Perceiving and evaluating standard-dialect variation in one’s second language: data from multilinguals in Austria

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

Andrea Ender, Universität Salzburg
Gudrun Kasberger, Private Pädagogische Hochschule der Diözese Linz
Irmtraud Kaiser, Universität Salzburg

Being a fully proficient member of a speech community also entails sensitivity to variation in the respective language(s) and to its socio-indexical meaning. Moreover, the acquisition of sociolinguistic variation is not only a (language) learning task but it also pertains – for multilinguals as much as for monolinguals – to questions of identity and group membership (Regan 2010; Ender 2017). Language learners in (the Bavarian-speaking parts of) Austria are confronted with a so-called ‘continuum’ of speech forms between local dialect and (Austrian) standard German (Ammon 2003; Kaiser/Ender 2015) and these speech forms typically trigger certain socio-indexical associations in monolinguals (Soukup 2009; Bellamy 2012). Research on the acquisition of sociolinguistic variation, however, has long been neglected.
The present study investigates the discriminatory abilities of and attitudinal evaluations by speakers of L2 German who live in Austria, and contrasts them with L1 reference groups. The study includes 11 children (ages 3 to 10), 37 adolescents (ages 11 to 19) and 56 adults from 20 to 75 years of age. In an A-B-X task, participants were asked to decide whether sentences were spoken in the same or in different varieties (local dialect or standard German) and in adapted ‘matched-guise’ tasks, participants were asked to indicate their evaluations of dialect and standard German speakers in pretend roles (doctors and salespersons). Additionally, 39 semi-structured interviews were conducted, which addressed questions of language use and attitudes. Results indicate that second language users seem to quickly develop an ability to discriminate the different varieties similar to first language users. Moreover, multilinguals using German as a second language evaluate dialect quite positively, but less favourably than first language users. In the interviews, issues of comprehension, ‘belonging’ and identity were raised, which help to interpret these quantitative results.