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Teenagers’ acquisition of variation

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In recent years, the UK has experienced unparalleled numbers of migrants from Eastern Europe, particularly Poland. Many migrants came with their families. We examined variation in the English spoken by adolescent Polish migrants in Edinburgh and London. We asked: to what extent are teenage Polish migrants acquiring the patterns of variation typical of their local peer group? We compare the results for the well-known variable (ing) in the speech of both Polish migrants and their same age British peers. Our results indicate that the Polish teenagers seem to be sensitive to the overall rates of the non-standard variant in the city they have moved to. Moreover, Polish teenagers also replicate some of the linguistic and social constraints found in the speech of the locally-born teens. In some cases, they partially replicate the constraint patterns found in the locally-born teenagers, and in other cases they introduce novel constraints unattested in the speech of their locally-born peers. The results of our study raise several questions regarding local shared constraints and universal learning tools, potential supra-local constraints and the status of (ing) as a sociolinguistic variable for learners of English. We discuss these in the final section of this paper.

Keywords: (ing); Edinburgh; London; acquisition of variation; immigration; teenagers

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2011

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