Language Dominance in Early and Late Bilinguals

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Publication year: 2004
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SDG 4 Quality education
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The proposed presentation is a progress report from a project which is aimed at establishing some phonetic correlates of language dominance in various kinds of bilingual situations. The current object of study is Swedish students starting in classes which prepare for the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme. The IB classes in Sweden are taught in English, except for classes in Swedish and foreign languages. This means that after they enter the programme the students are exposed to and speak a good deal more English than previously. The assumption made by many students that they will, on the one hand not “damage” their Swedish, and on the other will dramatically improve their English simply by attending an English-medium school will be tested. The linguistic background of the students studied and their reasons for choosing the IB programme will be established. Their English and Swedish proficiency will be tested according to various parameters (native-like syntax, perceived foreign accent, the timing of vowels and consonants in VC sequences, vocabulary mobilisation) on arrival at the school, and again after one and three years at the school. The initial recordings are now underway. In a preliminary study involving just three young people who were bilingual in Swedish and English, the timing of the pronunciation of (C)VC syllables in Swedish and English was studied. The results of this investigation indicate that it may be possible to establish language dominance in bilingual speakers using timing data. It was found that the three subjects differed systematically in their pronunciation of the target words. One subject (15 years old), who was apparently native-like in both languages, had the V-C timing of both Swedish and English words of a native speaker of English. His brother (17 years old), who had a noticeable Swedish accent in English, pronounced both Swedish and English words in this respect like a native speaker of Swedish. The boys’ sister (9 years old) apparently had native-like timing in both languages.


Una Cunningham

Högskolan Dalarna; Engelska
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