The roots of 'multiethnolects' : effects of migration on the lexicon and speech of German-speaking school children
Huenlich, David Wilson Klaus
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Traditionally, German identity was based on an ethnic and linguistic notion of membership. Today, over 20% of Germany’s population are migrants or of migrant descent, including one-third of the population under the age of thirty. Most of them are multilingual. ‘Multiethnolects’ are distinctive speech practices attributed to adolescents in inner city settings, that are alternatively described as ‘styles’ or ‘lects’ typically spoken by Turkish-German youth (Auer 2003, Eksner 2006, Kern & Selting 2006), general ‘youth languages’ (Wiese 2009), new dialects (Wiese 2012), or remnants of L2 acquisition (Dittmar 2013). Each term implies different presuppositions about the nature and origin of the phenomenon. My dissertation unites experimental methods, variationist analysis and ethnography to establish a fuller picture of the emergence of multiethnolects and the factors behind them in Germany, in particular. Sixty-six German-born fourth graders in two districts of Braunschweig with a recent migration history completed a questionnaire, and a free-sorting test of German motion verbs while a subset of thirty-eight students also took part in a video-retelling task. The data allowed for a quantification of potential multiethnolect features at the lexical and morphosyntactic level. The motion verb lexicon was examined with the help of cluster analysis and regression analysis over speakers’ background data. This step revealed that there are differences in lexical scope and the perception of word meaning that are best predicted by participants’ migration background, district and heritage language. At the same time, morphosyntactic features associated with the German multiethnolect are present at low rates, but are predicted by similar combinations of background factors. Overall, a complex picture emerges that becomes interpretable with the help of ethnography. Participant observation and interviews with family members, social workers and educators highlighted the role of speaker networks and in-group orientations within certain neighborhoods. The observations call into question many of the current labels and descriptions of multiethnolects. Most importantly, there seem to be speakers to whom these ways of speaking German are the first-acquired vernacular. A wholesome understanding of these children’s linguistic situation along with well- planned pedagogic responses in school can pave the way for sustainable academic careers and successful processes of integration.