Webbinarium i Zoom


Om Zoom.


Jörg Dollmann, Irena Kogan and Markus Weißmann.

In our talk, we will focus on two different aspects of foreign accents: Their causes and their possible consequences on social interactions.

(1) Regarding the first aspect, we will focus on the effects of age of onset on second language learning, i.e. on the strength of a foreign accent in a second language (L2). Drawing on data from a large-scale representative data set on immigrant adolescents in Germany―CILS4EU-DE―we demonstrate that there is a critical period (CP) up to the age of around 10, after which obtaining oral language skills without a foreign accent becomes less likely. Furthermore, we will provide evidence that native-like language skills can be achieved after the CP if certain preconditions related to learning efficiency and language exposure are met. Our analyses indicate that higher cognitive abilities and exposure to a language environment with intensive and manifold contacts with native speakers can compensate for disadvantages caused by a late start in L2 acquisition.

(2) The second part of our talk examines the association between accented speech and the formation of friendships and partnerships among immigrants and native-born majority residents in Germany. Drawing on the same data set as during the first part of the talk, we show that speaking with a foreign accent in L2 is a more important correlate of the incidence of interethnic partnerships than of interethnic friendships. We argue that beyond its primary function of understandability, accented speech possesses socially communicative power. Accent transmits signals of an individual’s foreignness and cultural differences and, thus, becomes an additional marker of social distance. Such signals serve as a greater obstacle to more consequential intimate interethnic relations such as partnerships. Our findings of this second part extend the scholarly debate on the role of symbolic boundaries in social interactions between ethnic groups by yet another important boundary maker—accent.