Bilingualism and Language Dominance as Factors in Maltese Morphological Variation
Shiloh Drake
August 2017

I report the results of a wug task to connect issues of bilingualism and language dominance to psycholinguistic methods, showing that language dominance plays a role in the morphological variation found in Maltese. Research on structural borrowing in language contact situations suggests that morphological borrowing occurs when bilinguals are in a situation where one language is dominant (Brown, 2003). In addition, psycholinguistics research suggests that bilinguals perform differently from monolinguals in metalinguistic tasks (Galambos & Hakuta, 1988; Campbell & Sais, 1995), particularly when they are dominant in one language. The results of the present study suggest that language dominance may be a reliable predictor of their responses. Maltese, a Semitic language derived from Siculo-Arabic, has had extensive contact with Italian and English as reflected in its lexicon, where roughly half of the words are derived from Arabic and half from Italian and English (Mifsud, 1995). Maltese morphology exhibits both Semitic root-and-pattern word formations (vocalic patterns inserted around a triconsonantal root), as well as formations using concatenative morphology (Borg & Azzopardi-Alexander, 1997). Previous work showed differences in morphological productivity in root-and-pattern versus concatenative constructions (Twist, 2006; Spagnol, 2011), posing a challenge for the development of an accurate model of Maltese morphology. Maltese speakers are bilingual, speaking both Maltese and English. Prior psycholinguistic research has found that bilinguals perform differently on metalinguistic tasks (Galambos & Hakuta, 1988; Campbell & Sais, 1995), and bilinguals who are dominant in one language also perform differently from monolinguals and balanced bilinguals (Galambos & Hakuta, 1988; Gathercole, 2007). In addition, sociolinguistic research on Maltese suggests that bilingualism and language contact in tandem with lexical innovation drives language change (Fabri, 2011), particularly in lexical items and novel applications of bound morphemes (e.g., English nerd ‘nerd’ --> Maltese tinnerdja ‘to behave like a nerd’).
Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/004013
(please use that when you cite this article)
Published in: Coyote Papers: Working Papers in Linguistics
keywords: bilingualism, language dominance, language variation, morphology, maltese, morphology
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