A/Prof Luisa Meroni Seminar

A/Prof Luisa Meroni Seminar

Date: Friday, 19th July 2019, 10.30am-11.30am
Venue: Room 3.610, Level 3, Australian Hearing Hub, Macquarie University
Speaker: A/Professor Luisa Meroni, Utrecht University
Host: Distinguished Professor Stephen Crain
Topic: Handling scope ambiguity: bilinguals do it better

Crosslinguistic influence in simultaneous bilingual (2L1) has been claimed to lead to delay and acceleration (Paradis & Genesee 1996). Whilst various studies have demonstrated the existence of delay, the evidence for acceleration is rather limited (cf. Meisel 2007). Furthermore, most studies in this area focused on the acquisition of morphosyntax and syntax-pragmatics; to date, few examine the area of syntax-semantics. In this talk I seek to fill these gaps by investigating whether crosslinguistic influence in the form of acceleration takes place in the interpretation of specific indefinites in sentences with negation by 2L1 English-Dutch and Italian-Dutch children.

Previous research has shown that Dutch-speaking 4- to 6-year-old children pass through a stage, where, unlike adults, they treat the scrambled sentence in (1) as ambiguous between a specific (1a) and a non-specific (1b) interpretation (Unsworth et al., 2008).
(1)         Ian heeft een kaarsje niet uitgeblazen                
a.  There is a candle Ian did not blow out           (a>not)
b.  Ian did not blow out any candle                      (not>a)                 
In a later study, Unsworth (2012) shows that English-Dutch 2L1 children pass through a similar stage and they furthermore restrict (1) to its target specific interpretation within the same timeframe as monolinguals (L1). Here, I examine data from Italian-Dutch 2L1 children. Following Su (2001), I argue that, unlike English, indefinite objects in negative sentences in Italian (2) are unambiguously specific and I hypothesized that the availability of the specific interpretation in Italian will facilitate its acquisition in the Dutch of Italian-Dutch 2L1
(2)         Sandro non ha spento una candelina                  
a. There is a candle Sandro did not blow out      (a>not)

The results confirmed the hypothesis. We can then conclude that in cases of partial overlap between a bilingual child’s two languages, the direction of crosslinguistic influence can also depend on language-internal properties.

Luisa Meroni is assistant professor at the Department of Modern Languages at Utrecht University. She studied Philosophy at the University of Milan where she graduated cum laude in Philosophy of Language in 1997. She went on to study Linguistics at the University of Maryland at College Park and received her PhD in Linguistics with a dissertation on language acquisition entitled 'Putting Children in Context' in 2005. After spending one year at MIT as visiting scholar and two years at McGill University as a Postdoc, she began to work at Utrecht University first as a researcher with a Marie Curie grant and then also as assistant professor. Her research focuses on three areas of Language: child language acquisition, sentence processing and second language acquisition. In the field of child language development she has conducted many experiments investigating young children's knowledge of constraints on the semantic properties of linguistic expressions, in particular, logical expressions such as disjunction and operators, such as 'every' and 'only.' In other research she has studied how children and adults resolve syntactic and semantic ambiguities that arise in language processing, a project for which she received an European Science Foundation (ESF) grant for two years. Being a second language learner herself, she recently started to study the processes and factors underlying second language learning with special emphasis on those structures that are ambiguous in one language but not in the other. The overarching theme of her research is the use of linguistic theories and experimental tools to investigate language acquisition and processing.

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