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Language Maintenance – Language Attrition

The Case of Polish Children in Sweden

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Roman Laskowski

The monograph, based on broad studies into the Polish diaspora in Sweden, provides a picture of the social factors influencing the maintenance of the heritage language and culture by the second generation of emigrants. The author’s main objective, however, is to discover the systemic mechanisms underlying language acquisition by children in a bilingual setting and to investigate the influence of the interference from the dominant language on the acquisition of Polish. A particular attention is devoted to the category of case, which is absent from Swedish. Although it, generally, represents a description of a particular linguistic material, in fact the book addresses problems of the theory of language acquisition. The results and conclusions enable a better understanding of the universal semiotic and psychological principles that motivate the structure of the grammatical system of a natural language.
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Seriously restricted use of the Polish language leads to profound disruptions in the acquisition of their heritage language by the second generation of immigrants. The disruptions affect not only the lexicon, which is most vulnerable to foreign influence, but also the grammatical and phonological systems. The mutual relationships between disruptions to the mastery of the phonological system and those affecting the grammatical system of the language require a more in-depth scrutiny, there seems to be no parallel here. There are idiolects with a seriously affected Polish phonological system where, at the same time, the Polish morphology is quite well preserved. And vice versa: deficiencies in the morphological system do not have to come in pair with an incomplete mastery of the Polish phonological system.

While studying the language of the Polish children in Sweden (or, broadly, that of Polish children in a diaspora) one has to be aware of one thing: this type of linguistic material can by no means be regarded as the ‘system of Swedish Polish’, because what we have to do with here is tens (in the case of our study) of individual idiolects, differing from each other in terms of both the mastery level of Polish and the kinds of language mistakes committed by the children. Each child (and this is particularly true of those with a rather low level of competence in the language) has a peculiar, individual idiolect, often deviant from the Polish standard. Thus, the only thing that can be observed...

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