Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Applied Linguistics

Subject Categories

Language and Literacy Education


Br. Andrew Gonzalez FSC College of Education


English and Applied Linguistics

Thesis Adviser

Rochelle Irene G. Lucas

Defense Panel Chair

Marianne Jennifer M. Gaerlan

Defense Panel Member

Aireen B. Arnuco
Ma. Joahna M. Estacio
Cecilia G. Genuino
Rachelle B. Lintao


Conventional generative theories often consider language acquisition as governed by a set of learning biases, rules, and principles which play a role in the explanation for the existence of typological generalizations or universals. Nevertheless, although the idea is frequently debated, direct evidence that will prove the particular nature of the learning biases and their role in explaining typological generalizations remains lacking. In the area of nominal word order, recent studies involving English speaking monolinguals via artificial language learning have claimed that the cross-linguistic frequency of harmonic word order patterns (heads are ordered consistently before or after dependents across syntactic categories) reflects a cognitive bias (Culbertson, Smolensky, & Legendre, 2012; Culbertson & Newport, 2015a). However, these claims remain inconclusive due to the fact that these studies target English learners, whose native language is harmonic in the nominal domain (Num-Adj-N) and this preference may be attributed on transfer rather than on a universal harmonic bias. Thus, this study provides empirical evidence from young multilingual learners, whose native language is both harmonic and non-harmonic in this domain. The results revealed that multilingual child learners exhibit a preference for typologically common harmonic word order patterns (N-Adj, N-Num) which preserve the order of the head with respect to its complements. Hence, providing further support for the existence of language universal in general, and of Universal 18 in particular. Importantly, it validates the claim that cognitive bias governs language acquisition, rather than native language influence. The study also discusses important content of the biases at play during language learning. In particular, multilingual learners favor regularity within an individual rule as indicated by their preference to a grammar which uses the same rule for numerals and adjectives. It clearly indicates that a grammar which distinctly uses a single ordering rule for a given modifier (harmonic patterns) is more consistent than the one which alternates between two ordering rules (non-harmonic patterns).

Abstract Format






Accession Number



Linguistic universals; Typology (Linguistics); Language acquisition; Languages, Modern—Word order

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