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Empirical Methods in Language Studies

by Krzysztof Kosecki (Volume editor) Janusz Badio (Volume editor)
Edited Collection 322 Pages

Table Of Content


Part One: Experimental and Survey Methods

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Janusz Badio
University of Łódź, Poland

Events and sentences in story construal of English-native and Polish–foreign language users: experimental methodology and outcomes

Abstract: The article presents an experimental study and its three constituent analyses of narrative events and their construal-coding in sentence format of a story. The theoretical position that provides the starting point for the research questions posed in this work is traced down to Chafe (1994), who concluded that, especially in writing, the sentence can be understood as a centre of interest with scope often much larger than a single focus of consciousness. The author investigates how Polish-native and English-foreign language users construe and code events presented in a children’s cartoon story. The article presents the materials, questions, descriptive statistics, hypotheses, and inferential tests together with some follow-up qualitative observations of the written interpretations of the story. In general, the findings support the more general hypothesis (cf. Badio 2014) that the subordinate goal of construal and coding operations is to properly adjust the salience of entities (e.g., objects, characters, locations, reified processes) and relations (e.g., features of objects, processes). It is, however, the methods used in this study that are highlighted, in agreement with the general theme of the present volume, which is empirical methodology in studying language.

Keywords: story, event, construal, coding, ANOVA, Chi-square, t-test, sentence.

1. Introduction

This work describes a part of a larger project (Badio 2014) on construal and coding of narrative events. Its foremost hypothesis stated that achieving cognitive prominence of selected entities is the language users’ superordinate goal. The empirical studies in this work looked at ways events are perceived and delineated from a stream of video, whether their linguistic coding is isomorphic to their perception and memory, or how they are selected to construe the causal structure of a story neutrally or in such a way as to blame one participant for what has happened. Events’ natural habitat is a story, or a narrative, that is, larger discourse coherence. Construal operations refer both to the level of a single event and discourse. It is ← 13 | 14 → the discourse level, the whole story level, which constitutes the research focus presented in this article. Three related general research questions were asked:

As already mentioned, the participants (N = 30) retold a cartoon story in writing. Data collected in this way were subsequently coded in the format of a Microsoft Access dBase with three tables: SENTENCES, PARTICIPANTS, and CONDITIONS. The first of these tables contained such descriptors of the sentence unit as: the actual sentence, type (clause, coordinate, subordinate, complex), number of events coded in a sentence, and other comments. The table holding information about the participants contained only the number that uniquely identified them, whereas the conditions table included all the conditions (independent variables), in which the story descriptions took place. Importantly, the main sentence table was related to the participants table with the relation one-to-many, i.e., one participant was referred to all the sentences s/he produced in writing, and the same was true of the relation between the condition and sentence tables, i.e., one experimental condition stored all and only those sentences that were produced in it. The format of a relational dBase allowed multiple ways of accessing the created corpus of texts.

Before the presentation of the actual study with its analyses, some theoretical background is offered in section two.

2. Theoretical Background

Construal constitutes the heart of Cognitive Linguistics’ theorizing about language. Its theoretical foundations were laid by Langacker (e.g. 1987, 2008), Talmy (2000 and earlier), or Croft and Cruse (2004). Perhaps its most influential definition was offered by Langacker (ibid.), who claimed that construal is a relation between the conceptualizer and the object that is conceptualized. This relation is described in the works of the above linguists under different, more detailed categories of: selection, perspective, abstraction, prominence, specificity (Langacker ibid.), schematization, perspective, attention, force dynamics (Talmy ibid.), and attention, judgment/comparison, perspective, constitution/gestalt, force dynamics (Croft ← 14 | 15 → and Cruse ibid.). Despite the differences in categorizing construal operations, their underlying common denominator is the belief that it is the so-called cognitive salience/prominence, under the control of attention and its multiple strands1 that is the super-ordinate goal of any human attempt to construe some content and linguistically code it.

An event, one of the key units, is defined here after Zacks and Tversky (2001: 7) to be a “segment of time at a given location perceived by an observer to have a beginning and end”. Its perceptions are correlated with specific linguistic coding in different languages. Moreover, events, by analogy to physical objects, contain parts, and they also come in variable types. They frequently involve some evolution through time of a certain state of an object, or a set of objects in the case of complex scenes, and they are typically, though not necessarily, coded by verbs in English (e.g. He jumped v.s. He gave a jump). Any fragment of the conceptual content of an event (time, space, manner, etc.) can, in theory, be focused on and coded with an appropriate linguistic unit.

The sentence is also important for this work because after Chafe (1994), it is understood to code the so-called centre of interest, a human attempt to expand the limited scope of the active focus of conscious experience. The following discourse exchange (diacritics provided JB)2 illustrates the idea.

  • 1)  a) .. I was on the ^bus ^toda=y,
  • b) .. ^a=nd there was this w^oman s^aying,
  • c) .. that her s^on,
  • d) .. ^works .. for the r^anger s^ervice or whatever.
  • e) .. and .. there was sn^o=w,
  • f) .. ch^est high,
  • g) .. at Tu^olome M^eadows. Chafe (1994)

In speech, this fragment consists of [a-g] intonation units, each unit coding the content of a separate, changing focus of attention. However, units [a-d], and [e-g] form larger coherences that could be coded by only one sentence in writing each, I was on a bus today, and there was this woman saying that her son works for the ranger service, and There was snow chest high at Tuolome Meadows, accordingly. ← 15 | 16 →

Moreover, it is important to explain that the story retellings used in this study come from a native form of language (Polish), as well as a foreign language (English). With interest on selected aspects of processing, rather than formal aspects of grammar and vocabulary, this was possible following the so called psychological tradition in SLA (cf. Hulstijn (2007: 197). While the linguistic tradition places emphasis on linguistic representations of knowledge, the psychological tradition, which this paper follows, accentuates the question of how learners process information in a foreign language. In agreement with the psychological tradition, the present work argues that a foreign language is an autonomous and legitimate object of research, though comparisons to a native language are expected and natural. Such a perspective is at least partly concomitant with research on second language variability, some aspects of transfer, cognitive descriptions of second language production, status of knowledge, and cognitive control over access to the first/second language, which also Ellis (2008) discusses.

Having introduced the key concepts of this study, i.e.: construal, coding, event and sentence, the author will proceed to the next part, where the materials, procedures and specific hypotheses together with the remaining, and more detailed theoretical points, will be explained.

3. Materials and procedures

The video selected for this study is the Bolek and Lolek: First day of summer holidays3, a popular children’s silent cartoon in Poland. The choice of a cartoon story was dictated by its accessibility on internet, but also the observation that it shows clearly the characters and their actions. Only the main characters are shown without unnecessary clatter, which is another advantage, and they are contrasted well against the background. The actions performed by the boys are easy to interpret, and the plot is simple to follow.

In one group the viewers were asked to watch the video with sound off in the classroom on TV, while the participants of the experiment in the other group were only shown the screenshots from the video arranged chronologically. Both groups first spent the same amount of time viewing their respective inputs, and then they had to retell the story in writing. All participants were granted fifteen minutes to finish this writing task. The instructions provided on their worksheets in Polish were translated by the author into English, and they are presented below: ← 16 | 17 →

Stage 1 – watching

You will watch a silent video, 8 minutes and 58 seconds long. Watch carefully. After watching only once, please write in Polish [the other group, “write in English”] what happened in the story. The story must be written in the 3rd person. How long the written retelling should be, and what to include depends on your choice. The point is to recreate in writing the events presented in the film.

Stage 2 – writing

Write the story. You have 15 minutes to complete the task, and there is no word limit.

The instructions for those who watched the screenshots from the same film were as follows:

Stage 1 – watching

You will watch screenshots from a silent video, 8 minutes and 58 seconds long. You will have 8 minutes and 58 seconds to look at the pictures arranged chronologically from left to right and top to bottom. After watching the pictures, please write in Polish [the other group, “write in English”] what happened in the story. The story must be written in the 3rd person. How long the written retelling should be, and what to include depends on your choice. The point is to recreate in writing the events presented in the film.

Stage 2 – writing

Write the story. You have 15 minutes to complete the task, and there is no word limit.

The participants of the study were all advanced / proficient students of English as a foreign language, all during their first or second year at M.A. level of English Philology in Łódź, Poland, and they agreed voluntarily to take part in the experiment for partial credit on their seminar course.

4. Analysis one – sentences in story retellings

This analysis, i.e., the first part of the cartoon story retellings experiment, had the goal of answering the following research question. Will speakers of Polish-native and English-foreign languages code events presented by either a video or picture sequence differently? Will the four independent groups (i.e., PL-Vid, PL-Pic, Eng-Vid, Eng-Pic) differ as regards the number of sentences they will decide to code in writing. As one can see, apart from language, the other independent variable was input type (continuous/dynamic-video or static-pictures). It was predicted ← 17 | 18 → (cf. Skehan 1998) that different task types could affect language production. Here, the choice of continuous video rather than the static sequence of screenshots from the same video was predicted to result in a larger number of centres of interest, and thus also sentences because, in theory, there is no limit to what can attract the viewers’ attention during a continuous stream of video. Also, it was predicted that the Polish-native language users would produce more sentences (centres of interest), as one can expect, the use of one’s native language should pose fewer language coding problems.

A little repetitively perhaps, the following hypotheses were formulated as regards the two experimental conditions:

a) Video-Pictures

H1:The participants in the video condition will produce more sentences than in the picture condition.
H0:There will not be significant differences in the numbers of sentences between the languages in this respect.

b) Polish-English languages

H1:Polish stories will contain more sentences than their English counterparts.
H0:There will not be a statistically significant difference between the numbers of sentences produced in the written descriptions of the input story as a function of language choice.

c) Interaction
Moreover, it was predicted that there may be interaction between the choice of language and input type, such that the choice of the native language coupled with the video input should lead to a greater number of sentences in the written interpretations of the input story.

Hence, the whole design was an ANOVA 2x2 because two independent variables were tested, language and input type, each variable with two levels represented by the choice of either Polish or English, and Video or Static Pictures (screenshots from the same video).

The analysis of descriptive statistics showed that the largest mean number of sentences was produced in the PL-Vid condition, followed by Eng-Pic, Eng-Vid and last, PL-Pic conditions. It was also apparent that the Polish language condition rendered more sentences per retelling (M-PL = 16.75) compared to the choice of English (M-Eng = 13.71). The comparison between the video and picture conditions showed that the former (video) condition invoked more (M-Vid = 17.53) sentences than the picture condition (M-Pic = 13.30). ← 18 | 19 →

So that these results could be generalised, ANOVA 2x2 was run with the following table presenting the important parameters:

Table 1: ANOVA results of the study of sentences in pictures/video vis a vis Polish/English conditions

pic1.jpg

A significant main effect was obtained only for input type (F (1, 26) = 5.2; p <.05). ANOVA further revealed a significant interaction between language and input type: (F (1, 26) = 11; p<.05). However, there was no significant main effect for language choice: (F (1, 26) = 2.47; p >.05).

To sum up, language choice was not connected with a difference in the number of sentences the writers used to retell the story, but the selection of video over pictures led to their significantly greater numbers. There was also a robust interaction between language choice and video; in was in the video condition, where the writers used Polish (their native language), that resulted in a greater number of sentences.

4.1 Discussion of results

Language choice had no effect on the number of written sentences. The participants reported the input story to be relatively easy to write about, and also that they did not avoid coding in language any specific aspect of the input story. In their post-task commentaries collected immediately after the main task, they also stated that there were problems connected with coding the details of the scenes around the episode of car repair. This shows that time is not a good memory index. The details did not form a cause-effect chain, which normally leads to enhanced memory of events (cf. Barsalou 1998).

Moreover, though the instruction required the participants to retell the story, many of them stated the task required creativity. It was especially effortful in the “picture” condition, as the static pictures disturbed the normal continuity ← 19 | 20 → presented on the video, and the writers in this condition must have been compelled to impose interpretations on how to connect the pictures to form some coherent whole. The effect of language choice (Polish) surfaced only when it was coupled with the video presentation, and hence interaction was reported (see above). The next section presents the report of the second analysis into the type of sentences and events used in the study.

5. Analysis two – sentences in Polish vs. English story retellings

The rationale for analyzing the numbers of different types of sentences in Polish-native and English-foreign retellings of the story was the contention that they code an event or a set of events in different ways. Single clauses typically contain one finite form of the main verb together with arguments that align with the trajector (primary, most salient figure), and one or more landmarks depending on the situation and the choice of the verb. Seven types of the so-called basic syntactic patterns (Quirk et al. 1972: 172) represent variable types of events. These patterns (SV, SVO, SVC, SVA, SVOO, SVOC, SVOA) contain obligatory elements: subject, objects, verb, complements and modifiers. A coordinate clause contains two cognitively autonomous contributory clauses, and their independence is correlated with equal cognitive salience of their profiles (imposed by verbs). As is well known, there also exist subordinate sentences, which contain one dominant clausal profile, with at least one or more other dependent ones expressed by the so-called dependent clauses, as well as more complex structures. The list below was used to categorize the sentences in the corpus.

One can say that the criteria used in the task of coding the sentences into the three categories are both structural and cognitive (conceptual, semantic).

In coding an event, it is the finite verb form that is most salient, with infinitives and participles occupying the middle position, followed by reified verbs, e.g. a jump. Let us consider a few examples from the corpus.

Example [1] ranks the cognitive salience of contributory, and overlapping processes in such a way that it is the profile of wanted that is most salient, presumably followed by to get and last, walking. Certainly, a separate experiment would ← 20 | 21 → be needed to test this prediction. For lack of space, the reader is referred to Langacker (1991, 2008) or Badio (2014) for a more detailed analysis. In sum, syntax offers a myriad of conventional ways of adjusting the cognitive prominence of things and relations of a conceptualization. Some of them have been discussed above, though certainly there has been no time for a fuller treatment of this topic because the major focus of the present work in set on experimental design and method.

5.1 Questions, hypotheses and results in analysis two

The biggest cognitive load on the cognitive system is posed when a person plans to construe and code in language a complex scene/event. It is arguably smaller when s/he recruits a single clause with a finite verb for the task, and becomes more challenging with coordinate, and subordinate sentences. It was predicted that despite being proficient in the foreign language, the participants writing in English would favour single and coordinate structures, and that subordination as well as more complex structures would be preferred by those who were asked to write in Polish. In connection with this the following general question was asked, “Does the use of a foreign language induce such thinking for speaking (Slobin 1996, 2004) that leads to less complex conceptualizations, more easily codable in a foreign language?”, and the narrower research question was, “Will the use of Polish-native and English-foreign languages be independent of the number of different sentence types in the data?” At the risk of becoming a little repetitive, the detailed hypotheses are presented again below in a more formal way:

H1: The Polish versions of the story will contain more simple clauses, and fewer subordinate and complex sentences, and there will be no difference between Polish-native and English-condition as regards the numbers of coordinate sentences (the last category is additive, relatively simple and should not be avoided by foreign language users).

H0: The null hypothesis claimed that the numbers of different types of sentences referred to above, even if different between experimental conditions, will not be attributable to the choice of language.

The coding of the sentence types was performed by two linguistics, who reached 95 % agreement. The following table presents the actual numbers of different sentence types in the two experimental conditions. ← 21 | 22 →

Table 2: Raw numbers of sentence types in four experimental conditions

pic2.jpg

There turned out to be no significant relationship between language choice and the number of different sentence types in the data set of Polish and English video retellings in, X2 (3, N = 460) = 0.553; p > .05. The null hypothesis was accepted in the Chi-squared test of independence. Last, the third analysis in this study was concerned with the numbers of events coded in the Polish and English samples.

6. Analysis three – events in sentences

The question asked in this part of the study was, “Are native speakers of Polish able to bundle more information about events in a sentence than non-native speakers who are students of English as a foreign language?” The related hypotheses were formulated as follows:

H1:
Polish-native language retellings of the cartoon presented by video and sequence of pictures will contain more events than in the case of English-foreign language condition per single retelling.

H0:
The null hypothesis predicts that the numbers of events across conditions will not differ in a statistically significant way per single retelling as a function of language (Polish vs. English).

The analysis required some method of counting events in sentences. The task was far from straightforward, and three coders worked together to reach 95 % agreement. An event was counted if a finite, non-finite, or reified form of verb was used. Moreover, sometimes an event was implied despite any direct coding with a verb form. The interested reader is referred to Badio (2014: 196–202) for more details. Here only a few sentences will be quoted to exemplify the process of coding.

The above sentences shed some light on how careful one must be during the coding process. The use of more than one coder helped achieve higher internal validity and reliability of the experimental design and test results.

6.1 Results of descriptive statistics and inferential tests

In the first step towards the discussion of the results, the descriptive statistics of central tendency and dispersion are provided. The mean number (M = 38.2) of events coded in the Polish condition per sample turned out to be bigger than its equivalent for the English condition (M = 27.3). The standard deviations for these two different sub-samples of the corpus exhibited rather large differences (SD-pl = 18.5; SD-eng = 7.8; Var.-pl = 343.4; Var.-eng = 61.5). Moreover, the skewness of the data for each sub-samples was: Skewness-pl = 0.8, and = 0.7 for the English sub-sample. The general rule of the thumb is to treat values smaller than minus one, or bigger than one as indicating that the data are not normally distributed. In the case of this analysis, it does not exceed these values, which means that a parametric test of inference can be used, in our case the t-test for independent samples.

The result was statistically significant (t (23) = 1.89; p < .05) in a one-tail t-test, which indicates that the experimental hypothesis should be, though tentatively, accepted. The choice of Polish did cause that the speakers used more events in their retellings.

Though the t-test at the 5% level was only just significant for single clauses, it was unimportant for coordinate structures, though significant again for the subordinate and complex (subordinate and coordinate) sentences, which the author had predicted. It was the subordinate sentences, where the differences between Polish and English group of writers were the biggest in terms of the numbers of events per sentence type. The following table summarizes this presentation. ← 23 | 24 →

Table 3. Events and sentences in English and Polish retellings

pic3.jpg

The Polish-native writers were able to squeeze in more events into their sentences and stories, though especially in subordinate structures this effect was most robust.

7. Qualitative analysis of selected events – some observations

Some example analyses that are more qualitatively oriented are also reported here to illustrate the empirical methodology of looking at what may be termed multiple construals. First, the author decided to pick up the scene that the story begins with, i.e., BOLEK AND LOLEK WALK. The following two screenshots illustrate it.

1. Bolek and Lolek WALK.2. B SAYS GOODBYE to O.

pic4.jpg

The sentences that were used to describe this sequence of events in the video condition were different than the ones in the pictures condition in that the latter were more interpretative. Consider the following data: ← 24 | 25 →

VID PL

spacerowali [were walking], odprowadzał [was seeing off], wracali [were returning], odprowadził [saw off]

VID EN

had time to relax, went out (from school), wanted to, came back, were excited

PICT EN

split up, graduated from school, started to have free time, walked around the street, decided to go, came back, were walking, left school, decided to meet

PICT PL

odprowadził [saw off], rozdzielili się [split up], spotkali (ponownie) [met (again)], umówili [arranged to meet], skończyli (zajęcia) [finished (classes)]

By contrast to the Vid-PL condition, the verbs in the Vid-Eng condition tend to be more general, and they represent a more schematic level of catergorization, e.g., went out and came. They also tend to designate a subjective evaluation rather than fact, e.g. had time to relax, were excited. Generally, though a little tentatively, one may speculate that the Polish stories reflected the use of conventional construal-codings, whereas their English counterparts probably turned towards the use of various communicative strategies to meet the task requirements. The Polish-native stories had more events, especially in the video condition, where they stand out as more detailed, and are delivered with the use of a greater variety of syntactic, sub-ordinate options, which corroborates the conclusions reached in the quantitative part (see above).

8. General conclusions

In sum, the results of the study reported in the present article provide support for the theoretical model proposed, namely, that proper adjustment of the cognitive prominence of entities (e.g., objects, characters, locations, reified processes) and relations (e.g., features of objects, processes) is the subordinate goal of the operations of construal. As for methodology, the author highlighted the stages of experimental design: general question, research question, formulation of experimental (H1) and Null (H0) hypotheses. As for data analysis, it was shown how to report descriptive statistics, and last but not least, how to go beyond the limited samples one studies and make generalizations with the use ANOVA 2x2, Chi-square test of independence and a t-test in order to study language at the level of discourse (here stories and their events) from the theoretical standpoints of Cognitive Linguistics. ← 25 | 26 →

References

Badio, J. (2014). Construal and Linguistic Coding of Narrative Events. Łódź: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Łódzkiego.

Baars, B. J. (1997). “Some essential differences between consciousness and attention, perception and working memory”. Consciousness and Cognition 6, 363–371.

Barsalou, L. (1988). “The content and organization of autobiographical memories”. In: U. Neisser and E. Winograd (eds.), Real Events Remembered: Ecological and Traditional Approaches to the Study of Memory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 193–243.

Chafe, W. (1994). Discourse, Consciousness and Time. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Chafe, W. (1996). “How consciousness shapes language”. Pragmatics and Cognition 4 (1), 35–54.

Chafe, W. (1998). “Language and the flow of thought”. In: M. Tomasello (ed.), The New Psychology of Language: Cognitive and Functional Approaches to Language Structure. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. 93–111.

Chafe, W. (2003). “Prosodic and functional units of language”. In: J. A. Edwards and M. D. Lampert (eds.), Talking Data: Transcription and Coding in Discourse Research. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. 33–43.

Croft, W. and Cruse D.A. (2004). Cognitive Linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ellis, R. (2008). The Study of Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hulstijn, J. (2007). “Fundamental issues in second language acquisition”. EUROSLA Yearbook 7, 191–203.

Langacker, R. (1987). Foundations of Cognitive Grammar, Volume 1, Theoretical Prerequisites. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.

Lanagacker, R. (1991). Foundations of Cognitive Grammar, Volume 2, Descriptive Applications. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.

Nęcka, E., Orzechowski, J. and Szymura, B. (2006). Psychologia Poznawcza [Cognitive Psychology]. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN.

Skehan, P. (1998). A Cognitive Approach to Language Learning. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Slobin, D. I. (1996). From ‘Thought to Language’ to ‘Thinking for Speaking. In: J. Gumperz and S. C. Levinson (eds.), Rethinking Linguistic Relativity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 70–96. ← 26 | 27 →

Slobin, D. (2004). “The many ways to search for a frog: linguisitc typology and the expression of motion events”. In: M. Stromqvist, and L. Verhoeven (eds.), Relating Events in Narrative, Vol. 2: Typological and Contextual Perspectives. 219–257.

Talmy, L. (2000). Toward a Conceptual Semantics, Vol. 1 and 2. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press.

Zacks, J. and Tversky, B. (2001). "Event structure in perception and conception". Psychological Bulletin 127, 3–21. ← 27 | 28 →

 

← 28 | 29 →

                                                   

1  Readers who are interested in different models and theories of attention are referred to Nęcka et al. (2006). Here this term is understood after (Baars 1997; Chafe 1994, 1996, 1998, 2003) as a set of implicit processes that give rise to conscious experience.

2  [..] – pause, [^] – sentence stress; [=] – anacrusis (vowel lengthening); [,] – end of intonation unit with pitch indicating that the idea is not finished; [.] – end of intonation unit.

3  The cartoon was directed by Władysław Nehredecki and illustrated by Alfred Ledwig (1974–1980).

Daniel Karczewski
The University of Białystok, Poland

Factors determining genericity in the light of experimental studies of generics

Abstract: The article reports on and discusses the results of three studies concerning the comprehension of generics by three different groups of speakers. It aims to discuss some of the factors (e.g., competing cues or frequency effects) that might have given rise to the conflicting interpretations. The studies seem to provide more experimental data to a growing body of evidence which supports the claim that not all learners converge on the same grammar. The experimental findings speak in favour of a well-motivated claim that plural generics represent the prototypical generic construction. The article also suggests directions for further research such as, for example, determining to what extent the differences in generic comprehension are education-related.

Keywords: generics, non-generics, genericity, competing cues.

1. Introduction

Generics express generalizations about members of a class. It is widely acknowledged that generics can have a variety of grammatical forms (e.g., Carlson and Pelletier 1995; Langacker 1999; Radden and Dirven 2007; Radden 2009). It is claimed that generics differ in the extent to which they express generality, as well as how many roles within a sentence are generic as opposed to specific (Langacker 1997: 194). Needless to say, there is a consensus among scholars that genericity is not a uniform phenomenon. In this connection, however, it is important to note that we distinguish between two classes of genericity: kind and characterizing predication. These two notions were earlier included under the term “genericity” (Krifka et al. 1995). A characterizing sentence (1a) allows for exceptions, by contrast, sentence (1b) which refers to a type, does not allow for exceptions. However, since the borderline between them is far from clear-cut, one is tempted to view these two distinctions as the poles of a continuum rather than in terms of a clear dividing line.

  • (1)  a. A lion has a bushy tail.

Generics can assume the following forms in English (Gelman 2003: 215):

It is important to note that what all the expressions in (2) have in common is a conceptual basis, which is to say that they refer to a kind as a whole (Gelman 2004: 445). They refer to the entire category of objects (e.g., birds, cats, dinosaurs, and elderly people as a class) and emphasize properties of the category which are stable, enduring, and timeless (Lyons 1977: 194).

The four expressions of genericity in (2) can be contrasted with non-generic expressions such as the following:

The non-generic expressions in (3) highlight qualities of the category that are accidental, transient or tied to a particular context (Lyons 1977: 194).

2. Review of literature

This section reviews an article by Gelman and Tardif (1998) on a comparison of generic noun phrases in English and Mandarin Chinese (henceforth Mandarin), which was the main point of reference for my studies. Broadly speaking, Gelman and Tardif’s (1998) studies aim to answer two general questions: (i) whether the expression of genericity which varies across languages has an impact on the generic usage and (ii) whether generics show domain differences.

To do so, a set of three studies was conducted to examine generics in two languages that express them in different ways (English relies on morphosyntactic cues, whereas Mandarin does not). Unlike English, Mandarin does not have articles, plurality or tense. Moreover, aspect is not always present in Mandarin. If we want to determine whether a sentence is generic or non-generic, we must rely on pragmatic and contextual cues. In other words, it is the absence of place markers, time or specific number that is suggestive of genericity.

Gelman and Tardif (1998: 218) pose the question of whether such linguistic differences have any implications on generic production and comprehension. One possible answer is that semantics is universal and therefore formal ← 30 | 31 → differences are insignificant. A number of studies, however, seem to be negating this theoretical stance by providing evidence that cross-linguistic differences in linguistic forms have an impact on semantics. Additionally, it would appear that speakers of languages in which grammatical distinctions are indispensable, ‘habitually attend’ more to such distinctions (Lucy 1992: 87, quoted in Gelman and Tardif 1998: 218). As far as generics are concerned, there seem to be cross-linguistic differences in their semantics (Gelman and Tardif’s (1998: 218) discussion of Chierchia (ms.)).

Let us now turn to Study 1 & Study 2 and their main findings. Gelman and Tardif (1998) determined that generics were identified in Mandarin as reliably as in English. It is particularly interesting in the light of Bloom’s (1981)1 claim that Mandarin speakers do not form generic concepts and the fact that Mandarin lacks any obvious morphosyntactic cues of genericity. Moreover, Gelman and Tardif (1998) found that generics were more frequent in English than in Mandarin. The experimenters also observed that generics in both languages were the most common in the domain of animals.

Similarly to Study 1, Study 2 also confirmed that generics were readily identified in both languages. It is important to note that the overall agreement between the coders (bilingual speakers of English and Mandarin, trained in linguistics) in each language was over 90%. Moreover, the study also reveals a high production of generics in child-directed speech. The main focus of Gelman and Tardif’s Study 3 was on generic comprehension. The study disclosed that genericity is a psychologically real phenomenon in both languages.

The main findings of the three studies conducted by Gelman and Tardif (1998) show that there are three major similarities between English and Mandarin, namely, generics: (i) are frequent in both languages, (ii) appear more often in book-reading contexts than in toy play contexts and (iii) are especially frequent in the domain of animals and people rather than artifacts.

3. Empirical methods employed in the analysis

The three studies in this paper have been inspired by Radden’s observation (personal communication, July 2011) that people fail to distinguish between generic and non-generic reference. ← 31 | 32 →

3.1 Subjects

Participants in Study 1 included 35 native speakers of Polish, who ranged in age from 16–35 years. Study 2 comprised 37 first-year students of English at the University of Białystok, most of whom have received on average 12 years of formal instruction in English. Study 3 included 59 American speakers (32 males and 27 females) from 18 to over 60 years old of varying educational backgrounds ranging from high school to graduate degree level.

3.2 Materials

In Study 1, participants received a questionnaire asking for their interpretation of sentences sampled from the corpus of translation of Temple Grandin and Kathrin Johnson’s book Animals in translation ‘Zrozumieć zwierzęta’, whereas Study 2 & Study 3 are based on the examples of generics and non-generics taken from Krzeszowski (1982). The sentences used were chosen so that there would be two examples of: indefinite singular generics, definite singular generics, and plural generics as well as corresponding non-generics (i.e., indefinite singular non-generic, etc.). Each participant completed a paper and pencil questionnaire (Study 1 & Study 2) or an online questionnaire using Survey Monkey, a provider of web-based survey solutions (Study 3).2

3.3 Procedure

Each subject was asked to read the sentences and judge each as referring to ‘one individual member of the category’, ‘a few members of the category’, ‘most/any members of the category’, or ‘difficult to say’. Following each sentence were the phrases ‘one’, ‘a few’, ‘most or any’, and ‘difficult to say’ and the subjects were asked to circle the appropriate word or phrase. If the subjects selected ‘one’ or ‘a few’, it would indicate individuative reference, whereas ‘most or any’ would indicate generic reference.

3.4  Coding

Coding involved two steps. First, I evaluated sentences with the target noun phrase taking into account the above-specified factors. Then, I asked three coders trained in linguistics to check my coding. Overall agreement between the coders and me was 93%. ← 32 | 33 →

4. The analysis

This section aims to discuss some of the factors that might have given rise to the conflicting interpretations and which should be neutralized before another stage of the experiment is started in the future.

4.1  Predication type

Let us consider one of the items used in Study 1: Czego na przykład potrzebuje krowa w rzeźni, by być szczęśliwa? ‘What does a cow headed to slaughter need in order to have a happy life?’ In the case of this item, ten out of thirty-five respondents marked the noun phrase krowa ‘a cow’ as an instance of individuative reference, while the coders marked it as generic. It would seem that the speakers of Polish made use of different cues in determining whether a noun phrase is generic or non-generic. The difference in marking might result from an interplay of a number of factors of which a predication type and a formal grammatical cue are most important. Thus, it would appear that the predication szczęśliwa ‘happy’ influenced the non-generic interpretation of the sentence since being happy seems to be normally predicated of individuals rather than of kinds.

4.2  Grammatical cue

Another factor that might be at play is the grammatical cue (i.e., the nominal in the singular), which some of the speakers might not associate with the generic reading. Generally speaking, in my Studies, the items with the plural generic nominal were more readily interpreted as generic that those which contained the nominal in the singular. For instance, in Study 1 the items with the plural nominal were almost unanimously declared as generic. More specifically, let us consider the data from Study 3. Table 1 below shows the results of the comprehension of the plural generic: 55 out of 59 respondents identified the sentence Snakes have no legs as generic (93,2%), while 2 subjects marked this sentence as non-generic (3,4%). ← 33 | 34 →

Table 1: Response percent and response count regarding the sentence Snakes have no legs.

Snakes have no legs.
Answer OptionsResponse PercentResponse Count
ONE0.0%0
A FEW3.4%2
MOST or ANY93.2%55
DIFFICULT TO SAY3.4%2
answered question59
skipped question1

On the other hand, there were substantial differences (as opposed to the standard coding) in the interpretation of the nominals in the singular, which ranged from 9 to 100%.

4.3  Frequency effects

Let us now focus on a cognitive factor which might be held responsible for some of the results from Study 3. The discussion begins with A sparrow is a bird since it gave rise to a variety of conflicting interpretations (Table 2 below).

Table 2: Response percent and response count of the sentence A sparrow is a bird

A sparrow is a bird.
Answer OptionsResponse PercentResponse Count
ONE40.7%24
A FEW0.0%0
MOST or ANY50.8%30
DIFFICULT TO SAY8.5%5
answered question59
skipped question1

Let me suggest that the surprising results regarding this item might be attributed to frequency effects. According to Evans (2007: 87), frequency, which is a key notion in a usage-based model, is claimed to have an impact on the language system. Thus, the more frequently we encounter a word or a construction, the more entrenched it becomes in the language system. I am far from suggesting that A sparrow is a bird is a highly entrenched construction which as a result of its entrenchment affects other less well entrenched generic construals. I am ← 34 | 35 → more inclined to suggest that the interpretational differences are rather due to the effect of the frequency of the type we categorize. According to Hurford et al. (2007: 89), children learn many concrete concepts such as, for example bird, dog or man from ostensive definitions. I assume that parents in the presence of their children frequently point in the direction of a bird in a tree saying that it is a bird and further categorizing it as for example a sparrow. Thus, the information that a sparrow is a bird is well entrenched in our minds as we have been bombarded with it since our early childhood. It is tempting to suggest that the huge incongruity between the standard coding and the way participants in the survey marked this item (to 24 out 59 subjects it is an instance of individuative reference while another 5 were unable to decide) might have been due to the item’s high frequency and its entrenchment as a result. I would expect that if a different item had been chosen, for example A penguin is a bird, it would have returned results more in line with the standard coding.

4.4  Folk and expert theories

Another cognitive factor that might have given rise to different interpretations is the source of knowledge (i.e., folk and expert theories) that the information encapsulated in the generics comes from. Let us, first of all, consider two items from the survey: An atom is composed of protons, neutrons and electrons, as well as The elephant is a big mammal. This is the kind of knowledge that is most likely to be acquired in school settings. Thus, during for example a chemistry lesson, we learn what an atom is and what its components are, whereas in biology classes we might be taught that elephants are mammals because they have tiny hairs on their body and the females have mammary glands. Depending, however, on our individual experience, such information could be established in our minds with varying degrees. At the other end of the scale, we would have items such as the already discussed generic A sparrow is a bird, which represents knowledge that we use automatically and no conscious thought appears to be involved.

Let us now turn to the generic The airplane uses a lot of fuel, which is an interesting case since 14 out of 59 subjects chose the ‘difficult to say’ option in reference to it. It is important to emphasize that it was the only item which so many participants found difficult to classify (the level of indecisiveness in the case of the remaining generics ranged from 2 to 5). ← 35 | 36 →

Table 3: Response percent and response count of the sentence The airplane uses lots of fuel

The airplane uses lots of fuel.
Answer OptionsResponse PercentResponse Count
ONE33,9%20
A FEW0,0%0
MOST or ANY42,4%25
DIFFICULT TO SAY23,7%14
answered question59
skipped question1

I would claim that such results are due in part to various sources of knowledge which influenced the decision-making of the participants. On the one hand, it appears to be commonly known that the plane uses far more fuel than, for example the car. Thus, comparing these two means of transport, the latter is more fuel efficient than the former. On the other hand, there are some types of planes that are more fuel efficient than others such as, for example the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which is said to use the least amount of fuel of all the airliners (according to the commercial television network TVN). The former information seems to be part of our folk knowledge of planes, whereas the latter is part of our expert theories. Thus, conflicting theories might be held responsible for interpretational differences of item The airplane uses a lot of fuel.

5. Conclusions

There are several general findings which stem from the three studies. First, the plural construal was the most reliably identified generic. This might suggest that it is the most natural expression of genericness among the three types surveyed. Furthermore, it could also indicate that the speakers had more experience with the plural generic than with the indefinite and definite constructions and hence lack a well-entrenched indefinite/definite generic schema.

Second, Study 2 & Study 3 seem to provide more experimental data to a growing body of evidence which supports the claim that not all learners converge on the same grammar (e.g., Street and Dąbrowska (2010)). To be more specific, Street and Dąbrowska (2010) present experimental evidence that native speakers differ in their native language attainment. The two experiments tested core English grammar, namely actives (e.g., The boy photographed the girl), passives (e.g., The girl was hugged by the boy), and quantificational constructions (e.g., ← 36 | 37 → Every feather is in a vase or Every shoe has a hamster in it). The data sample used in the experiment comprised actives, passives and quantificational constructions. The first experiment tested two groups of participants, namely high academic achievement (hereafter HAA) speakers and low academic achievement (hereafter LAA) speakers. The experiment showed that the HAA speakers did well on all the tasks, whereas the LAA participants did well only on actives. The second experiment sought to determine whether with some training, the LAA speakers would perform better on the tasks. Street and Dąbrowska (2010) found out that the LAA subjects performed much better after initial training in a given construction.

Third, Study 2 & Study 3 show that L2 learners outperformed native speakers as far as the comprehension of the two sentences: A sparrow is a bird and The airplane uses a lot of fuel. The study found that 50,8% of the native speakers of English understood the former sentence as generic. The figure, however, is much higher for L2 learners (70%). In the case of the latter sentence, 42,4% of American speakers and 67% L2 learners indicated it as generic. It is interesting to note that the interpretational differences between these two groups of subjects concerning the remaining generics is rather insignificant (the difference ranges from 2 to 7%). It would appear that such differences might be education-related. Polish native speakers were all university students, whereas the American participants represented different educational backgrounds (from lower than high school up to graduate degree level). It is important to note, at this point, that my initial hypothesis was that speakers with more schooling (a bachelor or graduate degree) would outperform those with less schooling (some high school) on this task. If we, however, consider the data from Table 4 in Appendix, it would be difficult to confirm this hypothesis. Let us consider the most problematic generic construal (i.e., indefinite singular) represented by sentence A sparrow is a bird and how it was interpreted by the three groups of participants with different educational backgrounds (i.e., some college, associate or bachelor degree and graduate degree). Thus, the item was marked as an instance of individuative reference by 10 out of 22 subjects with some college education (i.e., 45% of subjects), 6 out of 14 subjects with an associate or bachelor degree (i.e., 42% of subjects excluding 1 person who marked it as ‘difficult to say’) and 5 out of 12 subjects with a graduate degree (i.e., 41% of subjects excluding 3 who marked it as ‘difficult to say’). Overall, I would claim that there is no conclusive evidence to suggest that the HAA speakers outperformed the LAA speakers. It is important to stress that in this study the subjects with some college education (22 out of 59) outnumbered those with a different educational background. Clearly, more research is needed to examine to what extent the differences in generic comprehension are ← 37 | 38 → education-related. In connection with this, it is important to report Dąbrowska and Street’s (2006) findings concerning the comprehension of passive constructions by four groups of participants: (1) graduate natives, (2) graduate non-natives, (3) non-graduate natives, and (4) and non-graduate non-natives. The items used in the study comprised of sentences which were active and plausible (e.g., The dog bit the man), active and implausible (e.g., The man bit the dog), as well as passive and plausible (e.g., The man was bitten by the dog) and passive and implausible (e.g., The dog was bitten by the man). The subjects were asked to listen to the sentences and identify the agent of the sentences. One result of this study seems particularly interesting in the light of my own research into the comprehension of generics and non-generics, namely the fact that LAA non-natives performed better than LAA natives. Further research will be necessary to determine whether this result might be replicated in the case of generic sentences. Overall, Dąbrowska and Street’s (2006) research seems to indicate that L2 speakers can outperform L1 speakers on some grammatical tasks.

Fourth, the results of the comprehension of sentence A sparrow is a bird seem rather surprising and are in need of explanation since almost half of the respondents (24 out of 59) consider the sentence to be an instance of individuative reference. This might be the effect of conceptualizing a sparrow as meaning each and every one or every single one (cf. the Polish expression każdy jeden).

Fifth, the two Studies (2 & 3) also revealed a certain shortcoming of the questionnaire as far as the comprehension of the non-generics is concerned. It would appear that the sentence The larks in my garden are singing beautifully was interpreted by 28,8% of the subjects as an instance of generic rather than individuative reference. Thus, the respondents selected the most or any category rather than the a few category. My hypothesis is that some of them selected the most or any option to indicate that every single bird in my garden sings beautifully (and not just a few of them). Thus, most/any did not indicate ‘most/any members of the category’ to those respondents but rather meant most/any in my garden.

As a closing remark, let me return to the major motivating force behind the three studies, that is Radden’s observation (p.c.) that people fail to distinguish between individuative and generic reference. Having tested the questionnaires on three different groups of speakers, I am now in a position to draw a very tentative conclusion that the difference between the two types reference is not always straightforward. Thus, measuring participants’ individual sensitivity to the distinction in question might constitute an interesting area of further research. ← 38 | 39 →

References

Carlson, G. N., & Pelletier, J. F. (Eds.). (1995). The Generic Book. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Dąbrowska, E. (2012). Different speakers, different grammars: Individual differences in native language attainment. Linguistic Approaches to Bilingualism 2:3, 219–253.

Dąbrowska, E., & Street, J. (2006). Individual differences in language attainment: Comprehension of passive sentences by native and non-native English speakers. Language Sciences 28, 604–615.

Evans, V. (2007). A Glossary of Cognitive Linguistics. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Gelman, S. A. (2003). The Essential Child. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Gelman, S. A. (2004). Learning words for kinds: Generic noun phrases in acquisition. In D. G. Hall & S. R. Waxman (Eds.), Weaving a lexicon. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 445–484.

Gelman, S. A., & Tardif, T. (1998). A cross-linguistic comparison of generic noun phrases in English and Mandarin. Cognition 66, 215–248.

Grandin, T. & Johnson, C. (2011). Zrozumieć zwierzęta. Poznań: Media Rodzina.

Hurford, J. R., Heasley, B., & Smith M. B. (2007). Semantics: A Coursebook. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Karczewski, D. (2013). Genericity in language and thought. A cognitive study. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Institute of English Studies, Warsaw University.

Krifka, M. (1995). Common nouns: a contrastive analysis of Chinese and English. In G. N. Carlson & J. F. Pelletier (Eds.), The Generic Book. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 398–411.

Krzeszowski, T. P. (1982). Gramatyka angielska dla Polaków. Warszawa: Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe.

Langacker, R. W. (1999). Generic constructions. In Grammar and Conceptualization. Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter, 247–260.

Langacker, R. W. (1997). Generics and habituals. In R. Dirven & A. Athanasiadou (Eds.), On Conditionals Again. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins. Current Issues in Linguistic Theory 143, 191–222.

Lyons, J. (1977). Semantics Vol. I. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Radden, G. (2009). Generic reference in English: A metonymic and conceptual blending analysis. In K. Uwe-Panther, L. L. Thornburg & A. Barcelona (Eds.), Metonymy and Metaphor in Grammar. Amesterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 199–228. ← 39 | 40 →

Radden, G. & Dirven, R. (2007). Cognitive English Grammar. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Street, J. & Dąbrowska, E. (2010). More individual differences in language attainment: How much do adult native speakers of English know about passives and quantifiers? Lingua 120, 2080–2094.

Appendix

Table 4: Response percent and response count of the sentence A sparrow is a bird depending on subjects’ education

pic5.jpg

← 40 | 41 →

                                                   

1  Quoted after Gelman and Tardif (1998: 220).

2  The online version of the survey used in Study 2 & Study 3 is available at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/8FCYHMM.

Ida Stria
Adam Mickiewicz University, Poland

Linguistic Worldview of Esperanto: a Questionnaire Method

Abstract: This paper aims to identify the elements needed to carry out studies on the linguistic worldview of Esperanto.

The linguistic worldview is a subjective and socially created interpretation of reality embedded in the language. The chief objective is taking into account different levels of language that is vocabulary, idioms, morphology and syntax. Esperanto is probably the only fully developed planned language allowing for the study of its worldview.

All Esperanto speakers are at least bilingual, which leads to an assumption that the worldview in this language will contain elements transferred from other languages spoken by the respondents. Therefore, one of the research stages must contain tasks designed to detect these elements and determine the impact of the native languages.

Keywords: Esperanto, linguistic worldview, multilingualism, linguistic transfer.

1. The general purpose of the project

This paper aims to identify the elements needed to carry out studies on the linguistic worldview of Esperanto. The approach described in this paper, namely the questionnaire method for bilingual speakers of a planned language, has not been employed in any previous research to the knowledge of the author. Some analogies are present in the article of Koutny (2010), which is treated as a preliminary research study for the project presented here.

1.1 Introductory remarks on Esperanto

Esperanto is a constructed international auxiliary language created by L. L. Zamenhof, who published his pamphlet on “lingvo internacia” in 1887. His pseudonym “Doktoro Esperanto” soon began to be the name of the language itself.

Although Esperanto has been consciously and deliberately created, it is used among thousands of speakers (some sources say up to 3.5 million; see Piron, 1989), some of which are even third generation native speakers. Numerous meetings worldwide give evidence of its use in intercultural communication.

Typologically Esperanto is built in resemblance to agglutinative languages with a developed system of over 40 prefixes and suffixes, although its ← 41 | 42 → fundamental vocabulary is based mostly on Romance and Germanic languages. The word order is usually SVO, but free word order is available thanks to the accusative marker –n.

1.2 The objectives of the questionnaire approach

So far the linguistic worldview (henceforth LWV) has only been described for natural languages. Esperanto is usually considered as an artificial language, and therefore the tools of cognitive or anthropological linguistics have not been used in its description. This project is aimed at applying the theory of the LWV known from the Ethnolinguistic School of Lublin to Esperanto, which in several linguistic works has been regarded as a language developing naturally (Blanke, 1997, 2001; Koutny, 2009, 2012b; Lindstedt, 2006; Manaris, Pellicoro, Pothering, & Hodges, 2006; Schubert, 1989). Such an approach assumes the same sociolinguistic traits of both Esperanto and ethnic languages.

The scientific objective of the project is first to determine whether there is a homogeneous linguistic worldview (i.e., linguistic way of categorizing and organizing the world) in Esperanto, whose users are at least bilingual and come from different cultures. The bi- and multilingualism of the speakers leads to an assumption that the worldview in this language will contain elements transferred from their native languages. Therefore, one of the research stages must contain various tasks designed to detect these elements and determine the impact of the native languages on Esperanto. Another extremely important stage would be the study of a small group of native speakers of Esperanto and the specific worldview pertaining to the culture of Esperanto, created in the communicative practice of the Esperantist community. This problem will be taken up in detail in the following sections.

2. Pre-existing research

The idea of the linguistic worldview (otherwise known as the picture of the world) appeared for the first time in the works of W. von Humboldt in the first half of the nineteenth century, though its origins can be traced back to Herder, Luther, or even Aristotle (see Żuk, 2010). These views were developed in two different ways: by German researchers such as L. Weisgerber and by American anthropological linguists (Boas, Sapir, and Whorf). In Poland the LWV has been explored in Lublin Ethnolinguistic School (the main representative being J. Bartmiński), Wrocław (e.g., J. Anusiewicz), and Warsaw (R. Grzegorczykowa, axiolinguists with J. Puzynina). ← 42 | 43 →

The study of the LWV for bi- and of multilinguals as proposed in this project is a new idea. Customarily, the LWV has been studied within a single language. Comparative studies have also been postulated (cf. Bartmiński, 2009, 2012), but a study of conceptualisations in bilinguals (in combination native plus non-native or with two native languages) most likely has never been carried out in the framework of this theory. Therefore, this would seem the first attempt to describe linguistic transfer and interference within the theory of the linguistic worldview of J. Bartmiński.

Generally the problem of multilingualism has been considered from the perspective of cognitive linguistics (e.g., colours and feelings in Wierzbicka, 2004; Pavlenko, 2006; Athanasopoulos, 2009). Additionally, the concepts of interference and transfer in Esperanto have only been considered in relation to its native users (e.g., Bergen, 2001; Lindstedt, 2006).

As mentioned, the testing of the LWV in a constructed language is a new idea. A preliminary study was conducted by Koutny (2010). The analysis was based on a questionnaire containing five questions on personal details and nine complex questions concerning the linguistic worldview. The questions related to both the grammar and the vocabulary of Esperanto. 100 speakers of 19 languages responded, of which four persons declared themselves as native speakers of Esperanto. The study has shown that Esperanto users follow their native languages when naming the colour of objects or assessing to which class (e.g., animate/inanimate) a notion belongs. However, some notions are understandable only to those familiar with Esperanto culture and actively participating in the community. Synthetic morphological forms appear more often, regardless of the type of native language.

3. The method

3.1 Preliminary requirements

In this project the theory will be adopted from the works of J. Bartmiński, although the research method will not be identical to the proposals of Lublin School and the methodology adopted in the EUROJOS project. The data required to describe the LWV according to Bartmiński (2009), Grzegorczykowa (1999) and in EUROJOS are as follows: (a) systemic (including hyponyms, opposites, synonyms, derivatives, collocations and proverbs), (b) dictionary definitions, and (c) real-life instances from texts, corpora and questionnaires. However, the questionnaires need only have one question, namely “what is a true X like?” while additional questions might, but do not have to be asked. ← 43 | 44 →

Although Esperanto is treated here as natural and meets all the theoretical prerequisites postulated by the EUROJOS team (i.e., has original literature, corpora, several dictionaries, thousands of speakers and some dozens of native speakers), there are technical constraints to the task. Any study of Esperanto would necessitate a large number of team members and would last several years. Therefore, a basic introductory study is needed before more detailed subsequent projects are conducted precisely in accordance with Bartmiński’s method. Such an introductory questionnaire study is presented below.

3.2 Basic assumptions

The linguistic worldview according to a concise definition of Jerzy Bartmiński (2009) is:

a language-entrenched interpretation of reality, which can be expressed in the form of judgments about the world…. The interpretation is a result of subjective perception and conceptualization of reality performed by the speakers of a given language; thus, it is clearly subjective and anthropocentric but also intersubjective (social). (p. 23)

This definition refers not only to the interpretation generated in a community (a condition that is satisfied by Esperanto), but also to individual conceptualisations derived from experience. As mentioned, all users of Esperanto are at least bilingual, which could mean that the worldview embedded in this language is mediated by the speakers’ native languages.

The results of the study of Koutny (2010; see section 2), together with the theoretical analysis carried out in Stria (2013), led to the formulation of the following research questions:

Q1:Will the LWV of non-native users be taken from their native language (L1)?
Q2:Is there a homogeneous, culturally embedded LWV of Esperanto, understandable for non-native speakers?
Q3:Is there a homogeneous LWV among native speakers of Esperanto?

Answers to these questions are to be obtained in a procedure comprising the following research tasks: (a) establishing a list of survey questions, (b) preparing questionnaires and conducting surveys among respondents, (c) choosing and grouping questionnaires according to established parameters, (d) comparative analysis of questionnaires filled out by non-native respondents, (e) analysis of questionnaires filled out by native speakers.

This project will cover a different group of respondents than those of Koutny (2010). The study sample will include approx. 100 advanced users of Esperanto. The data is to be collected by selecting four equal groups of native speakers of ← 44 | 45 → different languages distant from each other in order to statistically compare the results. The first three groups of 25 persons each are to be as follows:

Table 1: Samples according to language

pic999.jpg

It is visible from the table that the combination non-European culture plus Indo-European language (e.g., Hindi) is missing. The reason for this is the limitations of resources. Ideally, all four groups should be used. The choice of the languages should depend on the knowledge of those languages of the researchers.

The fourth group included in the project will be at least 20 (ideally 25) native speakers of Esperanto. The diversification of the research pool according to language spoken will allow for determining the impact of language and culture on categorisations. It seems that 25 respondents from each of the groups is a number large enough to control for the idiosyncrasy, while small enough to successfully carry out the project within the stipulated time (up to 24 months).

The questions will be written exclusively in Esperanto to prevent transfer of structures from another language on the responses in the questionnaires. The responses (where possible) will be compared with LWVs known from L1s of the users (this procedure has not been used by Koutny), which will determine the scope of interference and transferring from L1. Subsequent studies should also include translation tasks designed to determine the extent of transferring.

3.3 The tasks

The first stage of the project is establishing a list of survey questions. The questionnaire will consist of an introductory part with questions on personal details, taking into account sex, age, native language, and the command of Esperanto (e.g., how often do you use Esperanto?). The remaining part of the questionnaire will only be accessible to the advanced users (of C1 level at least, native speakers included). The rest of the questions will relate to the linguistic worldview of the respondents.

The questionnaires will be distributed via Internet through national Esperanto associations, mailing lists and other media, for example social networking sites. In order to diversify the data it is planned to send out the questionnaires to users of both Indo-European and non-Indo-European languages. ← 45 | 46 →

After the data has been collected (until the minimum of 25 questionnaires of each of three languages are collected with at least 20 native speakers in group four) there will be a brief period of quantitative analysis, that is statistical categorisation of language, sex and age as well as coding the responses, that is grouping them by descriptors. The answers relating to syntax and morphology will be segmented into basic sentence parts and morphemes, and compared with grammatical schemes occurring in languages of the control group (i.e., three unrelated languages of the greatest number of respondents). For example, the sentence Mi devus fari ĝin [I should do it] is coded as S – Aux – V – O and compared with the Polish scheme (S) – Aux – O – V Powinienem to zrobić. The answers concerning vocabulary, collocations and idioms will be coded according to domains and descriptors. The LWVs of the groups will be statistically compared in task 4.

After the division, the questionnaires filled in by non-native speakers of Esperanto will be analysed qualitatively. If most responses are matching (i.e., mutually compatible, or compatible in terms of descriptors), it will be assumed that Esperantists of different languages and cultures share a coherent and consistent LWV (which might confirm the strength of Esperanto culture and a weak version of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis). In the opposite case, that is the lack of agreement, the responses grouped according to the respondents’ native language will be compared with worldviews known from those L1s in order to determine whether there is any conceptual interference and transfer from native languages to Esperanto. Those parts that do not have their counterparts in the native languages will be considered as belonging to the worldview of Esperanto. This task has two stages: S1, where only strictly cultural concepts (e.g., the importance of green, the term “citizen” and the five-pointed star) are examined, as well as S2, where cross-linguistically varying domains are compared (e.g., colours, categorisation of animals and plants and the definitional characteristics of astronomical objects).

The analysis of the questionnaires completed by native speakers will be carried out in the same manner. If the worldviews of these respondents will not be uniform, individual responses will be compared with the second native language of the respondents who, as previously stated, are at least bilingual.

3.4 Sample questions

The first part of the questionnaire will be questions on personal details, for example about age, sex, native language and command of Esperanto. Sample questions are as follows (cf. Li, Sepanski and Zhao, 2006):

  1. Elektinte legi tekston disponeblan en ĉiuj lingvoj konataj al vi, en kiom da procentoj de kazoj vi elektus legi ĝin en iu de viaj lingvoj? Supozu, ke la originalo ← 46 | 47 → estis skribita en alia lingvo, kiu estas nekonata al vi. [When choosing to read a text available in all languages known to you, in what percentage of cases would you choose to read it in each of your languages? Assume that the original was written in another language, which is unknown to you.]
  2. En kiuj lingvoj vi kutime [In which languages do you usually]:
    • •  Kalkulas [Count and do simple arithmetic]?
    • •  Sonĝas [Dream]?
    • •  Esprimas sentojn [Express feelings]?
    • •  Preĝas [Pray]?
    • •  Malbenas [Swear]?

The second part of the questionnaire will only be accessible to the advanced users (C1 level at least, native speakers included). The chief objective in the selection of questions will be taking into account different levels of language, that is vocabulary, idioms, morphology and syntax as proposed by Anusiewicz, Dąbrowska and Fleischer (2000), Bartmiński (2009, 2012), Grzegorczykowa (1999). To establish the list of questions the assumptions of Rosch (1978; as an addition to the original Lublin LWV theory), the EUROJOS project, as well as the preliminary study of Koutny (2010) will also be used. Therefore, the questionnaire will contain open-ended questions: “complete”, “name X”, definitional, the BUT test, sentence transformation, and so forth.

In the case of heterogeneity of the worldview the answers will be compared with the already known worldviews of the native languages of the respondents in order to capture elements transferred from L1 to Esperanto. Those parts that are not found in the native languages will be considered as belonging to the worldview of Esperanto.

Sample questions will be as follows:

  1. Kian koloron havas? [what is the colour of:]
    • •  Suno [the sun]
    • •  Sablo [sand]
    • •  Papriko [bell pepper]
    • •  Vulpo [fox]
    • •  Ĉielo [the sky]
  2. Priskribu mallonge (se eblas, per unu – du vortoj) [Describe briefly (if possible, use one – two words)]: ← 47 | 48 →
    • •  Li ĉiam estis aktiva esperantisto, sed ĵus forlasis la movadon. (Kion li faris?) [He was always an active Esperantist, but has just left the movement. (What has he done?)]
    • •  Ili renkontiĝas nur dum kongresoj. Tio estas efemera amafero. (Kio ŝi estas?) [They meet only during congresses. This is a short-lived love affair. (What is she?)]
    • •  Kiam ili estas inter esperantistoj, ili ofte parolas en sia denaska lingvo. (Kion ili faras?) [When they are among Esperanto speakers, they often speak in their native language. (What do they do?)]

The first question is designed to test whether Esperanto assigns a specific colour to each term, or whether these colours are borrowed from native languages. The second question verifies knowledge of Esperanto culture and idioms related to it. Other questions include: filling in the blanks (collocation test), questions about personifications (whether the sun is male, female, a child, etc.), prototypicality of plants and animals (e.g., “list five birds, plants, vegetables”), grammatical transformations (semantic compositionality test; see Koutny, 2012a, p. 119), the BUT test (“Complete the sentence: ‘John is an ardent Esperantist, but…’”). The data will be coded according to descriptors (e.g., coral, crimson, burgundy – descriptor: red) and subjected to statistical analysis. This coding can be explained on the example of the question: “According to you, what is the real Esperantist like?” Responses will be grouped into domains (e.g., social aspect/ ideological aspect/ physical aspect, etc.) in which the keywords will be placed (e.g., respect, altruism/ equality/ green) extracted on the basis of the responses (e.g., respects others and helps them selflessly/ believes that all are equal/ dresses in green).

4. Conclusions

The results of the project will be of both theoretical and practical importance. Firstly, the theory of LWV will be applied to a constructed language for the first time. This will improve the understanding of the development of languages in general and the ways of conceptualizing the world using a language. Moreover, the weak version of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis will be tested.

Secondly, the results will also contribute to the understanding of how native users of different languages speaking the same language in certain social situations produce new culturally embedded meanings.

The last research question (Q3) will concern Esperanto native speakers (do they present a consistent LWV). This question posits a fundamental linguistic problem. Not only are native Esperanto speakers never monolingual and therefore subject ← 48 | 49 → to the influence of another language (or several other languages), but also do not remain in close and constant contact with the speech community, which allows for questioning the consistency of their LWV. What is more, many a time Esperanto is not the dominant language, and with the passage of time it may even decline. Note that native speakers never set the standards of Esperanto, which means they do not fulfil the same function as native speakers of (and in) other languages (cf. Fiedler, 2012). A negative answer to the Q3 question could explain the ways of formation of the linguistic categorisations in multilingual users staying in non-Esperanto environment, while a positive one might indicate the validity of the weak version of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.

It is significant that this project can be a contribution to a further detailed study of Esperanto and a pioneering research on other constructed languages (e.g., Ido, Interlingua).

References

Anusiewicz J., Dąbrowska A., & Fleischer M. (2000). Językowy obraz świata i kultura. Projekt koncepcji badawczej [Linguistic Worldview and Culture. A Research Project]. In J. Anusiewicz & A. Dąbrowska (Eds.), Język a Kultura 13. Językowy obraz świata i kultura (pp. 11–44). Wrocław, Poland: Wydawnictwo UWr.

Athanasopoulos, P. (2009). Cognitive Representation of Colour in Bilinguals: The Case of Greek Blues. In Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 12, 83–95.

Bartmiński, J. (2009). Aspects of Cognitive Ethnolinguistics. London: Equinox Publishing Ltd.

Bartmiński, J. (2012). Językowe podstawy obrazu świata [Linguistic Foundations of the Worldview] (4th ed.). Lublin, Poland: Wydawnictwo UMCS.

Bergen, B. (2001). Nativization Processes in L1 Esperanto. In Journal of Child Language 28(3). 575–595.

Blanke, D. (1997). The Term “Planned Language”. In H. Tonkin (Ed.), Esperanto, Interlinguistics, and Planned Language (pp. 1–20). Lanham, MD: University Press of America.

Blanke, D. (2001). Vom Entwurf zur Sprache [From Draft to Language]. In K. Schubert, (Ed.), Planned Languages: From Concept to Reality (pp. 37–89). Brussels, Belgium: VLEKHO.

EUROJOS. (2009). Retrieved September 15, 2014 from the Institute of Slavic Studies, Polish Academy of Sciences at http://ispan.waw.pl/default/en/research-projects/eurojos. ← 49 | 50 →

Grzegorczykowa, R. (1999). Pojęcie językowego obrazu świata [The Notion of the Linguistic Worldview]. In J. Bartmiński (Ed.), Językowy obraz świata. Lublin, Poland: Wydawnictwo UMCS.

Fiedler, S. (2012). The Esperanto Denaskulo. The Status of the Native Speaker of Esperanto within and beyond the Planned Language Community. In Language Problems & Language Planning, 36/1, 69–84.

Herring, J. (2005). Syntactic and Lexical Changes in Esperanto: a Corpus-based Survey. 2nd Midwest Computational Linguistics Colloquium, Columbus, OH. Retrieved September 15, 2014 from: http://cllt.osu.edu/mclc/paper/syntactic_herrring.pdf.

Koutny, I. (2009). Esperanto im Rahmen der Sprachtypologie [Esperanto in Frames of the Language Typology]. In S. Fiedler (Ed.), Esperanto und andere Sprachen im Vergleich (pp. 117–130). Berlin: Gesellschaft für Interlinguistik.

Koutny, I. (2010). Esperantlingva bildo de la mondo [Esperantic Linguistic Picture of the World]. In D. Blanke & U. Lins (Eds.), La arto labori kune. Festlibro por Humphrey Tonkin (pp. 290–305). Rotterdam, the Netherlands: UEA.

Koutny, I. (2012a). From semantic networks to dictionary structures. In Język. Komunikacja. Informacja, VII, 115–128.

Koutny, I. (2012b). Kiel niaj pensoj vortigxas? Kiun semantikan modelon sekvas esperanto? [How Are Our Thoughts Verbalised? Which Semantic Model Does Esperanto Follow?] In Ch. Kiselman & M. Maradan (Eds.), Leksikologio, frazeologio, historio, semantiko kaj terminologio: du kontinentoj renkontiĝas en Hanojo (pp. 35–48). Rotterdam, the Netherlands: UEA.

Li P., Sepanski S., & Zhao X. (2006). Language History Questionnaire: A Web-based Interface for Bilingual Research. In Behavior research methods, 38(2), 202–210.

Lindstedt, J. (2006). Native Esperanto as a Test Case for Natural Language. In M. Suominen et al. (Eds.), A man of measure: Festschrift in honour of Fred Karlsson on his 60th birthday (pp. 47–55). Turku, Finland: Linguistic Association of Finland.

Manaris B., Pellicoro L., Pothering G., & Hodges H. (2006). Investigating Esperanto’s Statistical Proportions Relative to Other Languages Using Neural Networks and Zipf’s Law. In Proceedings of the 24th IASTED International Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Applications (pp. 102–108). Innsbruck, Austria: ACTA Press.

Pavlenko, A. (Ed.). (2006). Bilingual Minds: Emotional Experience, Expression, and Representation. Clevedon, UK, New York, Toronto: Multilingual Matters. ← 50 | 51 →

Piron, C. (1989). Who Are the Speakers of Esperanto? In K. Schubert (Ed.), Interlinguistics: Aspects of the Science of Planned Languages (pp. 157–172). Berlin, Germany: Walter de Gruyter.

Stria, I. (2013). Classifications of Artificial Languages. In Język. Komunikacja. Informacja, VIII, 125–132.

Schubert, K. (1989). Interlinguistics – Its Aims, Its Achievements, and Its Place in Language Science. In K. Schubert (Ed.), Interlinguistics: Aspects of the Science of Planned Languages (pp. 7–44). Berlin, Germany: Walter de Gruyter.

Wierzbicka, A. (2004). Preface: Bilingual lives, bilingual experience. In Journal of multilingual and multicultural development, 25 (2–3), 94–104.

Żuk, G. (2010). Językowy obraz świata w polskiej lingwistyce przełomu wieków [Linguistic Worldview in Polish Linguistics at the Turn of the Centuries]. In M. Karwatowska & A. Siwiec (Eds.), Przeobrażenia w języku i komunikacji medialnej na przełomie XX i XXI wieku (pp. 239–257). Lublin, Poland: Wydawnictwo Drukarnia Best Print. ← 51 | 52 →

 

← 52 | 53 →

Krzysztof Kosecki1
University of Łódź, Poland

Comprehension of metaphor-based non-literality in signed languages by the hearing persons

Abstract: The ability of the hearing persons to understand the form-meaning relation of non-literal signs may be a factor contributing to mastering signed communication (Pizzuto, Boyes-Braem, & Volterra 1996; Grote & Linz 2003). In an anonymous experiment aimed to test it, the pupils of two Łódź grammar-schools were asked to comment on the relation between form and meaning of metaphor-based signs from three unrelated languages: American, British, and Polish. Each of the seven stimulus-based tasks involved signs based on various conceptual metaphors. The results showed the understanding of the motivation for the form-meaning continuum to be dependent upon sign iconicity, knowledge of the meanings of gestures, the complexity of the conceptual metaphors involved, and age.

Keywords: gesture, iconicity, metaphor, motivation, signed language.

1. Introduction

On August 19th 2011, the Polish Parliament passed the Bill on Sign Language and Other Means of Communication in order to implement the EU regulations into the Polish legal system. The law came into force on April 1st 2012. Its major purpose was to facilitate the normal functioning of the deaf people in the society by training sign language translators and increasing the availability of sign language courses.

The term Sign Language means Signed Polish (System Językowo-Migowy/SJM) – a system taught for public purposes, different from Polish Sign Language (Polski Język Migowy/PJM). SJM has many structural affinities with phonic Polish, but shares many signs with PJM. ← 53 | 54 →

2. Signed languages: non-literality

In various languages, many non-literal signs are based on metaphor and metonymy (Brennan, 1990; Grzymska, 2008; Sutton-Spence & Woll, 2010; Wilcox, 2000; Wilcox, 2008). Such signs involve cognitive iconicity, which is defined as “a relationship between our mental models of image and referent” (Taub, 2001, p. 19). Because such models rely both on universal and culture-specific embodied experience (Taub, 2001, pp. 19–20), the ability to recognize and interpret them may help the potential learners to master signed communication.

Analyses of signed metaphors show them to be as varied and complex as those functioning in phonic languages. Wilbur (1987), P. P. Wilcox (2000), S. Wilcox (2008), and Taub (2001) give examples of metaphor-based signs in American Sign Language/ASL. Equally diverse and complex metaphors are present in British Sign Language/BSL (Brennan, 1990; Sutton-Spence & Woll, 2010) and PJM (Grzymska, 2008).

3. The hypothesis

The hypothesis to be tested by the anonymous experiment was that the hearing persons should to a large extent be able to understand non-literal metaphor-based signs. That is because the signs involve the same metaphors that they use to comprehend the relevant concepts. Furthermore, in contrast to the deaf, the hearing persons’ communicative capability is holistic on cognitive, social, and emotional levels: it involves phonic language and gestures, and there is no sensory barrier to effective reception of sound data and visual stimuli (Podgórska-Jachnik, 2004, pp. 66–73).2

4. The experiment

The participants – 93 hearing pupils of Łódź grammar-schools – were divided into two groups: 73, aged 14–16, attended the first level (Pol. gimnazjum); 20, aged 18–19, attended the second level (Pol. liceum ogólnokształcące). The task-based part was preceded by a short questionnaire focusing on the participants’ knowledge of signed communication. ← 54 | 55 →

4.1 The questionnaire

Please answer the following questions by marking the selected point.

  1. Who in your family is a deaf or hearing-impaired person? You can mark more than one point, e.g. c and d.
    a/ No-one. b/ Parents. c/ One parent. d/ Brother or sister. e/ Grandfather or grandmother.
  2. How do you communicate with other people?
    a/ Only by means of speech and writing.
    b/ By means of speech, writing, and sign language.
  3. How long have you been able to communicate with others by means of sign language? Answer the question only if it applies and give the number of years.
  4. If you communicate by means of sign language, how did you learn it?

The purpose of the questionnaire was to learn whether the participants had been in any way exposed to signed communication. The knowledge of PJM or SJM3 are factors that might influence the answers to the task-based part.

Following the results of the questionnaire, the 14–16-year-olds were divided into two sub-groups: A – 64 persons having no previous contact with signed communication; B – 9 persons having some knowledge of SJM. No 18–19-year-olds reported any previous contact with signed communication.

4.2 The task-based part

Seven stimulus-based tasks involved signs from three unrelated languages – ASL, BSL, and PJM. Four tasks asked the participants to give motivation for the form-meaning continuum of signs based on various conceptual metaphors. In two cases, pairs of signs came from two different languages, that is, ASL and BSL; two tasks were based on single PJM signs. The remaining three tasks asked the participants to match one of a pair of PJM signs with the given concepts and justify their choice; to ensure maximum objectivity, signs that did not allow for explicit interpretation were used. The results, only for the absolutely correct responses, were estimated in terms of number and the related percentage rates.

1. The ASL and BSL signs below express the concept of ‘help’. Why, in your opinion, do they involve such configuration of hands? ← 55 | 56 →

Figures 1 and 2: The ASL and BSL signs for ‘help’ (Lane, 1990, p. 82; Smith, 2010, p. 61).

pic6.jpg

In sub-group A of the 14–16-year-olds, 5 out of 64 (7.81%) participants correctly interpreted the signs as expressing the idea of physical support, which is the source domain of the primary metaphor Help Is Support (Grady 1997, as cited in Lakoff & Johnson, 1999, p. 52) underlying them. 6 wrong interpretations said the thumb-up element meant ‘OK’ because it is good to help others; 4 said that the thumb-up element meant ‘calling for help’; 3 said the signs expressed the sense of connection between people helping each other. The remaining 46 participants did not interpret the signs at all. In sub-group B, 0 out of 9 (0%) participants interpreted the sign correctly. 2 wrong interpretations said that the thumb-up element meant ‘OK’, and 1 said that it meant ‘calling for help’. ← 56 | 57 →

Figures 3 and 4: ‘Help’ – sub-groups A and B of the 14–16-year-olds.

pic7.jpg

The knowledge of the common thumb-up gesture influenced the interpretation of the signs’ meaning; however, only 8 participants, 6:2 in the respective sub-groups, pointed out its relation to the positive axiological aspect of helping other people.

11 out of 20 (55%) of the 18–19-year-olds correctly interpreted the signs as expressing the idea of physical support. 2 interpretations, including 1 wrong, said the thumb-up element meant that helping people was good. 1 wrong interpretation said that the signs expressed closeness of people helping each other. 9 interpretations, including 6 correct, also said the thumb-up element represented a person in need of help. ← 57 | 58 →

Figure 5: ‘Help’ – the 18–19-year-olds.

pic8.jpg

The wrong interpretations, though less numerous, mentioned the same associations as their counterparts in the younger age group.

2. The ASL and BSL signs below mean ‘to agree’. Which element is, in your opinion, most closely related to the meaning and why?

Figures 6 and 7: The ASL and BSL signs ‘to agree’ (Lane, 1990, p. 5; Smith, 2010, p. 128).

pic9.jpg

In sub-group A of the 14–16 year-olds, 2 out of 64 (3.13 %) participants correctly pointed out the element of proximity, which is the source domain of the complex metaphor Agreement is Closeness underlying both signs. 2 participants gave indirectly correct interpretations related only to the BSL sign, which signified two persons being close to each other. 1 partly correct interpretation said that the ASL sign expressed the idea of understanding as a part of agreement because one of the articulators was located close to the head; 34 said the thumb-up element of the BSL sign signified the positive axiological aspect of agreement. 25 participants did not interpret the sign at all. In sub-group B, 0 out of 9 (0 %) participants correctly interpreted the signs. 5 wrong interpretations said the thumb-up element of the BSL sign conveyed positive axiological aspect of agreement. ← 58 | 59 →

Figures 8 and 9: ‘To agree’ – sub-groups A and B of the 14–16-year-olds.

pic10.jpg

On the whole, very few fully correct interpretations were given. For the second time, influence of the common thumb-up gesture upon the interpretation of the signs was observed.

11 out of 20 (55%) of the 18–19-year-olds correctly interpreted the element of proximity, but 3 also pointed out the thumb-up axiological aspect of the BSL sign. 6 wrong interpretations mentioned the thumb-up axiological element only. 1 participant did not interpret the sign.

Figure 10: ‘To agree’ – the 18–19-year-olds.

pic11.jpg

← 59 | 60 →

For the second time, more than a half of interpretations were correct. A part of correct interpretations, as well as many of the wrong ones, reflected strong influence of the thumb-up gesture.

3. The PJM sign below expresses the concept of ‘court of justice’. Do you think the hand movements are in any way related to its meaning?

Figure 11: The PJM sign for ‘court of justice’ (ESLC, 2014).

pic12.jpg

In sub-group A of the 14–16-year-olds, 14 out of 64 (21.87 %) participants correctly interpreted the sign as expressing the action of weighing, which is the source domain of the complex metaphor Judging Is Weighing. 3 wrong interpretations mentioned the judge’s use of the mallet; 1 mentioned a choice out of two options; 1 pointed out the aspect of the degree to which the facts evaluated by the judge could be good or bad; 1 mentioned the judge’s indecision as a part of passing the sentence. The remaining 44 participants did not interpret the sign. In sub-group B, 3 out of 9 (33.33 %) participants correctly interpreted the sign as expressing the metaphor of weighing. ← 60 | 61 →

Figures 12 and 13: ‘Court of justice’ – sub-groups A and B of the 14–16-year-olds.

pic13.jpg

Compared to the previous tasks, more correct interpretations were provided in both sub-groups.

14 out of 20 (70 %) of the 18–19-year-olds gave correct interpretations related to the concept of weighing. 2 wrong interpretations mentioned the judge’s behaviour; 1 mentioned the axiological aspect of the up-down orientation.

Figure 14: ‘Court of justice’ – the 18–19-year-olds.

pic14.jpg

← 61 | 62 →

For the third time, more than 50 % of the interpretations were correct. 4 participants mentioned the mythology-related element of the Greek goddess Temida holding the scales of justice, which can be attributed to the group’s educational profile including the classical subjects. The results may thus to some extent reflect Landauer and Dumais’ (1997, as cited in Ritchie, 2013, p. 83) view that sources of some metaphors are in written texts rather than in direct experience.

4. The PJM sign below expresses the concept ‘to think’. Why, in your view, the hands make circular movements?

Figure 15: The PJM sign ‘to think’ (Hendzel, 1995, n. pag.)

pic15.jpg

In sub-group A of the 14–16-year-olds, 12 out 64 (18.75 %) participants gave correct interpretations related to the idea of machine wheels turning, which is the source domain of the complex metaphor The Mind Is a Machine (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980, pp. 27–28) underlying the sign. 13 partly correct interpretations mentioned only the location close to the head. 39 participants did not respond to the task at all. In sub-group B, 3 out 9 (33.33 %) participants gave correct interpretations. 2 partly correct interpretations mentioned the location close to the head. 4 pupils did not respond to the task at all. ← 62 | 63 →

Figures 16 and 17: ‘To think’ – sub-groups A and B of the 14–16-year-olds.

pic16.jpg

For the third time, a conventional gesture strongly influenced the interpretations: the folk model of the head being the locus of mental processes is present in both phonic and signed languages.

5 out of 20 (25 %) of the 18–19-year-olds provided correct machine-related interpretations of the sign; however, only 1 mentioned the machine explicitly, and 4 referred to work and motion. 12 wrong interpretations mentioned thoughts ‘moving’ in the head; 1 mentioned the brain. ← 63 | 64 →

Figure 18: ‘To think’ – the 18–19-year-olds.

pic17.jpg

Small number of correct interpretations compared to the previous three signs may be due to the complexity of the underlying metaphor. More answers were related to a different metaphor of thinking, which means that various persons understand the same signs differently.4

5. Which of the PJM signs below expresses the concept of ‘crisis’ and why?

Figures 19 and 20: The PJM signs for ‘crisis’ and ‘alliance’ (ESLC, 2014).

pic18.jpg

In sub-group A of the 14–16 year-olds, 20 out 64 (31.25 %) participants correctly pointed out and interpreted the sign, mentioning the movement down as a vital component of its meaning. 14 participants correctly pointed out the sign, but gave no interpretations. 30 pupils did not respond to the task at all. In sub-group B, 3 out 9 (33.33 %) participants correctly pointed out the sign and interpreted the ← 64 | 65 → metaphorical movement down. 2 participants correctly pointed out the sign, but gave no interpretations. In 4 cases, there was no response to the task.

Figures 21 and 22: ‘Crisis’ – sub-groups A and B of the 14–16-year-olds.

pic19.jpg

A significant number of correct indications and interpretations in both sub-groups may be due to the fundamental importance of the up-down orientation being the source domain of the primary metaphor More Is Up; Less Is Down (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980, pp. 15–16; 1999, p. 51) underlying the sign.

15 out of 20 (75 %) the 18–19 year-olds correctly pointed out and interpreted the sign. 5 participants only pointed out the correct sign. ← 65 | 66 →

Figure 23: ‘Crisis’ – the 18–19-year-olds.

pic20.jpg

Again, a clear majority of correct indications and interpretations may be due to the fundamental importance of the up-down orientation constituting the primary metaphor underlying the sign.

5. Which of the following PJM signs expresses the concept of ‘time’ and why?

Figures 24 and 25: The PJM signs for ‘time’ and ‘ill’ (ESLC, 2014).

pic21.jpg

In sub-group A of the 14–16-year-olds, 6 out of 64 (9.38 %) participants correctly pointed out and interpreted the sign mentioning the idea of flow, which is the source domain of the primary metaphor Time Is Motion (Lakoff & Johnson, 1999, p. 52) underlying the sign. 4 participants only pointed out the correct sign. Most of the 54 wrong responses interpreted the second sign as the common time-indicating gesture pointing to a wrist-watch, in spite of there being a significant difference between the configuration and location of the hands in the gesture and the sign. In sub-group B, 2 out 9 (22.22 %) participants correctly pointed out and interpreted the sign. A detailed description of the hand-shape meaning was given by a participant that reported long-term contact with signed communication. ← 66 | 67 →

Figures 26 and 27: ‘Time’ – sub-groups A and B of the 14–16-year-olds.

pic22.jpg

For the fourth time, the knowledge of common gesture influenced the selection and the interpretation of the sign. Its impact on the participants’ responses was stronger than in any of the previous tasks.

10 out of 20 (50 %) of the 18–19 year-olds correctly pointed out and interpreted the concept of time’s flow. 3 pupils additionally said that the c-hand-shape represented the initial letter of the Polish word czas [Eng. time]. 1 participant did not do the task. Among the 9 wrong indications and interpretations, 4 mentioned the movement of clock hands; 1 pointed out the letter T as standing for time; 1 mentioned the loop of time; 1 provided no motivation at all. ← 67 | 68 →

Figure 28: ‘Time’ – the 18–19-year-olds.

pic23.jpg

The result is close to the ones achieved for the previous signs in this age group. Except for the T hand-shape standing for time, little influence of gestures on the participants’ responses was observed.

7. Which of the following PJM signs expresses the concept of ‘promotion’ and why?

Figures 29 and 30: The PJM signs for ‘promotion’ and ‘pregnancy’ (ESLC, 2014).

pic24.jpg

In sub-group A of the 14–16-year-olds, 29 out of 64 (45.31 %) participants correctly pointed out and interpreted the metaphorical movement up, which is the source domain of the primary metaphors More Is Up and Control is Up (Lakoff & Johnson, 1999, pp. 51, 55). 18 participants only correctly pointed out the sign. 17 pupils did not respond to the task at all. In sub-group B, 5 out of 9 (55,56 %) participants correctly pointed out and interpreted the sign. 1 participant correctly pointed out the sign. In 3 cases, there was no response to the task. ← 68 | 69 →

Figures 31 and 32: ‘Promotion’– sub-groups A and B of the 14–16-year-olds.

pic25.jpg

In both sub-groups, the number of correct indications and interpretations increased with the age of the participants, e.g., it was higher for the 16-year-olds than for the 14-year-olds.

19 out of 20 (95 %) of the 18–19-year-olds correctly pointed out and interpreted the sign.1 participant gave a correct interpretation, but pointed to no sign.

Figure 33: ‘Promotion’ – the 18–19-year-olds.

pic26.jpg

← 69 | 70 →

As in the younger age group, the absolute majority of indications and interpretations were correct. In both cases, the result may again be due to the fundamental importance of the up-down orientation being the source domain of the primary metaphors underlying the sign.

5. Conclusions

The results estimated by means of the number and percentage rate method for all tested groups lead to the following conclusions:

a/ the hearing have some comprehension of non-literal aspects of signed communication;

b/ the level of comprehension depends on age – as a rule, it is higher in older groups;

c/ non-literal aspects most straightforwardly perceived are related to the spatial orientations underlying some primary metaphors;

d/ in the case of four signs, common gestures present in diverse cultures strongly influenced the interpretations; in one case (Task 6), a big gap between the younger and the older groups was observed in the influence of the common gesture on the interpretation of the signs;

e/ the complexity of the underlying metaphors also influenced the results – relatively small number of correct interpretations were given for the complex metaphor The Mind Is a Machine;

f/ some interpretations mentioned other metaphors underlying the signs, e.g. the complex metaphor Thinking Is Moving in the PJM sign ‘to think’;

g/ some interpretations of the signs were based on metonymy: Typical Action for the Person in the PJM sign for ‘court of justice’, The Clock for Time and Part of a Form for the Whole Form (Radden & Kövecses, 1999, pp. 28, 36) in the PJM sign for ‘time’, as well as The Head for Thinking in the PJM sign for ‘thinking’.

References

Białas, M. (2007). Głusi, język, metafora: Rozumienie metaforycznego znaczenia wyrażeń językowych przez uczniów niesłyszących [The deaf, language, and metaphor: Comprehension of metaphorical linguistic expressions by deaf children]. Piotrków Trybunalski, Poland: Naukowe Wydawnictwo Piotrkowskie.

Brennan, M. (1990). Word formation in British Sign Language. Stockholm: University of Stockholm.

Czajkowska-Kisil, M. (2008). Pułapki metodologiczne w badaniach PJM [Methodological problems of research on Polish Sign Language]. In E. Twardowska ← 70 | 71 → (Ed.), Stan badań nad Polskim Językiem Migowym [Research on Polish Sign Language – state of the art] (pp. 11–15). Łódź, Poland: Polski Związek Głuchych Oddział Łódzki.

ELSC/European Sign Language Centre. (2014). Sign language dictionary. Retrieved June 3, 2014 from the European Sign Language Centre at http://www.spreadthesign.com/pl.

Grady, J. E. (1997). Foundations of meaning: Primary metaphors and primary scenes. PhD dissertation, Linguistics Department, University of California, Berkeley, CA.

Grote, K., & Linz, E. (2003). The influence of sign language iconicity on semantic conceptualization. In W. G. Müller & O. Fischer (Eds.), From sign to signing: Iconicity in language and literature 3 (pp. 23–40). Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Grzymska, A. (1993). Kognitywne ujęcie metafor w PJM [A cognitive view of metaphor in Polish Sign Language]. In E. Twardowska (Ed.), Stan badań nad Polskim Językiem Migowym [Research on Polish Sign Language – State of the Art] (pp. 87–95 ). Łódź, Poland: Polski Związek Głuchych Oddział Łódzki.

Hendzel, J. K. (1995). Słownik polskiego języka miganego [A dictionary of Polish signs]. Olsztyn: Offer.

Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (1980). Metaphors we live by. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (1999). Philosophy in the flesh: The embodied mind and its challenge to western thought. New York: Basic.

Landauer, T. K., & Dumais, S. T. (1997). A solution to Plato’s problem: The latent semantic analysis theory of acquisition, induction, and representation of knowledge. Psychological Review, 104, 211–240.

Lane, L. G. (1990). Gallaudet survival guide to signing. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.

Pizzuto, E., Boyes-Braem, P, & Volterra, V. (1996, September). Seeing through signs’ iconicity: A crosslingustic-crosscultural study of signers and speakers. Fifth International Conference on Theoretical Issues in Sign Language Research, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Podgórska-Jachnik, D. (2004). Przekaz pantomimiczny w komunikacji z dzieckiem niesłyszącym [Pantomime-based communication with deaf children]. Łódź, Poland: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Łódzkiego.

Radden, G., & Kövecses, Z. (1999). Towards a theory of metonymy. In K.-U. Panther & G. Radden (Eds.), Metonymy in language and thought (pp. 17–59). Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Ritchie, L. D. (2013). Metaphor. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ← 71 | 72 →

Smith, C. (2010). Sign language companion: A handbook of British signs. London: Souvenir.

Sutton-Spence, R., & and Woll, B. (2010). The linguistics of British Sign Language: An introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Taub, S. F. (2001). Language in the body: Iconicity and metaphor in American Sign Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wilbur, R. B. (1987). American Sign Language: Linguistic and applied dimensions. Boston, MA: College-Hill.

Wilcox, P. P. (2000). Metaphor in American Sign Language. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.

Wilcox, S. (2008). Signed languages. In D. Geeraerts & H. Cuyckens (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of cognitive linguistics (pp. 1113–1136). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wilcox, S., Wilcox, P. P., & Jarque, M. J. (2003). Mappings in conceptual space: Metonymy, metaphor, and iconicity in two signed languages. Jezikoslovlje, 4 (1), 139–156. ← 72 | 73 →

                                                   

1  Marcin Trojszczak, MA, is the author of percentage rate calculations and diagrams representing them.

2  See Białas (2007) for the description of the reduced ability to comprehend metaphors in written texts by the Polish deaf.

3  Hearing children of deaf parents (Eng. CODA – Child of Deaf Adult) can be fluent users of phonic Polish and PJM. Some of them may, however, opt for SJM as closer to the spoken language patterns (Czajkowska-Kisil, 2008, pp. 13–14).

4  See Ritchie (2013, p. 82) for a similar claim related to analysis of linguistic expressions.

Agnieszka Stępkowska
University of Social Sciences, Warsaw, Poland

Second language acquisition in the canton of Zurich: the Swiss are fond of English

Abstract: The paper addresses the multilingual policy of the Swiss in the canton of Zurich with reference to the partner-language model offered by their educational system. The outlined case study of Zurich builds on the theoretical assumptions of contact linguistics and macro sociolinguistics, notably the sociology of language introduced by Joshua Fishman (1972, 1997). The paper will present a relevant part of the collected material together with conclusions that formed a bigger CATI survey carried out in the canton of Zurich in 2011. The collected interviews, based on a questionnaire, have made it possible to outline the language repertoires of the Swiss, as well as their opinions and attitudes towards English and its acquisition. The results from the survey reveal language behaviour in a multilingual context marked by the presence of a global language.

Keywords: multilingualism, Switzerland, language policy, telephone interviews, language attitudes.

1. Multilingual policy: an outline

Language policy is a broad term that refers to the decisions about language rights and access to languages, including the roles and functions of languages and their varieties in individual countries (Phillipson and Skutnabb-Kangas, 1996). The Swiss language policy, in particular, seeks to solve communication problems by providing support for linguistic pluralism (Blount and Sanches, 1977; Daoust, 1997). The system of education is decentralized and, thus, differs from canton to canton. All cantons share the federative obligation of a second official language teaching (Schmid, 2001). The idea is that every Swiss should have an active command of a second official language, and at least passive knowledge of a third official language of his/her country. A first foreign language is obligatory, with the reservation that the choice of this language cannot be the one between a ‘Swiss’ official language and English. The most obvious choice of a second national language (and simultaneously a first foreign language) for the three language groups of the Swiss – French, Italian and Romansh – is German. In turn, the largest linguistic group of the German-speaking Swiss learn French as their second language. Most often for the Italian-speaking Swiss, German is a first foreign language and French ← 73 | 74 → a second one (see also Pap, 1990; Watts, 1997). The choice of the third official language, or a second foreign language, is usually Italian, although recently it has been almost entirely supplanted by English, which is more and more appreciated by the Swiss (Dürmüller, 1986, 1991, 1992, 1994).

The main part of language policy is language planning. A closer look at the language planning in Switzerland is intriguing due to the language complexity, i.e. three official, or four national languages. This language diversity has been intensified by the fact that the majority of the population cultivates a range of mutually intelligible and mainly spoken Alemannic dialects, including five idioms within the Romansh language which, in turn, often lack the required intelligibility needed for effective communication. Everyday life in the German-speaking area of Switzerland is dominated by Alemannic dialects, while the written form and certain official contexts have been reserved for the standard German (Porębski, 1994; Szulc, 1999). This variety of functions fulfilled by respective language varieties is typical of diglossia, a phenomenon originally described by Ferguson (1959). For Phillipson and Skutnabb-Kangas (1996), language planning is essential in the multilingual and multidialectal milieu. Above all, it is a demonstration of the political and economic choices of those who are held responsible for language planning. Hence, language planning as a rule aims to obtain extra-linguistic goals, such as consumer protection, scientific exchange, national integration, political control, economic growth, minority pacification, as well as mass mobilization of the national or political movements.

2. Partner-language model and English

The Swiss model of intra-national communication stipulates that the Swiss speak their mother tongues and are understood by fellow countrymen speaking other languages. Besides the mother tongue, a second national language is taught to reach receptive and productive levels necessary for active communication, whereas a third national language should be mastered up to a passive level, sufficient for understanding (Widmer et al., 1987, p. 101). However, these efforts are not tantamount to common bi- or trilingualism. Most Swiss know only one language. Probably fewer than half can speak or write in a second national language, revealing diverse levels of fluency. Instead, a growing number of them choose to learn English (Pap, 1990; Watts, 1991). The intra-national communication is expected to work by the so-called ‘partner-language model’ (Dürmüller, 1992). Promoted by the Swiss educational policy, bilingualism would be a satisfactory solution merely for the two largest language groups. In the case of language contact, someone needs to have both active and passive knowledge of the other language. One of the two languages needs to be ← 74 | 75 → chosen as the medium of communication. In the contact between the German- and French-speaking Swiss, either group may theoretically use their mother tongue (L1). It may be assumed that the level of their passive competence in the other language (L2) will make a conversation possible. However, this assumption is far-fetched, because most German-speaking Swiss do not use the German that is taught to the French-speaking Swiss at schools. In fact, the mother tongue of the Swiss from the German-speaking part of Switzerland are Alemannic dialects, and they themselves learn the standard variety of German at school.

The intra-national communication in quadrilingual Switzerland, according to the above-mentioned partner-language model, is feasible in a situation when every potential interlocutor has in their individual repertoires three national languages. Dürmüller (1989, p. 5) gives a detailed account of ideal language combinations in the repertoires of the Swiss from the three official language groups, and he sketches out the potential ‘threat’ to those combinations in the form of English taking up the L2 position in each language group. The Swiss educational system, guided by the assumptions of the partner-language model, aims to equip every citizen with at least rudimentary knowledge of a second official language. However, this strategy bears discrepant results. Many graduates of the secondary or tertiary educational level demonstrate, at best, only a passive command of a second official language.

English has become one of the basic skills needed to acquire the more advanced and specialized knowledge necessary in the future. In other words, English is now necessary to “learning how to learn” (Graddol, 2006, p. 72). Besides, learning English, with its roles and functions, adds to the complexity of language behaviours in multilingual societies. It would seem logical and purposeful to introduce a law, especially in an officially multilingual country like Switzerland where three national languages are big European languages, stipulating that a first ‘foreign’ language taught at schools must be one of the other two national languages. Yet, since none of the three languages, i.e. German, French and Italian, is ‘foreign’ in Switzerland, they are referred to by a French expression as langue nationale 2 (national language 2). As to English in Switzerland, there are three criteria specifying the status of a foreign language that are worth recalling after Prcic (2003, p. 35): (1) it is not the native/ first language of a country, (2) it is not an official language of a country, and (3) it is taught in schools as a subject.

3. Methodological note: research technique, sample and aim

The research was conducted from 28 June to 20 July 2011, from the CATI telephone studio centre of the PBS Ltd research institute in Sopot, Poland. The CATI technique (i.e. Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing) was selected as the ← 75 | 76 → method of data collection. CATI is a technique used to realize large quantitative research projects. It consists in conducting interviews over the telephone aided by the use of the computer. In total, 400 successful phone interviews were made, based on a questionnaire with closed-ended questions. The screening index, i.e. the number of connections needed for one effectively conducted interview, equalled 14.1 connections. The mean time of one successful interview was 6.6 minutes. For the research sample of a size of n=400, the maximum error of estimation amounted to nearly 5% at the assumed confidence level of 95%. The research was based on probability sampling, representative of the city and the canton of Zurich, and characterized on the basis of the data concerning gender, age, education and employment. The number of women and men participating in the research is comparable. All respondents were adults, half of whom are persons between 35 and 54 years old. The group of respondents over 55 equals 38%. The youngest age category, i.e. persons between 18 and 34, made up as many as 11%. Nearly half of the respondents are people with primary or lower secondary education (48%). The second biggest group concerns the graduates of universities or colleges (28%). Every fifth respondent has declared to have an upper secondary level of education (20%). And, two thirds of all interviewees work professionally (67%).

The aim of the CATI survey is to focus on data such as the knowledge of English and other foreign languages, the years of English instruction received, the preferred language to speak, the importance of learning English, and the interest and motivation to improve English language skills. The respondents were also asked to assess the future of English in the canton of Zurich, and to express their opinions as to whether the knowledge of English may be regarded as an asset in Switzerland. In other words, the aim of the survey – for the purpose of this article – is to analyze the language behaviour of the German-speaking Swiss by outlining their attitudes and opinions about the acquisition of English in the context of their four national languages.

4. Research results1

Most inhabitants of the canton of Zurich (78%) point to the German language as their mother tongue. From among the group whose mother tongue is some other language than English, nearly 90% of the respondents had learnt it at some time. ← 76 | 77 → English is learnt somewhat more often by women than by men (90% vs. 85%). Learning English is correlated with the age of the respondents – as many as 98% from the youngest group aged between 18–34 have declared that they had English instruction. An analogical tendency concerns the level of education – the higher it is, the more persons have learnt this language. Interestingly, the professional situation of the respondents (working / non-working) does not reveal differences with regard to this problem. The biggest group of the inhabitants of the canton of Zurich admitted to having studied English for between 3 to 6 years.

Almost 80% of all respondents can speak French, and half of them know Italian. As regards these two languages, women are somewhat ahead of men in number (83% vs. 75%). Respondents aged between 18–34 most often know French (88%), whereas Italian has been indicated only by every fourth person from this age group (26%). When asked about the knowledge of other foreign languages, the inhabitants of the canton of Zurich in the first instance pointed to Spanish, Russian and Portuguese.

The everyday communication in German is the preference of 70% of all residents in the canton of Zurich. However, noteworthy is the fact that every eighth respondent (12%), when asked about the language they like to speak most, has indicated English. French and Italian have scored but trace quantities of answers (4% and 3% respectively). Women seem to resort to English more willingly than men (16% vs. 7% respectively). The respondents from the oldest age group (aged 55 or more) pointed to English as their most preferable language of communication less frequently than the other age groups (only 8%).

The need to learn English is essential according to 89% of the inhabitants of the canton. Half of all the respondents would like to know English better, and particularly those from the youngest age group (70%). The significant role of English is backed up by the respondents’ opinions that the knowledge of English is essential (52%) or quite important (44%). According to two thirds of the respondents, the future of English will be better than today, i.e. the role of this language will be increasing. One fourth of the interviewed persons believe that the situation of English in the canton of Zurich will not be much different from the present one, and less than a mere 2% think that it will be worse than today.

Apart from answering the questions, the respondents were asked to take a stance on seven statements that were included in the final part of the questionnaire. The respondents were asked to voice their opinions concerning the role of ← 77 | 78 → English. Almost all the respondents (97% of overall answers ‘definitely yes’ and ‘somewhat yes’) agreed that they would, actually or hypothetically, provide their children with English instruction. A similar percentage (95%) of the respondents stated that a knowledge of English is regarded as an asset in Switzerland. Almost 90% of interviewees declared that if they did not learn English at school or university, they would try to learn it on their own. The same percentage of respondents are convinced that English is a link that connects them with the outside world, and that English reinforces interpersonal contacts (89%). A smaller proportion of the respondents, yet still big enough to be regarded as noteworthy (as many as 52%!), agreed with the statement that English is more useful in Switzerland than any of the Swiss national languages. The least number of respondents identified themselves with the statement that English is a link that connects them with their fellow countrymen from different language areas of Switzerland (38%).

It has turned out that as many as 86% of the persons interviewed are of the opinion that the language issues mentioned in this research are ‘very important’ or ‘quite important.’ Thus, it may be concluded that for almost 90% of the respondents aged between 35 and 55, i.e. persons who are most work-efficient, language issues are of considerable significance in their lives. This may be indicative of the fact that an appreciable percentage of the Swiss living in the canton of Zurich are aware of the language processes occurring in their society, and that the question of languages in a multilingual country does not seem to lose timeliness and forms an important constituent of public life. Curiously enough, the importance of language issues is felt equally by the working and non-working respondents.

The research results indicate that English enjoys popularity and prestige among the German-speaking inhabitants of the canton of Zurich. Only every tenth person when asked about their experience with English lessons stated that they had nothing to do with this language. Practically the entire young generation of the Swiss can hardly imagine their lives without the knowledge of English. Language pragmatism in the respondents’ attitudes was particularly detectable in their assessment of the role of English in their lives. As many as nine out of ten persons expressed their concern not only with their own language education, but also with the English tuition of their children. In turn, the conviction that English has the biggest communication potential worldwide is undoubtedly a solid motivational base for 90 per cent of the respondents. Also, most respondents believe that English will gain significance in the near future. Nevertheless, to state that English functions as a lingua franca within the country would be an overstatement, as the Swiss from different language areas communicate still more often in one of their official languages rather than in English. Yet, regardless of the chosen ← 78 | 79 → language, the communication that fulfils the needs of interlocutors always proves their language pragmatism.

5. Concluding remarks

This article has aimed to outline the position of English in the multilingual policy of Switzerland. Language planning concerning language acquisition is a political act directed to solve language problems in society since the social effects of language problems and the social context, to some extent, lead to disciplined decisions about language on the national level (Jernudd and das Gupta, 1971; also Lotherington, 2004). Following Bourdieu (1986), language may be subjected to planning as it is a resource that undergoes evaluation. The effects of language planning are more predictable if the social context is taken into account, and especially the cultural and economic forces which contribute either to language preservation or language shift. The efforts of language planning may be successful if supported by economic or social benefits addressed to minorities (Linder, 1996; Paulston, 1988).

It has been observed that the Swiss barely manage to acquire a sufficient level of bilingualism nationwide (Dürmüller, 1991, 1992). It might seem that the partial reason for this situation is the impact of English in Switzerland because the efforts invested in second language acquisition are channelled in two directions. On the one hand, young people learn a second national language at school as it is mandatory there; and on the other, English is learnt voluntarily and with strong motivation. English is considered fashionable and more useful than any of the ‘Swiss’ national languages. The increasing use of English in Switzerland counteracts the efforts of language planning that aim to reinforce the multilingual dialogue among the Swiss. It appears that the decisive factor in language acquisition is not the political will of relevant institutions and authorities, but the specific needs of individuals. The case of Switzerland proves that in a multilingual society the status of a language of wider communication may be most easily acquired by a foreign language. Although English is merely a foreign language in Switzerland, it gains the upper hand over the national languages of this country due to its neutrality – which helps avert conflicts among the diverse language groups. English is readily accepted in situations where the partner-language model fails. Today Switzerland seems to oscillate between two systems, i.e. the traditional partner-language model that provides for satisfactory L2 competence, and the choice of the language of wider communication (English) in the fields of life which require the use of a specialized language. Thus, Switzerland needs to prepare for ← 79 | 80 → its multilingual future, but with a slightly changed linguistic makeup, i.e. with national languages coexisting with English.

There is also an ongoing debate that concerns the language choice in schools in the educational systems of the Swiss cantons. Such discussions are emotional as they include not only the status of languages in the public life of Switzerland but, more importantly, language teaching in the public educational system (Watts, 2001). The point is that language acquisition should be additive and not subtractive. In the learning process the repertoires of individual persons should widen. New languages, including lingua francas, should not be taught at the cost of national languages (see Skutnabb-Kangas, 2003). The presence of English in the Swiss public space undergoes a gradual transformation. In the past the language repertoires of individuals were formed almost exclusively within the three national languages of Switzerland, both in the case of bilinguals or, though more infrequently, trilinguals. English was absent from these repertoires. At present English has no official recognition in Switzerland, although it is already there. There are no regulations which would demand a limitation or a ban on English at the Swiss universities. Besides, universities do not have any clear policy in this respect, which may result in a supposition that English is now making big strides within the academic circles in Switzerland (Dürmüller, 2001; more in Murray and Dingwall, 1999, p. 192).

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Dürmüller, U. (2002). English in Switzerland: From foreign language to lingua franca. In D. Allerton, P. Skandera & C. Tschichold (Eds.), Perspectives on English as a world language (pp. 115–123). Basel: Schwabe.

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Details

Pages
322
ISBN (PDF)
9783653049763
ISBN (ePUB)
9783653973785
ISBN (MOBI)
9783653973778
ISBN (Book)
9783631656648
Language
English
Publication date
2015 (August)
Published
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 322 pp., 31 tables, 50 graphs

Biographical notes

Krzysztof Kosecki (Volume editor) Janusz Badio (Volume editor)

Krzysztof Kosecki is an Associate Professor of Linguistics at the Institute of English, University of Łódź, Poland. His research concentrates on theories of metaphor and metonymy, ethnic stereotypes, theory of translation, cognitive poetics, the language of legal texts, and cognitive aspects of signed languages. Janusz Badio is an Assistant Professor of Linguistics at the Institute of English, University of Łódź, Poland. His research concentrates on different aspects of speech from the cognitive linguistics perspective, narration, events and dynamicity of meaning construal. He is also interested in various aspects of empirical methodology in linguistics.

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Title: Empirical Methods in Language Studies