“I was born in the USA (Chicago) but have lived in Australia for more than twenty years. I’m an Ausstralian citizen, my wife and kids are Australian, I barrack for Australia in the Olympics (even over the USA), and I’ve developed an Australian outlook and sense of humour (at least I hope so!). Neverthelesss, when I’m introduced to someone new, as soon as I open my mouth I get the question “What part of the states are you from?” But when I go back to see my family in Chicago, people tell me I”ve developed a British accent. So I haven’t been able to acquire Australian English but my original way of talking has changed recognizably.” (p. 3)
– Jeff Siegel, Second Dialect Acquisition
Most people are familiar with the field of second language acquisition, where someone learns a second language or L2 (or L3, L4, etc…). But what about Second Dialect Acquisition?
The distinction between dialects and languages is an interesting one. What makes a language a language and a dialect a dialect? If two languages are mutually intelligible then is it possible they are dialects of the same language?
The case of Danish and Norwegian is a good example of two languages that are mutually intelligible but are considered as two separate languages. Or what about Cantonese and Mandarin which many consider to be dialects of the same language, Chinese, but which are mutually unintelligible?
For me, as someone who has spent a bit of time learning Brazilian Portuguese, while living in Brazil I could understand the Spanish (mostly from visiting Argentinians and Paraguayans) I heard around me fairly well. But when I tried to speak Portuguese to Spanish speakers, it didn’t seem to work so well in the reverse direction. Why is this?
Jeff Siegel, in his recent book on Second Dialect Acquisition, discusses these issues and much more in an attempt to lay out a clear foundation for doing research on how people learn another dialect.
Is learning another dialect more difficult than learning another language? What are the linguistic features that distinguish different dialects? What is the relationship between standard and regional varieties of a language, and to what degree are these difference based on actual linguistic differences or politics, values, and attitudes that people hold towards different varieties of a language?
Also, for me, living in Hawai‘i but having grown up on the West Coast of the U.S., it was interesting to read about Siegel’s thoughts on Hawai‘i Creole (Pidgin) as someone who sees himself as ‘non-local.’ The intertwining of language and identity becomes apparent:
“I also lived for several years in Hawai‘i, but never tried to speak the local variety people call “Pidgin” because I got the feeling that it is used only by those born and bred in the islands. While in Hawai‘i , I observed that speakers of this local variety often had problems with the standard English used in the schools.”
Hawai‘i Creole is an interesting case because most people using it in Hawai‘i tend to view it as a dialect of English, whereas linguists distinguish it as a separate language (although on a continuum). Siegel mentions this point in his introduction, shining light on the sometimes fuzzy boundaries in defining ‘languages’ and ‘dialects.’
“While most linguists (myself included) would say that such creoles and their lexifiers are separate languages, a large proportion of their speakers view tham as different varieties of the same language – the creole often thought to be a degenerate or “broken’ version of the standardized form of the lexifier.”
The last point he makes on standard varieties is worth pointing out as well. How does a standard variety become a standard variety? What are the underlying ideological positions that reinforce ideas of standard/non-standard? And for those involved in education, what does this mean for students who speak a non-standard variety? Especially in an educational system and society that places prestige on a particular dialect that has managed to establish itself as the standard as a result of a variety of sociohistorical factors?
Keeping some of these questions in mind, I came across an interesting video by Benny, an Irish polyglot learning French in Quebec, discussing the differences in accent between French in France and French in Quebec with a Quebecoise (in French with English subtitles). It’s interesting to hear them draw associations between dialect and characteristics of personality, attitudes and beliefs.
Also, the linguist Michael Silverstein recently gave a talk on dialects in the U.S. He does a good job of explaining a lot of the questions I raised in this post:
I took the featured image for this post on a recent boat trip to Makapu’u. You can see the moon rising!