Acquisition of Russian noun case by bilingual children: lexical cues to case assignment in real and novel words
The present study examines the mechanisms of lexical case acquisition in Russian by two-to-five-year-old Russian monolingual (n = 54) and Russian-English bilingual children (n = 38). Participants performed a picture-based sentence completion task. Sentences were constructed to elicit production of real Russian words (n = 24) and nonce words (n = 24) in different non-nominative cases (e.g., ‘The boy is holding a … beetle-ACC/meetle-ACC’). We wanted to know if there are qualitative and/or quantitative differences in case assignment on complements of prepositions between monolingual and bilingual children, whether they can generalize case assignment rules to novel input, and whether monolingual and bilingual children show different developmental trajectories in terms of case acquisition at different ages. The results indicate that bilingual children make more errors with case forms than their monolingual peers in all tested age groups and inflectional paradigms, in both real word and nonce word productions. However, despite robust quantitative differences, bilinguals and monolinguals show strikingly similar patterns of case acquisition in that they make similar types of errors and struggle with the same case forms. Furthermore, we did not find significant differences in the accuracy of produced case forms for real versus nonce words, suggesting that both monolingual and bilingual children learn to generalize morphological rules to novel input early in language development. Finally, chronological age was a significant predictor of case form accuracy but did not interact with other variables. This means that both monolingual and bilingual children improved their case performance gradually over time with similar learning gains for real and nonce words.