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The University of Southampton
Modern Languages and LinguisticsPart of Humanities

What happens to the grammar of your native language when you frequently use a second language?

Published: 17 February 2020
Prof. Laura Domínguez

Prof. Laura Domínguez (PI) and Dr Glyn Hicks from Modern Languages and Linguistics are seeking to answer this question. The AHRC have awarded them a research grant of £578,951 for their project, “Vulnerable native grammars: the effects of limited input in native language attrition”.

When bilingual adults stop using their native language as often, for example after migrating, their skills in that language can change. They may find it harder to retrieve words, become slower at understanding, or lose confidence.  These changes are known as 'native language attrition.' 

The least understood aspect of attrition concerns the vulnerability of a speaker's native (unconscious) grammar. This research aims to find out what happens to adult speakers' native grammars when they move from a ‘monolingual only’ environment to one where input from two languages or dialects is abundant.

The project will try to answer several key questions:

  1. Which aspects of the grammar are susceptible to attrition?
  2. What language input conditions favour attrition?
  3. How can current models of native language acquisition account for cases of grammatical attrition affecting adult grammars across different kinds of bilingual contexts?
  4. What are the implications for the concept of the 'native speaker' for both academics and the general public?

To investigate the nature and scope of attrition, the researchers will use a new multi-method approach combining tools from corpus linguistics, language acquisition, psycholinguistics and linguistic theory. The researchers will collect and analyse data from bidialectal and bilingual speakers, who will complete various experimental tasks.

This project will also create a short documentary film and the first open-access repository of attrited native speech. This will allow bilingual speakers to share experiences of attrition.

Domínguez and Hicks will work with Monika Schmid (University of Essex). The project will last 36 months, starting on 1st June 2020. 

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