Bilingual Ordinal Acquisition

This study will start in Autumn 2023. We will keep you informed about the progress here. This information is also available in Dutch.

Fall/Winter 2023

This study takes a closer look at the development of two types of knowledge that adults typically take for granted: speaking our native language and knowing how to use numbers. We may say a task is as easy as one, two, three , but compared to learning language, developing precise knowledge about quantities is comparatively hard. In fact, research shows that learning numbers is so abstract and complex, it cannot be done without using language as scaffolding. This is even more clear for ordinal numerals, where ordinals such as third are harder than ones like fourth or ninth: the idea is that children, make use of a linguistic rule (here: cardinal + th = ordinal) to ‘calculate’ the meaning of the ordinal from the cardinal they already know, along with all the counting principles that come with it. This is easier than memorizing everything all over for a new list of numerals.

But what about children acquiring two languages? Do they learn about numbers twice (once for each language) or can children ‘borrow’ knowledge from one language to another? Are they slower to understand numerals than their monolingual peers? Put differently, can knowing the ordinal rule in one language help a child overcome the irregularities in their other language? This study will not only help us better understand (bilingual) language development and numerical development in their own rights, but will also shed light on how conceptual knowledge and linguistic knowledge interact, and on whether a bilingual child’s two languages influence one another.

We will play a game with your child that will test their understanding of cardinal numbers and ordinal numbers in two sessions, once in Dutch and once in English, and record their answers. This way, we can compare what your child knows about numerals in each language, which will tell us something about how languages are learnt and how conceptual knowledge represented by language is stored in our heads. We also ask that you fill in an online questionnaire about your child’s language background. You will receive a link to the survey from the student researcher.