Child Bilingualism: A Bilingual Child’s Lexical and Phonological Features


Multilingualism is not a unique phenomenon in a multilingual nation such as the Philippines. In fact, this archipelagic tropical country speaks more than 170 languages and dialects (Yap, 2008). Usually, a Filipino’s first language is his/her native language. They often use this language in mundane events and in everyday communication. More often than not, most Filipinos learn other languages in school or through media. For instance, the Philippines’ national language, Filipino, is spoken by 85.53% of the Filipino population as their first or second language (Nolasco, 2008).  This language is often used as teaching instructions in school. Moreover, it is also the language frequently used by the national media and the government. Aside from their mother tongue and their national language, Filipinos speak their respective regional lingua francas such as Cebuano, Ilokano and Hiligaynon. Finally, English is also widely spoken in the Philippines as it is considered as a second language or L2 by most Filipinos. Just like the national language, English is also introduced in school and is mostly used in formal endeavors like academic and government events. The Filipinos’ knowledge in English as their L2 was described in a research done by the Social Weather Stations in 2008. The research showed that 76% of the adult Filipinos could understand spoken English; 75%  could read English; 61% could write English; 46% could speak English; 38% could think in English; while 8% were not competent in any way when it comes to the English language (as cited in Nolasco, 2008).

Cebu City, the oldest city in the Philippines, is a great local example of a bilingual/multilingual community. People, Cebuanos particularly, use different languages in different domains. At home, parents usually either speak to their children in their mother tongue (Bisaya) or in English. In school, the medium of instruction is both in English and Filipino. Some schools, like Sacred Heart – Ateneo de Cebu, even teach children foreign languages such as Mandarin Chinese. Moving on, Cebu’s community language is bilingual in nature, Cebuano Bisaya – English. It is evident in local media, especially in feature and variety shows where hosts tend to code switch and code mix the two languages. And since Cebu is a fast developing metropolitan city, its media coverage is not only limited to local channels which use Cebuano Bisaya-English as their language. National channels (GMA, ABS-CBN, etc) using Filipino-English language and even international channels (Disney, National Geographic, etc.) which use the English language are also readily accessible to the Cebuano viewers.

Aims of the Study

This study aims to investigate the lexical and phonological features of childhood bilingualism in a local setting. The concerns on phonological similarity/differentiation and lexical overlap/exclusivity between the two languages are two of the enduring concerns in this phase at present. The study aims to examine each dichotomy, what constitutes naturally on the chosen bilingual child and how each feature affects the other. Furthermore, it is to understand the language background–parental and environmental strategies—and how it affects bilingual language development of the chosen bilingual child.

Child Profile (due to confidentiality issues, names were replaced with nicknames and abbreviations)

Baptismal Name:       Yana

Birthdate:                   April 25, 2010

Persons who interact with the child:

Grandmother :









Their educational background and first languages:

Grandmother :

Lydia – Cebuano-Bisaya


Don – Nautical; Cebuano-Bisaya

Mark – Cebuano-Bisaya

Sam – Cebuano-Bisaya


Fe – Teacher; Cebuano-Bisaya

Dawn – Secretarial; Cebuano-Bisaya

Languages they use the child, and with one another:

Everyone in the household dominantly speaks to the child and with one another in Cebuano-Bisaya.

Approximate number of hours/time of the day spent with the child:

Grandmother :                                                

Lydia – 24/7


Shiela – Only an hour or two in the morning before going to work and at

nighttime after work (Monday – Saturday); whole-day of Sunday

Izra – Only an hour or two in the morning before going to work and at

nighttime after work (Monday – Saturday); whole-day of Sunday


Don – before and after work

Mark  –  before and after work

Sam – before and after work


Fe Trinidad – before and after work

Maria Donna Cawaling – before and after work


The researchers conducted the study twice. The first session was on August 6, 2014 at 1:30 pm, where the child was eating and playing with her mother and yaya (househelp). On the second session last August 8, 2014 at 4:00 pm, the child actively interacted with the researchers. The child answered mathematical flashcards, read texts, colored things in her coloring book and talked to the researchers while eating. The researchers observed how the child mingled with other family members (cousin, mother and yaya), recorded the conversations using an iPhone, and listed down the words uttered by the child. The first session was about 30 minutes long while the second session lasted for about 40 minutes. The phonological features and lexical features of the child’s utterances were described and analyzed.




One of the first things children learn in language are sounds. In fact, children learning a language undergo different phonological processes as they are developing their speech and language. Children’s pronunciation of words, in an early stage of about a year old up to 4 years old, will mostly be incorrect. These incorrect pronunciations of words are what we call as phonological deviations.

In the current study, the bilingual child’s phonological deviations are mostly on substitution process, particularly ‘stopping’ where she substitutes a stop consonant with a fricative or an affricate.

Eg.       Math: /mat/ instead of /mæθ/

Thirty: /tɝtI/ instead of /θɝdI/

Three: /trI/ instead of /θrI/

            According to Samantha Deutsch, a speech language pathologist, “stopping is very common and is present in many young children’s speech.” This phenomenon is usually corrected as the child matures. Typically, stopping ceases between the age of 3-5 years old depending on which sounds are being substituted. (Phonological Processes: Stopping, 2013)

            The bilingual child in this study also exhibits other types of phonological deviations such as unstressed syllable deletion, where she deleted the unstressed syllable of the Cebuano-Bisaya word ‘naay’ and pronounced the word as ‘nay’, total reduplication wherein the child repeated the whole word ‘balik’ and pronounced it as ‘balik-balik’ to describe her teachers.

            Another notable phonological deviation present in this paper’s bilingual child is focused more on the vowels. The current researchers were not able to classify them according to the phonological processes offered by Ingram (1976) because most of Ingram’s phonological processes focus more on the consonants. Here are some examples of the bilingual child’s utterances which the current researchers classified as ‘others’:

Eg.       I am: ‘I /am/’ instead of ‘I /æm/’

One: /wan/ instead of /w^n/

Cousin: /k^zn/ instead of /kazn/

This phenomenon is surely unique to this bilingual child, or possibly to other Filipino bilingual children as well, because it seems like that the child is ‘Philippinizing’ the pronunciation of the English words. This phonological deviation will surely be corrected and eliminated after the child learns the pronunciation of the vowels in the vowel triangle.




The researchers elicited a total of 256 words from the bilingual child.  This includes words both in English and in Cebuano-Bisaya. Of the 256 words elicited from the child, 78 words or 30% of the data were specific nominals, 71 words or 28% of the data were modifiers, 38 words or 15% of the data were general nominals, 35 words or 14% of the data were action words, 21 words or 8% of the data were personal-social words, and 16 words or 6% of the data were functional words.

            The dominance of specific nominals in the bilingual child’s utterance perhaps strengthens what scientists call ‘naming insight’. In the phenomenon of ‘naming insight’, scientists believe that children understands words in two ways – that “words are names for objects” and that “every object has a name.”

This study was a paper done by Linguistics and Literature students as a requirement for Bilingualism class. 


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