Nigeria is one of the most complex countries when it comes to languages. There are more than 500 languages in Nigeria. English is the official language of Nigeria. Most Nigerians are bilingual. They speak English and at least one local language. The level of proficiency however varies among bilinguals. According to the journal of Asian and African studies, there are basically 3 groups of bilinguals: the fairly balanced bilingual, the aspiring bilingual and the chance bilinguals.
The balanced bilingual can speak both languages with almost equal fluency, the aspiring bilingual who speaks one language with better fluency than the other and the chance bilingual who has to use one other language to get by. It is often argued whether a truly balanced bilingual actually exists. Verbal fluency among bilinguals Researchers in the State University of New York at Binghamton, NY, United States assessed the English vocabulary and verbal fluency of college students who were either bilinguals who were born abroad and spoke English or monolingual speakers of English.
They examined the relationship between age of arrival to the U. S. of bilinguals and their English vocabulary. The bilinguals’ performance on English vocabulary was in the average range. However, despite arriving to the U. S. at a relatively young age, and having sufficient command of English to attend a competitive university, the bilinguals had lower receptive and expressive English vocabularies than their monolingual peers. Age of arrival was moderately correlated with English vocabulary scores.
The younger the bilingual students were when they arrived to the U. S. , the better their English vocabulary. Both groups had similar performance on phonetic fluency. Dominance of one language over the other in bilinguals Heidi Rontu of Abo Akademi University, says it’s a common observation that bilingual children learning two languages from birth (bilingual first language acquisition) seldom learn the languages together in a similar manner or in a similar period of time.
The languages may take developmental leaps and consequently show dominance over one another in different periods (e. g. Dopke 1992, Lanza 1997, Saunders 1988). Bilingual children can be said to go in and out of the dominance of the one language or the other depending largely on external factors like communicative needs, motivational and affective aspects in the environment. According to The International Journal of Bilingualism: Bilinguals tend to be dominant in one of their languages.
Such dominance apparently reflects, at least their exposure to and use of the languages the bilingual has heard daily (Yavas, 1998). Baker (1992) describes the dynamic nature of bilingualism; the balance, or predominance, of a bilingual’s languages depending on the patterns of language use that he or she hears and manifests. The language that the person hears or uses more frequently becomes his or her dominant language; the other language(s) will be his or her nondominant language(s).
Romaine (2001), like Watson (1991), supports the notion that bilingual children are dominant in one of the languages they encounter, and their acquisition of that dominant language influences their concurrent acquisition of their nondominant one(s). Influence can be quantitative, like the dominant language develops faster than nondominant one, or qualitative, say, with phonological interference occurring. It is generally agreed that interference occurs only when bilinguals use languages separately in different context or with different people (Romaine, 1995; Yavas, 1998).
Linguistic contrasts or differences between two systems may lead to interference that affects the acquisition process once acquisition has progressed far enough for the child to differentiate the languages he or she is increasingly controlling (Watson, 1991). Watson suggested that the process of learning two phonologies simultaneously involves complex process. From various acoustic inputs, children learn to recognize distinct and robust acoustic patterns. Then they deduce the set of oppositions which constitute the “phonological structures” of the languages, and associate the acoustic input with the phonological systems.
Finally, they master the correct articulatory routines to produce acoustic patterns which satisfy other native speakers with adequate realizations of different phonemes. According to The International Journal of Bilingualism; After differentiation of the two languages, both the differences and similarities between the two systems may lead to interference. A bilingual child may not realize that a feature in one language is absent from the other(s), so cross-linguistic assimilation and realization occurs.
Fantini (1985) reported that a Spanish dominant Spanish-English bilingual child acquired Spanish phonology faster than English phonology. The research also indicated that the dominant phonology interfered with some phonemes’ production for the child’s English with its vowels and diphthongs being assimilated to Spanish ones, and Spanish consonants being substituted for English ones. Code switching, a linguistic phenomenon whereby bilinguals switch elements belonging to two or more distinct languages in conversational exchanges is common among many bilinguals.
Other studies on bilinguals A study conducted by researchers at the Ghent University Hospital in Belgium revealed that bilinguals speak faster and stutter less under delayed auditory feedback (DAF) when speaking their more familiar language than a less familiar language. Thirty normally fluent speakers of Dutch who were also proficient in French and English read meaningful and nonsense text under DAF in their mother tongue and in the two later acquired languages.
The existence of a language familiarity effect was confirmed. The participants required significantly more time and showed significantly more speech disruptions under DAF in the later acquired languages than in the mother tongue, and reading time and number of speech disruptions was significantly higher for the nonsense texts than for the meaningful text for each of the three languages. An additional question addressed was whether or not there were any gender differences in the susceptibility to DAF.
Results did not reveal a clear gender difference. Tanako and Noda (1993) suggested that the use of a second language may result in a temporary decline of thinking ability because of the heavier processing load imposed by a foreign language. Using a divided attention experiment with Japanese/English and English/Japanese adult bilinguals they observed that subjects performance on a thinking task (calculation) declined when a concurrent linguistic task (question-answering) had to be performed in the foreign language.
This decline is distinguishable from foreign language processing difficulty per se because the thinking task involved no foreign-language use. The same effect was used when using spatial reasoning problems adapted from intelligence tests. References Ardila, Alfredo & Ramos, Eliane, Speech and language disorders in bilinguals. John, Van Borsel, Reinilde Sunaert and Sophie Engelen, Ghent University Hospital, 4 January 2005. Igbo Bilinguals, Okolo, Bertram A. Journal of African and Asian studies, No. 64. Conversational roles and social functions among code switching.
Jose S. Portocarrero, Richard G. Burright and Peter J. Donovick, Vocabulary and verbal fluency of bilingual and monolingual college students. State University of New York at Binghamton, Binghamton, NY, United States. Rontu, Heidi. Language Dominance in Bilingual First Language Acquisition. Abo Akademi University. Law, Naska, C. W. ; So, Lydia K. H. The relationship of phonological development and language dominance in bilingual Cantonese – Putonghua children. Publication: International Journal of Bilingualism (01-DEC-06).