Bidirectional cross-linguistic influence in late Bilingualism evidence from the container-content relatio

Mahmoud Azaz, Joshua Frank

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The container-content relation represents a set of nominal configurations unexplored in the acquisition literature. Whereas in English the switch from a noun-noun compound (water bottle) to a noun-prepositional phrase (bottle of water) is associated with a semantic shift from container to content, Spanish and Arabic adopt single canonical configurations for both conditions, noun-prepositional phrase and noun phrase, respectively. Importantly, Spanish, Arabic, and English display structural overlap in the content condition maintained by head-first isomorphic strings. In the container condition, they show structural dissimilarity; whereas English uses a head-final construction, Arabic and Spanish consistently use head-first constructions. Results from an elicited sentence-reordering task demonstrate that advanced late learners pattern native speakers when tested in Spanish but not when tested in English. Additionally, when tested in English, Arabic-speaking and Spanish-speaking learners overextend their L1 canonical configurations to both conditions. Furthermore, bilingual native speakers do not perform at ceiling, suggesting bidirectional cross-linguistic influence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)411-445
Number of pages35
JournalLinguistic Approaches to Bilingualism
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Bidirectional cross-linguistic influence
  • Container-content relation
  • Structural overlap
  • Syntax-semantics interface

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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