Second language acquisition in complex linguistic environments

Russian native speakers acquiring standard and non-standard varieties of German and Czech

by Juliane Besters-Dilger (Volume editor) Hana Gladkova (Volume editor)
©2016 Conference proceedings 330 Pages
Series: Linguistik International, Volume 38


Russian-speaking immigrants residing in the Czech Republic or Germany are faced with the challenge of acquiring the Slavic (Czech) or Non-Slavic (German) language of the new environment. This process is influenced by their native language. The volume empirically analyses the acquisition of a related language compared to that of a non- or distantly related one and explores how the non-homogeneous language of the new environment – situation of diglossia in the Czech Republic, diaglossia in Germany – influences this acquisition. It additionally examines the impact of several sociolinguistic factors on L2 acquisition, especially age.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction
  • Aleksandr Sukhanek - The Linguistic Situation of Russian-Speaking Immigrants Living in a Czech-Speaking Environment
  • Jana Macurová - Czech Vocabulary of Russian Native Speakers
  • Veronika Stranz-Nikitina - Czech-Language Morphology of Russian Native Speakers
  • Maria Simeunovich-Skvortsova - Syntactic Analysis of the Czech Language of Russian Native Speakers
  • Tatiana Perevozchikova - Age Effects in Second Language Acquisition of Morphosyntax: Evidence from On-Line and Off-Line Tasks
  • Kateřina Romaševská, Jitka Veroňková - How Czech Speech of Russian-Speaking Learners is Perceived by Native Speakers of Czech and its Correlation with Age Factors and Language Competence
  • Evghenia Goltsev - How Does It Sound: A Study on Perception and Evaluation of Different Error Frequencies and Types
  • Hana Gladkova - Czech Diglossia in the Language Awareness and in the Speech of Native Speakers of Russian Speaking Czech
  • Alexander Prediger - German Alemannic Dialect Acquisition by Russian Native Speakers under the Conditions of Diaglossia
  • Juliane Besters-Dilger - Morphosyntactic Difficulties for Russian Native Speakers in Czech and German

| 7 →


Since the publication of Weinreich’s book “Languages in contact” (1953), research and literature in the field of language contact and second language (L2) acquisition have become so extensive that one might ask whether an additional study on this topic is really justified. Nevertheless, we are convinced that some of the research aspects presented here merit special consideration and further attention.

This collective volume contains the results of a binational research project, based on observations concerning the linguistic behaviour of Russian-speaking immigrants residing in the European Union where they form one of the biggest “minorities”. The countries of residence taken into account are the Czech Republic and Germany. The immigrants are faced with the challenge of acquiring the language of the new environment, and this process is influenced by their native language, Russian. Therefore, we can formulate a first research question: What is the difference between acquiring a related language (Czech) compared to a non- or only distantly related language (German)? In other words, we ask to which extent L2 acquisition is dependent upon the nature of the language spoken in the new linguistic environment. We assume that L2 acquisition is influenced by the genetic proximity or distance of the L1.

In the Czech Republic the L2 of the Russian-speaking immigrants is a Slavic language that is not homogeneous. Researchers speak about a typical diglossia between obecná čeština (colloquial Czech, common Czech) and spisovná čeština (standard Czech). In Germany, the Russian-speaking immigrants acquire not only standard German, but also – or even exclusively - an oral German variety. In our case, it is the colloquial standard-proximal or dialect-proximal Alemannic, spoken in the south-west of the state of Baden-Württemberg. The language in this area can be characterized as diaglossic, which means that there is a whole range of varieties situated between the German standard language and the Alemannic basic dialect. This generates a second, more specific question, namely how the fact that both languages of the new environments are not homogeneous influences the process of language acquisition. Learners will probably acquire only a limited number of features of a diglossic or diaglossic surrounding L2. Both research questions are innovative; research on “one L1 and two different L2” is unusual, whereas the opposite situation (“two different L1 and one L2”) has been investigated several times, and neither the acquisition of German dialects nor that of Czech diglossia by Russian-speaking immigrants have ever been described in the literature. ← 7 | 8 →

One of the most frequently discussed problems is the impact sociolinguistic factors have on L2 acquisition. In many studies, the age factor in particular (age of onset, age of initial acquisition AIA) is assumed to be the best predictor for success in language acquisition. Thus the interesting question is whether there is a linear negative correlation between AIA and L2 competence or, maybe, a more complex link between these two variables. This topic is not new, but the results described in this volume are hopefully more convincing than in other studies, since both research groups invested a lot of effort in finding respondents of different age groups. Compared to the AIA, a second time factor seems to be slightly less important, at least according to the scientific literature: length of residence (LoR). We ask whether it is really negligible or, perhaps in combination with other variables, has an impact on L2 competence. Other factors that we take into account are motivation, level of education, contact with the home country, language used with family, colleagues etc.

After having recruited the respondents both research groups started with a questionnaire, followed by an interview that served as the main source for some of the contributions. Most authors organised additional oral and written tests (grammar tests, C-Test), explained in each individual contribution.

It would have been desirable to consider all levels of the L2 competencies to the same extent in both parts of the project, i.e. the Czech and the German part: the lexical, phonological/phonetic, morphological and syntactic level, additionally the diglossic/diaglossic linguistic situation, and not only language production, but also language perception. The Czech research group came close to achieving this goal, whereas since the German group was smaller, its research activities were limited to only some domains: morphosyntax, diaglossia (mainly phonological and phonetic features), and perception.

Aleksandr Sukhanek describes the Russian-speaking immigrants living in the Czech Republic. He looks at the structure of the respondents, specific features of their language profile, the factor of age when the respondents start learning Czech (AIA), length of residence (LoR) in the Czech Republic and other sociolinguistic factors influencing the process of second language acquisition, as well as general language competence in the second language (L2). So far, there are only a limited number of studies concerning the Russian-speaking community in the Czech Republic and no studies focusing on the linguistic situation of the community, let alone studies concerning L2 acquisition by the community members.

The corresponding information on Russian-speaking immigrants living in Germany is given in the first part of Alexander Prediger’s contribution. Here it becomes clear that the sociocultural characteristics of both groups differ considerably: on the ← 8 | 9 → one hand migrants with higher education and not yet convinced that it makes sense to stay forever in the Czech Republic, on the other the so-called German resettlers who decided to return to the homeland of their ancestors, where they had lived for at least eight years at the time of the study. The motivation of both groups of Russian-speaking migrants to learn the surrounding L2 – and to which extent – is therefore very different.

Jana Macurová analyses the lexical competencies of the Russian migrants living in the Czech Republic. Her research encompasses a wide spectrum of sociolinguistic parameters, identifying correlations between these and the vocabulary of the survey participants. Her attention is focused on the question of what influence on respondents’ lexical competencies is exerted by immigration age (AIA) and length of residence (LoR) in the L2 country. In addition to these issues, she sheds light on the effect of other determinants such as the presence of higher education or the relationship of Czech and Russian in the everyday communication of respondents. Challenges which have as yet been little explored include the question of how lexical competencies affect the overall assessment of speech production by the speakers themselves, and of which lexical characteristics are most salient for the speakers.

Veronika Stranz-Nikitina investigates the morphological competence of the Russian migrants living in the Czech Republic. The main categories she focuses on are alternations, animateness, personal pronoun and other pronouns. She attempts to explore the highest possible number of intralingual and extralingual factors and to identify ties as well as a positive or negative correlation between some of these and successful Czech language acquisition by Russian-language speakers. She also tries to explain how overall language skills and specific grammatical categories are affected by the factors AIA and LoR, the relationship between overall language skills of respondents in our research and their acquisition of individual grammatical categories, and to what extent the test results on individual morphological categories correlate with each other.

Maria Simeunovich-Skvortsova is interested in five mainly syntactic phenomena: reflexivity, linking verb (copula), word order, concord and government. She analyses respondent answers and errors in these five categories and attempts to identify correlations between the results of the tests (a grammar test and a C-test) and the results in each syntactic category. When selecting the categories and constructing the grammar test she used the database of errors produced by Russians, Ukrainians and Poles in the Czech language (CHRUP) which was developed by the Faculty of Arts of Charles University. The CHRUP database enables identification of syntactic categories in which the Russian ← 9 | 10 → native speakers are most likely to make mistakes. The material of the database was obtained from a computer-aided analysis of compositions (essays) written by 50 native speakers of Russian studying Czech.

The contribution of Tatiana Perevozchikova focuses on four morphosyntactic phenomena of the German language which represent widespread difficulties for people with Russian as their mother tongue: definiteness, expletive subjects, case and gender. Her main research interest concerns the influence of age of first L2 exposure (AIA) on ultimate attainment in L2 morphosyntax. The research question asked is to what extent implicit and explicit knowledge of L2 morphosyntactic structures is constrained by AIA and overall L2 proficiency. Implicit knowledge of each structure was measured by an oral speeded grammaticality judgment task and explicit knowledge was assessed by fill-in-the-gaps tasks. The results confirm that the likelihood of developing implicit knowledge of all structures is lower for participants whose first contact with the L2 took place after the age of seven.

The next section concentrates on perception of the migrants’ language by native speakers. Kateřina Romaševská and JitkaVeroňková look at how native speakers of Czech perceive and evaluate the speech of Russian-speaking learners from the point of view of their level of acquisition of the phonetic system of Czech. The evaluation of oral expression by these learners, obtained on the basis of a perception test, is compared with the results of a grammar test and a test of the general level of language competence (C-test). Another aim of this study is to find out whether there is any interdependence between the degree of acceptability of the learners’ speech and the age when they arrived in the Czech Republic (AIA), their current age and length of residence (LoR). The authors also attempt to determine which phonetic features influence the opinion of the native speakers, i.e. what precisely in the speech indicates the accent to the Czech listener.

Evghenia Goltsev investigates what impact the errors produced by Russian native speakers in oral communication have on the German listeners. A series of three studies dedicated to this objective, namely a learner corpus analysis plus one experiment on salience and another on frequency perception by native speakers of German, shows i.a. the following results: there are certain errors that Russian L1 speakers are very likely to commit, such as stressing the wrong morpheme; some of these errors, like underproduction of the “zu”-infinitive, seem to be very noticeable, whereas others such as departures in adjective declension are less salient. Concerning the perception of frequency constraints, the findings reveal for example that an error-token ratio of 17% is evaluated as high and 6% as low.

The inhomogeneous character of the surrounding L2 and the problems caused by diglossia and diaglossia are presented in the following section, where Hana ← 10 | 11 → Gladkova tested which form of Czech is used by various native speakers of Russian using Czech in their everyday communication. The first part of her description therefore focuses on usage of selected typical features of common/colloquial Czech, i.e. on the range of the repertoire of means of expression in common Czech and their frequency and function in oral communication. Second, she aims at investigating to which extent the respondents are able to perceive the diglossia in the Czech language situation. The author analyses language awareness of Russian-speaking persons using Czech and their attitude to using common Czech, as well as their ability to identify its typical features. Additionally, this paper examines the influence of socio-linguistic factors (age, LoR, attitude to using substandard language, the intensity of L2 in communication, motivation to learn Czech, the objective of learning Czech) and the influence of linguistic factors (salience, frequency, interference).

Alexander Prediger focuses on the acquisition and use of German Alemannic dialect by ethnic German resettlers (or so-called Russian Germans) from the former Soviet Union whose first language is Russian. During the initial period of residence in the south Baden region they are faced with an additional language obstacle in the form of a number of territorial and substandard varieties of German. This study therefore examines German language acquisition with regard to its regional varieties, and addresses the following scientific questions: 1) To what extent does the diaglossic environment of the region under consideration affect the acquisition of Alemannic dialect features? 2) To what extent does the dialect acquisition depend on both linguistic and sociolinguistic factors? There has so far been virtually no scientific research carried out into the issue of second language dialect acquisition.

The final contribution of Juliane Besters-Dilger aims at assessing the possibility of comparing the linguistic behavior of Russian-language speakers using Czech and German. It examines morphosyntactic departures of Russian-language speakers from Czech/German standard, identified in the course of the current project, and is based on a comparison of the studies of V. Stranz-Nikitina, M. Simeunovich-Skvortsova and T. Perevozchikova. The contribution aims at answering the question of which features of Czech and German represent difficulties for Russian-speaking learners and which features do not; second, how the difficulties of learning a closely related language (Czech) differ from those encountered when learning a remotely related one (German); and third, how the difficulty or even impossibility of acquiring some morphosyntactic features can be explained, i.e. which role the structure of the native language (L1) plays.

This volume is based on the results of a research project entitled “Second language acquisition of Russian native speakers in German vs. Czech language environments”, funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, BE 1160/8-1) ← 11 | 12 → in Germany and by Grantová agentura (GA CR P406/12/J010) in the Czech Republic. We would like to thank both agencies for their financial support, without which we could not have carried out such a complex project. We also thank Alexander Prediger, who was responsible for the final editing of the book.

The editors

| 13 →

Aleksandr Sukhanek

The Linguistic Situation of Russian-Speaking Immigrants Living in a Czech-Speaking Environment

1 Introduction


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2016 (August)
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2016. 330 pp., 53 tables

Biographical notes

Juliane Besters-Dilger (Volume editor) Hana Gladkova (Volume editor)

Juliane Besters-Dilger is a full professor of Slavonic studies at the Albert-Ludwigs University Freiburg (Germany). Hana Gladkova is a full professor of Slavonic studies at Charles University Prague (Czech Republic).


Title: Second language acquisition in complex linguistic environments
book preview page numper 1
book preview page numper 2
book preview page numper 3
book preview page numper 4
book preview page numper 5
book preview page numper 6
book preview page numper 7
book preview page numper 8
book preview page numper 9
book preview page numper 10
book preview page numper 11
book preview page numper 12
book preview page numper 13
book preview page numper 14
book preview page numper 15
book preview page numper 16
book preview page numper 17
book preview page numper 18
book preview page numper 19
book preview page numper 20
book preview page numper 21
book preview page numper 22
book preview page numper 23
book preview page numper 24
book preview page numper 25
book preview page numper 26
book preview page numper 27
book preview page numper 28
book preview page numper 29
book preview page numper 30
book preview page numper 31
book preview page numper 32
book preview page numper 33
book preview page numper 34
book preview page numper 35
book preview page numper 36
book preview page numper 37
book preview page numper 38
book preview page numper 39
book preview page numper 40
330 pages