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Phonetic convergence and divergence strategies in English-Arabic bilingual children

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Ghada Khattab


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This paper examines the role that multiple models of English play in the daily interactions of English-Arabic bilingual children growing up in the UK and how these models are harnessed for communicative purposes. Bilingual children are often regularly exposed to standard, nonstandard, and non-native varieties of either of their languages. These varieties constitute the source of phonological knowledge for these children and influence their sociolinguistic development (Khattab 2009). The bilinguals' sociolinguistic competence not only concerns their ability to switch between languages, but also to switch between native and non-native varieties for communicative purposes. To illustrate this behavior we report on convergence and divergence patterns by three English-Arabic bilingual children aged 5, 7, and 10, growing up in Yorkshire, England. The aim is to explore the role of social, contextual, and interactional factors in shaping the bilinguals' English accent and their developing sociophonetic competence. Semi-structured interactions between the children and their mothers are analyzed for language use and within that, for specific phonetic aspects of the children's English accent in English-only and in codeswitched utterances. Results show that the bilinguals' English codeswitches exhibit systematic patterns in their usage of variants from one language or the other, and from one English variety or the other, depending on the communicative situation. This suggests that bilinguals acquire both native (local and supra local) and non-native features of English and seem to harness phonetic detail from these varieties for divergence or convergence strategies. The results also suggest that bilinguals may constantly move between bilingual and monolingual modes during the course of the interaction depending on the needs of the situation.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Khattab G

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Linguistics

Year: 2013

Volume: 51

Issue: 2

Pages: 439-472

Print publication date: 15/03/2013

ISSN (print): 0024-3949

ISSN (electronic): 1613-396X

Publisher: Mouton De Gruyter


DOI: 10.1515/ling-2013-0017


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