We completed this study a couple of years ago but it always takes some time to get things written up and then submitted and so on. Sometimes it’s a bit frustrating that the process takes so long. There are lots of papers I see at conferences that I might wait a couple of years before I see the full paper in print. It’s the same with our stuff of course, sometimes what we present at a conference is only one analysis or is with fewer participants than the final paper. The revision process usually helps to focus and strengthen the paper, but that also takes time.
Anyway, this is a long introduction to writing about a paper by Summers, Bohman, Gillam, Peña, & Bedore titled “Bilingual performance on nonword repetition in Spanish and English” in the International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders. In this paper we tested bilingual children on nonword repetition tasks in both their languages. We also tested some kids on the monolingual end of the continuum on both sets of words. The words we used are those developed by Dollaghan & Campbell (for English) and Janet Calderon (for Spanish).
There were a couple of interesting findings. One is that the children generally were more accurate on Spanish nonwords than English nonwords. Why would this be? Well, the phonotactics of Spanish and English are different. Spanish has fewer vowels and consonants, and many words have CVCV patterns. I think this makes it easier to produce longer words. English on the other hand has more consonants, more final consonants in words, more blends, and more vowels. This makes it complex at the level of the syllable– consequently more English words are shorter in comparison to the length of Spanish words. This brings us to another finding, children were more accurate with the longest Spanish nonwords than the longest English nonwords. Here our findings are consistent with Kohnert and colleagues’ suggestions that nonwords are linguistically influenced. The nonwords we used are the more nonwordlike words rather than the wordlike words. Probably a comparison of both types in bilinguals would tell us more about how children use their knowledge of their language(s) to do this task.
Performance on nonwords was related to language experience. We also found relationships between nonword repetition and morphosyntax. The relationship with morphosyntax is interesting because this relationship is not typically studied when looking at nonword repetition performance in children. It could be that children’s ability to manipulate morphemes as indexed by our morphosyntax task is related to remembering syllables. But, this needs to be explored further. For now however, this study allows us to begin to understand the differences in Spanish and English cross-linguistically and to understand how children perform on highly similar tasks in two languages.