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Lexical Knowledge of Monolingual and Bilingual Children


University of Amsterdam1

The aim of the present study is to gain insight into the lexico-semantic knowledge of bilingual children growing up in a second-language immersion environment. The research focus is on aspects of lexical knowledge that are relevant for school success. Data were obtained by asking 40 monolingual Dutch and 40 bilingual Turkish children (9 and 11 year olds) to explain the meanings of common Dutch nouns in an extended word definition task. In a highly structured interview session the children were stimulated to express all the meaning aspects they could think of. We evaluated both the differences between the two ethnic groups and the effect of age in relation to the types of meaning the children expressed, by means of statistical (loglinear) model fitting. Important differences were found with respect to the number of meaning aspects expressed and with respect to the nature of meaning relations involved. Compared to the monolingual Dutch children, the bilingual Turkish children tended to allot less extensive and less varied meanings to Dutch words.

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In sociolinguistics, the relationship between children's language capacity and their educational achievement has been a frequent subject of discussion and investigation since the 1960s. Although the exact relationship is still not fully understood, it is widely acknowledged that certain aspects of language proficiency are of great relevance for academic achievement. Lexical knowledge is assumed to be one of the most important determinants. As Dickinson (1984:359) states: Educators have long known that the size of children's vocabularies correlates with general intelligence scores, reading ability and school success. Several investigations have made clear that word knowledge is strongly related to reading comprehension (for a survey, see Beck, McKeown, and Omanson 1987), clarifying the relationship between a child's lexical knowledge and school performance. Next to studies with monolingual children as subjects, research on the language proficiency of bilingual children has become increasingly important. In Dutch primary education, around 10 per cent of the school population consists of children from ethnic minority groups (cf. Boogaard, Damhuis, De Glopper, and Van den Berg 1990). Many of these children have a Turkish or Moroccan background. As a rule, minority children attend Dutch schools in
Applied Linguistics, Vol. 14. No. 4 Oxford University Press 1993



mixed classes, together with monolingual Dutch peers, and take part in the regular Dutch curriculum. In primary education, however, minority children are relatively less successful. We see that disproportionate numbers attend lower forms of secondary education. Also they leave secondary education without qualifying in far greater numbers than their Dutch peers. One of the main reasons for the low educational achievement of the minority children is the fact that many do not have a sufficient command of the Dutch language. Most of the non-native children have been born and brought up in The Netherlands, but the language of their primary socialization is the minority language. Linguistic research has shown that they are far less proficient in Dutch than their native Dutch classmates, with their most prominent delay at the lexical level. The Dutch vocabulary of four-year old immigrant children is very limited at the start of their school career. This would not be so serious if their lexical delay diminished during the elementary school period, but research shows that lexical differences between Dutch and immigrant children even increase as the children grow older (Verhoeven and Vermeer 1989). Up to now, most research has concentrated on the macro-level of the lexicon (knowledge in breadth), focusing on questions like 'how many words have been acquired?'. Studies on the micro-level (knowledge of individual words in depth), concentrating on questions like 'how well do children know the Dutch words?' have hardly been taken up as yet. In this article, we present the results of a research project on these 'microlevel' aspects of the lexical knowledge of non-native children learning the Dutch language. The study deals with Turkish children who had participated in the Dutch educational system from the age of four. Before discussing the content and results of this research, we would like to discuss some general features of lexical development in relation to academic achievement, and the connection between lexical and conceptual development. The acquisition of the (L2) lexicon The growth of the lexicon not only concerns the acquisition of more and more words, but also the acquisition of multiple meanings assigned to words. Words rarely have one fixed meaning. Even words with an apparently unambiguous meaning comprise different aspects of meaning. For example, the various facets of the meaning potential of words like 'piano' can be highlighted by putting the word in different sentences (Barclay, Bransford, Franks, McCarrell, and Nitsch 1974:472):
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. the man lifted the piano the man tuned the piano the man smashed the piano the man sat on the piano the man photographed the piano

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In these different contexts, various meaning aspects of the word 'piano' are emphasized: 'is heavy', 'musical', 'made largely of wood', 'has a flat surface perpendicular to gravitational pull', and 'has a characteristic shape'.



If people are asked to express their full knowledge of a simple word they can give an impressive amount of meaning aspects, as Anglin (1985) showed. He drew up a scheme representing the aspects of meaning expressed by one adult in a definition of the word 'dog' (see Figure 1). The different aspects of meaning of individual words are acquired step by step as children encounter words in different contexts and situations. Sternberg points to context as 'the major source of growth in vocabulary knowledge' (see Sternberg 1987). Children need to experience words in different contexts to acquire all possible facets of the potential meaning. Nagy, Herman, and Anderson (1985) show that any one encounter with a word usually results in only a small gain in knowledge. This process of vocabulary acquisition proceeds in small steps, each step contributing to the development of an extensive meaning potential. It is well known that monolingual children are continuously confronted with words in a great variety of contexts and situations in and out of school, whereas bilingual children in an L2-submersion environment (like the linguistic minority children in the Dutch educational system), have more restricted language experiences in the L2: they depend almost exclusively on the L2 input they receive at school, and therefore encounter words in less diverse situations than their monolingual peers. As a result of this, it is to be expected that bilingual children will eventually allot a less extensive and less varied range of meaning to (L2) words than monolingual children. It is important to take a closer look at these differences because knowledge of word meanings plays an important role not only in everyday communication but most significantly in the acquisition of academic knowledge in education. Relation of word knowledge and academic achievement At school, children are not only confronted with new words and new concepts, but also with new meaning relations between words and concepts. Young children are familiar with words like 'rose', 'tulip', 'flower', 'plant'; this does not mean, however, that they are aware of the hierarchical relations between these concepts; it is only later on that they learn the relationship between the words 'rose' and 'tulip' as co-ordinated concepts, both dominated and superordinated by the concept 'flower', with the concept 'plant' still higher in the hierarchy. We find an extensive description of the development of meaning structures in Vygotsky (1962). Vygotsky points out that the acquisition of word meanings is more than a simple clustering of meaning aspects. He concludes that: ... word meanings evolve. When a new word has been learned by the child, its development is barely starting: the word at first is a generalization of the most primitive type; as the child's intellect develops, it is replaced by generalizations of a higher and higher typea process that leads in the end to the formation of true concepts. (Vygotsky 1962:83) The ability to handle abstract concepts is essential particularly in the upper levels of primary education: whereas in nursery schools reference is made to a

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domestic animal



DOG /-working dogs /-guard < ogs /-hunting dogs L wild dogs

mongrel/ cross-breed

- afghans - beagles -collies - boxers -Russian wolfhounds -dalmatians -bulldogs - great danes - dachshunds -German shepherds (Rin Tin Tin) - terriers

carnivorous, but also eats grass .canine domesticated from animals that formerly lived in the wild .wild dogs live in packs .requires care of humans people play with it: games of tossing an object and having a dog retrieve it used for protection: chases away intruders in a dwelling /have to be walked ^affectionate: lick one's face ^given affection: scratching, petting ,take care of biological needs ,put out territorial markers -eating -excreting -sex ~ roaming around splaying with other dogs - exploring ^sniffing Mess intelligent than a human but more so than a fish ^ you can train them ^ they bark v has teeth has paws: claw, pad, nails ^ has hair of different sorts facial structure such that face comes to a point with a nose at the end, but not always ^sensitive nose tongue that hangs out when it needs more air size ranging from 4' at shoulder to about 6" at shoulder, most dogs about 1 '6" to 2'6" at shoulder , clipped ears or tail if domesticated has four legs has tail t has eyes . has head y has ear flaps i has mouth lhas genital organs ihas less hair on underbelly there are different breeds for different purposes

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Figure I: Meaning aspects of 'dog' (Anglin 1985)



particular dog (one of the children's) as a pet, in the sixth grade lessons are about dogs as mammals. During successive school years, an extensive system of educational knowledge is built up that is represented in word meanings and meaning relations. Attribution of meaning grows more complex, while principles like 'categorization' and 'abstraction' are further extended. Thus, lexical development comprises more than extending vocabulary size and (at the level of individual words) extending knowledge of meaning components. It is also a gradual structuring process, in which higher-level interrelationships between words and their meanings are established. To find an answer to the question 'how well do children know the words they know', both quantitative dimensions (with respect to the amount of meaning aspects acquired) and qualitative dimensions (with respect to the nature of the meaning relations involved) must be assessed. It is important to investigate both dimensions of the meaning system to find out if there are differences between bilingual and monolingual children. Possible differences in application of meaning can be assessed by setting children 'extended' definition tasks. In such tasks, children are asked to express all the meaning aspects of a word they can think of. In the next section, we will discuss the advantages of this method. Research in word knowledge To measure vocabulary size, children are usually set formal lexical tests (picture tests, multiple-choice tests, true-false type tests). In such tests, children can only demonstrate that they either know a word or that they do not. The fact that words can be known to a smaller or larger extent is ignored. Cronbach (1942) has pointed out that there are various degrees in the knowledge of the meanings of words, but that these differences are not assessed in formal vocabulary tests. Definition tasks, as opposed to formal vocabulary tests, give the opportunity to study lexical knowledge in rather more depth. They are a means to establish how well or how extensively a word has been acquired. A particular advantage of the definition method is that we can study lexical development in the light of cognitive development. The analysis of word definitions can give us some understanding of the way in which word meanings and meaning structures are mentally represented. Some studies (cf. Anglin 1985) have shown important qualitative changes in the development of word meanings in LI by applying this method. One important aspect concerns the development of paradigmatic sense relations. Both in semantics and theories of lexical development (cf. Vygotsky 1962; Miller and Johnson-Laird 1976; Kuczaj 1982; Cruse 1986) a fundamental distinction is made between paradigmatic sense relations and syntagmatic sense relations. Paradigmatic relations are represented as vertical relations because they refer to hierarchical relations, in contrast with horizontal, syntagmatic relations. These hierarchies can be taxonomic when referring to class-inclusion, and partonomic when referring to part-whole relations (cf. Cruse 1986). The importance of the paradigmatic relations lies in the fact that it is here that

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Taxonomic hierarchy (Cruse 1986:136)

creature animal dog spaniel elephant alsatian robin bird ea cod fish trout ant insect butterfly

Partonomic hierarchy (Cruse 1986:157)

body head neck trunk forearm palm arm hand finger leg Downloaded from http://applij.oxfordjournals.org/ at OUP site access on July 31, 2012

Figure 2: Paradigmatic relations 'categorization', 'abstraction', and 'generalization' (see above-mentioned quotation of Vygotsky 1962) are realized. In word definition tasks, subjects are directly asked to produce paradigmatic relations, especially the taxonomic types expressing abstract categorization: a formal definition practically always first indicates to which category the definiendum belongs ('a spaniel is a dog that ..., a robin is a bird that ..., a rose is a flower that ...', etc.). In contrast to paradigmatic relations, syntagmatic relations are not hierarchicali.e. they are horizontal; for example, 'a rose grows on a bush', or 'a rose is red'. Drawing on this distinction, we set up a classification scheme, in which different types of meaning aspects were distinguished. A description of this model is given in the next section. First, we give an outline of our research design.

Subjects and procedures The subjects were 80 children at the ages of 9 and 11comprising 40 Dutch children and 40 Turkish children, equally distributed between the two agegroups (altogether: 2 X 2 = 4 groups). All children came from (three) schools with high percentages of minority children (over 50 per cent). All the schools were located in the same lower-class neighbourhood. The participating children were selected with the help of their teachers, the criteria for selection being that they should be born in The Netherlands, and that their language proficiency and their academic results should not be deviantly high or low. By means of a receptive-vocabulary picture test, we divided each group into high lexical achievers and low lexical achievers. Children scoring above the



median of their ethnic group were considered high proficient, the children scoring below the median were considered low proficient.1 Each child took part in an individual, highly structured interview session that was recorded on tape. The children were given six stimulus words and asked to give as many meaning aspects as they could think of. Here we report on these interviews. The present study, however, is part of a larger project in which the Turkish children were also interviewed in Turkish for the same words. It must be stressed that we did not just elicit formal definitions (with questions like 'what does the word ... mean?', or 'what is a ...?'). In order to cover all possible meaning dimensions, the subjects were confronted with various stimulus questions: 1. (wat betekent. .. I watiseen...)
[what does . . . mean / what is a ...] 2. (hoe zou je uitleggen wat een...is)

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[how would you explain what a ... is] 3. (wat zie/e aan een . ..) [what do you see if you look at a ...] 4. (wat voorsoorten .. .zijn er) [what kinds o f . . . are there] 5. (wat voor soort ding/lets is een . ..) [what kind of thing is a ...] 6. (wat kun/moetje doen met een . ..) [what can/must you do with a ...] 7. (kunje 3 zinnetjes met het woord . .. maken) [can you make 3 sentences with the word ... ] Each answer to the first 6 questions was followed by extra elicitation ('can you tell me more?' or 'yes, and ...?'), so for each word at least 13 standard questions were asked. In total, 6 different stimulus words were presented: neus (nose), roofdier (predator/beast of prey), wekker (alarm clock), geheim (secret), boek (book), and haar (hair). We expected all children to be familiar with these stimulus words. However, it turned out that in the Turkish group 6 nine-year old children did not know the word roofdier. To 3 other Turkish children the word wekker was unknown (2 nine-year olds and 1 eleven-year old). These missing data have been made up for by converting the available data to a standard group size of 10.2 Scoring To analyse the word meanings expressed in the definition task we developed a classification model, based on current semantic theories (cf. Miller and Johnson-Laird 1976; Cruse 1986) and on results of investigations into the lexical development of children (Vygotsky 1962; Kuczaj 1982; Anglin 1985). The classification model contains six different categories of meaning relations. We took meaning relations as a starting point because all different types of



meaning aspects that children assign to words in definition tasks are expressed as meaning relations (for example, in a definition of 'spaniel', the meaning aspect 'dog' is made explicit by expressing the meaning relation 'a spaniel is a dog'). As such, meaning aspects can be identified according to the meaning relations involved. The main categories and the subsequent divisions are represented in Figure 3. It should be stressed that the scheme presented in Figure 3 was developed to identify and count the different sorts of meaning aspects that children tend to use in the definition task. It was developed to be used as a working model, not as a description of a semantic theory. In the model, the first basic categories of paradigmatic and syntagmatic relations are broken down into a number of subcategories. In the paradigmatic category three different subcategories were distinguished. In addition to the two types (taxonomical and partonomical) that we discussed earlier, a separate category was postulated for 'dummy superordinates'. Dummy superordinates are frequently used by children in definitions. Watson (1985) pointed to the fact that children tend to substitute a dummy when they are unable to find a proper superordinate term in formal definitions. Then they use 'empty' words like 'something' or 'thing' in order to fill the formal definition-scheme. For example, they might say 'a cat is something that has fur' instead of'a cat is an animal that has fur' (Watson 1985:189). In the syntagmatic category a distinction is made between on the one hand 'specific episodic' meaning relationsspatial and perceptualand 'association' on the other hand. The subcategory association is an umbrella-term for a diversity of meaning relations like associative, functional, and instrumental sense relations. In this category it is difficult to establish appropriate demarcations ('a nose is to smell, to breathe, to sniff, to pick', or 'you can catch a cold with your nose'). In our classification model, a third main category has been adopted; in analysing definitions it is important to distinguish between objective and

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1.0 Hierarchical Dummy-

- empty superordinate superordinate synonym subordinate -constituents - spatial (location) -perceptual -associatives personal opinions

I Paradigmatic

1.1 Hierarchical Taxonomical

1.2 Hierarchical Partonomical 2.1 Specific EpisodicII Syntagmatic 2.2 Association III Subjective 3. Attitudes

Figure 3: Classification scheme of meaning aspects



subjective meaning relations. As opposed to the objective meaning aspects, subjective meaning aspects ('a nose is funny') are classified as 'attitudes'. Strictly idiosyncratic meanings ('a nose is to put a clothes-peg on, like uncle Harry always does for fun') were classified separately. All responses of the children were recorded on tape and scored according to our classification scheme. Inter-scorer reliability on a subset of the data was estimated .90 (Cohen's kappa) and proved to be satisfactory. For each meaning aspect, expressed values were assigned with regard to the following variables: E = Ethnic Background 1) 2) P = Lexical proficiency 1) 2) A = Age 1) 2) W = Word 1) 2) 3) 4) 5) 6) C = Category 1) 2) 3) 4) 5) 6) Turkish Dutch Low High 9 years 11 years Neus(Nose) Roofdier (Predator) Wekker (Alarm clock) Geheim (Secret) Boek(Book) Haar(Hair) Dummy superordinate Hierarchical taxonomical Hierarchical partonomical (Syntagmatic) specific Associations Attitudes
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This design gave us the opportunity to check the effects of the subject variables (ethnic background, age, lexical proficiency) on the quality of the given definitions (i.e. the frequency with which certain meaning categories were used). The design also yielded useful information about the influence of the stimulus word.

The procedures described above led to 8,833 classified meaning aspects. The frequencies with which certain meaning aspects were mentioned can be described in a five-way contingency table ( 2 X 2 X 2 X 6 X 6 ) : two ethnic backgrounds (Dutch and Turkish); two proficiency levels (high = above median, and low = below median of the ethnic group); two age groups (younger, 9 years, and older, 11 years); six words, all of them nouns (nose, predator, alarm, secret, book, and hair); and six types of meaning relations (Dummy, Taxonomical, Partonomical, Syntagmatic specific episodic, Associative, and Attitudes). The question is which of these variables, especially the subject variables (age,



proficiency, and ethnic background), determine the number and the types of meaning aspects expressed by the children. For example, older children may be expected to mention more meaning relations than younger children. In that case, we would find a so-called main effect of Age (A). In addition, in the two age groups the expressed meaning aspects can be expected to be distributed in different proportions over the categories. Older children are generally expected to use hierarchical paradigmatic meaning relations more frequently than younger children in their descriptions of word meaning. This association between Categories (C) and Age (A) leads to a so-called interaction effect between Categories andin this exampleAge, notated as C*A. In a two, or three-way contingency table, it is relatively easy to test for associations between categorical variables by means of the chi-square statistic. For complex contingency tables such as ours, loglinear model fitting, which can be seen as a generalization of the chi-square test, is more suitable (Everitt 1976; Fienberg 1977). Loglinear model fitting for the analysis of categorical data is comparable to an analysis of variance. Frequencies are described as the consequence of main effects of variables and interactions. These models of main and interaction effects can be evaluated statistically for their fit to the frequency data. This evaluation leads to a 'scaled deviance', G2, which is approximately chi-square distributed with df degrees of freedom.3 The difference between two (nested) models can also be evaluated statistically, since the difference in fit, (}diff(= Gf Gj), is also approximately chi-square distributed with dfdiff(= df, df2) degrees of freedom. If G ^ is statistically significant, it means that the (null) hypothesis that both models are equally good should be rejected. To find out which variables are relevant because of their main effects, i.e. causing differences in number of meaning aspects expressed, or because of their interaction effects, i.e. association with other variables, we fitted several models to the frequency data. Of special interest are, of course, those models in which the subject variables Age, Proficiency, and Ethnic Background, or their interactions with Categories, are relevant parameters in the description of the data. Differences between the words or between categories as such, or the interaction between Category and Word indicate respectively that (a) some words elicit more meaning aspects than others; (b) some categories are used more often in the meaning descriptions than others; or (c) different words elicit different kinds of descriptions. These effects are obvious and not at issue here. Our point of departure will be a model containing these effects. This model which will be referred to as the minimal model postulates that all frequency data can be described in terms of differences between Words and between Categories and an association between these two variables, whereas the subject variables (Age, Proficiency, and Ethnic Background) would have no effect (see model 1 in Table 1). In other words, if indeed the subject variables are of no influence on the kind of meaning aspects children express, the minimal model should fit the data. However, should this minimal model (1) have to be rejected, then we can assume that (some of) the

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subject variables have an effect on the meaning aspects children express. In that case, we are able to postulate models with some (main or interaction) effects of the subject variables and evaluate the fit of these models to the data. To arrive at the most adequate model, which is a trade-off between goodnessof-fit and parsimony, we followed the procedure of 'forward selection' of Goodman (Fienberg 1977). This procedure implies that if the minimal model does not fit, first all main effects should be added. If this extended model still does notfit,all possible two-way interactions should be added, and then all three-way interactions, etc., until the models cannot be improved any further. Once an adequate model (with all k-way interactions) has been achieved, then one should try to simplify it by deleting one k-way interaction at a time for as long as it does not affect the fit of the model. This procedure of forward selection is discussed in the next section ('Results'). Some cells in our 2 X 2 X 2 X 6 X 6 table contain no observations, because those observations are unlikely (e.g. superordinate of 'secret') and some are just sampling zeros. These cells are left out of the analyses, explaining the deviant number of degrees of freedom.

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Firstly, we will have to select a model as the most adequate description of our frequency data. Secondly, we will discuss the main and interaction effects which are postulated in the selected model. Model selection As Table 1 shows, the minimal model (1) has to be rejected (G2 = 665.91 df = 229 p < .05). We must conclude that the frequency data are somewhat more complex than this minimal model suggests. The subject variables must have an effect on the number or type of aspects children express. Model 2 postulates main effects for Age, Proficiency, and Ethnic Background, i.e. the different age, proficiency, and ethnic groups are expected to differ in the number of meaning aspects they express, but these differences are independent of other variables (no interactions). This second model, though a large improvement on the minimal model (Gdiff = 328.8 dfdiff = 3 p < .05), is still not adequate and has to be rejected (G2 = 337.15 df = 226 p < .05). The considerable improvement indicates that the groups must differ strongly as to the number of meaning aspects expressed. The rejection of the second model indicates that interactions between variables are necessary in the description of the frequency data. Model 3 allows for all possible two-way interactions (i.e. interactions between two variables), including the (interesting) interactions between the three subject variables and Category. Model 3 is a considerable improvement on the second model. The improvement is statistically significant (Gdiff = 142.5 dfdiff = 33 p < .05). The third model in itself cannot be rejected as a description of the data (G2 = 194.62 df= 193 p > .20). Although model 3 could be accepted, we checked, for certainty, whether model 3 could be improved by adding all

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Table I: Model fit and selection



difference with previous model n.a. 328.8/3t 142.5/331 1 13.8/100 n.a.

2 > po > z z m < m


1 C+ W +C*W 2 C + W + E + P + A+C*W 3 4 C*W*E + C'W'P + C*W*A + C*E*P + C'E* A + C*P*A + W*E*P + W*E*A + W*P*A + E*P* A 5 C + W + E + P + A+C*W+C*E+ +CA +E*P + E*A

665.9 l/229t 337.15/226t 194.62/193 80.78/93 224.57/214

r m >
2 D
03 c/> O I



C = Category; W = Word; A = Age; P = Proficiency level; E = Ethnic background; G2 = scaled deviance (approximately chi-square distributed) t statistically significant (p < .05)

o o z

m z



possible three-way interactions (model 4). Since model 4 is a more liberal model than model 3, it obviously fits the data very well (G2 = 80.78 df = 93 p > .20), but the improvement in fit compared to model 3 is not statistically significant (Gjjff = 113.8 dfdiff = 100 p > .20). So, a model with solely two-way interactions is an adequate description of the data (model 3) which can hardly be improved. The next question is whether all two-way interactions which are assumed by model 3 are relevant, or just some of them. Further model comparisons by leaving out different two-way interactions successively demonstrated that some of the two-way interactions indeed can be left out of the model. The trade-off between goodness-of-fit and parsimony is represented by model 5 (see Table 1).
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Since we have selected model 5 as the optimal description of our frequency data, we can now take a closer look at the relevant parameters of the model. Model 5 also includes, besides the (above-mentioned) minimal model parameters for Word and Category, main effects of the variables Age, Proficiency, and Ethnic Background, the interactions between the subject variables Age and Ethnic Background and Category (C*A, C*E), and interactions between Ethnic Background and Proficiency (E*P), and Ethnic Background and Age (E*A). In the following, we will discuss the characteristics of these effects. First, we will illustrate the main effects and second the interactions. Main effects. Model 5 assumes main effects of Age, Proficiency, and Ethnic Background. Since these main effects are not Category-related they only concern the number of meaning aspects mentioned. These three main effects are illustrated in Figures 4 to 6. Figure 4 shows that out of all 8,833 registered meaning aspects 58.6 per cent (5,176) come from the Dutch children and 41.4 per cent (3,657) from the Turkish children. The effect of Proficiency is smaller. The children considered high proficient (within their group) expressed 52.5 per cent (4,637), whereas children considered low proficient expressed 47.5 per cent (4,196) of the aspects (Figure 5). The size of the third main effect, that of Age, is in between the other two: 53.85 per cent (4,757) of the aspects are expressed by the older children and 46.15 per cent (4,076) by the younger ones (Figure 6). These three main effects are partly mediated by interactions with other variables (see model 5). To get a full picture of the lexical knowledge of the children the interaction effects with Category will be shown in the following section. Interaction effects. We were especially interested in the question of whether different groups (age, proficiency, and ethnic background) use different categories of meaning aspects in their description of word meaning. As model 5 indicates, Age and Ethnic Background both interact with Category (C*A and C*E). This means that different age groups and different ethnic groups not only produce different numbers of meaning relations, they also produce different types of relations in defining the words.



100 p 90 80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0

Turkish Dutch 58.6 41.4

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Number of aspects mentioned

Figure 4: Main effect of Ethnic Background

100 p 90 80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 Number of aspects mentioned 47.5 52.5

I I lower W> higher

Figure 5: Main effect of Proficiency level

Figure 7 gives the distribution of meaning aspects over the categories for both the younger and the older children. The bars in that diagram represent (again) the percentages of the aspects belonging to a certain category. From the main effect for Age, we already know that the age-groups differ as to the number of aspects they mention. To make a fair comparison, we equated both the age groups at 100 per cent for each group. Given the main effects, we wanted to see how often the different types of meaning relations (categories) are used by the younger and older children in their descriptions of word meanings. In Figure 7, we can see the differences between the younger and older children with respect to the kinds of meaning aspects they used. Although both groups use syntagmatic relations (Categories 4 and 5; see the section above on 'Scoring'for the Category names) most frequently to clarify the meaning of the words, it shows that the older children tend to use the paradigmatic categories



lOOp 908070 605040 30 20 Downloaded from http://applij.oxfordjournals.org/ at OUP site access on July 31, 2012 10 0 Number of aspects mentioned 53.85 young (9 years) old (11 years)

Figure 6: Main effect of Age

45 40 35 30 25 20 15 10 5 2.18 2.5 Cat. 1 Cat. 2 Cat. 3 Cat. 4 18.52 13.89 14.99 22.18 | young (9 years) (100%) | old (11 years) (100%)
26.52 23.4
35 89


Cat. 5

.Oi Cat. 6

2.99 2.04

Figure 7: Interaction effect of Age by Category

(Categories 1 to 3) relatively more often than the younger children. The younger children stick relatively more often to the syntagmatic and subjective descriptions (Categories 4 to 6). The second interesting interaction effect is between Ethnic Background and Category. Figure 8 displays a similar pattern to Figure 7. Again, both groups show a frequent use of syntagmatic relations in their descriptions. The Dutch children, however, use paradigmatic meaning aspects, especially the important taxonomic relations, relatively more often, compared to the Turkish children, who tend to use the syntagmatic and subjective meaning aspects relatively more often. It seems that the differences between the ethnic groups in the types of meaning relations expressed parallel the age differences. Besides these two interactions of the Subject variables and Category there are two more interactions in model 5, one between Ethnic Background and


50 %45


40 35 30 25 20 15

H I Turkish (100%) SS Dutch (100%)



27.56 22.76 17.28



10 5 - 1.97 2.63 0
Cat. 1

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2.71 2.32 Cat. 2 Cat. 3 Cat. 4 Cat. 5 Cat. 6

Figure 8: Interaction effect Ethnic Background by Category Proficiency (E*P) and one between Ethnic Background and Age (E*A). These interactions are not related to the Category variable and thus only refer to the number of meaning aspects the children expressed. The differences between the Turkish and Dutch children in the number of meaning aspects expressed interact with Age and Proficiency level. The difference between the two age groups is larger for the Turkish group than for the Dutch group. This also goes for the difference between the proficiency groups, which again is larger for the Turkish group than for the Dutch group. In our discussion, however, we will focus on the interactions with Category.

Our research project has been inspired by the phenomenon that in Dutch primary education bilingual children appear to profit far less from education than monolingual Dutch children. The differences in educational achievement are often attributed to differences in lexical knowledge. Earlier studies have established that during successive school years, bilingual children lag seriously behind with regard to the number of words they acquire in the second language. This is just one aspect of the problem, however. So far, data have been collected on the basis of formal vocabulary tests only. To gain a more detailed picture of the underlying semantic knowledge of individual words, we used extended word definition tasks. The importance of this research method is emphasized by Snow, Cancino, De Temple, and Schley (1991: 90):
Definitions . . . are of both theoretical and practical interest to students of language development. In school settings, definitions are often requested of children and giving definitions . . . is a standard and frequent technique for vocabulary training. Theoretically, definitions are interesting because they constitute one example of what has been referred to as decontextualized language uselanguage used in ways that eschew reliance on shared social and physical context in favour of reliance on a context created through the language itself.



Word definitions belong to the domain of what one might call 'intentional language use', demonstrating aspects of language that have a direct bearing on cognition (Bialystok 1991: 8). Formal definitions, however, are a rather specialized speech genre, as Snow et al. acknowledge. Giving a good definition requires analysing one's knowledge of word meaning to distinguish between 'definitional' and 'incidental information', and also use of the conventional form of giving definitions. The task is still too limited to yield a satisfactory picture of a child's full word knowledge. This is why we extended the definition task: by asking a great number of questions, with which more meaning dimensions were explored. By this procedure, we elicited the expressible knowledge of words from the children in our project. The results point in the direction of important differences in expressible lexical knowledge. In the example shown in Table 2, we see the differences reflected in the responses of a Turkish and a Dutch child to some of the standard questions on the stimulus word 'nose' (each meaning aspect has been marked by a dash). The differences between the Turkish and Dutch children illustrated in Table 2 were similar for all six words. For each word, Turkish children produced fewer meaning aspects and the types of meaning aspects expressed are different from those expressed by the Dutch children, a possible indication of differences in the underlying lexical semantic system. But if we look at children of the Dutch and Turkish subgroups with comparable vocabulary sizes (as measured by the formal test) no differences emerge. Comparable vocabulary size, however, is only to be found for the nine-year old Dutch low proficient children (below median of their group) and the eleven-year old Turkish high proficient children (above median of their group). An additional loglinear analysis of the data of these distant subgroups showed no difference in the number of meaning aspects expressed, nor in the types. For these groups the frequency data could be described by the minimal model (C*W). This implies that the most proficient eleven-year old Turkish children eventually reach a level in expressing meanings comparable with that of low-achieving Dutch children at an earlier age. Of course, our findings only concern the L2 component of the lexicon of the bilingual children. To get a full picture of their underlying lexical semantic system we also have to describe the responses of the children in the Turkish interviews (Verhallen and Schoonen in preparation). Nevertheless, when considered from the perspective of educational achievement and educational opportunities, the level of achievement in Dutch is of the highest importance. At school, Dutch is used exclusively in the regular teaching/learning situations. LI knowledge is of minor importance for profiting from the lessons. So it is relevant to consider the Dutch lexical knowledge of bilingual children in its own right. What, then, are the consequences of our findings for formal education? If bilingual children have a less-developed command of various meaning aspects of words, teachers cannot ignore these lexical problems. In the context of formal education, the development of (hierarchical) paradigmatic meaning assignment

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Table 2
Questions Turkish child 9-years old - met je neus kan je ruiken [you can smell with your nose| Dutch child 9-years old - een neus is een lichaamsdeel |a nose is a part of the body| - je kunt ermee ruiken [you can smell with it| - en ademen |and breathe| Downloaded from http://applij.oxfordjournals.org/ at OUP site access on July 31, 2012 - het heeft een botje |it has a bone| - het heeft twee gaatjes |it has (wo little holes| - en een velletje |and skin| - het is puntig |it is pointed|

Wat is een neus? (What is a nose?|

Hoe zou je uitleggen wat een neus is? |How would you explain what a nose is?|

|repeats the answer above|

Wat zie je aan een neus? |what do you see if you look at anose?| Wat voor soorten zijn er? |what kinds of noses are there?|

- het is puntig |it is pointed|

- grote neus [big nose| - kleine neus |small nose|

- wipneus |snub nose| - haakneus |hook nose| - dieren neusen [animal noses| - het is een ruikding |it is a thing of smell|

Wat voor soort ding is een neus? [what kind of thing is a nose?|

- het is een neus |it is a nose|

Wat kun je doen met je neus? |what can you do with a nose?|

- j e kunt het wassen [you can wash it] - je neus snuiten |blow your nose|

- je kunt hem snuiten [you must blow your nose| - en je neus afvegen |and wipe your nose| - of snuiven |or sniff]

is of special importance, because it can be seen as directly linked to educational development. The differences we found in the two age groups are consistent with this claim: older children use paradigmatic categories relatively more often than younger children. The importance of paradigmatic meanings and the development of a hierarchical system is emphasized by Vygotsky (1962: 92) who states that:



a concept can become subject to consciousness and deliberate control only when it is a part of a system. If consciousness means generalization, generalization in turn means the formation of a superordinate concept that includes the given concept as a particular case. A superordinate concept implies the existence of a series of subordinate concepts, and it also presupposes a hierarchy of concepts of different levels of generality. Thus the given concept is placed within a system of relationships of generality.

In the meaning aspects expressed by the bilingual children in our study, these paradigmatic relations are underrepresented. It is important for teachers to pay attention to the fact that lexical delay in bilingual children is not confined to the number of L2 words. Looking at words like 'nose' that seem to have been acquired completely, we must conclude that there are important restrictions in the number and in the range of meaning aspects that bilingual children can express. The fact that a child produces a word does not mean that he or she uses the word in all its conceptual implications. Teachers must be continuously aware that there are missing links, gaps, or fuzzy relations in immigrant children's lexical systems that may not be immediately noticeable, but cannot therefore be ignored.
(Revised version received December 1992)

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The authors want to thank Engelien Verhoeff, Rene Appel, Rob Gerritsen, and Folkert Kuiken for their careful reading of an earlier draft and their helpful comments.
NOTES 1 Due to ties, the subdivision according to proficiency did not result in two groups of equal size, but in a group of 9 and a group of 11 children. However, data were standardized to group size 10. 2 For stimulus words with missing data (like roofdier and wekker), the same standardization procedure (see note 1) was followed. 3 The exact statistical distribution of G2 is unknown; but in large samples, G2 is approximately chi-square distributed, so we will use the chi-square tables for statistical testing. REFERENCES Anglin, J. M. 1985. 'The child's expressible knowledge of wordconcepts' in K. E. Nelson (ed.) 1985: Children's Language: Volume 5. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum. Barclay, J. R., J. D. Bransford, J. J. Franks, N. S. McCarrell, and K. Nitsch. 1974. "Comprehension and semantic flexibility.' Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behaviour 13:47'1-8 1. Bialystok, E. 1991. "Introduction' in E. Bialystok (ed.) 1991: Language Processing in Bilingual Children. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Beck, I. L., M. G. McKeown,and R. C. Omanson. 1987.'The effects and uses of diverse vocabulary instructional techniques' in M. G. McKeown and M. E. Curtis (eds.) 1987: Fhe Nature of Vocabulary Acquisition. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum.



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