Dialect acquisition and migration

How do immigrants position themselves by acquiring/not acquiring the local dialect? This was one of the questions raised at the workshop Dialect acquisition and migration. 

Unn Røyneland, Deputy Director of MultiLing, opening the worskshop Dialect acquisition and migration. She is standing in front of the audience.

Unn Røyneland, Deputy Director of MultiLing, opening the workshop Dialect acquisition and migration.

Within Europe, there are huge differences in the way the second and third generation migrants adapt to the dialectal and regiolectal ways of speaking found in the receiving societies. They range from almost complete accommodation of the whole repertoire from standard to dialect, to an outright rejection of dialects as spoken by the autochthonous population. Variation within a country has also been reported.

Acquire or not aquire the local dialect

Before he left Oslo, one of the organizers of the workshop, Professor Peter Auer from the University of Freiburg, answered a few questions about how immigrants acquire or not acquire the local dialect.

In this workshop we have heard about how immigrants position themselves by acquiring/not acquiring the local dialects. You divided the positions into three: segregation, integration and neutrality. Can you tell us more about these three?

We know about very different ways in which (particularly second generation) immigrants position themselves vis-a-vis the local dialects of the receiving society. One is integration, which means that they learn and use the dialects more or less like they are spoken by non-migrant speakers. They also know when to use dialects and when to use the standard. Ideally, they acquire the whole repertoire (standard and dialect, possibly intermediate forms), sometimes they only acquire the dialect but not the standard variety. The opposite scenario is one in which the immigrants or their sons and daughters simply disregard the local variety spoken in the receiving society and instead develop their own way of speaking the language of the receiving society. Sociolinguists often speak of ethnolects (if only one ethnic group does so) or of multi- or pan-ethnolects (if people with different ethnic and often also linguistic backgrounds converge on one ethnolect). Finally, a third scenario, which is often found in elite migration, is to keep out of all this and only acquire the standard variety used in the country into which they immigrated. This is a strategy of neutrality.

How can we explain the different choices immigrants make?

This is one of the issues we still have to explore. There are various factors that might contribute to the choice they make. Surely, the social and economic conditions under which they live play a role, i.e. linguistic integration/segretation and social integration/segregation are related to each other. But also, the way in which dialects are used in the receiving society is important: are they used in such a way that new-comers can learn them at all, i.e. do they get any dialectal input? Finally, the dialect-standard ideology of the receiving society, but also of their own culture plays a role. If you come from a society- or immigrate into one - in which the dialects are held in very low esteem, there will be little incentive to learn the dialect.

Do first and second immigrants position themselves differently?

First generation immigrants have to deal with the difficult task of learning a new language as adults. Hence, they usually speak a learners' variety of this language which may show specific structures. For the second generation, who learn the language as children, this is usually not the case. But apart from that, the scenarios above may hold in both generations. Of course, the constellation of factors influencing their choice may be different in the first and second generation. For instance, the so-called guest workers of the 1950s and 1960s simply did not have enough input in the standard language in many middle and north European countries and therefore learned the language they encountered at work, and depending on the region, this may have been a dialect.

If you’re interested in the different lectures held during the workshop, you can take a look at the abstracts.

By Jorunn Simonsen Thingnes
Published Apr. 28, 2016 11:23 AM - Last modified Mar. 8, 2019 11:41 AM