The development of morphological awareness in young bilinguals: Effects of age and L1 background

Boji Pak Wi Lam, Li Sheng

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: Current understanding about the effect of first language (L1) background on morphological awareness (MA) development in those who are bilingual is largely limited to school-aged second-language learners. This study examined the development of MA in bilingual Mandarin–English (ManEngBi) and Spanish– English (SpaEngBi) children ages 4 to 7 years, whose L1 is predominated by compounding and derivation, respectively. Method: We targeted specific word formation rules that develop within different developmental time frames. Forty-two ManEngBi, 30 SpaEngBi, and 27 English monolingual children divided into 4- to 5-year-old and 6- to 7-year-old age groups produced English words using compounding, the derivational agentive –er suffix, and the derivational characteristic –y suffix for both real and novel word roots. Results: The characteristic –y suffix consistently elicited the poorest performance. This finding held true regardless of language group, age, or novelty of prompts. Both older SpaEngBi and English monolingual children outperformed older ManEngBi children in the characteristic –y suffix, whereas the three groups performed comparably on the other two rules at both age intervals. Error analysis further suggested influence of cross-linguistic features. Conclusions: L1 influence on English MA development is sensitive to the developmental time frame of word formation rules. Future studies on the development of MA in bilingual children should adopt a more fine-grained approach and include a wider age range.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)732-744
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2016
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Speech and Hearing


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