Project ‘The acquisition of variation’
Despite repeated calls for in-depth research, the acquisition of sociolinguistic variation remains to be an under-investigated topic both in sociolinguistics and in language acquisition research. Yet several reasons can be given why children are a worthwhile topic of investigation: not only is the ability to perceive and employ variation in speech an integral part of their linguistic competence, which deserves to be studied in its own right, the process of language transmission through acquisition has been quoted for more than a century as the main mechanism pushing forward language change (see, for instance, studies on dialect levelling and loss, and koinèisation). In addition, as do acquisition processes in general, the way sociolinguistic variation is acquired should cast light over issues relating to the relationship between language and mind, and to the nature of grammatical knowledge. In our research on the acquisition of variation, we both aim at furthering knowledge about language development, and on using acquisitional data to cast light over issues in theoretical linguistics. Currently, research is focusing on three themes: the acquisition of language attitudes and their development during adolescence, the acquisition of sociolinguistic competences (e.g., style shifting, social meaning), and grammatical gender as a part of the linguistic system.
In addition to writing articles and compiling a Dutch corpus, we have organized a conference on the topic in 2012, and have published a book volume on the topic (De Vogelaer & Katerbow, 2017)
investigators: Prof. Dr. Gunther De Vogelaer, Jan Klom M.A.
Projekt 'Sprache entlang der deutsch-niederländischen Grenze'
While the German and Dutch language areas are commonly thought of as being part of one dialect continuum in which no clear language borders can be distinguished, it is well-known that processes of dialect loss and levelling have caused dialects on both sides of the German-Dutch state border to converge with each other and towards the respective standard languages, to the extent that the dialect continuum faces disruption. Over the past few decades, however, political state borders are losing their importance, and both in the Netherlands and in Germany regional identities as border regions are increasingly fostered, as shown for instance through the establishment of the so-called Euregios, or through the recognition of regional languages (Nedersaksisch and Limburgs in the Netherlands, Niederdeutsch in Germany). This project wants to address the present-day linguistic landscape in the region and the way in which it has changed over the last decades. This involves research both on the ‘objective’ (i.e. language usage) and the ‘subjective’ level (i.e. language attitudes and perception). On the objective level, we are aiming not only at a description of present-day dialects, but on regional (sub-)standards, the structure of language repertoires and patterns of style shifting as well. Research on the subjective level involves the mental conception of geography, the perception of linguistic distances and issues of intelligibility.
information for students: We invite students interested in doing fieldwork at either the German or Dutch side of the border to join in with the project. Fieldwork may be carried out within the framework of a Bachelor, Master or Ph.D-thesis or an internship. Anyone interested may contact us at any time.
investigators: Prof. Dr. Gunther De Vogelaer, Prof. Dr. Helmut Spiekermann (WWU-Germanistik), Christian Gewering (WWU-Institut für Sprachwissenschaft), Heike Wermer, M.A. (Institut für allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft der WWU)
Project 'The psycholinguistics of variation and change in Dutch (and German) gender'
Dutch pronominal gender is currently in a transition from a syntactic to a semantic system, in which agreement in line with lexical gender (masculine, feminine and neuter) is replaced by a system based on individuation, in which higly individuated nouns combine with masculine and feminine pronouns, while lowly individuated ones such as the feminine mass noun melk 'milk' combine with neuter het.
De melk was warm maar nu is het (replaces ze) koud.
'The milk was hot but now it.NEUT (she.FEM) is cold.'
Varieties of Dutch differ with respect to the extent to which the process has been implemented: northern varieties have severely impoverished adnominal systems in which masculine and feminine gender have collapsed, and show more semantic gender than southern varieties, which still distinguish masculine and feminine gender. The explanation for this correlation is, essentially, a psycholinguistic one: better entrenchment of gender in usage allows southern speakers to acquire the traditional system faster and more proficiently, whereas the opacity of lexical gender forces northern speakers to resort to semantically-driven default strategies.
Our aim in this research project is to test this explanation experimentally. This is done with psycholinguistic tests (e.g., speeded grammaticality Germans) in different groups of speakers of Dutch and German, both as a first and as a second or foreign language. Investigations are carried out in close collaboration with the university's Germanic Institute (Jun.-Prof. Sarah Schimke) and the English Seminar (Jun.-Prof. Gregory Poarch).