Perfect German with a Polish accent: many German-Polish children emphasize their identity with a Polish accent

21.02.2015

In a study with 49 participants, Berlin scientists showed, among other things, that German-Polish children and adolescents often emphasize the Polish part of their identity with their pronunciation. German is then spoken with a Polish accent, even though Dr. Marzena Żygis, linguist at the Centre for General Linguistics (ZAS) in Berlin.

"Many German-Polish children and young people in Berlin can speak grammatically perfect German. In order to emphasize the Polish part of their identity, however, they choose typical Polish pronunciation features and roll e.g. the 'r', ".

People's identity depends strongly on the language they speak. Whoever has the choice between accent-free German and German with a Polish accent can make a self-determined decision.

"German-Polish children and young people with a stable sense of identity do not always speak with a Polish accent - they always do so when they want to show their Polish identity," says Prof. Błaszczak, co-author of the study in cooperation with ZAS.

It becomes problematic when no language is mastered without an accent. This can lead to frustration and the feeling of not having a clear identity. The accent gives no indication of grammatical correctness. People who speak German with an accent are often accused of incorrect grammar. A prominent example is Raed Saleh, chairman of the SPD parliamentary group in the Berlin House of Representatives, who speaks German with an Arabic accent at mother-tongue level. Irrespective of whether a speaker expresses his or her identity intentionally with his or her accent, the accent heard can trigger associations for the listener that are not exclusively positive.

Identity is a bilateral process. One part is determined by the speaker himself, the other part is assigned by the environment. Accent plays a crucial role in the assignment of identity by others. Access to the standard language is important so that children can later decide for themselves whether they want to speak with an accent or not. The Berlin scientists recommend that children visit day-care centres as early and as consistently as possible.

In the study by Marzena Żygis & Joanna Błaszczak the question was investigated, which factors have the largest influence on the determination of the national identity. The results show that e.g. the mother tongue, the country of birth, the length of stay in Germany, the origin of relatives and acquaintances (including those of the best friend) have a significant influence on the perceived national identity.

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