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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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Chapter 9 Some remarks on mechanisms for the acquisition of case

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In the foregoing discussion of the different types of error in the use of case, I have been trying to indicate their potential psycholinguistic sources. The material analysed shows that the acquisition/attrition of case under conditions of linguistic interference is determined by functional factors. The relations of functional markedness, which determine the internal structure of grammatical categories, play a pivotal role here. This applies to the relations of morphological markedness within the case system, as well as to the degree of syntactic markedness of the different syntactic rules and to the valence properties of lexemes. The most important mechanism at work here is that the difficulties in the acquisition of a given linguistic unit (construction) are directly proportional to the degree of its functional markedness: units/constructions with a greater degree of markedness (e.g. the locative or the syntactic rule of the genitive after negation) are acquired by the child (as well as by an adult who learns a foreign language) later and with greater difficulties (or they are not acquired at all).

The above is, of course, particularly true of the category of case. It is again worth remembering that the defective idiolect case systems attested in the speech of the Polish children in Sweden may be regarded as representing different phases of the acquisition of case by an individual. As already indicated, the two hierarchy patterns of the acquisition of case by children in a diaspora (the arrows indicate a decreasing level of case mastery):

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