Linguistics and English Language

Linguistic Circle

Speaker: Chloé Diskin (University of Melbourne)

Title: Second dialect acquisition in the diaspora: a case study of Irish migrants in Melbourne

Abstract: Australia has a significant and expanding migrant population coming from a diversity of cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Many of these migrants already speak a dialect or variety of English; however, the vast majority have had little exposure to Australian English (AusE) prior to their arrival. What happens when they encounter this new and relatively unfamiliar variety of English? Do they accommodate to the new variety, or hold on to their own? Are some features of the new variety more easily acquired than others? And finally, do migrants even want to sound Australian, and does this tell us something about the migrant experience?

This talk reports on findings from the ‘Superdiversity project’ that has been running at the University of Melbourne since 2017, which investigates second language and second dialect acquisition among three groups of speakers: Irish migrants, Chinese migrants, and a ‘baseline’ sample of native AusE speakers born and raised in Melbourne. The corpus is expansive and includes recorded sociolinguistic interviews; wordlists; ultrasound data; a socio-demographic questionnaire; and perception experiments. This talk focuses on the Irish migrant sample and reports on two case studies of production: (1) an acoustic analysis of their adoption of AusE vowels; and (2) an acoustic and articulatory analysis of their adoption of AusE consonants (specifically laterals). A third case study focuses on perception and reports on the results of a categorisation task of AusE vowels in /hVt/, /hVl/ and /mVl/ contexts by the Irish migrant listeners.

Findings show that for some speakers, length of residence in Australia has a significant effect on the degree to which AusE vowels and consonants are adopted. However overall, migrants are very much guided by their first language and dialect in making vowel phoneme judgements. This suggests that the adoption of a new dialect may be contingent on how skilled listeners are in detecting cross-dialectal differences. Qualitative data that emerged from the sociolinguistic interviews also showed Irish migrants to be resistant to the idea of the permeability of their own dialects to AusE, with the Irish accent clearly emerging as an important facet of the Irish migrant identity. While a multi-faceted corpus such as this one presents challenges because of the range of data points and variability, it also provides an unprecedented opportunity to further our understanding of second language and second dialect acquisition from a range of (socio)linguistic perspectives.

Speaker bio: Dr Chloé Diskin is senior lecturer in Applied Linguistics at the University of Melbourne. Her research focuses on sociolinguistic approaches to second language acquisition. She earned her PhD in 2016 from University College Dublin, Ireland, and is herself a member of the Melbourne Irish migrant community.

Contact details

Caroline Heycock

Nov 13 2019 -

Linguistic Circle

2019-11-13: Second dialect acquisition in the diaspora: a case study of Irish migrants in Melbourne

Lecture Theatre F21, Psychology Building, 7 George Square, Edinburgh, EH8 9JZ