Belgian Dutch children’s preferences for English-sounding neologisms: an experimental approach

Thematic Section: The development of social meaning in heterogeneous speech communities

social meaning, contact-induced variation and change, developmental sociolinguistics, language policy, language ideology

Gillian Roberts, KU Leuven
Eline Zenner, KU Leuven
Laura Rosseel, Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Background: The emerging field of developmental sociolinguistics (De Vogelaer & Katerbow 2017), which investigates how children acquire socially meaningful linguistic variation, has so far mainly focused on the acquisition of standard/vernacular variation (e.g. De Vogelaer & Toye 2017; Holmes-Elliott fthc). This study shifts the focus to the diverse sociolinguistic ecology of a language contact setting as a window on how young language users learn to navigate variable social meanings in discourse (Eckert 2019).
Aim: This study experimentally investigates variation in Belgian Dutch preadolescent children’s preference for English- or Dutch-sounding neologisms as names for a series of new objects.
Respondents: 120 monolingual children are included in a sample balanced for gender and age (8-9, 10-11 and 12-13-year-olds).
Design: The experiment introduces children to 12 new objects belonging to different semantic fields. Two alternative names are presented to the children for each object, viz. artificial neologisms (compare Samara et al. 2017) which are pronounced in a Dutch or English way and are phonotactically plausible in both languages (e.g. “snaster”, Dutch [snɑstər] vs. English [snɑːstə]). The children indicate which of the two names they prefer for the object. After the naming task, children’s awareness of the linguistic phenomenon under study is tested in a language recognition task. Subsequently, they fill in a short questionnaire that elicits their overt attitudes towards the use of English in Dutch. Multifactorial analyses uncover the interplay between lexical preference (dependent variable) and semantic field of the object, age, gender, language awareness, and reported attitudes (independent variables).
Expected results & implications: Results allow us to track the evolution in children’s positioning towards English and Dutch as available lexical resources and shed light on the acquisition of sociolinguistic variation in settings of language contact.