Childhood Bilingualism: Aspects of Linguistic, Cognitive, and Social Development

By Peter Homel; Michael Palij et al. | Go to book overview

15
Coping or Groping? Psycholinguistic Problems in the Acquisition of Receptive and Productive Competence Across Dialects

William A. Stewart The Graduate School and University Center of the City University of New York

Despite a certain amount of good-natured complaining about the differences between British and American English, perhaps best illustrated by the variously phrased and attributed witticism that England and America are divided by a common language, it is nevertheless possible for Americans and Britons to follow even fairly rapid discourse in each other's dialects with relative ease and apparent accuracy.1 This is undoubtedly most true just so long as standard varieties of British or American English are involved, but with that qualification the same international ease of comprehension would extend to standard Irish, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, and South African English as well, and to only a slightly lesser extent to the standard English of India, Hong Kong, Singapore, and those African and Caribbean states having English as their official language.2

An obvious reason for this high degree of comprehensibility between widely dispersed varieties of standard English is that standardization and literacy have minimized structural differences between them. Once nonstandard dialects of various kinds are included in the picture, however, structural uniformity begins to break down over geographical and social distance, and the intercomprehensibility of dialects becomes increasingly limited as the structural differences between them grow greater. In some cases, two dialects may be structurally

____________________
1
The term dialect is used here in the linguist's sense of a structurally identifiable sub-variety of a language. In this use, there is no connotation of low prestige or structural deviation from a literary or official norm.
2
A standard dialect (see footnote 1) or language variety is one in conformity with codified norms defining "correct" usage, and is the form most often spoken by educated people and used in official documents, literary works, and formal situations. Popular dialects that deviate from the standard dialect(s) are called nonstandard dialects.

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