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Last Update: 2011-04-29   Source: Research Headlines
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Study finds Polish immigrants pick up UK accent easily

Europe has faced myriad changes in recent years. A case in point is the growth in immigration; borders have opened allowing people to move freely and easily across the EU. However, migrants face many challenges including finding work and learning the language of their new home. Researchers at the universities of Manchester and Edinburgh in the United Kingdom and the University of Auckland in New Zealand investigated the challenge of sociolinguistic competence in English among teenage Polish immigrants living in London and Edinburgh. The results are presented in the journal English World—Wide.

Polish colours flying high © Shutterstock
Polish colours flying high
©  Shutterstock

The United Kingdom was only one of three EU Member States (with Ireland and Sweden) to give people from central and eastern Europe unrestricted access to its labour markets in 2004. This resulted in the largest single wave of immigration that the United Kingdom had ever experienced, with Poles making up a large part of that wave.

The research study 'Sociolinguistics and Immigration — Linguistic variation among adolescents in London and Edinburgh' explored the language of Polish teenagers; adolescents have a much easier time of adapting to changes and are constantly in contact with their peers. The linguists compared the use of standard and non—standard features in the English language spoken by Polish adolescents and local Londoners and Edinburghers.

Testing how they acquire English and non—standard features including g—dropping like 'singin', the results show that Polish teenagers adopted non—standard pronunciations in the city they had moved to despite not being there for long. The team also suggests that language attitudes and accent acquisition are interrelated; Polish teenagers who liked the local accent tended to sound more like their local peers.

'In recent years, the UK has experienced unparalleled numbers of migrants from eastern Europe, particularly Poland,' says Dr Erik Schleef from the University of Manchester, an author of the study. 'To help understand how they integrate into the UK, we decided to investigate if Polish teenagers use the same form of non—standard speech as their same age British peers — and the answer seems to be yes. After all, in order to achieve full native—like competence in a second language, speakers must acquire, at the very least, an awareness of non—standard features. So we would expect to find this within other groups of migrants as well.'

Dr Rob Drummond, a linguist at Manchester Metropolitan University, in another study evaluated the acquisition of non—standard features among Polish adults residing in Manchester and discovered a strong link between the use of Polish influenced 'ingk' pronunciation and a desire to return to Poland.

'Those speakers who planned to return to Poland and who had a strong desire to hold on to their Polish identity were using this pronunciation to signal that allegiance,' Dr Drummond says, adding: 'Even those speakers who had high levels of English but who intended to return to Poland were more likely to use —ingk than other speakers.'


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