Measuring language attitudes towards ethnolectal features in bilingual Swiss-German-speaking children

Thematic Section: The development of social meaning in heterogeneous speech communities
social meaning, contact-induced variation and change, developmental sociolinguistics, language policy, language ideology

Melanie Röthlisberger, University of Zürich
The present paper reports on a project that investigates how bilingual children aged 6 to 12 make use of ethnolectal features in Swiss-German. To that end, we apply a novel methodological approach that measures language attitudes in children (Rosseel, Zenner & Speelman 2019).
Features of ethnolectal Swiss-German have often been discussed in connection with adolescents with a migrant background (see, e.g., Tissot, Schmid & Galliker 2011) but little is known about the usage and the social meaning attached to these features within the youngest speech group, i.e. pre-adolescent children. By studying language use and attitudes of children, we will not only address this gap but also focus on the innovators of language change (cf. Cheshire et al. 2011) and thus gain new insights in ongoing restructuring processes in Swiss-German.
In order to investigate children’s production and perception of ethnolectal features, the project will 1) take stock of the linguistic repertoire available to children and 2) measure social meaning attached to these features. To identify the linguistic features of interest, the project investigates earlier anecdotal claims about the usage of ethnolectal features as defined by Auer (2002; see also Tissot, Schmid & Galliker 2011) by tapping into spoken data collected through the diapix task (Baker & Hazan 2011) and free storytelling. Preliminary analysis of sampled data for this first step indicates that the use of ethnolectal features seems to be restricted to bilingual (migrant) children in the rural area but more widespread to monolingual children in the urban areas. Finally, the social evaluation children attach to these features will be assessed in an experimental step that includes a visually enriched and child-friendly version of the matched guise technique and a normed and validated language awareness test.