Becoming bilingual : a sociolinguistic study of the communication of young mother tongue Panjabi-speaking children
This is a sociolinguistic study of the language patterns of ten young mother tongue Panjabi-speaking children. The children are exposed to English on entry into nursery school around the age of three years. Thus their bilingualism is acquired sequentially and develops within a basically monolingual and monocultural educational system. Participant observation in school was the methodology utilised to collect the child language data. The same method was not suitable for collecting naturalistic child language data at home. Instead, mothers' reports of the families' language use at home were gathered by means of informal interviews. Teachers' opinions on various aspects of the education of children becoming bilingual in their classrooms were also obtained by interviews. Considerable variation was found to exist in the classroom communication of the ten children, all from very similar cultural, socio-econornic and socio-cultural backgrounds. In three different school settings - classroom, home corner and picture description - all the children used more English than Panjabi. Clear patterns of language choice emerged from the data; code choice was found to be affected by certain characteristics of the interlocutor, audience, domain and activity; various types of language alternation were identified. Most of the time the children showed that they had acquired the necessary skills to function adequately as bilingual speakers. Mothers' and teachers' opinions about linguistic and educational issues provided a useful context to supplement the extensive child language data obtained. This sociolinguistic study of bilingualism in the current British educational context highlights the children's linguistic skills. However, in doing so, many questions are raised about the adequacy of current provision for non-native English-speaking children growing up in Britain today.