A comparison of taxonomic development between English Monolingual children and Mandarin-English bilingual children



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In Chinese, a large percentage of the vocabulary consists of compound words where exemplars in the same taxonomic category often share the same head noun (Chen & Chen, 2006; Chow, McBride-Chang, Cheung, & Chow, 2008). This structural characteristic may facilitate an early understanding of the noun taxonomy. The current study aims to investigate taxonomic development in a group of Mandarin-English speaking children in the United States. A contrast association task (i.e., "A dog is not a ____") and a category association task (i.e., "A dog is a kind of ____") were used to elicit responses from different levels of the taxonomic hierarchy (e.g., coordinates, superordinates). Participants were 25 bilingual children aged 3 to 8 and 25 English monolingual age matches. It was predicted that the bilingual group would produce more task-specific taxonomic responses (i.e., coordinates in contrast association; superordinates in category association) than their monolingual counterparts. The results, however, were somewhat opposite to this prediction. Monolinguals were found to, in general, perform better in the category association tasks and the two groups performed similarly in the contrast association task. When English vocabulary size was taken into consideration, there was no statistically significant difference between the monolingual and bilingual children on the category association task. Factors which possibly explain such a difference between the two language groups in the two tasks, or the absence of a significant difference when vocabulary size was incorporated as a covariate are discussed.