Developing sound systems in trilingual first language acquisition (Standard German, Swiss German and Italian) – The acquisition of consonant inventories, stops and gemination

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This dissertation investigates the development of the sound system(s) of a balanced trilingual (3L1) child acquiring Standard German, Swiss German and Italian simultaneously. Trilingual first language (3L1) acquisition still is an under-researched area of multilingual first language acquisition and the effects of reduced input and interaction between three first languages (L1s) are not yet widely explored (Chevalier, 2011; Hoffmann, 2001a; Hoffmann, 2001b; Kupisch, 2023). The third language adds an additional layer of complexity to trilingual as compared to bilingual language acquisition. The relative input in each language is more reduced, and there is an extra source for cross-linguistic influence (CLI), i.e., systematic interaction between a multilingual’s first languages. The few existing studies on phonetics and phonology in 3L1 acquisition suggest language separation with CLI (Mayr & Montanari, 2015; Montanari, 2011a; Yang & Hua, 2010). In the present dissertation, three segmental phenomena were examined in three empirical studies: (I) consonant inventories, (II) stop patterns and (III) gemination. The results are discussed in the light of earlier discussions on CLI and language separation in multilingual first language acquisition (Paradis & Genesee, 1996). There are three types of CLI: Acceleration (i.e., earlier emergence of a phenomenon compared to monolingual acquisition), deceleration (i.e., later emergence of a phenomenon compared to monolingual acquisition) and transfer (i.e., transfer of a phenomenon from one language to the other). The role of language internal (e.g., markedness) and external (e.g., input quantity) factors that have been shown to be source of CLI in bilingual language acquisition (Kehoe, 2015) are examined more closely in 3L1 context. An additional CLI factor that will be discussed is typological proximity. This expands the set of factors that can be investigated in the context of 3L1 acquisition, as a direct investigation of typological proximity effects is only possible if there are more than two languages involved.

The three studies in this dissertation are based on naturalistic data that was produced by a trilingual child collected in a longitudinal design between the ages of 1;4 and 2;6 and compared with patterns of monolingual control groups. Results of Study I show that the development of the consonant inventories was similar to that of monolinguals with little CLI (acceleration for e.g., /ʃ/ in Standard German and transfer for e.g., /h/ into Italian); Results of Study II show that the stop production patterns in all three languages show monolingual-like development and language separation; Results of Study III show a monolingual-like or even accelerated development of the consonant length contrast and vowel duration in Italian. The development of specific vowels (/a/ and /ɛ/) could hint at CLI from German. The present dissertation brings new insights to the understudied area of phonetic and phonological 3L1 acquisition. It presents evidence for the monolingual-like acquisition of the segmental phenomena investigated, namely the consonant inventories, stop patterns and gemination. Results suggest separate sound systems with little CLI. Phonetic features are not only acquired but they are also mapped correctly onto the phonological categories of the respective language. Reasons for this monolingual-like development could be advanced production skills resulting from advanced discrimination abilities and higher metalinguistic awareness. Furthermore, the child is a balanced trilingual, i.e., he has no dominant language. This might be another major factor that explains the child’s monolingual-like development. The study covered an early stage of acquisition. Potentially, the young age correlates with balance as the quantity of input and output are more evenly-spread than later in acquisition. None of the other factors (input, structural ambiguity, frequency, typological proximity and markedness/complexity) appeared to affect the trilingual child’s language acquisition, nor did they lead to differences between the trilingual speaker and the monolinguals.

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ISO 690EINFELDT, Marieke, 2022. Developing sound systems in trilingual first language acquisition (Standard German, Swiss German and Italian) – The acquisition of consonant inventories, stops and gemination [Dissertation]. Konstanz: University of Konstanz
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@phdthesis{Einfeldt2022-04-29Devel-69407,
  year={2022},
  title={Developing sound systems in trilingual first language acquisition (Standard German, Swiss German and Italian) – The acquisition of consonant inventories, stops and gemination},
  author={Einfeldt, Marieke},
  address={Konstanz},
  school={Universität Konstanz}
}
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	In the present dissertation, three segmental phenomena were examined in three empirical studies: (I) consonant inventories, (II) stop patterns and (III) gemination. The results are discussed in the light of earlier discussions on CLI and language separation in multilingual first language acquisition (Paradis &amp; Genesee, 1996). There are three types of CLI: Acceleration (i.e., earlier emergence of a phenomenon compared to monolingual acquisition), deceleration (i.e., later emergence of a phenomenon compared to monolingual acquisition) and transfer (i.e., transfer of a phenomenon from one language to the other). The role of language internal (e.g., markedness) and external (e.g., input quantity) factors that have been shown to be source of CLI in bilingual language acquisition (Kehoe, 2015) are examined more closely in 3L1 context. An additional CLI factor that will be discussed is typological proximity. This expands the set of factors that can be investigated in the context of 3L1 acquisition, as a direct investigation of typological proximity effects is only possible if there are more than two languages involved. 

The three studies in this dissertation are based on naturalistic data that was produced by a trilingual child collected in a longitudinal design between the ages of 1;4 and 2;6 and compared with patterns of monolingual control groups. Results of Study I show that the development of the consonant inventories was similar to that of monolinguals with little CLI (acceleration for e.g., /ʃ/ in Standard German and transfer for e.g., /h/ into Italian); Results of Study II show that the stop production patterns in all three languages show monolingual-like development and language separation; Results of Study III show a monolingual-like or even accelerated development of the consonant length contrast and vowel duration in Italian. The development of specific vowels (/a/ and /ɛ/) could hint at CLI from German. 
The present dissertation brings new insights to the understudied area of phonetic and phonological 3L1 acquisition. It presents evidence for the monolingual-like acquisition of the segmental phenomena investigated, namely the consonant inventories, stop patterns and gemination. Results suggest separate sound systems with little CLI. Phonetic features are not only acquired but they are also mapped correctly onto the phonological categories of the respective language. Reasons for this monolingual-like development could be advanced production skills resulting from advanced discrimination abilities and higher metalinguistic awareness. Furthermore, the child is a balanced trilingual, i.e., he has no dominant language. This might be another major factor that explains the child’s monolingual-like development. The study covered an early stage of acquisition. Potentially, the young age correlates with balance as the quantity of input and output are more evenly-spread than later in acquisition. None of the other factors (input, structural ambiguity, frequency, typological proximity and markedness/complexity) appeared to affect the trilingual child’s language acquisition, nor did they lead to differences between the trilingual speaker and the monolinguals.</dcterms:abstract>
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April 29, 2022
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Konstanz, Univ., Diss., 2022
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