Doctoral Dissertation Research: Inconsistent input and amount of exposure: child second language acquisition of Fering, a dialect of North Frisian

Project: Research project

Project Details


Investigations of language acquisition are fundamentally concerned with how children acquire language given the input they receive. However, these studies often focus on the amount of input rather than the type of input. Recent studies have used artificial languages to study how children acquire inconsistent input. Pennsylvania State University doctoral student, Alison Eisel Hendricks, supervised by Drs. Carrie N. Jackson and Karen Miller, investigates current theories of language acquisition of Fering, an endangered language spoken in northern Germany. The dissertation compares the acquisition of consistent versus inconsistent input by children and young adult-learners of Fering.

Grammatical gender is a system that categorizes nouns into genders, often resulting in different versions of the definite article 'the'. Fering speakers produce grammatical gender inconsistently, with speakers using both genders interchangeably. On the other hand, speakers largely agree on grammatical number. Half of Fering-speaking children acquire it as a native language, while half learn Fering in school. Thus, this project tests the influence of input type and amount of exposure on language acquisition.

This dissertation tests elementary and high school students' comprehension and production of grammatical gender, number, and general fluency. Parents will complete a language use questionnaire and Fering-speaking parents will complete the same experiments as their children. Adult community members will participate in free speech interviews to further measure community language input.

This project contributes equally to linguistic theory and minority language studies. By testing a natural language and tracking acquisition of inconsistent input over time, the project furthers general knowledge of child language acquisition. Using qualitative and experimental tasks betters our understanding of the task facing children learning minority languages. This dissertation investigates North Frisian, but the results inform other cases of minority language revitalization, and will interest teachers and language planners. The project also contributes to the training of a graduate student.

Effective start/end date2/15/131/31/15


  • National Science Foundation: $15,118.00


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