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Acceleration in the bilingual acquisition of phonological structure: Evidence from Polish–English bilingual children*


This study examines the production of consonant clusters in simultaneous Polish–English bilingual children and in language-matched English monolinguals (aged 7;01–8;11). Selection of the language pair was based on the fact that Polish allows a greater range of consonant clusters than English. A nonword repetition task was devised in order to examine clusters of different types (obstruent-liquid vs. s + obstruent) and in different word positions (initial vs. medial), two factors that play a significant role in repetition accuracy in monolingual acquisition (e.g., Kirk & Demuth, 2005). Our findings show that bilingual children outperformed monolingual controls in the word initial s + obstruent condition. These results indicate that exposure to complex word initial clusters (in Polish) can accelerate the development of less phonologically complex clusters (in English). This constitutes significant new evidence that the facilitatory effects of bilingual acquisition extend to structural phonological domains. The implications that these results have on competing views of phonological organisation and phonological complexity are also discussed.

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Address for correspondence: Dr Marco Tamburelli, School of Linguistics and English Language, Bangor University, Bangor, Gwynedd LL57
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The authors would like to thank Paul Boersma, Stuart Davis and the audience of the 20th Manchester Phonology Meeting for useful comments on an earlier draft of this paper. We would also like to thank Mike Hammond for his guidance on various issues pertaining to English consonants, and the editor and three anonymous reviewers for their detailed comments and suggestions. Our deepest gratitude to all the staff and pupils at St. Margaret Clitherow, Carrington Primary and Woodland House School for making this research possible.

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Bilingualism: Language and Cognition
  • ISSN: 1366-7289
  • EISSN: 1469-1841
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