Comprehension of who- and which-questions in monolingual and bilingual acquisition: Explicating the difficulty of set restriction

Efrat Harel, Sharon Armon-Lotem, Irena Botwinik

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Objectives: Object wh-questions are more difficult for monolingual children to comprehend than subject questions. Especially difficult are object-which questions that appear to be significantly more difficult than both (object/subject) who and subject-which questions. Our research examines the manifestation of this difficulty among bilingual preschool children (L1-English, L2-Hebrew) as compared with their Hebrew monolingual peers, exploring the two languages of the bilinguals. Approach: Using a character selection task, the empirical goal of the study is to analyze the differences between monolinguals and bilinguals and between the languages of the bilinguals. The theoretical goal is to explain the difficulty which cuts across the two populations, namely, the comprehension of object-which questions. Data and Analysis: A total of A total of 55 preschool children, aged 4.4–6.4, participated in the study: 20 monolinguals and 35 bilinguals. A mixed linear model analysis, a general linear model, multiple linear regression analyses, and chi-square tests were used to analyze the data. Findings: (1) Monolingual and bilingual children (in their L2) have similar trajectories: object-which questions present difficulties to all participants, and their comprehension systematically follows the comprehension of object-who questions; (2) similar trajectories are also found in the two languages of the bilingual children, with L1-English object-which questions lagging behind L2-Hebrew object-which questions. Originality: The comparison between the two populations, and especially between the two languages of the bilinguals, led us to take a closer look at the syntactic processing of which-questions. We explored the possibility that the set restriction computation is the source of children’s difficulty, overloading their working memory resources. Significance: Our research demonstrates that monolingual and bilingual (syntactic) development is essentially the same. However, when syntactic processes interact with additional factors, such as working memory resources and language-specific properties, as is the case in object-which questions in Hebrew versus English, the gap between the two populations might widen.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Bilingualism
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 1 Jan 2023
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Bilingual acquisition (Hebrew and English)
  • comprehension
  • sentence processing
  • set restriction
  • which-questions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language

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