Maria F. Ferin Miriam Geiss

Investigating rhetorical question comprehension in Italian by Italian-German bilingual children

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This study investigates the comprehension of rhetorical questions (RhQs) in Italian-German bilingual children, focusing on the minority language Italian. RhQs are a form of non-literal language and are marked by prosodic and lexical-syntactic cues expressing the speaker’s attitude. Bilingual children have to acquire not only the concept of rhetoricity but also the linguistic cues marking RhQs in their two languages. We tested 85 children aged between six and nine in a forced-choice comprehension task.We found that children can interpret RhQs when they are presented with an overt lexical marker and a typical rhetorical prosody, but they have more difficulty when relying only on prosody. Comprehension improved over age and was better for children with a relatively higher exposure to Italian than to German.


  • bilingual acquisition
  • rhetorical questions
  • non-canonical questions
  • language dominance
  • heritage speakers


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