The “Lexical Bootstrapping” Hypothesis and Bilingual First Language Acquisition (Using Data from a Longitudinal Study of a German-Russian-Speaking Child)
The present study tests the „lexical bootstrapping“ hypothesis using the first language acquisition data of a bilingual German-Russsian-speaking child. Emphasis was placed on (1) the early development of infinitives and (2) the acquisition of the first person (1.P.) (I-concept), especially within the construction “personal prounoun (1.P. Sg.) + verb (1.P.Sg.)”. In both of these cases, an asymmetrical process was documented for German and Russian.
Concerning the early development of infinitives, for example, the action principle – with the exception of the high frequency verbs – was first associated with the German infinitive morpheme –en and after a three-week stay in Russia with the Russian infinitive morpheme -t’. Not until a larger number of verbs had been acquired (from 2;10 on) were both languages fully differentiated in this respect.
The acquisition of the personal pronoun (1.P. Sg.) (and 1.P. Sg. verb forms) was complete for German about five months before it was for Russian.
The phenomena described indicate that the process of language learning includes a lexeme-specific phase (e.g. a chunk-phase). These constructions are transferable to similar-type cases within the same language only after enough lexeme-specific forms have been learned. What is learned of one language cannot automatically be rearranged into the grammatical constructions of the other language, although it seemed that the concept (in this case the action concept and the I-concept) had already been acquired. The results support the „lexical bootstrapping“ hypothesis.