From zero to hero. Identifying the point of acceleration of English as a socially meaningful lexical resource for Belgian Dutch children

Background: A recent upsurge of studies in the field of developmental sociolinguistics provide insight into preschoolers’ acquisition of socially meaningful variation between standard and vernacular on a phonological level (Nardy et al. 2014 ; De Vogelaer & Katerbow 2017). The acquisition of socially meaningful variation patterns in (1) preadolescence, for (2) lexical variation (3) induced by language contact is, however, left understudied (though see Holmes-Elliott 2020 ; Cornips 2018 ; Francot et al. 2017).

Aim: This poster emanates from a larger research project that aims to study how and when Belgian Dutch children learn to employ the social value of English lexical resources in Dutch. Addressing the aforementioned threefold research gap, it specifically seeks to identify the point of acceleration of English as a lexical resource for these children. While we do know that English insertions are nearly absent in the speech of Belgian Dutch preschoolers (Zenner & Van De Mieroop 2019) and abundantly present in their later produced youth language (De Decker & Vandekerckhove 2012), we as of yet have no understanding of the evolution in frequency of English-sourced lexemes in the transition from childhood to adolescence.

Data: After a broad sketch of the project’s data collection, this poster will zoom in on a first data session that consists of peer group conversations, both spontaneous and topically controlled (steering towards/away from semantic field prone to English), conducted by 24 Belgian Dutch preadolescents. The sample includes 6 groups of respondents, each consisting of 4 team members of the same local sports team unit. It is balanced for gender and age (three age groups : 7-9, 9-11, 11-13 years old) and controlled for mother tongue (monolingual Belgian Dutch) and SES (i.a. no formal English tuition in schooling context). The resulting corpus for this poster consists of 6 hours of conversational data (one hour per sports unit), described and annotated following the CHAT conventions of the CHILDES project.

Annotation and variables: To uncover points of transition, the following steps will be taken :

  1. Identify all English-sourced lexemes and phrases in our corpus. Special attention will be paid to the types of English inclusions found in the data, viz. their level of entrenchment (Zenner et al. 2012) and the existence of Dutch alternatives (Onysko & Winter-Froemel 2011).
  2. Tag these lexemes and phrases for respondent, topic addressed (more/less prone to English) and task at hand (spontaneous vs. topical control).
  3. Measure dispersion (Chesley & Baayen 2010) and distribution (Balteiro 2018) and uncover similarities and differences relying on dimensionality reduction techniques (PCA, MDS) and clustering.

Results and implications: The preadolescent corpus constructed for this research project will allow us to draw conclusions on the evolution in frequency (types/tokens), distribution and dispersion of English lexical material in the different age groups of our sample. Thus, this poster will address standing questions on the social meaning of contact-induced language variation in preadolescence by providing a window into Belgian Dutch children’s acquisition – from ‘zero’ (preschool) to ‘hero’ (adolescence) – of English lexical resources.

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  • Zenner, Eline & Dorien Van De Mieroop. 2019. The (near) absence of English in Flemish dinner table conversations. Applied Linguistics Review, epub ahead of print.

See also: Poster