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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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The fundamental problem in studies on the language of a diaspora is defining the object of analysis. This is because the linguistic material that the researcher is confronted with is heterogeneous in at least two respects.

First of all, the languages of the diaspora vary depending on the linguistic environments in which the different immigrant communities live; for example, the Polish diaspora in an Anglo-Saxon country is, of course, linguistically (and culturally) different from the Polish diasporas in Germany, France or Sweden. In fact, then, there are multiple variants of diaspora language, which reflect features of different dominant languages. The problem emerging in such a situation concerns the boundary between the intra-lingual and external (i.e. determined by the dominant language, the language of the country of settlement) factors underlying the acquisition of the heritage language in a diaspora setting.

Secondly, the different members of a diaspora manifest highly dissimilar levels of fluency in their heritage language: from an almost perfect command acquired at home, to its complete loss. Thus, even if we limit our study to the language of a particular community within the diaspora (e.g. the language of the Polish diaspora in Sweden), we will actually still have to do with a set of idiolects of the different speakers, which differ both grammatically and lexically, rather than with a single linguistic system represented by different individual idiolects. It is worth noting here that, in investigating the mechanisms responsible for the structural changes observed in idiolects...

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