How do the unitary system and separate systems hypotheses influence bilingual language acquisition in children?

The unitary system hypothesis and separate system hypothesis both explain how children in two-language households learn and develop each distinct language. The unitary system hypothesis states that children learn both languages simultaneously as one unified language until they begin to differentiate, usually around age three or four. The separate systems hypothesis states that children are able to separate each language from the earliest stages of language development.

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The unitary system hypothesis and separate system hypothesis are two theories that describe how language develops in children who are exposed to two different languages, most often in the home.

First, we should discuss the basic premise of each hypothesis and how it applies to bilingual children. Keep in mind that each hypothesis applies to young children developing language skills, most often under the age of four.

The unitary system hypothesis states that children learn two languages as one in the beginning. The two languages are united into one set of rules, vocabulary, and structure. Around age three or four, children begin to separate the two languages. They learn to code-switch, meaning that they can switch from one language to the other. This is a difficult skill to master and one of the reasons that early and consistent exposure to both languages is so important when raising a bilingual child.

The separate system hypothesis states that a bilingual child is able to recognize and...

(The entire section contains 3 answers and 919 words.)

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Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on December 7, 2020
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