Doctor of Philosophy
Bruhn de Garavito, Joyce
This dissertation examines the production and judgment of Egyptian Arabic (henceforth EA) main-clause wh-questions in EA-English bilingual children living in Ontario, Canada, or in the United Kingdom. The three comparison groups are EA monolingual children and EA monolingual adults living in Egypt, and first-generation Egyptian immigrants. The results are compared to previous research on the acquisition of obligatory subject-verb (S-V) inversion in Spanish wh-questions.
The focus of this study is to investigate the potential role of cross-linguistic influence in narrow syntactic structures. Until fairly recently, it was believed that only structures that exhibit syntax-pragmatics interfaces are vulnerable to cross-linguistic influence (Müller and Hulk, 2001). Yet, there is growing empirical evidence that cross-linguistic influence can also occur in narrow syntactic structures with no pragmatic or discourse motivations, providing that there is a surface overlap between the bilinguals’ two languages in these structures (Albirini et al.; 2011; Cuza, 2016; Mohamed, 2022).
The domain of wh-questions exhibits surface overlap among the three chosen languages, English, Spanish, and EA, regarding two syntactic properties, (i) wh-movement and (ii) S-V inversion. Regarding wh-movement, a wh-phrase must move to a clause-initial position (wh-fronting) in typical Spanish and English main-clause wh-questions. In contrast, wh-fronting is ungrammatical in EA complement wh-questions and leaving the complement wh-phrases in their canonical position (wh-in-situ) is the grammatical option. Nonetheless, both wh-fronting and wh-in-situ are grammatically correct in EA adjunct wh-questions (Wahba, 1984). Concerning S-V inversion in main-clause wh-questions, it is ungrammatical in English (Carnie, 2013), obligatory in Spanish with some exceptions (Camacho, 2018), and optional but not the default option in EA (Edwards. 2010).
Results from an Elicited Production Picture Task and a Grammaticality Choice Task showed that the bilingual children have a robust knowledge of obligatory structures in EA wh-questions. The study concluded that there is a tentative cross-linguistic influence from English in narrow syntactic structures of EA wh-questions. However, such influence occurs when the majority language’s structures are allowed by the linguistic system of the minority language, namely wh-fronting in wh-adjuncts, but not when they are ungrammatical in the minority language, as in the case of wh-fronting in wh-complements.
Summary for Lay Audience
This study examines the production and judgment of Egyptian Arabic (EA) simple wh-questions in four groups of EA native speakers: two monolingual groups living in Egypt (18 children and 16 adults) and two bilingual groups living in Ontario, Canada, or in the United Kingdom (16 EA-English bilingual children and 19 first-generation immigrants). The results are compared to previous research on the production of Spanish wh-questions among Spanish-English bilingual children and first-generation immigrants living in the United States. The focus of this study is to investigate whether there is a possible transfer from English into the bilinguals’ native languages, EA or Spanish.
English, EA and Spanish are chosen because they have a surface overlap regarding two properties of wh-questions: (i) the position of question words (e.g., what, where), and (ii) subject and verb word order. In English and Spanish, question words must move to the beginning of the phrase (wh-fronting: what did you do?) in the typical questions. In contrast, some EA question words, such as ʔeh ‘what’, cannot move to the beginning of the phrase and they must remain in their original place (wh-in-situ: you did what?). In comparison, other EA question words, such as feen ‘where’ and ʔimta ‘when’, allow both positions, wh-in-situ (you went where?) and wh-fronting (where you went?) (Wahba, 1984). Concerning subject and verb word order in English questions, subjects must appear to the right of auxiliaries and the left of main verbs but never to the right of main verbs (Carnie, 2013). In Spanish, subjects must appear to the right of main verbs with a few exceptions (Torrego, 1984). In comparison, it is optional for subjects to appear to the right or the left of main verbs in EA questions (Edwards, 2010).
Results from a Production Picture Task and a Grammaticality Choice Task showed that the bilingual groups have a strong knowledge of the obligatory position of the EA question word ʔeh ‘what’. When both wh-fronting and wh-in-situ are possible options, the two bilingual groups significantly produced more wh-fronting than the monolingual control groups, which may indicate a possible transfer from English.
Mohamed, Riham H., "Acquisition of Main-Clause Wh-Questions in Egyptian Arabic-English and Spanish-English Bilingual Children" (2023). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 9778.
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