BILINGUAL - Language Acquisition as a Window to Social Integration among Russian Language Minority Children in Germany and Israel

Within the framework of the project Language Acquisition as a Window to Social Integration among Russian Language Minority Children in Germany and Israel the (up to now) biggest sample of linguistic and social data on the population of 4-6 years old Russian-speaking migrant children in Germany was collected. Based on these data, various sociolinguistic issues regarding the interaction between integration and language acquisition are investigated on the one hand, while on the other hand, (psycho)linguistic questions regarding language acquisition of those children in discourse, grammatical and lexical domains in both their source language and the language of their environment are examined. 

A new interactive Webportal dealing with Migration in Germany and Israel is now available for the general public at www.migration.uni-jena.de (launched in March 2010). There you can also find some results of the BILINGUALISM-project terminated in January.

Research topics

The project is a part of the German-Israeli Research Consortium Migration and Societal Integration, which studies the acculturation of migrants and its consequences for the psychosocial adjustment of migrants in Germany and Israel.

So far there are only a few case studies concerning Russian-German language acquisition in children with a migration background. However, according to different counts, 5-10 percent of primary school learners in Germany have Russian as their first language. Thus, there is a considerable need for studying expected language development of both Russian (first language) and German (language of the environment). Extensive collection and analysis of linguistic and social data of more than 90 children in three age groups (4,5 and 6 years old) were performed within the framework of the project in ZAS. A second set of data from 45 children of the first sample were collected after the period of 12 months.

The Migration and Societal Integration is made in cooperation with linguists of the Bar-Ilan University in Israel, Prof. Dr. Joel Walters and Dr. Sharon Armon-Lotem being principle investigators. Interrelations between different language abilities and factors such as social identity, attitudes or transitions from home to kindergarten to school are studied from the sociolinguistic perspective. 

The created data corpus is used for investigating further psycholinguistic questions.

In the domain Discourse Abilities of Bilingual Children, narratives of Russian-German bilingual children are investigated, with a focus on referential means used for introducing and maintaining topical elements. Factors that might influence the choice of referential expression, such as information status, syntactic position and function of topic, etc., are analysed in more detail with regard to language-specific and cross-linguistic features of topic marking. 

In the domain Lexicon-Grammar-Interface in Bilingual Language Acquisition, the interrelation between lexical and grammatical development in both languages of the sample are investigated. The statement of modularization of language domains in advanced language acquisition is scrutinized, thereby the variably strong relationship between lexical categories of noun and verb and the grammatical domain is taken into consideration.

In the domain Current State of the Russian Language, a diagnostic device, which enables statements about the level of language development of the first language Russian, is developed. This is realized through a combination of tests on language abilities and a parental questionnaire providing information about individual conditions of child's language acquisition and the course of language development in the first language. Certain steps in language acquisition of Russian with a migration background could be identified on the basis of the sample data, and enable the researchers to differentiate between specific language impairment and lacking language abilities which are due to other reasons.