Language is a complex system that is broken down into its functional components. Language is divided into three major components: form, content, and use (Bloom & Lahey, 1978, as cited in Owens, 2001). Form includes syntax, morphology, and phonology. These components connect sounds or symbols in order. Content encompasses meaning or semantics, and use is termed pragmatics. These five components-syntax, phonology, semantics, and pragmatics are the basic rule systems found in language.
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Syntax and sentence types
The forms or structure of a sentence is governed by the rules of syntax. These rules specify word, phrase, clause, and other sentence organization, and the relationships between words, word classes, and other sentence elements. Sentences are organized according to their overall function (Owens, 2001). For example: declarative sentences make a statement and interrogatives form questions. The constituent parts of a sentence are noun and verb phrases (Owens, 2001). Radford (2007) defined sentences as follows: Affirmative sentence-sentence that affirms a proposition, Negative sentence-states that something is not true or incorrect, Interrogative sentence-asks a question. They may ask for information or for confirmation or denial of a statement, Imperative sentence-a sentence used to issue an order, Declarative sentence-used to make a statement, Comparative sentence-contains two clauses joined by a two-part comparative element.
British psychologist, Peter Wason investigated the psychological aspects of negation (1959, 1961). His study revealed that negation increases comprehension time. Gough (1965) and Slobin (1966) confirmed the findings that subjects took longer time on negative sentences than on affirmative sentences. They also reported that errors made were more for negative than for affirmative sentences. Deese (1971) suggested that the simplest type of sentence, viz. active, affirmative, declarative produce less interference with recall of words than any other type of sentence. The second person pronoun (you) enters into the structure of all imperative sentences in English (Bullokar, 1956). This finding has been supported by several authors (Jespersen, 1940; Sweet, 1960). Since researchers assume that only pronouns have a second person form they conclude that imperative sentences always have you as the subject. However, in short forms of imperatives such as, come, sit, eat, etc. the pronoun (you) is understood. The subject need not be marked as it is the only possible subject. Vaidyanathan (1988) reported the presence of three major classes of interrogatives in Tamil, i.e. yes/no form, E-type questions corresponding to the wh-type and the question tag type. The longitudinal study carried out by the author on Tamil speaking monolingual children revealed high frequency of yes/no questions and where, what questions by 2 years 9 months of age. Infrequent presence of who and where questions were assumed to increase with age. The author also reported that how and when questions were rarely asked by children of 2 years 9 months. Research shows evidence that children generally have greater difficulty comprehending the negative member of a polar comparative adjective pair than the positive member (Donaldson & Wales, 1970; Gordon, 1972; Milligan, 1972; Palermo, 1973; Weiner, 1971). Clark (1969, 1970, 1972) attributed these findings to the presence of a simpler generic sense which occurs in the positive comparative alone. This idea has been argued by Huttenlocher and Higgins (1971) who stated that several positive comparatives adjectives do not have a generic sense. They attributed adults’ difficulty with less, shorter, worse, etc., to their implicit negativity. Townsend (1974) indicated that children may have difficulty in understanding the relationship between the two clauses of the comparative sentence. The author reported that this child’s difficulty could be due to the failure to understand the semantic relations expressed by the clauses, or because he/she has not learned the cue that allow him/her to relate the clauses.
Karanth, Manjula, Geetha & Prema (2010) carried out a project to develop language training material at different linguistic levels. This project was carried out involving 100 children in the age range of 3-13 years, 20 children with language difficulties and 20 adults for 10 Indian languages. The training focus has been on the syntactic and semantic aspects of language. Subsections for syntax include plurals, tenses, person-number-gender marker, case markers, transitives, intransitives, causatives, affirmatives, negatives, interrogatives, comparatives, conditionals, conjunctives, quotatives and participial constructions. Within the sections of semantics and syntax, the subtests have been listed in an approximate hierarchical manner based on the normative data results obtained in the results. The authors reported that through some aspects of language are acquired by children as early as 2 years of age; other aspects such as conditional and participial constructions are mastered only by 10 years.
Bloomfield (1935) considers bilingualism as the ability to speak two languages perfectly where the speaker has native like control of the two languages. Weinreich (1953) stresses that bilingual individual’s switch from one language to another according to the appropriate changes in the speech situation but not in an unchanged speech situation. Titone (1972) postulates that bilingual is that person who can speak a second language without paraphrasing his/her mother tongue.
Literature distinguishes three types of bilingualism: compound, coordinate and sub-coordinate (D’Acierno & Rosaria, 1990). Compound bilinguals learn two languages in the same environment. Thus he/she acquire one notion with two verbal expressions. In the brain there is a fused representation of two languages which are assumed to be interdependent. The two languages are learned in parallel. Coordinate bilinguals are those individuals who acquire the two languages in different context (one at home and the other at school). Thus the words of the two languages belong to two separate systems which are independent. Initially the child develops one system, and then builds up a second system. Finally, the child operates the two in parallel. The third type of bilingualism is the sub-coordinate type. It occurs when one language predominates on the other. Here, the individual interprets words of his/her weaker language through the words of his/her stronger language. Thus the dominant language acts as a filter for the other.
Monolingual versus Bilingual
Research literature on bilingual children often concerns with probing into the relative advantage or disadvantage of bilingual versus monolingual children in the area of language and cognition.
Bilingual developmental milestones: There is great variability in typical language acquisition milestones. This results in difficulty in finding statistical differences among age matched monolingual and bilingual groups on any measures of language functioning. Most of the early language milestones are similar, irrespective of language being learnt. Babbling is matured at around 6 months of age and first words typically appear around 12-14 months. The appearance of first two-word combinations is observed around 18-25months (Fenson, Dale, Reznick, Bates, Thal, & Pethick, 1994). Similar milestones are observed for bilingual children. Bilingual children are roughly comparable to a monolingual child is only one of the two languages.
Meisel (1994) and Genesee, Paradis, & Crago, (2004) studied the language abilities of children developing two language since birth. They concluded that bilingual children follow the same course and rate of language development as their monolingual counterparts. Similarities were observed right from the sound system to the grammar acquisition.
Meta-linguistic comparisons: Bild & Swain (1989) stated that bilingual children prove to excel at meta-linguistic awareness, a skill that is associated with learning to read and write. This skill also helps children to learn third language. Thus, the authors chronicled that bilingual children are not just equal to monolinguals, but exceed them in language skills. This advanced meta-linguistic awareness is obvious when the bilingual children manipulate words independently on the sentences they occur in by switching names for things/objects being named.
Syntactic acquisition- autonomous or interdependent: The assumption of the hypothesis that by 2 years of age bilingual children have differentiated linguistic systems does not answer the question of whether these systems interact over the course of acquisition. It is possible that the two grammars do not interact at all. This allows the bilingual child’s syntactic development to resemble that of two monolinguals. Never the less, it could also be possible that the two grammars interact with each other during the acquisition period and resulting in a bilingual child to look different from monolingual children acquiring each language. These divergent outcomes can be referred to as autonomous and interdependent development, respectively (Paradis & Genesse, 1996). Interdependence has also been called interference (Bergman, 1976) or intrusion (Vihman & McLaughlin, 1982). Interdependence is defined as a systematic influence of the grammar of one language on the grammar of the other language during acquisition. This causes differences in a bilingual child’s pattern and rate of development when compared to the monolingual counterparts (Paradis & Genesse, 1996).
Deprez and Pierce (1993, 1994) reported that finiteness of vocabulary appears earlier in a French-English bilingual child. Thus it might be expected that a French-English bilingual’s acquisition of finiteness in English would be accelerated due to the influence of French. However, Paradis and Geneese (1996) found no instances of interdependence.
Three potential manifestations of interdependence have been reported in literature: transfer, acceleration, and delay. Transfer results in the incorporation of a grammatical property of one language into the other. Transfer occurs after the child reaches an advanced level of syntactic complexity in one language than in the other. Interdependent development is assumed to accelerate the acquisition of certain properties in one of the two languages of the bilingual speaker. Acceleration states that certain grammatical properties emerge earlier than the norm in monolingual acquisition. The third manifestation of interdependence is the overall rate of acquisition. The burden of burden of acquiring two languages could slow down the acquisition process in bilinguals. This may result in delaying the overall progress of grammatical development in bilingual children causing them to be behind monolingual equivalents (Paradis & Genesse, 1996).
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Areas of slower development: Vocabulary and morphosyntax are the two areas of grammar that are most sensitive to the amount of language exposure. There might be an evidence of slower pace of learning in bilingual children when compared to their monolingual counterparts. However, this difference may not translate into an academic deficit. Bilingual children are not poor word learners. Bilingual children have a total lexicon (counting both languages) that is larger than those of the monolinguals reception. Also their production might be equivalent to that of the monolingual children (Pearson, Fernandez, & Oller, 1993). However, in the early stages of vocabulary development bilingual children may know fewer words in each language (as much as 30 or 50 per cent less).
Language impairment and bilingualism: Genesee, Paradis, & Crago, (2004) demonstrated that bilingual children with language impairment show equivalent disorders in both languages. But the areas of vulnerability would be different. Thus the actual symptoms of the disorders would be different for each language.
Cognition and Bilingualism: Two languages take up more room in the mind than one. Thus we wonder whether the process of becoming bilingual might impede the mental development of the individual by taking up much space. The psychological research on the cognitive development of bilingual children has reported concern about the poor performance on intelligence tests of immigrants in United States. These finding were more prominent for southern and eastern European origins. Lewis Terman & Florence Goodenough believed that the immigrants belonged to groups with low innate intelligence. Thus they associated the poor performance to be a function of heredity. On the other hand, environmentalists argued that bilingualism had an influence on intelligence. They believed that the use of two languages resulted in mental confusion. Thus, the immigrants were of inferior intelligence (Hakuta, 1985).
Behaviourist psychologist agreed with the environmentalist account of the negative consequences of bilingualism on intelligence. They attributed the effect of bilingualism to be evident as mental confusion in these individuals. This behaviour is now termed as code switching (Smith, 1939).
By late 1950’s the views on social sciences were oriented from the behaviorist to the cognitivist. Noam Chomsky argued effectively that language and mental capacities are very powerful and cannot be always observed in behavior. Cognitivist termed mind as a machine with wired-in-properties, a problem solver that is stimulated by the environment. But they believed that mind is not created by the environment.
Peal and Lambert (1962) studies the relation between bilingualism and intelligence. They found that bilingual children were equally proficient in both their languages in comparison to a similar group of monolingual children. Their findings suggested that the bilingual children performed better on all measures of intelligence. They concluded that bilingualism might have a positive effect on intelligence. These finding contradicted the claims of the behaviorist psychologists. Peal and Lambert viewed the bilingual mind from the cognitive perspective. Thus suggesting that mind tries solving problems presented by the environment. Presuming that the mind has worked on two problems (learning two languages) it has more experience in solving problems than the mind that has worked on just one language. Thus, Peal and Lambert (1962) characterize bilingual children as being children with wider experiences in two cultures which gives them an advantage over monolingual children. Intellectually, the experience gained by the bilingual child with two language system leaves him/her with a mental flexibility, superiority in concept formation, a more diversified set of mental abilities. On contrary, the monolingual child appears to have a more unitary structure of intelligence which should be used for all types of intellectual tasks.
Need of the study
The conflict between monolingual and bilingual child acquisition is still not resolved. Research has shown concern in the difference of syntactic skills exhibited between monolingual and bilingual children. Predominant studies have focused on comparing the morphosyntactic structured between the two groups. However, there has been minimal research in comparing the differences in the types of sentences observed in the two groups. Hence, a preliminary study is warranted to compare the presence of sentence types between monolingual and bilingual children.
Aim of the study
The aim of the study was to compare the presence of affirmative, negative, declarative, imperative, interrogative and imperative sentence types in typically developing monolingual Tamil speaking and bilingual Tamil-English speaking children. These comparisons were made for both comprehension and expression of the six sentence types.
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