Cross-linguistic influence in acceptability: possessive structures in Norwegian-Italian bilingual children.

Cross-linguistic influence in acceptability: possessive structures in Norwegian-Italian bilingual children


Cross-linguistic influence is a phenomenon in multilingual speakers in which Language A can influence language B for a specific property. According to Hulk and Müller (2001) CLI is likely to happen when there is (i) surface structure overlap, and (ii) interface between two modules of the grammar (i.e syntax & pragmatics) (Hulk & Müller, 2001). CLI is widely studied in bilinguals’ production (Anderssen & Bentzen, 2018; Kupisch, 2014; Nicoladis, 2006; Westergaard & Anderssen, 2015), but it can also influence acceptability in a way that they accept a structure more than their monolingual peers (Sorace et al., 2009).

In the current paper we investigate CLI in possessive structures in Norwegian-Italian bilingual children. Both languages have two possessive variants: one prenominal and one postnominal, but these have opposite distributions in terms of contextual use and frequency (table 1-see in attachmnet). In each language the marked variant signals change of possessor when the context allows for it (1,2).

We designed a forced-choice acceptability judgment task in OpenSesame Web. The task consisted of short animations in which a character either interacted with their own object (neutral condition) or with someone else’s object (contrast condition); two additional characters then described the scene, each using a different possessive structure, and the participants had to choose who described it better. Thirty-one Norwegian-Italian bilingual children (mean age=6;5) completed the task.

The preliminary results for the responses (table 2-see in attachment) show that in Italian marginally more marked variants (postnominal) are used in the contrast condition when compared to the neutral condition (p<0.1) which is in line with the pragmatics; marginally more marked variants (prenominal) used in neutral condition in Norwegian than in Italian, which may indicate CLI from Italian to Norwegian. Statistically, there is no indication of CLI from Norwegian to Italian, but the raw numbers in table 2 suggest this: more postnominal possessives used in the Italian neutral condition than in the (appropriate) contrast condition.

There was no significant effect in the reaction times (RTs) (table 3-see in attachment). Overall, the children were faster in the Norwegian task- here also the RTs reflected the contextual use as the fastest responses were for prenominals in contrast and postnominals in neutral condition. In Italian the fastest mean RTs is for the prenominal in neutral condition, but the children were slowest in choosing the postnominals in contrast condition, indicating that they still struggle with this choice.

We conclude that there is bidirectional CLI for possessives in Norwegian-Italian children. Nevertheless, the results from the responses and RTs incompatible: CLI from Italian to Norwegian is more pronounced, but the responses for Italian are slower and indicate that the choice of variant in the contrastive condition may still be problematic. CLI for acceptability is complex, but these results show an interesting interplay between response and processing. In future analyses we will integrate dominance and age, and we plan to compare this with production data from the same group.


Context: Minnie has a red bed and Daisy has a pink bed.

  1. a. Minnie sover. Sengen hennes er myk. - The bed belongs to Minnie

   Minnie sleeps. bed-the her    is   soft

b. Minnie sover. Hennes seng er myk. - The bed belongs to Daisy

     Minnie sleeps.  her    bed  is  soft

  1. a. Topolina   dorme    nel  suo letto. – The bed belongs to Minnie

    Minnie     sleeps  in-the her  bed

b. Topolina   dorme nel    letto suo.  – The bed belongs to Daisy

    Minnie     sleeps in-the bed  her.




Anderssen, M., & Bentzen, K. (2018, 2018-November-09). Different Outcomes in the Acquisition of Residual V2 and Do-Support in Three Norwegian-English Bilinguals: Cross-Linguistic Influence, Dominance and Structural Ambiguity [Original Research]. Frontiers in Psychology, 9(2130). Hulk, A., & Müller, N. (2001). Bilingual first language acquisition at the interface between syntax and pragmatics. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 3(3), 227-244. Kupisch, T. (2014). Adjective placement in simultaneous bilinguals (German–Italian) and the concept of cross-linguistic overcorrection. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 17(1), 222-233. Nicoladis, E. (2006). Cross-linguistic transfer in adjective–noun strings by preschool bilingual children. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 9(1), 15-32. Sorace, A., Serratrice, L., Filiaci, F., & Baldo, M. J. L. (2009). Discourse conditions on subject pronoun realization: Testing the linguistic intuitions of older bilingual children. 119(3), 460-477. Westergaard, M., & Anderssen, M. (2015). Word order variation in Norwegian possessive constructions: Bilingual acqusition and attrition. In J. Bondi Johanessen & J. C. Salmons (Eds.), Germanic Heritage Languages in North America: Acquisition attrition and change (pp. 21-45). John Benjamins Publishing Company.