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ELAR Occasional Seminar Series


When: 5PM, Tuesday 18 June, 2013
Where: Room FG01, SOAS (Faber Building), Russell Square, London ... location information

Dr Felicity Meakins
Dr Felicity Meakins


How much input is enough? Correlating passive knowledge and child language input in an endangered language


Felicity Meakins

University of Queensland, Australia


To date, the field of language documentation has focused largely on the active knowledge of languages i.e. speech production; rather than passive knowledge i.e. comprehension of languages where production no longer occurs. The documentation of passive knowledge and its relationship with active knowledge in a speech community may provide some valuable directions for language revival. In situations of language endangerment, passive knowledge of a language tends to persevere longer than active knowledge. As a result, the possibility of language revival remains high even when few active speakers remain. Nonetheless, this potential requires that those with a passive knowledge of a language received sufficient input as children for the activation of speech to occur in later life.

In many areas of Australia, input to children of traditional Aboriginal languages is rarely monolingual, but rather often mixed with a contact variety of English. Thus it is not clear whether children receive enough input to later become active speakers of these languages.

This paper reports on a study which tested the relationship between passive knowledge and child language input. A vocabulary test of 40 items was administered to 52 Gurindji participants in five age groups (20-30 year olds, 12-15 year olds, 9-11 years, 7-8 year olds and 4-6 year olds). Participants were asked to listen to a Gurindji word and choose a corresponding picture. The test items were graded as high, medium or low frequency on the basis of their use in a corpus of Gurindji child-directed speech collected between 2004 and 2007. It was found that age and frequency of use in child-directed speech significantly altered the chance of a correct response. 

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