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Comprehension of competing argument marking systems in two Australian mixed languages*


Crosslinguistic influence has been seen in bilingual adult and child learners when compared to monolingual learners. For speakers of Light Warlpiri and Gurindji Kriol there is no monolingual group for comparison, yet crosslinguistic influence can be seen in how the speakers resolve competition between case-marking and word order systems in each language. Light Warlpiri and Gurindji Kriol are two new Australian mixed languages, spoken in similar, yet slightly different, sociolinguistic contexts, and with similar, yet slightly different, argument marking systems. The different sociolinguistic situations and systems of argument marking lead to a difference in how speakers of each language interpret simple transitive sentences in a comprehension task. Light Warlpiri speakers rely on ergative case-marking as an indicator of agents more often than Gurindji Kriol speakers do. Conversely, Gurindji Kriol speakers rely on word order more often than Light Warlpiri speakers do.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Carmel O'Shannessy, Department of Linguistics, University of Michigan, 440 Lorch Hall, 611 Tappan Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1220,
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We wish to thank several people for their input on this paper. Our research assistants in Lajamanu: Tanya Hargraves Napanangka, Leah Johnson Napaljarri, and Elaine Johnson Nangala; and in Kalkaringi: Samantha Smiler Nangala-Nanaku, who was instrumental in organising the children and adults for this study and in helping conduct the study. The Principal of Lajamanu Community Education Centre, Frank Atkinson, and staff, especially Gina Atkinson, for ease with data collection. Melissa Bowerman, Penelope Brown and Jane Simpson for experiment design, and Jidong Cheng for liaison with animation creators. Anonymous reviewers of this Journal. This work was funded by the Australian Research Council (Aboriginal Child Language Project), the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics (Nijmegen, The Netherlands), the University of Melbourne and the University of Sydney.

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Bilingualism: Language and Cognition
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  • EISSN: 1469-1841
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