Due to the growth of migration, bilingualism in Europe is increasing considerably. Russian speakers constitute a significant proportion of these immigrants. Indeed, Russian is the most frequent minority language in Germany with more than 2 million speakers. Parallel to the growing bilingualism, children show increasing problems in language development. Professionals working with children lack clinical assessment tools for an early recognition of Specific Language Impairment (SLI) in bilingual children and often confuse the effects of bilingualism and SLI. The increasing needs for efficient intervention compel researchers to provide scientifically valid tools for clinical treatments. Current clinical diagnostic tools are mainly based on testing bilingual morphosyntactic phenomena, with much less attention paid to disentangling SLI and bilingualism. The studies on bilingualism and SLI also pay only little attention to the domain of discourse coherence, even though discourse competence is a key property of successful communication.
This project aims to fill the gap by providing insights into combined and separate effects of bilingualism and SLI in the domain of referential and relational discourse coherence. To this end, we will collect and analyze comprehension and production data from bilingual children. The target population are native speakers of Russian acquiring Dutch or German either from birth or from around age 3 on. The performance of bilingual children will be compared to that of monolingual controls with and without SLI.
The research teams participating in this project (Utrecht, Berlin, St. Petersburg) will bring in their expertise in the acquisition of Dutch, German and Russian, respectively. Methodologically, the project will benefit from the participants’ complementary experience with elicitation procedures (Berlin) and eye-tracking techniques (Utrecht). Collection of Russian-language data in St. Petersburg will provide the project with control group-data.
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