PhD Research School in Linguistics and Philology

Nina Schjetne

Traces of language shift in early childhood – a study of literacy skills in internationally adopted children in Grade 5 at elementary school

The overall aim of the study is to investigate the question of whether, and if so how, language switch and first language attrition is impacting the literacy skills of the second language that the adopted children from abroad are being exposed to. This will be explored in a group of 52 internationally adopted (IA) school-age children from China, Korea, Ethiopia, India and Colombia in Grade 5. Age at the time of adoption ranged from 4 months to 8 years. A comparison group of 17 Norwegian-born, monolingual non-adopted peers is matched for socioeconomic status (SES).
IA children, often referred to as second first language acquirers clearly present a unique linguistic group. Still, IA children have hardly been accounted for in second language acquisition research before. Accordingly, knowledge of linguistic effects of language shift and first language attrition in IA children is limited. One important factor that I will address is the age of onset because it is documented to affect the language learning process in IA children (cf. the critical period hypothesis). However, there is conflicting evidence as to whether delayed onset of exposure to the new language impacts the IA children`s language outcomes.
In order to find out if the early life experiences and the abrupt change of language environment/abrupt loss of L1 exposure hinder the acquisition of literacy skills at elementary school, I will address the following research questions: 1) Do school-age IA children in Grade 5 experience language difficulties, when compared to their non-adopted monolingual peers as measured on standardized instruments and a written narrative? 2) Is there a correlation between age at the time of adoption and literacy skills in the new language as measured on standardized instruments and a written narrative?