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What's the difference between ‘toilet paper’ and ‘paper toilet’? French-English bilingual children's crosslinguistic transfer in compound nouns


Bilingual acquisition can shed light on the cues children use in acquiring language. The purpose of this paper was to examine whether frequency, ambiguity or language dominance could explain crosslinguistic transfer in compound nouns. Crosslinguistic transfer would appear in the form of compound reversals. 25 monolingual English children between the ages of three and four years and 25 age-matched French-English bilingual children were asked to create and indicate their understanding of novel compound nouns. In production, the bilingual children reversed compounds in English more often than the monolingual children but equally often in French and English. In comprehension, there were no differences between groups. These results cannot be explained by any previous explanation of transfer. Implications for the theory of language acquisition are discussed.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Elena Nicoladis, University of Alberta, Department of Psychology, P-220 Biological Sciences Building, Edmonton, AB, T6G 2E9, Canada. e-mail:
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Journal of Child Language
  • ISSN: 0305-0009
  • EISSN: 1469-7602
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-child-language
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