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Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2012 Mar;1251:50-61. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2012.06484.x.

Perceptual foundations of bilingual acquisition in infancy.

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  • 1University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.


Infants are prepared by biology to acquire language, but it is the native language(s) they must learn. Over the first weeks and months of life, infants learn about the sounds and sights of their native language, and use that perceptual knowledge to pull out words and bootstrap grammar. In this paper, I review research showing that infants growing up bilingual learn the properties of each of the their two languages simultaneously, while nonetheless keeping them apart. Thus, they use perceptual learning to break into the properties of each of the two native languages. While the fundamental process of language acquisition is the same whether one or two languages are being acquired, cognitive advantages accrue from the task of language separation, and processing costs accrue from the more minimal input received in each of the two languages. I conclude by suggesting that when there are sufficient cues to which language is being used, the cognitive advantages that accrue from language separation enable the bilingual infant to move forward in language acquisition even in the face of processing costs.

© 2012 New York Academy of Sciences.

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