The New Speakers Blog

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New Words, New Worlds: Beyond the horizon

New Words, New Worlds: Beyond the horizon

In October 2014, I was offered a short term scientific mission grant through the COST New Speakers Network.

Thanks to this opportunity, I visited the Institute of Multilingualism at the University of Fribourg, where I was welcomed by Alexandre Duchêne and his research team.

For the past two years, I have been working as a PhD student at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid under the supervision of Luisa Martín Rojo and Ana Llinares.

During my stay at the Institute of Multilingualism, I was able to confront my research on bilingual schools in Madrid - in particular, selection processes in the transition to secondary education - with related studies in the context of Switzerland, thus furthering my knowledge in both ethnographic methodology and critical sociolinguistics.

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Producing narratives

Producing narratives

The COST New Speakers Network provided me with an opportunity to participate in the short term scientific mission at the Centre for General Linguistics in Berlin.

I thank Dr Natalia Gagarina (Centre for General Linguistics in Berlin, Germany) and Dr Agnieszka Otwinowska-Kasztelanic (University of Warsaw, Poland) in particular for their invitation and collaboration on the project.

I have benefited a lot from my visit to the research centre in Berlin.

Working under the guidance of and in collaboration with Natalia and Agnieszka was a great experience for me - I had a chance to access and acquire new knowledge in terms of theories, concepts and methods, to gain and share research expertise.

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New speakers and 'authentic' Yiddish

New speakers and 'authentic' Yiddish

As a member of Work Group 1 of the COST New Speaker network, I am particularly interested in the maintenance of (and expansion in) the use of minority languages in connection with those current and potential speakers who have acquired, or who are in the process of acquiring, a lesser-used language by means other than through intergenerational transmission.

Having already carried out some investigations among new speakers of Breton in the past, I was able to expand my range of examples with reference to another minority language, Yiddish, thanks to a short term scientific mission (STSM) and engage with what might be termed a community of practice (CofP) of new speakers of Yiddish in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Working closely with Bernie O’Rourke at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, who is also the chair of this COST New Speaker network, I was able to compare the linguistic attitudes and practices of new speakers of Yiddish in the Scottish capital with my own previous work, and also engage in discussion with Bernie on the particularities of the Galician situation.

One point of similarity we quickly discovered was the contestation around those linguistic varieties deemed 'minority' which are closely related to a more widely spoken, more prestigious variety, e.g. Galician and Castilian, Yiddish and 'High German'.

Such contestation can be manifested in certain linguistic practices where speakers attempt to avoid identical lexical items in both varieties and distance themselves from the prestigious variety (the Ausbau or ‘building away from’ model of language planning) or, the converse, where some speakers are “accused” of mixed language practices, in that their speech demonstrates increasing influence from the majority language (for example, accent or syntax), to the point where new speakers of Galician, for example, can be accused of speaking “bad” or “corrupt” Spanish.

The same holds true for some younger speakers of Lemko (an eastern Slavic language in Poland I have also worked on), whose linguistic output can sound like “bad” Polish.

This is an issue Bernie and I wish to take forward in some comparative work in the future.

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From Madrid to Barcelona

From Madrid to Barcelona

How a small visit can have a big impact on your PhD research

The PhD research I am currently undertaking under the supervision of Bernie O’Rourke and Máiréad Nic Craith at Heriot-Watt University looks at the role of a ‘local’ language such as Galician, in the construction of identity for a ‘non-local’ immigrant population.

My research links up with an important strand of the COST Action, specifically the exploration of the concept of the ‘new speaker’ in migrant contexts as part of Working Group 2. My research focuses on immigrant ‘new speakers’ of Galician in a small fishing town in northern Galicia.

The purpose of this STSM was to discuss approaches to analysing ethnographic data that I collected in summer 2014.

Furthermore, the aim was to present my findings to both undergraduate and postgraduate students and have the opportunity to collaborate with PhD students whose research interests line up with the aims of this COST Action on New Speakers.

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The 'new speaker' label

The 'new speaker' label

The ‘new speaker’ label focuses on the experience of multilingual individuals who adopt and use a language of which they are not native speakers. It is a relatively recent construct.

The term originated in minority language sociolinguistics but has now come to be used in critical sociolinguistics more generally to engage with debates around ‘nativeness’.

In the context of minority languages and revitalization projects such as BasqueBretonCatalan, CorsicanGalician,Irish, ManxOccitan, etc., this discussion has been more recent. In the past, the focus was to a large extent concerned with native speaker communities.

The new speaker category emerged in the context of minority language research and discussions amongst a small group of European-based researchers concerned with overlapping issues of legitimacy, linguistic authority and language ownership in post-revitalization situations, specifically in the context of Catalan and comparative work on Galician and Irish.

The specific use of the term ‘new speaker’ in fact drew inspiration from the Galician category of neofalante (literally neo or new speaker).

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