Acquiring content questions in Japanese: The case of a sequential English-Japanese bilingual child
The International Journal of Early Childhood Learning
Common Ground Research Networks
School of Arts and Humanities
This study examines the development of Japanese in a sequential English-Japanese bilingual child. We will focus on the acquisition of Japanese content interrogatives and compare emerging patterns with monolingual as well as simultaneous bilingual first language acquirers. Our informant was born to an English-speaking Australian family and spent his first two years of life in Japan. He acquired English as the home language from birth with some exposure to Japanese while in Japan. He then learned Japanese from age 6;3 (six years; three months) when he was enrolled in a Japanese primary school; hence, he learned Japanese in a naturalistic environment. Speech data was collected, using natural conversation and elicitation tasks, from age 7;0 to 8;9, spread over twenty-six sessions beginning nine months after enrollment. Out of 1015 interrogatives, the child produced 642 yes/no questions and 373 content questions. They were examined in terms of the Prominence Hypothesis within the Processability Theory. A range of question pronouns emerged, including nani/nan (what), doko (where), doshite/nande (why), doo-yatte (how), and dare (who). After the production of single-word questions, content interrogatives appeared with copula sentences. Questions with lexical verbs followed, most of which were formed with the question word in-situ. We argue that the child’s late acquisition of the wh-fronting structure was due to processing constraints as defined in the Processability Theory rather than the reflection of cross-linguistic influence. Further, the child’s acquisitional sequence was consistent with the Prominence Hypothesis.