Ongoing Project:

Exploring the Interdependence Between Morphological and Syntactic Development in Heritage Contexts: The Case of Syrian Refugee Children in Canada

Researchers: Evangelia Daskalaki1, Johanne Paradis1, Xi (Becky) Chen2, Adriana Soto-Corominas1, and Aisha Barise1
Affiliation: University of Alberta1 and OISE, University of Toronto2
Keywords: Syrian refugee children, bilingual language development, Arabic, English, word order, syntax, morphology, subject-verb agreement, grammatical relations, heritage speakers


Objective: This study explores whether Syrian refugee children’s comprehension of complex sentences (object relative clauses) in Arabic and English is modulated by their knowledge of morphology (subject-verb agreement).

Justification: Very few studies have explored how the comprehension, as opposed to the production, of heritage speakers is affected by environmental and cognitive factors across grammatical areas, such as morphology and syntax, and across languages (in this case, the heritage language of Arabic and the second language of English). Accordingly, the aim of this project is to explore the hypothesis that difficulties with the comprehension of complex structures, which involve non-canonical/marked work orders, might result from loss of sensitivity to morphological devices.

Practical goal: The results of this study will have theoretical significance as they will speak to debates on the relative difficulty of syntax and morphology in bilingual acquisition and the interdependence between the two. As well, results will have applied significance as they will inform explicit instruction of grammatical forms.

Primary audience: Academics, educators, and speech language pathologists


This study will look at 97 Syrian refugee children (mean age = 9.5), who at the time of testing, will have resided in two English-majority Canadian cities (Edmonton and Toronto) for four years. Quantitative data will be gathered on cognitive/ external factors using the ALEQ-4 (Paradis et al., 2019), a parent questionnaire on home language and literacy environment developed in another CYRRC project. To measure children’s comprehension of relative clauses and verbal agreement in both languages, the researchers will develop two offline sentence-picture matching comprehension tasks.

This project seeks to answer the following questions:

  1. Do morphological cues (verbal agreement) facilitate Syrian refugee children’s comprehension of relative clauses in their two languages?

  2. Is the facilitative effect of morphological cues modulated by children’s knowledge of verbal agreement in their two languages?
  3. What environmental and cognitive factors predict performance in morphological (verbal agreement) and syntactic comprehension (relative clauses) in children’s two languages?

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