsi: A Case Study of Typical Vs. Atypical Phonological Development

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