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The maintenance of regional dialects in the social network of children aged 10-11 years: A matter of gender?

Abstract : The linguistic diversity enduring beyond institutional pressures and social prejudices against non-standard dialects questions the social forces influencing language maintenance across generations and how children contribute to this process. Children encounter multi-dialectal interactions in their early environment, and increasing evidence shows that the acquisition of sociolinguistic variation is not a side issue but an inherent part of the general acquisition process (Chevrot and Foulkes, 2013). Despite these recent advances in sociolinguistic acquisition, children’s sociolinguistic usages remain under-studied in relation to peers’ social networks and the ability to use dialect for identity purposes. Our study focused on the child use of several sociolinguistic variables. First, we study a grammatical sociolinguistic variable consisting in the alternation between the regional variant (y) and the standard variants (le, la, les ) of the third person object pronouns in French (for example, ‘Comment tu y sais ?’ rather than ‘Comment tu le sais ?’ ‘How do you know ?’ ; ‘Elle y appelle des aimants’ instead of ‘Elle les appelle des aimants’ ‘She calls them magnets’). The regional variant is a remnant of the neutral pronoun of Franco-Provençal language and its usage by adults is strongly associated with local identity in the French Alps (Châtellain, 2004; Tuaillon, 1983). Second, we study general sociolinguistic variables which variants are found throughout the French language area (variable liaison, variable deletion of /l/ in the third person subject pronoun, variable deletion of the post-consonantal final /R/). A comprehensive review suggests that these general variables are sociolinguistic markers in French in adult (Nardy, 2008). Using questionnaires, we described the social networks of 117 10-11 year-old girls and boys living in the same restricted rural area. Thirteen native target children (7 girls and 6 boys) were selected from the sample, as well as 39 same-sex friends chosen according to their place of birth (native vs non-native) and the duration of their friendship with the targets (number of years they have known each other). The target children were recorded using wireless microphones during spontaneous dyadic conversations with friends of each category. Target boys, but not girls, used the local pronoun significantly more frequently with their long-term native friends than with their non-native friends. This adjustment mirrored their partners’ usages. Moreover, with long-term native friends, boys used the regional pronoun twice as frequently as girls. Such pattern of results is not found for the general variables. Boys aged 10-11 are thus capable of robust and subtle stylistic adjustments as a function of the social position of the addressees in their network of acquaintances and as a function of the identity value of the sociolinguistic variants. Moreover boy appear to be key actors in the maintenance and the diffusion of regional cues in local social networks, as it is the case for adult males in very similar contexts (Holmquist, 1985).
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Submitted on : Wednesday, June 22, 2016 - 11:05:37 AM
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  • HAL Id : hal-01335666, version 1


Jean-Pierre Chevrot, Nathaël Martin, Stéphanie Barbu. The maintenance of regional dialects in the social network of children aged 10-11 years: A matter of gender?. Variation in Language Acquisition (Vila2): From corpus studies to experimental approaches, Université Stendhal-Grenoble 3, Dec 2014, Grenoble, France. ⟨hal-01335666⟩



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