Teaching Standard Australian English as a second dialect to Australian Indigenous children in primary school classrooms
AuthorSteele, Carly Miranda
AffiliationSchool of Languages and Linguistics
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2020 Carly Miranda Steele
Second Dialect Acquisition (SDA) might represent a conceptually different task to that of Second Language Acquisition (SLA) for three main related reasons. Firstly, the learner’s ability to ‘notice’ dialect differences due to the shared linguistic features of the two dialects, might make separation more difficult (Siegel, 2010b, p. 68; Wolfram & Schilling-Estes, 1998, p. 287). Secondly, due to the linguistic overlap between two related dialects, it is thought that speakers make themselves generally understood by one another and dialect differences can be considered ‘communicatively redundant’ (Long, 2007, p. 62). It has also been said that this can impact upon the learner’s motivation (Berry & Hudson, 1997) or levels of ‘investment’ (Peirce, 1995; Nero, 2014) in acquiring a second dialect. Lastly, the relationship between the two dialects can represent societal systems of inequality (Bourdieu, 1991) and therefore the identities of second dialect learners and their investment to learn the standard form needs to be positioned within this power dynamic (Malcolm & Koningsberg, 2001, p. 27; Peirce, 1995). In this thesis, two cross-sectional studies were undertaken. Firstly, Indigenous primary school aged children (6 to 12-years old) in Far North Queensland who spoke English as an additional language and/or dialect (EAL/D) (n = 54) participated in two tasks designed to understand whether dialect differences were noticed: elicited imitation of Standard Australian English (SAE) target sentences and an alternative forced choice task that asked participants whether two utterances were, verbatim, the “same” or “different”. Results were compared with native monolingual SAE speakers (n = 44) who did the same tasks. Secondly, a teaching intervention of three lessons that employed the ‘contrastive approach’ to SDA was conducted with Yarrie Lingo (YL) speaking participants in years 1, 3 and 5 (n = 27) to explore differences between YL and SAE and hopefully, improve participants’ ability to “notice” the differences. Findings showed that dialect differences were not always noticed for all participants, but for the EAL/D groups it was far more difficult to notice the grammatical features of SAE, and some features were more salient or readily acquired than others. Over the years of schooling, participants’ ability to notice the targeted SAE grammatical items improved. The teaching intervention showed that the YL group found it very difficult to effectively separate the two languages and code-switch between them, despite their explicit knowledge of the grammatical rules, suggesting SDA is potentially more difficult due to the slight linguistic distance between their first dialect, D1 and their second, D2. The argument for communicative redundancy is less convincing. In the space of a simple sentence, dialect differences were found to be communicatively redundant 29-30% of the time, which seems like a lot, but more often than not, the meaning was lost. In longer stretches of communication that extend beyond a simple sentence, particularly in the context of the academic demands of schooling, it is very likely that there will be a breakdown in communication between a YL speaker and an SAE speaker. Findings suggest that SDA presents a greater challenge not just for the slight linguistic differences between D1 and D2, but also for the complex social, cultural, historical and political factors that underpin D1 and D2 as nonstandard and standard languages. The argument presented is that children’s linguistic identities are crucial in SDA and that instruction must start there. Consequently, traditional hierarchical understandings of language awareness developmental processes, such as those described in the language awareness continuum (Angelo & Carter, 2015) need to be rethought. They position an examination of the social and historical factors influencing language in society as a higher order skill that is developed after language awareness and standard language proficiency is gained through contrastive analysis. This study suggests that students are unlikely to engage with contrastive analysis and standard language acquisition in a meaningful way, without first addressing their social and cultural realities. It is evident, however, that the learning needs of Indigenous Australian children who are acquiring SAE as a second dialect in the Australian schooling system, are not fully understood. Current research lacks evidence. This study sought to address this void, in doing so, it illustrates how linguistically and socially complex the situation is. SDA appears to significantly differ from traditional SLA in some very important and challenging ways, but much more research is urgently needed to address present-day inequities for Indigenous EAL/D learners in the schooling system.
KeywordsSecond dialect acquisition; Aboriginal Englishes; Creoles and dialects in education; Contrastive approach; Noticing; Code-switching; English as an Additional Language or Dialect (EAL/D)
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