CHILDES Dutch-English De Houwer Corpus

Annick De Houwer
Harmonious Bilingualism Network (HaBilNet)


Participants: 1 (and interacting adults)
Type of Study: naturalistic
Location: Belgium
Media type: no longer available
DOI: doi:10.21415/T5RG60

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Publications using these data should cite:

In accordance with TalkBank rules, any use of data from this corpus must be accompanied by at least one of the above references.

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Introduction & Background

The child featured in this corpus is an only child who we will call Kate. Kate’s first exposure to Dutch and English occurred within the period of a week after her birth, and exposure to two languages was regular up to and including the period of investigation.

Kate was born of an American mother and a Flemish father in a hospital near Antwerp, Belgium, where the language used by the nursing staff in conversations with patients is a standard-like variety of Dutch as spoken in Flanders. Kate roomed in with her English-speaking mother, who stayed in hospital for a week. Kate’s Dutch-speaking father was present at the birth and afterwards visited daily. In her first days of life, Kate heard English spoken to her by her mother, and Dutch by her father and various members of the nursing staff. Thus, first exposure to two languages occurred within the period of a week.

Kate lived with both her parents up to and including the period of investigation and was usually addressed in a different language by each parent. Apart from short intervals when one of the parents was away on a trip, or when both Kate and her mother were in the United States without Kate’s father, exposure to two languages was a pseudo-daily occurrence. Kate’s mother, who is also her most regular care-giver, almost always addresses Kate in mainstream American English with a slight Midwestern accent. The term “mainstream American English” here is meant to refer to that variety of English that on the morphosyntactic level is not substantially different from the type of language used on national United States television. Kate’s father almost always addressed Kate in standard Dutch with a slight Ghent accent. The term “standard Dutch” here refers to the supraregional variant of the language spoken in the Belgian region of Flanders and in most of the Netherlands.

Both parents are university graduates and hold prestigious jobs: Kate’s mother was a part-time free-lance journalist for a variety of international publications, and Kate’s father was a university professor. Kate’s social background thus could be described as upper middle class. Kate’s parents spoke English with each other, because Kate’s mother spoke a heavily accented, often ungrammatical Dutch (she understood a lot more than she could produce herself), whereas Kate’s father spoke English with a close to native competence.

At the beginning of the study, Kate’s mother was asked to fill out a form with questions about the child’s language background up to the time of the study. The information obtained is represented below.

1. Countries visited by Kate
birth-0;4Belgium (Antwerp)3 months
0;4-0;9Australia (Canberra)6 months
0;10-0;10USA and Great Britain3 weeks
0;10-1;6Belgium (Antwerp)8 months
1;7-1;8USA5 weeks
1;8-2;5Belgium (Antwerp)9 months
2;5-2;5USA2 weeks
2;6-3;4Belgium (Antwerp)11 months

The family’s home base was mostly Antwerp, a large city in Belgium with much international activity mainly due to the presence of a major seaport and a large diamond industry. Many languages are spoken in the streets but the language of the local inhabitants is a distinct local dialect that is significantly different from standard Dutch on the phonological, lexical, and morphosyntactic levels. Kate had little contact with speakers of this Antwerp dialect, and it can be said to be of little importance in a discussion of her language background. Before the age of 3;4, Kate spent 8 months in an English-speaking country compared to about 2 years and 7 months in a Dutch-speaking region. The local environment was thus mainly Dutch-speaking. The type of Dutch that nonrelatives (including peers) would tend to use with Kate is fairly standard, with regionally colored accents. The media use standard Dutch. In the English-speaking environments, Kate was exposed to a variety of regional dialects ranging from Australian to British to American.

On weekdays, English was heard by the child much more often than Dutch, with an average of about 10 hours of English versus about 4 hours of Dutch a day. This was mainly due to the fact that Kate went to an English-speaking preschool, a small private school with a low pupil to teacher ratio. Before Kate started going to school at age 2;6, the input for both languages on week-days was about equal: for three mornings a week she was cared for by a Dutch-speaking neighbor.

On weekends, Dutch was heard more often than English, because Kate’s father spends more time with her then, and this is mostly the time when the grandparents were present. Also visits to Dutch-speaking acquaintances and friends tended to take place on the weekends. Kate occasionally spent a week alone with her monolingual Dutch-speaking grand-parents in the holidays or during the school-term when her parents were away on business trips.

2. Kate's language environment (2;5 - 3;4)
Input typeLanguageFrequency
motherEnglishaverage 6 hrs. a day
fatherDutchaverage 4.5 hrs. a day
paternal grandparentsDutchaverage 5 days a month
neighbor baby-sitterDutchirregularly
most visitorsEnglishaverage 5 hrs. a week
some visitorsDutchirregularly
most people visitedEnglishaverage 5 hrs. a week
some people visitedDutchirregularly
peers outside schoolDutchirregularly
preschoolEnglishaverage 20 hrs. a week
playgroupEnglish3 hrs. a week
televisionDutch & Englishaverage 1 hour a day
shops and servicesDutchshort periods daily

On the whole, it might be said that for the period from 2;5 to 3;4, Kate had slightly more contact with English than with Dutch. For both languages, she was exposed to a wide variety of accents. Most of the people that Kate met addressed her in only one language, and certainly her caregivers used mainly one language with her. Kate had thus grown up in a one person/one language situation.

On the information form filled out by her mother, Kate was described as a talkative child “in both languages.” From my own observation of the child I can confirm this. In addition, Kate was a healthy child with no history of hospitalization or illnesses. She had never had to stay away from school because of a cold or other ailment. Kate was used to meeting a lot of different people from various ethnic backgrounds and was not shy in communicating with them. There is no reason to assume that she is exceptionally intelligent or has lower than normal intelligence. Finally, a word should be said about the attitudes in the child’s environment towards her developing bilingualism. Although no formal investigation of this issue was carried out, informal observation during the study, as well as before and after it, showed there to be strong negative or positive attitudes present. Rather, the child’s bilingualism at the age period studied seemed to be accepted by the environment at large as a matter of course, which was not commented on in either positive or negative terms. Kate’s parents themselves only mentioned their daughter’s bilingualism to outsiders when they were proudly recounting her “bilingual jokes.” Bilingual individuals who were in regular contact with the child, however, were made aware by Kate’s parents that they preferred that person to use mainly one language with her.

Data collection & transcription

The data that form the core of the Kate corpus were collected independently from any institution using personal funds while the investigator, who had been trained as a linguist specializing in Dutch and English linguistics and held a Master’s degree in Germanic Philology, was enrolled in a one-year graduate program in Psycholinguistics at the University of Leuven, Belgium. The data were transcribed as soon as possible after data collection using a typewriter. At the time of data collection no real plan existed as to what was going to happen with these data, and at the time the investigator had only a superficial knowledge of the field of child language. This soon changed after the investigator spent the year after data collection as an independent graduate student at Stanford University, studying mainly under Professor Eve Clark. When the investigator returned to Belgium she decided to use Kate’s data as a basis for a doctoral thesis on bilingual children’s language acquisition. This thesis was prepared over a 6-year period while the investigator was a lecturer in English linguistics at the Free University of Brussels, Belgium. The advisor was Professor Hugo Baetens Beardsmore of the Free University of Brussels, who is a specialist on bilingualism. During the summer and fall of 1990, the computerized corpus was transferred to CHAT format and the adult utterances from the original transcript were added to the computerized corpus. The investigator did this work while she was a Visiting Scholar at Carnegie Mellon University.

The investigator (INV) first met Kate about 6 months before data collection began and was in regular contact with her after the initial meeting. The child saw INV as a close friend of the family’s and seemed to feel totally at ease with her. The investigator, a native speaker of Dutch, used Dutch with Kate most of the time throughout the initial acquaintanceship and the recording period. When data collection began, the child was not aware that her language use was of any particular interest to INV. There was no observable difference between Kate’s behavior towards INV before data collection began and afterwards.

In total, 19 one-hour recordings were made. The age period studied covers the eight months from 2;7 to 3;4. Although the aim was to make one recording a week, the sessions ended up being irregularly spaced due to the family’s unexpected absences or visitors which made data collection impossible. Data collection was carried out in the child’s home using a good quality portable cassette-recorder with a built-in multidirectional microphone. This recorder was placed on the floor or on a table close to where interaction was taking place and received little interest from the child, except on some infrequent occasions when INV or Kate’s mother was asked to “turn the music on.” There is no reason to believe that the interaction was influenced by the presence of the recorder.

The tapes were transcribed orthographically by the investigator as soon as possible after their recording. Contextual information was added from memory where deemed necessary for later disambiguation. Unfortunately much needed contextual information is still lacking, so that interactions are sometimes uninterpretable. In reformatting the corpus into CHAT, overlap information was omitted altogether, and bits of IPA transcriptions were translated into UNIBET.

All child-adult interactions were transcribed in full (including hesitations, false starts, repetitions, self–made songs, and nonsense utterances). Extended conversations between the adults that did not include the child in any way were not transcribed (this was indicated by a comment), but all other adult utterances were included in the transcription. The adult utterances in the corpus should be interpreted as being addressed to the child or to the child and the other adult(s) present unless specifically noted otherwise. The boundaries of both child and adult utterances were determined intuitively on the basis of intonation contours (this procedure is unfortunately far from ideal). Utterances were separated from one another using full stops unless there was clear question intonation (in which case a question mark was used), or unless the utterance was uttered in a fairly loud and/or excited voice (in which case an exclamation point was used).

The transcriber was trained in linguistics and phonetics and was quite proficient in both the language varieties that Kate was exposed to. Every effort was made to carry out the transcriptions as meticulously as possible, but for practical and financial reasons it was unfortunately impossible to engage a second transcriber for verification purposes.

The recording sessions

The overall description of the recording sessions is given in this table:

3. Kate recording sessions

Frequently, interactions were recorded while Kate was playing with INV in the kitchen and Kate’s mother was cooking. Thus, at most of the recording sessions both languages were present, but because MOT was busy cooking and INV was usually Kate’s focus of attention (after all, INV was there “to play with her,” as MOT frequently told Kate), interactions between MOT and Kate were rather less frequent than interactions between INV and Kate. On many of the tapes, then, there are three speakers present, and each of these may interact with either one of the others. This situation, by the way, was quite usual in Kate’s life: her parents had visitors almost daily, and the very hospitable atmosphere in Kate’s house meant that more often than not, a visitor stayed for lunch or dinner.

Favorite games played during the recording sessions included “flying,” in which Kate would repeatedly ask INV to lift her high up in the air; playing with an animal farm; pre-tending to be a lion or some other animal; making pretend “dinner” and “tea”; and naming colors. In MOT’s interactions with Kate during the recording sessions discussions of past and future events featured prominently (again nothing unusual in Kate’s life: every day before going to bed Kate had a conversation with MOT about the events of that day or the next). Other interaction between Kate and her mother frequently concerned the eating or preparing of food. There are not many examples of playing between Kate and her mother. As MOT has reported to INV, she does not usually play with Kate, except when Kate needs someone to give pretend “tea” or “dinner” to.

There were a few recording sessions where Kate’s father (FAT) was present as well. In addition, Kate’s aunt Elaine, her grandparents, and a colleague of her father’s were present at some sessions. Overall, the data consist of mainly Dutch interactions between Kate and INV, and mainly English interactions between Kate and MOT. The language used between INV and MOT is English.

The table below lists the main activities that Kate engaged in during the recording sessions, together with an indication of who the major interacting adult was for each activity and which language they tended to use in addressing the child.

4. Kate's activities and interlocutors
1Naming colorsINVDutch
General conversationINVDutch
2Recounting a visitINVDutch
Arranging cushionsINVDutch
Naming colorsINVDutch
Discussing imaginary eventsMOTEnglish
3Acting out boating sceneINVDutch
4Pretending to be cookingINVDutch
Pretending to be sleepingINVDutch
Pretending to be a sick lionINVDutch
Pretending to shoot a birdINVDutch
5Requesting candyMOTEnglish
Being thrown up in the airFAT/INVDutch
Hiding gameDutch
Pretending to be a fishINVDutch
6Playing with animal farmINVDutch
General conversationINVDutch
Pretending to an animalINVDutch
7Discussing school eventsINV/MOTDutch
Discussing museumINV/MOTEnglish/Dutch
Requesting and insistingMOTEnglish
Pretending to be a rooster INVDutch
Making and serving MOT/INVEnglish/Dutch
Requesting and insisting MOTEnglish
Playing with animal farmINVDutch
9Naming colorsINVDutch
Playing with a dollINVDutch
Requesting food stuffsMOTEnglish
10Playing in the bath tubINVDutch
Getting dressedMOTEnglish
11Discussing past eventsMOT/INVEnglish/Dutch
Joking aroundEnglish/Dutch
Making and servingMOT/INVEnglish/Dutch
12Playing in the bath tubMOT/INVEnglish/Dutch
Getting dressedMOTEnglish
Discussing foodMOTEnglish
13Discussing a tripMOT/INVEnglish/Dutch
Discussing the weekendMOT/INVEnglish/Dutch
“Helping” M prepare foodMOTEnglish
Discussing foodFATDutch
14Making matches “dance”MOTEnglish
Learning about food stuffsMOTEnglish
Learning about cookingMOTEnglish
General conversationMOTEnglish
Chattering nonsenseFATDutch
15Discussing school eventsMOTEnglish
General conversationMOTEnglish
Requesting food stuffsMOTEnglish
Riding tricycleEnglish
Discussing upcoming tripMOTEnglish
Discussing trip to the seasideINVDutch
Bedtime monologue--
16Being thrown up in the airINVDutch
Hiding gameDutch
Naming colorsINVDutch
Requesting food stuffsMOTEnglish
General conversationMOTEnglish
17General conversationMOTEnglish
Cutting up strawberriesINVDutch
Requesting food to cut upMOTEnglish
18Playing at “dinner”FAT/INVDutch
Discussing school eventINVDutch
Conversation and jokingFAT/INVDutch
19Hiding gamesFAT/INVDutch
Playing with a ballFAT/INVDutch
General conversationFAT/INVDutch
Pretend dinnerFAT/INVDutch
Discussing upcoming tripFAT/INVDutch

The author of this corpus will be happy to provide researchers who want to use this corpus with a coded version that includes a language identification code for each child utterance, as well as morphological and syntactic codes developed by the author.