The present article poses some fundamental questions related to bilingualism and to the acquisition of two phonological components, by very young children. It discusses different types of bilingualism and their outcomes. After a brief consideration of alleged pros and cons of bilingualism brought up in the past decades, two perspectives of bilingualism are sketched—psycholinguistic and sociolinguistic—and certain aspects of bilingual child phonology are presented from each of these points of view. The essential issue is whether different outcomes of bilingual child phonology are predictable, and to find the crucial criteria to support the predictions. Finally, the discussion addresses some basic questions about bilingual acquisition, and ends with a summary of various types of cross-linguistic interaction.
Richard P. Meier
This essay considers the acquisition of sign languages as first languages. Most deaf children are born to hearing parents, but a minority have deaf parents. Deaf children of deaf parents receive early access to a conventional sign language. The time course of acquisition in these children is compared to the developmental milestones in children learning spoken languages. The two language modalities—the oral-aural modality of speech and the visual-gestural modality of sign—place differing constraints on languages and offer differing resources to languages. Possible modality effects on first-language acquisition are considered. Historically, many deaf infants born to hearing parents have had little access to a conventional language. However, these children sometimes elaborate “home sign” systems. Lastly, the role of early experience in language acquisition is considered. Deaf children of hearing parents are immersed in a first language at varying ages, enabling a test of the critical-period hypothesis.