Authors: Su Lin Seng and Helena Hong Gao
Abstract: One of the fundamental goals in bilingual language acquisition is to understand how bilingual children shape their thoughts into words, in order to learn the different languagespecific patterns that describe the same concepts. However, very little is known about bilingual children in this respect because efforts have mostly focused on the linguistic categories of bilingual adults. Studies on adults suggest that the categories of a second language are acquired by a change in conceptual knowledge, and that specific categories are harder to acquire than broad ones. This paper discusses some of these developments and findings in the field. It then presents an exploratory study that extends the work to bilingual children in their acquisition of frequently-used hand action verbs. The aim of the study was to explore conceptual change in the acquisition of linguistic categories of hand action verbs by young bilingual children, and if young bilingual children found it harder to acquire specific verbs compared with broad verbs. Singaporean English-Mandarin bilingual preschoolers aged 4 (n=30) and 5 (n=30) completed an adapted action-naming task in English and Mandarin. Results of the experiment showed that participants experienced effects of conceptual and semantic change, that 5- year-olds had more adult-like categories than 4-year-olds, and that specific verbs were slightly harder to use than broad verbs. We discuss the implications of the findings for bilingual cognition.
Keywords: Bilingualism, linguistic categories, verbs, action, conceptual change, near-synonyms