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Francis B.

MA English Studies (Language)

Dr. Maria Corazon

English 261

Separate Underlying Proficiency: A Review

Bilingualism is an academic moot point of which almost every aspect has
been debated on. Yet, it seems that the point at issue is the characterization of
the relationship between the two developing languages in bilinguals, because it
has never been settled since the inception of the debate in the 1970s (Kroll et al.,
2012, p.1; Itani-Adams, 2007, p. 15, 18; David, 2004, p. 27; Salustri, 2003, p. 6;
Paradis, 2001, p. 1). This issue has divided linguists and psychologists into
polarity: (1) the One or Unitary System Hypothesis and (2) the Two or Separate
Systems Hypothesis. The former claims that bilingual children start by having only
one system with elements from both languages and gradually differentiate them;
it has a long list of champions, foremost of whom are Ronjat, Leopold, Volterra &
Taeschner, Redlinger & Park. The latter, on the other hand, advances the notion
that bilingual children do have a separate system for each language from the
earliest stages of language development; Genesee, Paradis, De Houwer, Lanza,
Deuchar & Quay, to name a few, are its steadfast supporters (David, 2004, p. 2627).
Pioneering studies indicate that a bilingual child has a single linguistic system
in his brain (Salustri, 2003, p.6). However, it is now generally accepted that the
unitary system hypothesis is not consistent with most recent evidence, and thus
that bilingual children construct a separate grammar and lexicon for each
language from the onset of acquisition ( David, 2004, p. 31, 36; Goordeva, 2006,
p. 31; Salustri, 2003, p.6). A number of recent research support this assertion. For
instance, as regards phonological system, Sandhofer and Uchikoshi (2007, p. 36)
emphasized the fact that recent studies suggest that bilingual infants have two
separate phonological systems. In addition, Ramirez & Kuhl (2016, p. 5) in their
article Bilingual Language Learning in Children stated that bilingual children
acquire two phonological systems. Regarding morphosyntax, De Houwer (2005,
p.1) propose the Separate Development Hypothesis, which says that children who
hear two languages from birth develop their two languages as two essentially
distinct morphosyntactic systems. Citing De Houwer (1990) in his article
Crosslinguistic Influence in Bilingual First Language Acquisition, Argyri (n. d.)
agreed that nowadays most researchers in bilingual first language acquisition
share the belief that bilingual children are able to differentiate between the two
languages both at the syntactic and pragmatic level from early on.
However, to claim directly that mental representation for linguistic system of
bilinguals is completely separate could be an oversimplification (Paradis, 2001, p.
3; David, 2004, p. 29-30). Claims on simple dichotomies do not usually have
empirical support (Bialystok, 2001 as cited by David, 2004, p. 36). The results are
mixed; some evidence support the Common Underlying Proficiency Hypothesis,
some support the Separate Underlying Proficiency, and some even support both.
In short, the Separate Underlying Proficiency Hypothesis cannot account for all the
various neurolinguistic processing observed in different bilingual groups who
served as subjects of many investigations. Discoveries in the past two decades
have had critical consequences for reframing the psycholinguistic research
agenda on L2 learning and bilingualism (Kroll et al., 2012). Therefore, it may be
more appropriate to approach the study of bilingual language development with
the expectation that interactions between their two languages will occur, even
after differentiation (Paradis, 2001, p. 3). They might need to adjust and
restructure the linguistic systems as their proficiency and competence in both
languages evolve (David, 2004, p. 36).

There are two hypotheses that appear to be more plausible and convincing in
characterizing the relationship of linguistic systems in a bilinguals mind. The first
one is called the Subsystem Hypothesis (David, 2004, p. 29) proposed by Paradis
in 2004 is a better and more accurate representation. This hypothesis postulates
the notion of two independent language subsystems within one linguistic system.
The subsystems are functionally independent but they form part of the same
neurofunctional language system. Paradis explained that this concept is based on
the notion of neurofunctional modularity, which means that language is
represented as a neurofunctional system divided into a number of neurofunctional
modules such as phonology, morphosyntax and lexical semantics. These modules
are divided into further sub-modules that represent the languages the person is
able to speak (David, 2004, pp. 33-34). The Subsystem Hypothesis is compatible
with the evidence for language differentiation. It is also compatible with the
evidence for language interaction.
The second hypothesis is known as the Parallel Access Hypothesis (Maria et
al., 2003, p.11). This hypothesis posits that notion that language system is
permeable, with cross-language exchange at every level of processing (Kroll et al.,
2012, p. 1). the current position in cognitive science that language processing in
general is not a serial search mechanism, but a parallel activation one. There
clearly seems to be some interaction and overlap between a bilinguals two
languages (Marian et al., 2003, p. 12). More and more recent research has
substantiated the parallel access hypothesis. It is therefore implied that the two
linguistic systems are separate but non-autonomous (Mller, 1998 as cited by
Argyri, n.d. p.1).
Most recent research sees language development in bilinguals as belonging to
independent but interactive systems (David, 2004, p. 36). There is compelling
evidence that shows that it is virtually impossible to switch off the language not in
use and that the parallel activation of a bilinguals two languages can be observed
in reading, listening, and in planning speech. Interactions between languages
have been observed at all representational levels of language, even when people
were tested in purely monolingual language contexts. Hence, the engagement of
both languages occurs even when only one language is required (Kroll et al.,
2012, p. 2; Desmet & Duyck, 2007, p. 2-3).
Phonological System
The phonological systems of bilinguals are separate yet they interact with
each other during psycholinguistic processing. Even though the preponderance of
evidence is supports the hypothesis that bilingual children have differentiated
phonological systems, their separate systems do not appear to be autonomous
(Paradis, 2001, p.16). Brysbaert, Van Dyck, and Van De Poel (1999), Van
Wijnendale and Brysbart (2002) and Duyck et al. (2004) have provided proof
through a phonological investigation of cross-lingual interactions. They yielded
findings that strongly suggest that access to phonological representations is not
selective with respect to language (Desmet & Duyck, 2007, p. 2).
Moreover, it is evident that when bilinguals process both written and spoken
text and plan speech, there is cross-language activation. The studies of bilingual
speech planning show that the process of selecting even a single word to speak in
one language alone activates, at least momentarily, alternatives in the language
not to be spoken. This claim has been supported by other studies using different
tasks. It has been observed that that not only are both languages active during
speech planning, but that they are active to the level of the phonology (Kroll et
al., 2012, p. 6). Finally, functional neuroimaging study revealed the overlapping
activations in the Superior Temporal Gyrus during phonological processing (Marian
et al., 2003, p. 12).

Lexical-Semantic System
The majority view is that there are separate lexical representations for each
language, but combined semantic representations (Michael & Plunkett, p.1) The
empirical evidence to date suggests a high level of cross-language interaction
that persists even when highly proficient bilinguals read sentences in one
language only. Many studies of bilingual word recognition have yielded clear
evidence suggesting that when bilinguals recognize words in their L2, L1 is
activated as well even if it is not directly engaged (Kroll et al., 2012, p.4-6).
For example, in an investigation on eye movements of Russian-English
bilinguals to find out activation of a language that is not being used, results
suggest that they activate both the first language and the second language in
parallel, even when direct linguistic input is presented in one language only
(Marian et al., 2003, p. 12).
Syntactic System
A debate on autonomy in the syntactic acquisition of bilingual children has
recently emerged. Linguists such as Paradis, Genesee, and Mishina found
evidence of autonomous development for the aspects of syntax they examined,
while other linguists such as Dpke, Hulk, van der Linden, and Mller found
evidence of cross-linguistic influences in the acquisition of different syntactic
structures (Paradis, 2005, p. 3). However, it has been suggested that the
argument about the separate development of bilingual childrens grammar does
not preclude the possibility of the two languages to be in contact and thus having
an influence on each other. Studies of whole-brain functional neuro-imaging show
that highly proficient bilinguals activate the same brain regions when they use
any of their two languages. Hernandez et al. (2001) run an fMRI study of six
Spanish/English early bilinguals and found that the two languages were
represented in overlapping regions of the brain. It emerges that early and
proficient bilinguals use the same neural circuits for the two languages they know
(Laka, n.d., p. 8).
As argued in de Bot (2004) there may be links between elements at different
levels that may coactivate each other: a sound that is associated with a specific
language may activate elements that belong to that language. The general
mechanism is that languages elements are encountered in specific settings and
stored as such, similar settings will lead to the activation of related elements.
Elements will thus be associated with language use activities (de Bot 2004, p. 4).
Whether the two linguistics systems in the mind of the bilingual are
represented separately or not has baffled linguists and psychologists for a
considerable period of time. However, there is now an emergent consensus
through the help of meticulous neurofunctional studies that the brain activates all
the languages it knows when it has to use language. In the context of
bilingualism, bilinguals activate both of their languages even if they have to use
only one of their languages (Desmet and Duyck, 2007 as cited by Laka, n.d., p.
It has now been well documented that both languages of a bilingual are jointly
activated even in contexts that inclined towards the use of only one of the two
languages (Bialystok et al. 2009, p. 4). We could now conclude that the perennial
dichotomous debate is therefore too simplistic that new hypotheses must be
accommodated in the argument. As Grosjean has anticipated in 1989, the
bilingual is not two monolinguals in one. Hence, it is not The bilinguals two
languages may come to function somewhat differently than either language in a
monolingual native speaker (Kroll et al., 2012, p. 2).

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