Bilingual syntactic adaptation and the mechanisms of contact-induced language change

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This project is part of a DFG-funded Research Unit (SILPAC), in which researchers from Technische Universität Braunschweig, University of Mannheim, University of Stuttgart, Technische Universität Kaiserlautern and University of Konstanz and Mercator Fellow Charles Yang (University of Pennsylvania) collaborate. The Research Unit investigates relations between language processing, acquisition and change from a historical and a psycholinguistic perspective divided in eight research projects. For more information about the SILPAC project and the individual research projects, click here.

The research project in Braunschweig (P3) investigates adaptation and change in individual language-contact situations, i.e. bilingual language processing. We test whether psycholinguistic adaptation to changes in input may be the seedbed of historical change, as individual adaptation translates into different output, which, in turn, provides changes in input to speakers and language learners. Specifically, the project examines (a) if bilinguals adapt their language processing in the same way as monolingual native speakers, (b) if input in one language can result in adaptation in bilinguals’ other language. This project studies adaptation in the context of the dative alternation (Mary gave John the cake./Mary gave the cake to John.), examining adaptation to frequency biases in the input and grammatical constraints on adaptation in different groups of monolingual and bilingual native speakers as well as late L2 learners of English. The project addresses the followings main research questions:

1) (How) does grammatical adaptation constitute a psycholinguistic process underlying historical language change?

2) Can differences in grammatical adaptation between different types of bilingual and monolingual speakers account for developmental differences in historical language change?



To investigate the research questions, we employ different types priming experiments. These experiments focus on immediate and longer-lasting adaptation towards syntactic options, such as the dative alternation, in comprehension and production. For this purpose, different techniques are used such as eye-tracking (visual world paradigm) and elicited production.