Cross-linguistic influence in mirrored properties: Possessive structures in Italian and Norwegian

In the current study we analyze the effects of cross-linguistic influence (CLI) in possessive structures on Italian-Norwegian bilingual children. Both chosen languages have the prenominal and postnominal possessive and their use is context dependent. In Italian the prenominal possessive is used for neutral contexts whereas the postnominal possessive signals contrast or emphasis, while the opposite is true for Norwegian. Thus, this property is mirrored in the two languages. This is unlike previous studies on CLI as in the current study both languages have the two surface structures we are focusing on, and thus the potential direction of CLI is not immediately obvious.

Thirty-one Italian-Norwegian children completed an elicitation task which elicited both a neutral and a contrastive setting. The results reveal that while in Norwegian both structures are used, to a varying degree of accuracy, the prenominal possessive prevailed in the Italian responses.

The Italian result is discussed in relation to research on heritage languages, as it seems that the possessives have undergone a simplification and only the unmarked, prenominal, form prevailed. However, this simplified system may still have an influence on Norwegian as we found evidence of CLI at the individual level in the Norwegian data. This is an indication that CLI may still occur even when one of the systems is simplified. The direction of CLI is then more easily predictable as it goes form the more simplified system (with one surface structure) onto the other language, similarly to what previous study on CLI in bilingual children have found.


Keywords: cross-linguistic influence, possessives, heritage language, contrast