Early phonological development in children residing in Welsh-English bilingual communities: typical and atypical patterns
The rate and nature of speech development in children is influenced by a range of biological and linguistic factors. Construction and mastery of the phonological system, or systems, is underpinned by implicit and explicit learning mechanisms with the structure and content of the language input received providing a basis for this process (Vihman and Croft, 2007). For children living in Wales, there is a lack of information available on the trajectory of early Welsh and English speech development. A small number of studies have reported on the speech development of Welsh-English bilingual children (Mayr, Howells and Lewis, 2015; Mayr, Jones and Mennen, 2014; Munro et al., 2005). However, none of these have included data on children younger than 2;6 nor those who are not following the expected developmental trajectory.
The aim of this study was to investigate the trajectory of early speech development among children from a Welsh-English bilingual community in North Wales. Longitudinal data collected from six children were analysed in relation to the production of consonants and word shapes. Data collection took place at eight-week intervals, starting at 13 months and continuing until the end of the single-word stage, a duration of up to 18 months. Children from single- and dual-language homes were video recorded whilst interacting with a parent during play. Their vocalisations were identified, transcribed and evaluated in relation to the range and prevalence of the consonants and word-shapes they contained. Whole-word templates were identified which allowed for conclusions to be drawn in relation to the emergence of (a) phonological system(s) (Vihman, 2017).
The results revealed between- and within-child cross-linguistic similarity in the production of consonants across Welsh and English language environments. Ambient language influence was found, however, in the structural properties of the words targeted and the children’s production attempts. Both lexicon and consonant inventory growth was seen over time, but close inspection of the data revealed that the speech development of one child was different to the others, and therefore labelled atypical. Research to date on atypical bilingual speech has been limited to those over 3;0. This study therefore provides the first systematic account of early atypical speech development in a bilingual child. For children experiencing societal bilingualism, establishing the developmental trajectory, as well as identifying the role of the ambient language, has far-reaching clinical and theoretical implications.