The Missing Link: Perceived Accents in German / Russian School Children

When and Where

Friday, February 26, 2021 2:00 pm to 3:30 pm
Online, via Zoom


Tanja Kupisch


The Missing Link: Perceived Accents in the Two Languages German - Russian Preschool & Primary School Children

About the Presentation

Since Benmamoun et al. (2013: 140) observed that research on HS’s phonology has “barely scratched the surface”, numerous publications on adult bilingual HS have since been published (on segmental properties see, e.g., Amengual 2012, 2016; Elias, McKinnon & Milla-Muñoz 2017; Kissling 2018; Ronquest 2012; Einfeldt et al. 2018; on suprasegmantal properties see, e.g., Chang et al. 2011; Colantini, Cuza & Mazzaro 2016; Henriksen 2016; Kim 2019, 2020). There is also a good coverage of studies on developing child bilinguals (Kehoe 2015, 2018; Lleó 2016, 2018, Lleó & Cortéz 2013 for overviews). 

However, the two research fields have developed in a largely independent fashion and have produced at least partially contradictory results. On the one hand, research on developing bilinguals points to bidirectional influence. In other words, early bilingual children (ages 1-4) are subject to cross-linguistic influence, with effects of acceleration (e.g., Lleó et al. 2003), delay (e.g., Kehoe 2002) or transfer (e.g., Kehoe et al. 2004). On the other hand, various studies on adult HS have shown that HS are perceived as foreign speakers of their native language (e.g., Kupisch et al. 2014, Stangen et al., 2015, Lloyd-Smith et al. 2009), often in relation to the amount of heritage language use. In other words, while CLI during childhood can be bidirectional, studies on adult HS show that the majority language is hardly ever affected. In other words, by the time HS reach adulthood, CLI has become largely unidirectional such that only the heritage language (HL) is affected by CLI (see Kupisch et al. 2014, 2019 for mirror image studies, comparing HS and ML speakers with respect to the same language). Taken together, these findings raise the question at what point, between early childhood and adulthood, CLI shifts from operating bi-directionally to being largely unidirectional. It has frequently been mentioned that the decisive moment is when children enter school and are massively exposed to the societal language (Montrul 2008, 2016). However, there are no longitudinal studies linking early childhood and adulthood and relatively few studies looking at bilingual children at during their early school years. Montrul (2018) has referred to this as “the missing link”. 

In the present study, we investigate the perceived accents of German-Russian bilingual children (ages 4-9 years), who grow us as simultaneous or early sequential bilingual children in Germany. We will show that when speaking German, the younger children are more likely to be perceived a foreign-sounding while in Russian, it is the older children who tend to be perceived as more foreign-sounding. This suggests that the phonological systems of the primary school children are especially malleable and that is it during these years that the shift from sounding accented in the majority language to sounding accented in the heritage language takes place and could potentially be prevented. 


About the Presenter

Tanja Kupisch is Professor of Romance Linguistics at the University of Konstanz and in the Department of Language and Culture at UiT The Artic University of Norway. Her research interests include Syntax, Phonology, first, second and third language acquisition, heritage languages, Romance languages, Germanic languages, and Turkish.

Contact Information


Department of Spanish & Portuguese, Heritage Vowels and Agreement Project