Linguistic proficiency in immigrant and heritage speakers of Danish in Argentina and North America: A quantitative approach

Aktivitet: Tale eller præsentation - typerForedrag og mundtlige bidrag

Jan Heegård Petersen - Foredragsholder

Gert Foget Hansen - Foredragsholder

Karoline Kühl - Foredragsholder

Jacob Thøgersen - Foredragsholder

In our talk, we would like to present a corpus-based quantitative study on linguistic proficiency in approx. 300 immigrant and heritage speakers of Danish in North America and Argentina, aiming at the question whether linguistic proficiency is connected to ‘generation’ or ‘geography’, or both. ‘Generation’ denotes the difference between speakers who migrated as adults with a fully acquired language competence or foreign-born heritage speakers and, accordingly, says something about whether the linguistic proficiency is a result of attrition or incomplete acquisition. Our data base provides us with a rare opportunity to compare developments within the same minority language, Danish, in different places, namely Argentina and North America. Hence, ‘geography’ represents different sociocultural settings for the immigrant or heritage speakers and, accordingly, different language ecologies. Danish immigrants in Argentina were perceived as elite immigrants and little was done in order to promote their assimilation. They formed close networks and settlements, propagated endogamy, oriented themselves towards the protestant churches and pastors, set up Danish schools and generally showed a strong ethnic awareness. Danish immigration to North America (in general) was characterized by geographical mobility, loose networks, exogamy and a
general willingness to assimilate. The study relies on the Corpus of American Danish (1.6 million tokens, including both words and non-word utterances) which we have divided into three populations: Homeland-born immigrant speakers in the USA and Canada (n=135), foreign-born heritage speakers in North America (n=82) and ditto in Argentina (n=74). Based on this, we explore the distribution of 13 linguistic and non-linguistic variables representing linguistic proficiency (i.e. number of Danish words, number of L2 words (English or Spanish words, respectively), amount of word-internal codeswitching, type-token ratio, number of empty pauses, filled pauses and self-interruptions, amount of lengthening, speech rate, word length, runlength and the ratio of main and subclauses) by applying Factor Analysis as a statistical tool. We conclude that the variables cluster in an almost identical way for the North
American immigrant and heritage speakers, implying that the differences in language acquisition does not influence the performance of these speakers. In other words, individual attrition and incomplete acquisition appear to yield the same result. A comparative analysis of the North American and Argentine speaker groups shows a number of substantial differences in the way that the variables cluster, though, leading us to characterize the Argentine speakers
as ‘trying to speak monolingual’ whereas the North American speakers might be characterized as unmarked and fluent “easy mixers”. On an empirically solid basis, we conclude that (a) linguistic proficiency seems to be a non-universal cognitive phenomenon that needs to be investigated on a community-specific level and (b) the sociolinguistic setting rather than the language acquisition biography appear to be the crucial factor in the development of linguistic
proficiency. This, in turn, questions the appropriateness to expect a predictable linguistic performance of heritage speakers. Rather, they appear as one among many bilingual individuals whose linguistic and extra-linguistic performance is shaped by the type and amount of exposure to and use of their heritage language across the lifespan.
25 okt. 2018

Begivenhed (Workshop)

TitelWorkshop on Immigrant Languages of the Americas 9
Forkortet titelWILA
AfholdelsesstedUniversity of Wisconsin, Eau Claire
ByEau Claire, WI

ID: 210056528