Exploring and archiving data from studies of Turkish/German bilingual children’s oral production

Carol W. Pfaff | Humboldt Universität zu Berlin

A flourishing tradition of research on Turkish/German bilingual children in Germany has developed since the 1970s. This paper discusses three early studies of oral production conducted 1978-1992 in Berlin with children some of whom themselves immigrated: others born in Berlin. The participants differed in the extent of interaction with age-peer speakers of German L1.

These studies have been the subject of collaborative work at the Humboldt University Berlin Department of German Language and Linguistics 2016-present, in which students are explore the linguistic corpora and prepare audio, transcript and concordance files for archiving in the HU Media Repository. 

  • German L2 of 26 Greek and 40 Turkish 8-14-year-olds
  • Turkish L1 and German L1 & L2 of 45 bilinguals and 28 monolinguals age 5-12.
  • Longitudinal development of Turkish L1 and German L2 of 2–8-year-olds who attended a Turkish/German bilingual day-care-center.

We investigate several major hypotheses about language development of bilingual children in migration settings:

  • cross-linguistic transfer between L1 and L2
  • parallel development in L1 and L2
  • universal cognitive processes independent of L1 or L2
  • sociolinguistic variation in L2 age-of-onset and extent of contact with German peers 

Oral production was elicited with psycholinguistic and sociolinguistic techniques adapted from crosslinguistic studies of monolingual acquisition (Slobin 1973, 1985), bilingual proficiency (Burt/Dulay/Hernández-Chavez 1973) and studies of variation in (non-standard) varieties (Labov 1972). 

In the present paper, we briefly summarize the status of the archiving project, then illustrate tendencies in the variable results for features and compare with later studies (Rehbein/Herkenrath/ Karakoç 2009; Backus/Jørgensen/& Pfaff 2010, Treffers-Daller/Sakel 2012, Schroeder/Wiese 2019, Jackson 2020).

  • vocabulary development, language mixing and colloquial expressions
  • morphosyntactic development,
    • syncretism in German: overgeneralization of case/gender marking
    • overgeneralization of irregular forms
    • pro-drop vs. non-pro-drop in Turkish and German.
    • singular/plural realization in quantified noun phrases.


Backus, A., J.N. Jørgensen & C. Pfaff (2010). “Linguistic effects of immigration: Language choice, codeswitching and change in Western European Turkish“. LINCOM Language and Linguistics Compass 4/7: 481–495.

Burt, M., H. Dulay & E. Hernández-Chavez (1973). Bilingual Syntax Measure. New York: Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich.

Jackson, C. (2020). “Second language acquisition in Germanic languages”. In M.T. Putnam & B. R. Page (eds.). The Cambridge Handbook of Germanic Linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

Labov, W. (1972). Sociolinguistic Patterns. University of Pennsylvania Press.

Rehbein, J., A. Herkenrath & B. Karakoç (2009). “Turkish in Germany. – On contact-induced change of an immigrant language in the multilingual landscape of Europe.”G. Ferraresi & E. Rinke (eds.) Multilingualism and universal principles of language change. STUF Language Typology and Universals. 62. 171-204.

Schroeder, C. & Wiese, H. (2019). “Kiez goes Uni – SchülerInnen untersuchen Sprachvariation und Mehrsprachigkeit mit MentorInnen der Universität“. In: A. Betz & A. Firstein (Hrsg.). Schülerinnen und Schülern Linguistik näher bringen. Perspektiven einer linguistischen Wissenschaftspropädeutik. Baltmannnsweiler: Schneider Verlag Hohengehren, 216-234.

Slobin, D. I. (1973). Cognitive prerequisites for the development of grammar. In C. A. Ferguson & D. I. Slobin (eds.).Studies of child language development. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 175-208.

Slobin, D. I. (ed.) (1985). The Crosslinguistic Study of Language Acquisition Vol 1: the Data. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Treffers-Daller, J. & J. Sakel (2012). “Why transfer is a key aspect of language use and processing in bilinguals and L2 users”. In J. Treffers-Daller & J. Sakel (eds.) New perspectives on transfer among bilinguals and L2 users. Special issue of the Special Issue of the  International Journal of Bilingualism, 16 (1), 3-10.