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Pragmatic differentiation in early trilingual development*


This study examines pragmatic differentiation in early trilingual development through a longitudinal analysis of language choice in a developing Tagalog–Spanish–English trilingual child. The child's patterns of language choice with different language users are analyzed at age 1 ; 10 and 2 ; 4 to examine: (1) whether evidence for pragmatic differentiation can be found even before age two and in simultaneous interactions with distinct language users; (2) whether lexical gaps determine the child's choice of one language over another; and (3) whether her patterns of language choice are affected by the interlocutors language use and their responses to mixing. The results indicate that the child was capable of selecting the appropriate language according to the interlocutors' language from the earliest sessions. However, switches to inappropriate languages were common due to vocabulary gaps, the interlocutors' acceptance of mixing and the possibilities determined by the existence of multiple lexical resources and multiple language users.

Corresponding author
Simona Montanari, PhD, Child and Family Studies, California State University, Los Angeles, CA 90032USA. e-mail:
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An earlier and shorter version of this paper was presented at the 4th International Symposium on Bilingualism, Arizona State University, April/May 2003. I am very grateful to Kathryn and to her family who not only allowed me to enter into their private lives and thus undertake this investigation but they also helped with the data collection and transcription. I also thank the members of my dissertation committee, Elaine Andersen, Dany Bird, Jo Ann Farver, Toby Mintz and especially Carmen Silva-Corvalán for their helpful comments and suggestions on earlier drafts of this paper. Thanks are also due to the three anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on an earlier version of this paper.

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Journal of Child Language
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