The Development of Plural Expressions in a Malay-English Bilingual Child


  • Rabiah Tul Adawiyah Mohamed Salleh
  • Satomi Kawaguchi
  • Caroline Jones
  • Bruno Di Biase


In a postcolonial country such as Malaysia, English plays an important role in governance, education and popular culture. With English now becoming the lingua franca of the globalised world, many Malaysian urban families use English to speak to their children at home, in conjunction with the Malay language or other ethnic languages. Recognising the important relationship between the two languages, this paper investigates early bilingual development of Malay and English focusing specifically on the development of plural marking in a child raised simultaneously in these typologically distant languages. These two languages express plurals differently: Malay through various forms of reduplication and English by morphological marking on nouns. But how does the child manage to learn, simultaneously, such divergent systems? In order to shed some light on this question, a bilingual child growing up in these two languages was audio- and video- recorded in each language over 6 months, that is from 3 years 4 months (3;4) to 3 years 10 months (3;10). Results suggest that though the child appeared to develop two distinct systems of plurality in Malay and English, the two developing systems also manifested considerable cross-linguistic influence in both directions. Implications for the study of world Englishes are discussed.


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Author Biographies

Rabiah Tul Adawiyah Mohamed Salleh

Rabiah Tul Adawiyah Mohamed Salleh is a PhD student at Western Sydney University, Bankstown Campus. She is conducting a case study research on childhood bilingualism, focusing on the morphological and phonological aspects of plural development.

Satomi Kawaguchi

Associate Professor Satomi Kawaguchi is a member of the Bilingualism Research Lab at Western Sydney University (WSU) where she teaches Japanese and Second Language acquisition. She has published many journal articles and book chapters on language acquisition and Processabillity Theory.

Caroline Jones

Associate Professor Caroline Jones is an Australian Research Council Future Fellow at the MARCS Institute, WSU. Her previous academic positions were at University of New South Wales and University of Wollongong. Her areas of interest are in variation and change in adult spoken language across languages, dialects and generations, particularly in terms of phonetics and phonology.

Bruno Di Biase

Associate Professor Bruno Di Biase is an Adjunct Associate Professor, School of Humanities and Communication Arts/Bilingualism Research Lab at WSU. His research and publications relate mostly to Bilingualism and Second Language Acquisition with a focus on Processability Theory.




How to Cite

Salleh, R. T. A. M., Kawaguchi, S., Jones, C., & Di Biase, B. (2016). The Development of Plural Expressions in a Malay-English Bilingual Child. Asiatic: IIUM Journal of English Language and Literature, 10(2). Retrieved from



Section II: Review Articles