It is acknowledged that limited vocabulary production in the early years may be the first sign of persistent language impairment. In young children exposed to two languages, however, there is limited knowledge on the expressive lexicon size that is indicative of delayed language development. Moreover, little is known about the influence of child, caregiver and family/community factors on early vocabulary growth in differing bilingual contexts. As a result, the effects of bilingualism and language-learning difficulties on expressive lexical development are often confounded, underscoring the need for research that documents early lexical expression in children receiving bilingual exposure. The proposed symposium documents the vocabulary production skills of children exposed to different language pairs and brings together research carried out within the COST Action IS0804, ‘Language impairment in a Multilingual Society’. The aim is to identify those environmental factors that result in proficient bilingual vocabularies and those that place children at risk for incomplete acquisition or attrition, language delay or specific language impairment.
A common methodological design based on parental report was employed in each of the bilingual contexts investigated, using language adaptations of the MacArthur Bates Communicative Development Inventory (Fenson et al., 2007). The first study was a large cross-linguistic study involving over 200 typically-developing children acquiring six language pairs in very different contexts. These range from an endangered language, L1 dominance in a wider bilingual context, languages with minority status to families recently immigrated into a country as well as long-established immigrant communities. As will be outlined, a wide range in vocabulary scores was revealed, with significant differences noted between some language pairs. Following this, studies involving four of these language pairs will be outlined in greater detail, namely Irish and English, Maltese and English, English and Hebrew and Polish and English, to help to shed further light on factors that may hinder or facilitate early bilingual vocabulary development.