Closing the Language Gap

What if we talked about monolingual Anglo-Celtic children the same way we talked about the children of immigrants? Here’s an hilarious but oh-so-true satire article to that effect. It’s intended for an American audience, but read around that, it’s still applicable.

I don’t know how to reblog properly, so I’m going to copy-paste. Click on the title for the link to the original.

What if we talked about monolingual White children the way we talk about low-income children of color?

It is a well-documented fact that by the age of 5 monolingual White children will have heard 30 million fewer words in languages other than English than bilingual children of color. In addition, they will have had a complete lack of exposure to the richness of non-standardized varieties of English that characterize the homes of many children of color. This language gap increases the longer these children are in school. The question is what causes this language gap and what can be done to address it?

The major cause of this language gap is the failure of monolingual White communities to successfully assimilate into the multilingual and multidialectal mainstream. The continued existence of White ethnic enclaves persists despite concerted efforts to integrate White communities into the multiracial mainstream since the 1960s. In these linguistically isolated enclaves it is possible to go for days without interacting with anybody who does not speak Standardized American English providing little incentive for their inhabitants to adapt to the multilingual and multidialectal nature of  US society.

This linguistic isolation has a detrimental effect on the cognitive development of monolingual White children. This is because linguistically isolated households lack the rich translanguaging practices that are found in bilingual households and the elaborate style-shifting that occurs in bidialectal households. This leaves monolingual White children without a strong metalinguistic basis for language learning. As a result, many of these monolingual White children lack the school-readiness skills needed for foreign language learning and graduate from school having mastered nothing but Standardized American English leaving them ill-equipped to engage in intercultural communication.

“Multilingual Talks” is a new project that seeks to address this language gap between monolingual White children and bilingual and bidialectal children of color. It seems to do this by offering monolingual White parents metalinguistic training that is intended to provide them a foundation in different languages and language varieties. These parents will also be provided with a “language pedometer” that helps them keep track of the number of times that they use a language or language variety other than Standardized American English when speaking with their children. They will also be providing with a library of multilingual and multidialectal books and coached on how to effectively read them with their children to ensure strong metalinguistic development.

Multilingual Talks has recently received a 5 million dollar grant to pilot their approach in a White community that has struggled to eradicate monolingualism. The initial findings have been positive. Home coaches have reported an increased use of languages other than English as well as metalinguistic discussions related to different varieties of English by parents in their interactions with children. The project is currently moving into phase 2 where home coaching will be decreased and the parents will be expected to keep a daily log of their language use to ensure that they continue to talk to their children in languages other than English and expose their children to non-standardized varieties of English. These daily logs will be shared with home coaches on a monthly basis. The goal will be to track the students once they begin school to track their continued language development.

Multilingual Talks is one of many such projects that have emerged in recent years to address the language gap. What unites all of these projects is the idea of addressing the problem where it begins–in the linguistic isolation of the homes of monolingual White children. The hope is that by training monolingual White parents to interact with their children in ways that develop the metalinguistic awareness needed for language learning success, these children will come in better prepared to learn new languages and become successful members of the multilingual and multidialectal US mainstream.

That’s all from me today, a cheat post. But the article above is brilliant. I’m probably one of those “poor monolingual White children” who emerged from primary school “ill-prepared to learn new languages and become a successful member of the multidialectal and multilingual mainstream”… at least I’ve gained metalinguistic awareness and integrated better now!

Scots into Strine

Over the weekend, I was off being taught how to teach English. It was a bit exhausting, admittedly, because it was a 20-hour course, but it was fun and I learnt a lot and got to “teach” a few lessons to the class.

One of the activities we did, though, was aimed at getting us to understand what it’s like to be an intermediate learner reading a text and understanding most, but not all, of the text. In order to simulate this, there were about ten Scots words interspersed throughout the text.

(I could already understand about 80% of them, but that’s not the point. Actually, I have a slight problem with Scots in that I can read and understand it just fine, and know a lot of the words and phrasing quirks, but sound like an idiot when I try to speak it. Maybe I just can’t get the accent right. But let’s not talk about that now…)

But, funniness of a text with random Scots words aside (I chortled to myself the whole way through the first time – I wasn’t expecting it), what was even more hilarious was the list of translations/definitions my class came up with:

Birled roon – spun around
Blether – chinwag
Braw – bonza
Crabbit – cranky
Fankle (in a) – tizzy, tiz
Gallus – cocky
Richt (+ adjective) – dinky-di
Skiver – bludger
Teuchter – country bogan
Wabbit – dead beat
Wheesht – oy, listen up!

Sigh. Australians. What do you do with them? Who else would translate one set of dialect words into another dialect?

Just as a final note, some of these translations happened once we got a bit silly. By that, I mean “dinky-di” and “bonza”. A lot of the other words, such as “cranky”, “tizzy”, and “bludger”, really were the first translation the class thought of – although, personally, I said that “skive” is the same here and the translation of “blether” is “blather”. Apparently that’s just me, though.

The South Australian Accent

I’m not going to be talking about the Australian accent, because I’m sure you’ve heard it all before, but I’m going to point out a couple of features of the South Australian accent.

I’m also not going to be talking about my own accent, because it’s a hopeless mish-mash which includes eastern states, English, Scottish, and Kiwi traits, as well as most of the SA traits. I don’t really want to use myself as evidence for any of these things, but rather my sister, (occasionally) my mother, and pretty much everyone else around me.

Yes, there is one, and yes, it is different from other Australian accents. I’ve mentioned before that I partially disagree with the commonly-used classification system of Australian accents (Broad, General, Cultivated), but even proponents of this system will agree that South Australians sound different.

Of course, many of the features I’m going to talk about occur in other Australian accents, too, so I’m only going to point out the ones that don’t occur, and tell you what happens instead in eastern states accents.

The first feature about which I’m going to talk is non-rhoticity. Now, this is a pretty obvious thing to say, given that almost all British dialects, Australians, Kiwis, and even a couple of obscure American dialects (in Louisiana, I think) are non-rhotic.
A Simpson sums up my opinion of the new logo. It's meant to represent a door, but seriously? You need a new logo for SA, so you do it by getting a map of Australia and cutting the state out of it?

A Simpson sums up my opinion of the new logo. It’s meant to represent a door, but seriously? You need a new logo for SA, so you do it by getting a map of Australia and cutting the state out of it?

Basically, what “non-rhotic” means, is that we don’t pronounce the “r” on the ends of words that end with “er” (or “re”), such as water, metre, feature, swimmer, theatre, and so on. Instead, it is pronounced as something like “a” or “uh”: worta, meeta, feecha, swimma, theata, etc.

The next feature is the trap-bath split. Basically that means that the two words are pronounced different, “trap” with a short “a” as in “cat”, and “bath” with a long “a” as in “father”. Of course, all varieties of Australia have this split, but it is the extent to which it exists in South Australia which is notable. A lot of words are pronounced with a long “aa” in SA which are pronounced with a short “a” in the eastern states, mostly where the “a” is immediately followed by an “n” or an “m” – for example; dance, advance, plant, and branch, for example, but also other words, such as grass and graph. A word of advice: never get a South Australian and any other Australian to since the national anthem together.

The next feature is the y-glide. Like non-rhoticity, this is a feature of British English (and not American English), so it’s not too surprising that it exists in Australian English, too. However, like the trap-bath split, it is not as fully realised as in Queen’s (RP) English.

Basically, what a y-glide is, is that “u” or “oo” sounds are very often pronounced with a “y” in front. Such words are new, due, Tuesday, tune, and so forth. (Which is why American children sometimes mix up “do” and “due”, but Australian children never would, because for us, the two words sound different). But there are a lot of words where there is no y-glide, but where there would be in RP English (and some Australians might pronounce it, but it’s rare), such as suitable, blue, and diluted.

However, Australians can sometimes be lazy in actually pronouncing this y-glide, usually after a “t” or a “d”. Thus, due and dew are “joo”, Tuesday is “choozday”, tune is “choon”, and dune is “joon”. This also means that common word combinations which feature a “d” or a “t” followed by a “y” are also pronounced this way; for example, “last year” and “next year” are pronounced “lars jeer” and “necks jeer”.

The old logo, which I vastly preferred.

The old logo, which I vastly preferred.

The next feature is l-vocalisation, which, as far as Australian accents are concerned, is a uniquely South Australian thing. Which this means is that an “l” which falls on the end of a word or immediately before another consonant sounds more like a “w” or a “y”. It looks a bit silly when you write it, so I’m not going to really try. I’ll give you an example, though; a boy named Will has his name pronounced with the same sound at the end as at the beginning. His full name has “yam” tacked on the end: Wiwyam rather than William. “Miwk” rather than “milk”.

I’ve read that l-vocalisation also occurs in Cockney, but I’m pretty sure that South Australians would get it from all the Scottish settlers. Although I have not read anywhere that this is a feature of any Scottish accent, I’ve noticed that in Scots, words such as “football” are written “fitba” or “fitbaw”, which to me implies that something like l-vocalisation is happening to the final consonant.

The next feature is full diphthongs, which is another thing which, if not unique to South Australia, is less likely to occur in other states. This means that some words which are pronounced with one syllable in other states, such as near, beard, hear, here, tour, grown, known, and so forth, are in South Australia pronounced as “nee-ya” (near), “bee-yud” (beard), “hee-ya” (hear and here), “too-wa” (tour), gro-wun (grown), no-wun (known), etc.

The final feature I’m going to mention doesn’t have a name – at least, not as far as I’m aware. It’s something akin to t-glottalisation, except that the “t” in question isn’t actually pronounced as a glottal. As far as I can work out, from listening carefully and trying out words in my own mouth, we move our tongue and mouth into the correct position for the “t”, but stop vocalising before we can pronounce it. Thus, words such as “fruit”, “ute”, and “plant”, are often missing their final “t”, and words like “Atlantic” are often missing the initial “t” (or, the “t” at the end of a syllable). So, for example, in a word like FruChocs, which, despite missing the “t” on the end of initial syllable, a South Australian will hear as “fruit”, whether consciously or subconsciously, which (for me, anyway) immediately conjures up an image of exactly what a FruChoc is – fruit and chocolate.

I don’t know whether this happens in other states, but it’s pretty widespread in SA – to the point where the conductor at the Festival of Music (another SA thing) gesticulates wildly and makes a giant “T” with his arms every time the letter comes up. Not that we ever sang “Silent Night” mid-year, but we end up singing something like this: “Si-ilent nigh-TUH, ho-oly nigh-TUH, all is calm, all is brigh-TUH, round yon virgin mother and chil-DUH, holy infant so tender and mil-DUH!”

Finally, I will finish by giving a couple of words which differ in South Australia from other states:

Stobie Pole. (Other states have telegraph poles. We don’t have trees.)
Fritz. (Other states have Devon). And Smiley Fritz.