Language investigation ideas: Ethnicity and social networks

Do second and third generations of immigrant families converge less with local Anglo English dialects?

Research by Sharma and Sankaran measured the use of non-standard British Asian and Cockney features in the speech of two generations of British Asian people. They found that the older generation were converging much more dramatically with people they spoke with. The younger speakers seemed to be confident in their identities, in that they didn’t dramatically shift towards Cockney features at any point in the data, producing Asian-language-derived features more consistently across all the situations in the data. It’s possible that the climate of racism that first generation immigrants arrived to in the 20th century may have affected their language by making the ability to converge essential for them, whereas their children and grandchildren may be more willing to display Asian-British features in all contexts, having grown up more confident in their identity in a more accepting environment. It would be interesting to see how widely these findings apply. 

To collect data for this, you would need access to first and second (and third?) generations of a family who moved to the UK in living memory. You would also need to decide on features of pronunciation to focus on – some would need to be associated with Anglo speakers, and some with British-Asian (or British-whatever-else, there's no reason this couldn't be done with speakers of any non-UK heritage) speakers. 

AO1 – Sharma and Sankaran identified features of pronunciation to focus on, and besdies these you could look at discourse markers, slang, or any other features that vary between the two groups. 

AO2 – Sharma and Sankaran, social network theory (the Milroys, Cheshire in Reading, Cheshire, Fox, Kerswill, Khan, Torgersen...), Trudgill (for convergence, and demonstrating code-switching), Labov on Martha’s Vineyard (demonstrating sounds becoming associated with social groups and certain values). 

AO3 – data on things like how the speakers feel about where they’ve grown up and their ethnic heritage could be interesting. Even a simple questionnaire could open interesting questions when compared with the data – e.g. do speakers who feel closer to, say, an Asian family background produce more Asian-British features? Are there differences in how the first and second generations perceive the country they live in, and are there resulting differences in their speech? Also contextual factors like places of work and the social networks of the speakers could be worth considering. The linguistic competence of the speakers would also be worth examining (how many languages does a given speaker speak? Did they grow up learning each of them or were some acquired later?). The amount of time spent in the country of origin could be worth looking at too. 

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