Dept of Applied Linguistics and Communication | News | 50th Conference: What a difference the Channel makes! Language change in London and Paris
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50th Conference: What a difference the Channel makes! Language change in London and Paris

PhD student Areej Alawad has written about the 50th Anniversary talk: What a difference the Channel makes! Language change in London and Paris.

Prof. Jenny Cheshire, Prof. Penelope Gardner-Chloros and Dr. Maria Secova

By Areej Alawad (PhD student)

Jenny Cheshire, Penelope Gardner-Chloros and Maria Secova conducted a study where they compared the languages in the two capital cities from a sociolinguistic perspective: young people’s French in multi-ethnic areas in Paris/France and young people’s English in London. Paris and London are comparable since they have a high proportion of recent immigrants with very diverse linguistic backgrounds, more than 300 different languages, and have many second generations whose main language is English in London and French in Paris. The researchers systematically compared language variation and change in these two locations to find general process of language contact and  language variation and change while at the same time considering questions related to migration and education.

The project compares recordings of young people growing up in multiethnic areas: 96 speakers of both Anglo and non-Anglo speakers in London vs. 77 speakers of Franco and non-Franco speakers  in Paris. The participants were young people growing up in multiethnic areas where they acquire the second language, English or French, from each other as an unguided language acquisition. Some similarities and differences were found with some explanations to these differences.

"In London, Anglos who have a multi-ethnic friendship with the ethnic minority use these features more often than other Anglos"

Similar variations were found in the language of these multiethnic young participants. The similarities were found in prosody, innovation, several grammatical developments and extension of the general extender system. In London, Anglos who have a multi-ethnic friendship with the ethnic minority use these features more often than other Anglos. They are known to use a Multicultural London English (MLE) which means a “variable repertoire of distinctive language features used by speakers of all ethnicities: a ‘multiethnolect’. Multiethnolect is characterised by the following:

-          Considerable variation, innovation and rapid language change

-          Linguistic features that are shared across minorities and also by members of majority groups.

-          These distinctive features have a non-ethnic index, at least in the community in which it is spoken.

Nonetheless, in Paris, the multiethnolect seems to be less prominent despite the strong social networks within the cities compared to the multiethnolect found in London. In Paris, little grammar change was found. In addition, quotatives that were newly derived in French, originated due to meaning similarities.  As for the general extenders, they were widely used by young people in France as well as older women. These findings correlate with how and where the participants in both cities place themselves in their answer to one of the questions. While participants in London placed themselves and others in a multidimensional space defined by the language they speak, those in Paris categorised themselves based on race or ethnicity. The researchers attributed these differences to a vast number of factors that could be a plausible explanation.

"40% of the inhabitants of inner London are foreign-born while only 19% are in Paris"

These differences are manifested mainly because of the geographical distribution, multiethnic population percentages, and the ideology of the standard language. The geographical distribution of these multi-ethnolects is different in the two cities. In London, the multi-ethnolects were in the inner city area in Hackney which is considered highly multiethnic. However, in Paris, the groups of immigrants are found outside the ring round. In fact, within one area,  the white working class inhabitants reside in houses compared to the ethnically diverse population that occupy the buildings. With regards to features to do with population, in London, 40% of the inhabitants of inner London are foreign-born while only 19% are in Paris. It was found that in Hackney over 50% are not ‘white British’. In Paris, however, statistics about race, ethnicity and religion are not allowed to be collected. And finally, policies on multiculturalism and linguistic ideologies were found to be quite different in France and in England. This explains why linguistic features are sensitive to the social ecology. The researchers suggest doing future researches to examine how these variables are embedded in their wider social contexts and compare and contrast them. They believe that these comparisons might possibly help in mapping and comparing different trajectories of change.

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