Exploring the “linguistic genius” of bilingual children: Week 1 at CBRC

I began my internship at the Childhood Bilingualism Research Center (CBRC) of the Chinese University of Hong Kong a few weeks ago. The Center is one of the only institutes in the world dedicated to studying Cantonese-English and Cantonese-Mandarin bilingual children. The Center’s mission is to research bilingual and multilingual Hong Kong children and to use its findings to spread local awareness about multilingualism’s positive outcomes. Working at CBRC, I will be mostly assisting with research experiments, in data collection and analysis, and transcribing Cantonese, English and Mandarin speech data from video recordings.

Inventory check

Creating an inventory of all the video and audio files in the corpus database

After learning about the research of Prof. Virginia Yip, director of CBRC, for my Ling 190b “Heritage Language Experience” final project last spring, I was inspired by her work and contacted her through email to arrange a visit to the Center. During my visit, Prof. Yip and her graduate students introduced me to their current projects, including corpus-based studies and psycholinguistic experiments. The grad students even conducted an informal interview with me, since I was also once a bilingual child just like the young subjects of their studies. I knew right away that CBRC would be the perfect internship site for me this summer, and Prof. Yip kindly offered me the position after we discussed specific tasks and objectives.

On May 15-16, as a pre-internship experience, I attended the Conference on Bilingualism and Comparative Linguistics, where I listened to eye-opening lectures and talked with professors and graduate students from around the world. The most fascinating presentation was by Prof. Patricia Kuhl, who showed us neuroimaging scans of a baby language learner’s brain, in her keynote speech entitled “The linguistic genius of bilingual babies.” The Conference culminated with a dialogue on sound change between Prof. William Labov and Prof. William Wang, an unprecedented and special occasion. It was an extremely intellectually-engaging two days, learning from so many scholars in this particular subfield of linguistics who play pivotal roles in advancing research.

Listening to Prof. William Wang discuss his theories on language evolution

One of my main goals of the internship is to apply theoretical knowledge I gained from Brandeis linguistics courses to practical research done at the Center. I will soon be analyzing data for a study looking at the syntax of bilingual children’s Mandarin speech. Moreover, to prepare for the transcription tasks, I have been familiarizing myself with standard notations and CLAN, the software that I will be using. The transcriptions will go into the CHILDES corpus, an online multimedia database that makes linguistic data openly available to all scholars wishing to study Hong Kong bilingual children. It is a resource I have also been using for my linguistics courses. My time so far at CBRC has been very fulfilling and I look forward to learning and accomplishing even more as the summer progresses.

– Miriam Wong ’14

  1. This research sounds really interesting! I always believed that growing up as a bilingual child helped me not only to learn new languages but also to deepen my appreciation of English. I also think that there is a significant connection with bilingual children and the appreciation of music. In fact, there seems to be a connection between the learning of tonal languages, of which one of the biggest and well-known is Mandarin, and the development of perfect pitch.

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/05/090519172202.htm

    Reply

    1. Thanks so much for the informative article! Research has pointed out that indeed, speakers of tonal languages are more likely to also have perfect pitch. Your idea of a correlation between bilingualism and appreciation of music is really interesting and would be cool to study! Some experts actually treat music as a language: http://www.digtriad.com/news/health/article/230388/8/Music-Changes-Your-Brain

      In addition, it definitely has been shown by research that bilingual children seem to be better at learning new languages than their monolingual peers. Whereas the “critical period” for language learning for monolingual children seems to end at around age 7, current research suggests that this timeframe lasts longer for bilingual children. Here is the abstract to Prof. Patricia Kuhl’s keynote presentation, which summarizes her latest research findings: http://www.cuhk.edu.hk/lin/cbrc/cbcl/doc/abstract_pat.pdf

      Reply

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