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Language Maintenance – Language Attrition

The Case of Polish Children in Sweden


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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Chapter 8 Acquisition of case by a bilingual child in the second year of life (a case study)


The foregoing discussion about the acquisition/attrition of the category of case is by no means exhaustive; it has only provided a description of the most general mechanisms underlying these processes. The observations made by El’konin (1973: 577–8) and by Gagarina & Voeikova (2009) pertaining to Russian, by Łuczyński (2004) for Polish, by Čević, Palmović & Hržica (2009) about Croat, and my own findings concerning the acquisition of case by a bilingual (Polish-Russian) child point to a very important characteristic of the mechanism of the gradual building of a case system by the child. The child does not successively master the uses of each case as a ready-made element of the system. Instead, each case is gradually mastered step by step and function by function, starting with the function that is most typical, or most central, for a given case. Thus, the functions of each case in the system are acquired gradually as the child is faced with the various possible contexts in which a particular case is used in adults’ utterances. To simplify the picture outlined by El’konin, the order in which a (monolingual Russian) child acquires the different functions of the cases can be represented as follows:

nominative → direct object accusative, partitive genitive

→  addressee-dative, instrumental expressing a tool and sociative instrumental (w/o preposition)

→  prepositional phrases denoting spatial relations (with, successively, genitive229, accusative, dative and locative)

→  genitive after negation, beneficiary dative, functions of instrumental other than expressing a tool...

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