• CUHK Research Excellence Award 2006-2007
  • Leonard Bloomfield Book Award
    “The Linguistic Society of America announces the 2009 recipient of the Leonard Bloomfield Book Award. The winning book is chosen by a three-member committee from among works submitted to the LSA for consideration. The award will be presented at the LSA’s business meeting on January 9, 2009 in San Francisco, California.

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Award acceptance speech

We are most grateful to the Linguistic Society of America for this recognition of our work. We thank members of the LSA committee, Alice Harris, Peter Culicover and Elan Dresher, for reading our book The Bilingual Child and recommending it for the Award.

Serendipitously, the award came just in time for our inaugural Conference on Bilingual Acquisition in Early Childhood, held at the Chinese University of Hong Kong from December 11-12, 2008 and marking the launch of our newly established Childhood Bilingualism Research Centre.

Looking at the “hall of fame” of previous awardees, we are greatly honored and humbled to find ourselves in such distinguished company. We are delighted that our monograph is the first in the field of language acquisition to receive the award. And we are reminded of Bloomfield’s visionary remarks on bilingualism in Language (1933: 56): “The apparent frequency with which one meets bilinguals among artists and men of science may indicate a favorable effect of bilingualism on the general development of the child…”

The Bilingual Child is about how children become bilingual in Cantonese and English when exposed to both languages from birth. The vivid images and sounds from our multimedia corpus available in the book website and the CHILDES archive that illustrate the examples used in the book have made bilingual children’s language come to life. Looking at their guileless faces and fascinating expressions and listening to the endlessly curious things that come out of their mouths have been among our greatest pleasures. Writing the book has been a celebration of childhood bilingualism. We hope that this award will draw attention to the interesting and challenging problems in bilingual acquisition, a fast-growing interdisciplinary field.

The nature of bilingual acquisition is such that scholarship in a number of fields is required to support our research. The citation by the LSA’s committee highlighted a certain eclecticism in the way our book appeals to generative, typological and usage-based approaches in order to interpret the data. We were privileged to be trained at the University of Southern California, where from 1986 to 1990 we received the best quality graduate training in linguistics from numerous eminent scholars. The intense exposure to a wide spectrum of theoretical issues in formal and functional linguistics and how they are addressed in first and second language acquisition have had a profound impact on our subsequent work on bilingual acquisition. We especially thank our mentors William Rutherford, Jacqueline Schachter, Bernard Comrie and John Hawkins, who nurtured our interest in grammar, language typology, processing, language acquisition and learnability. We’d like to acknowledge our gratitude to the entire USC community, many of its members past and present, were represented in this year’s LSA.

We are grateful to our friends for their presence at the award ceremony: Susan Fischer, Elaine Francis, Jack Hawkins, Joan Maling, Bill Rutherford, Andrew Winnard and Mary Erbaugh, whose beautiful flowers graced the occasion and made us feel special.

Our undergraduate education at the University of Texas at Austin’s Department of Linguistics (Yip) and at Cambridge, Department of Modern and Medieval Languages (Matthews) laid a solid foundation for our future academic pursuits. We pay special tribute to Joe Cremona, Nigel Vincent and John Lyons at Cambridge and the late Carl Lee Baker, Winfred Lehman and Carlota Smith at Texas.

Special thanks go to William O’Grady whose breadth of scholarship straddling different areas of language acquisition and theoretical frameworks we found most inspiring, and who graciously nominated our book for the award; and to Brian MacWhinney for collaborating with us and indefatigably supporting the construction of the multimedia Hong Kong Bilingual Child Language Corpus using state-of-the-art technology at CHILDES. Brian made us realize the importance of the development of multimedia corpora and automatic computational analysis of developmental data for the future of bilingual acquisition research.We thank Salikoko Mufwene for welcoming the book to his new series, Cambridge Approaches to Language Contact, and editing it to high scholarly standards; and Andrew Winnard at Cambridge University Press for the opportunity to work with his consummately professional team and seeing the book through to publication.

We’d like to acknowledge the prized friendship and collegial support of colleagues in the fields of bilingualism, first language acquisition, second language acquisition, Cantonese linguistics, cognitive neuroscience, language contact, language processing, language typology and pidgin and creole linguistics. We owe an immense intellectual debt to the scholars in these fields whose works have influenced and shaped our thinking on bilingual acquisition with special reference to the Cantonese-English language pair. The analysis of Cantonese bilingual development has in turn inspired our thinking on adult Cantonese grammar which is important in addressing properties of the input.

We thank the members of our Childhood Bilingualism Research Centre, especially Angel Chan and Uta Lam, and many others too numerous to enumerate, our collaborators, colleagues and students in the Department of Linguistics and Modern Languages at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and Department of Linguistics at the University of Hong Kong as well as the Linguistic Society of Hong Kong who together provide a vibrant ecology that nurtures our own growth and development in pursuing our research.

Thanks also go to each of the bilingual children and their parents who participated in our research, all our research assistants and students who joined us at various stages of the project. It is to our extended family that we owe the deepest debt and gratitude. Without the infinite love and support of our large Chinese-style extended family, we could not have reached where we are; without the Almighty God’s gift of bilingual children, our fountains of inspiration, we could not have written the book.

We dedicate the award to our bilingual children Timmy, Sophie and Alicia and all those growing up with two languages around the world. We hope to raise the awareness of the assets of being bilingual and help bilingual children to affirm and appreciate their heritage.

感謝神,因祂有說不盡的恩賜! 歌林多後書 9:15

“Thanks be unto God for his indescribable gift.” 2 Corinthians 9:15

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