Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Children's Second Language Acquisition of English Complex Syntax: The Role of Age, Input, and Cognitive Factors

  • Johanne Paradis (a1), Brian Rusk (a2), Tamara Sorenson Duncan (a2) and Krithika Govindarajan (a2)

The goal of this study was to determine (a) the similarities and dissimilarities between child L2 and L1 acquisition of complex sentences and (b) the individual difference factors predicting L2 children's acquisition of complex sentences. We analyzed language samples from 187 English L2 children with diverse L1s (Agemean = 5;10 [years;months]; English exposuremean = 17 months). Children used various types of complex sentences at all levels of L2 exposure, including sentences with relative clauses, which are late-acquired by L1 learners. Mixed logistic regression modeling revealed that longer exposure to English in school, richer English environments outside school, larger L2 vocabulary, superior verbal memory and visual analytic reasoning contributed to greater use of complex sentences. L1 typology did not impact complex sentence use in the L2. Overall, L2 children used more complex sentences within a few months of English L2 exposure than what is reported for L1 children aged 2;0–4;0, revealing an advantage for an older age of acquisition. The predictive role of input and cognitive factors, as well as vocabulary, in children's use of complex sentences is more consistent with constructivist than generativist accounts of L2 syntactic acquisition.

Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

N. Abrahamsson , & K. Hyltenstam (2009). Age of onset and nativelikeness in a second language: Listener perception versus linguistic scrutiny. Language Learning, 59 (2), 249306.

B. Ambridge , & E. Lieven (2011). Child language acquisition: Contrasting theoretical approaches. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

S. Armon-Lotem , J. Walters , & N. Gagarina (2011). The impact of internal and external factors on linguistic performance in the home language and in L2 among Russian-Hebrew and Russian-German preschool children. Linguistic Approaches to Bilingualism, 1 (3), 291317.

D. Bates , M. Maechler , & B. Bolker (2015). lme4 package for linear mixed-effects models using “eigen” and S4. Journal of Statistical Software, 67 (1), 148.

H. Behrens (2008). Corpora in language acquisition research: History, methods, perspectives. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: John Benjamins.

W. B. T. Blom , & E. Bosma (2016). The sooner the better? An investigation into the role of age of onset and its relation with transfer and exposure in bilingual Frisian-Dutch children. Journal of Child Language, 43, 581607.

E. Blom , & J. Paradis (2013). Past tense production by English second language learners with and without impairment. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 56, 114.

E. Blom , J. Paradis , & T. Sorenson Duncan (2012). Effects of input properties, vocabulary size and L1 on the development of third person singular –s in child L2 English. Language Learning, 62 (3), 965994.

T. M. Bohman , L. M. Bedore , E. D. Peña , A. Mendez-Perez , & R. B. Gillam (2010). What you hear and what you say: Language performance in early sequential Spanish–English bilinguals. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 13, 325344.

V. Chondrogianni , & T. Marinis (2011). Differential effects of internal and external factors on the development of vocabulary, morphology and complex syntax in successive bilingual children. Linguistic Approaches to Bilingualism, 1, 223248.

E. Dabrowska , & J. Street (2006). Individual differences in language attainment: Comprehension of passive sentences by native and non-native English speakers. Language Sciences, 28, 604615.

Elin Thordardottir . (2008). Language-specific effects of task demands on the manifestation of specific language impairment: A comparison of English and Icelandic. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 51, 922937.

S. Eisenbeiss (2009). Generative approaches to language learning. Linguistics, 47 (2), 273310.

V. M. Gathercole (2007). Miami and North Wales, so far and yet so near: A constructivist account of morpho-syntactic development in bilingual children. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 10, 224247.

J. Huttenlocher , H. Waterfall , M. Vasilyeva , J. Vevea , & L. V. Hedges (2010). Sources of variability in children's language growth. Cognitive Psychology, 61 (4), 343365.

E. Kidd , A. Chen , J. Chiu (2015). Cross-linguistic influence in simultaneous Cantonese–English bilingual children's comprehension of relative clauses. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 18, 438452.

R. O'Donnell (1974). Syntactic differences between speech and writing. American Speech, 49, 102110.

J. Paradis (2011). Individual differences in child English second language acquisition: Comparing child-internal and child-external factors. Linguistic Approaches to Bilingualism, 1 (3), 213237.

J. Paradis , & R. Jia (2016). Bilingual children's long-term outcomes in English as a second language and sources of individual differences in their rate of English development. Developmental Science, 20 (1), e12433. doi: 10.1111/desc.12433

J. Paradis , & A. Kirova (2014). English second-language learners in preschool: Profile effects in their English abilities and the role of home language environment. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 38 (4), 342349.

J. Paradis , M. Rice , M. Crago , & J. Marquis (2008). The acquisition of tense in English: Distinguishing child L2 from L1 and SLI. Applied Psycholinguistics, 29, 134.

J. Paradis , Y. Tulpar , & A. Arppe (2016). Chinese L1 children's English L2 verb morphology over time: Individual variation in long-term outcomes. Journal of Child Language, 43, 553580.

A. D. Roesch , & V. Chondrogianni (2016). “Which mouse kissed the frog?” Effects of age of onset, length of exposure, and knowledge of case marking on the comprehension of “wh”-questions in German-speaking simultaneous and early sequential bilingual children. Journal of Child Language, 43 (3), 635661.

J. Rothman , D. Long , M. Iverson , T. Judy , A. Lingwall , & T. Chakravarty (2016). Older age of onset in child L2 acquisition can be facilitative: Evidence from the acquisition of English passives by Spanish natives. Journal of Child Language, 43, 662686.

E. M. Thomas , N. Williams , L. A. Jones , S. Davies , & H. Binks (2014). Acquiring complex structures under minority language conditions: Bilingual acquisition of plural morphology in Welsh. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 17 (3), 478494.

S. Unsworth (2016). Early child L2 acquisition: Age or Input effects? Neither, or both? Journal of Child Language, 43 (3), 608634.

S. Unsworth , F. Argyri , L. Cornips , A. Hulk , A. Sorace , & I. Tsimpli (2014). On the role of age of onset and input in early child bilingualism in Greek and Dutch. Applied Psycholinguistics, 35, 765805.

M. Vasilyeva , H. Waterfall , & J. Huttenlocher (2008). Emergence of syntax: Commonalities and differences across children. Developmental Science, 11 (1), 8497.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Annual Review of Applied Linguistics
  • ISSN: 0267-1905
  • EISSN: 1471-6356
  • URL: /core/journals/annual-review-of-applied-linguistics
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 8
Total number of PDF views: 100 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 485 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 15th May 2017 - 26th September 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.