Bilingualism versus bidialectalism

Workshop Wednesday November 6 at 11:30

Venue: E0101

Organized by Øystein A. Vangsnes 


Kleanthes K. Grohmann:

Laying Out Bi-X: Bidialectalism, Bilingualism, and Discrete Bilectalism 


Anna De Fina:

Sicilian Dialect in interaction: peer communication in an elementary school  

12.30-14.00 LUNCH


Andrea Ender: 

Dealing with competing constructions:
Second language learning at the intersection of standard and dialect in Switzerland  


Tor A. Åfarli, Brita Ramsevik Riksem and Mila Vulchanova

Syntactic Theory and the Norwegian Language Situation: Measuring (Dis-) Similarities between Nynorsk and Bokmål  


Øystein A. Vangsnes, Göran Söderlund and Morten Blekesaune: 

The effect of bidialectal literacy on school achievement in Norway 



Laying Out Bi-X: Bidialectalism, Bilingualism, and Discrete Bilectalism

Kleanthes K. Grohmann (University of Cyprus)

This talk explores language development in young children growing up in diglossia — in the present case, the diglossic Greek-speaking community of Cyprus, which has seen a lot of research, especially on the socio-phonetic side since the seminal work by Newton (1972), such as summarized more recently by Tsiplakou et al. (2006), Arvaniti (2010), and Tsiplakou (2009), for example. Characterizing the linguistic state of individual speakers in diglossia, a range of terms have been used; I will lay out my own: ‘bi-x’ (Grohmann 2011). This was originally meant as an umbrella term, further developed by Grohmann & Leivada (2012) and culminating in our current identification of ‘(discrete) bilectalism’ (Rowe & Grohmann 2013): Children growing up in diglossia are perhaps not fully fledged bilingual speakers, but they arguably go beyond bidialectals. Using experimental data from clitic placement, the development of wh-questions, and other phenomena, as well as comparing typically developing children from Cyprus with children from Greece but also atypically developing children with specific language impairment from both countries, will help us determine some of the core properties of the grammatical system(s) developing in the context of diglossia.


Arvaniti, A. (2010). Linguistic practices in Cyprus and the emergence of Cypriot Standard Greek. Mediterranean Language Review 17: 15–45.

Grohmann, K.K. (2011). Some directions for the systematic investigation of the acquisition of Cypriot Greek: A new perspective on production abilities from object clitic placement. In E. Rinke & T. Kupisch (eds.), The Development of Grammar: Language Acquisition and Diachronic Change, pp. 179–203. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Grohmann, K.K. & E. Leivada (2012). Interface ingredients of dialect design: Bi-X, socio-syntax of development, and the grammar of Cypriot Greek’. In A.-M. Di Sciullo (ed.), Towards a Biolinguistic Understanding of Grammar: Essays on Interfaces, pp.239–262. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Newton, B. (1972). Cypriot Greek: Its Phonology and Inflections. The Hague: Mouton.

Rowe, C. & K.K. Grohmann (2013). Discrete bilectalism: Towards co-overt prestige and diglossic shift in Cyprus. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 224: 119–142 [in press: DOI 10.1515/ijsl-2013-0058].

Tsiplakou, S. (2009). Code-switching and code mixing between related varieties: Establishing the blueprint. The International Journal of Humanities 6: 49–66.

Tsiplakou, S., A. Papapavlou, P. Pavlou, & M. Katsoyannou (2006). Levelling, koineization and their implications for bidialectism. In F. Hinskens (ed.), Language Variation – European Perspectives. Selected Papers from the 3rd International Conference on Language Variation in Europe (ICLaVE 3), University of Amsterdam, 23-25 June 2005, pp. 265–276. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Sicilian Dialect in interaction: peer communication in an elementary school

Anna De Fina, Georgetown University

Data released by ISTAT in 2006 show that Sicily is still among the Italian regions where dialect is spoken the most, alone or in alternation with Italian, particularly in informal contexts. Studies of current use of dialect have demonstrated its vitality among the youth and in youth culture (e.g. D’Agostino, 2007; Assenza 2006). In this paper I present a study of the use of the Sicilian dialect in peer communication at school. The data come from an ethnographic study conducted in the Spring 2011, in one 5th grade elementary school in an inner city area in Palermo. The research consisted of intensive (2 or three hours per observation) semi-participant observations of classroom activities and breaks, video and audiotaping and interviews with children and teachers.

Observations were carried out between January and March 2011, but tape recording continued until June 2011 with the teacher setting the tape-recorder.  I will first present a general view of the role of dialect and Italian in class and then focus on peer communication both among boys and girls and among members of each group separately. I will show how patterns of usage differ dramatically along gender lines, thus confirming the results of previous research (see Marcato, 2007) as while for girls code-switch from Italian into dialect was highly marked, for boys dialect was the language of authentic in-group communication. Indeed, Sicilian prominently figured in play, teasing and the exchange of ritual insults.  


Assenza, E. (2006). Parlar Giovane tra Scilla e Cariddi. In C. Marcato (Ed.) Giovani, lingue e dialetti. Padova: Unipress, p. 151-156.

D’Agostino, M. (2007), Sociolinguistica dell’Italia contemporanea, Bologna, Il Mulino. Marcato, C. (2007) Dialetto, Dialetti e italiano. Bologna: Il Mulino.

Dealing with competing constructions: Second language learning at the intersection of standard and dialect in Switzerland

Andrea Ender, University of Fribourg

In the German-speaking part of Switzerland, local alemannic dialect(s) and the Swiss standard variety coexist in everyday spoken and written communication. Researchers are divided over the question whether this situation can best be conceived as a case of diglossia or bilingualism (Berthele 2004, Haas 2004, Werlen 1998). This talk focusses on the influence of such a situation on second language acquisition and on the question how second language learners/users deal with the involved varieties. Choosing and sorting the linguistic means in accordance with the dialectal and standard language system is an integral and challenging part of the learning process (Ender 2012). Data from interviews with second language learners with various linguistic and migrant backgrounds are used for two purposes: First, the analysis of competing constructions such as relative clauses will illustrate how the acquisition of variation is influenced by cognitive factors. Second, the perspective is broadened by looking at the influence of learners’ social and functional conceptualization of the varieties that make the distinction between standard and dialect (un)important for second language learners. 


Berthele, Raphael (2004): Vor lauter Linguisten die Sprache nicht mehr sehen – Diglossie und Ideologie in der deutschsprachigen Schweiz. In Christen, Helen (ed.): Dialekt, Regiolekt und Standardsprache im sozialen und zeitlichen Raum. Vienna, 111–136.

Ender, Andrea (2012): Variation in a second language as a methodological challenge: Knowledge and use of relative clauses. In Ender, Andrea, Adrian Leemann, and Bernhard Wälchli (eds.) (2012): Methods in Contemporary Linguistics. Berlin: de Gruyter, 239–262.

Haas, Walter (2004): Die Sprachsituatuion in der deutschen Schweiz und das Konzept der Diglossie. In Christen, Helen (ed.): Dialekt, Regiolekt und Standardsprache im sozialen und zeitlichen Raum. Vienna, 81–110.

Werlen, Iwar (1998): Mediale Diglossie oder asymmetrische Zweisprachigkeit? Mundart und Hochsprache in der deutschen Schweiz. Babylonia 1: 22–35.


Syntactic Theory and the Norwegian Language Situation: Measuring (Dis-) Similarities between Nynorsk and Bokmål

Tor A. Åfarli, Brita Ramsevik Riksem & Mila Vulchanova, NTNU, Trondheim

It is very useful to be able to measure how close two linguistic varieties are. This paper seeks to start developing such a measure and to apply it to the Norwegian language situation, primarily to the relation between the two official written varieties of Norwegian, Nynorsk and Bokmål.

We will first claim that a neo-constructional frame theory assuming late lexical insertion is very well motivated as a model of grammar generally, and we will put forth some arguments to substantiate such a claim, cf. Åfarli (2007). On this background, we introduce a distinction between system structure and system expression (Riksem 2013), where the system structure of a variety is the set of abstract (wordless) syntactic frames employed by the variety (i.e. the syntactic structures before lexical insertion), and where the system expression is the late insertion of lexical/substantial and functional elements (morphs) into these frames. We argue that Nynorsk and Bokmål to a large extent share the same system structure (but not completely!), whereas the main difference between the two varieties has to do with system expression, i.e. how the structural frame is made visible by insertion of functional and lexical/substantial material. On this basis, we seek to develop a precise metric for measuring the “closeness” of the two varieties, a metric that may be generalized to other bi-dialectal and bi-linguistic situations.

Given our analysis and based on Vulchanova et al. (2012), we will also discuss the role of the two parts of the lexicon, i.e. the substantial lexicon and the functional lexicon, in the context of the Nynorsk/Bokmål situation, arguing that the two varieties to a large extent share the same substantial mental lexicon, whereas the functional lexicon is much more specific to the one or the other of the given varieties.


Åfarli, Tor A. (2007) Do verbs have argument structure? In: Eric Reuland at al. (eds.) Argument Structure. Amsterdam: Benjamins. 1-16.

Riksem, Brita Ramsevik (2013) Syntaks og ortografi: Nye rammer for språknormering. Master thesis. Trondheim: NTNU.

Vulchanova, M. et al. (2012) Flerspråklighet i Norge. Rapport. Oslo: Språkrådet.

The effect of bidialectal literacy on school achievement in Norway

Øystein A. Vangsnes, UiT The Arctic University of Norway and Sogn og Fjordane University College
Göran Söderlund, Sogn og Fjordane University College
Morten Blekesaune, University of Agder

This paper investigates the relation between the linguistic background of Norwegian pupils and their school achievements. We show that, when leveled for socio-economic status, children who grow up to be bidialectally literate achieve better than children who do not.

Norway offers a language situation where a substantial portion of children grow up to be functional in two closely related written standards. The Norwegian language has two codified written standards, Norwegian Bokmål and Norwegian Nynorsk. Although both varieties enjoy the same judicial status, Bokmål massively dominates public life at the national level. The effect of this is that most individuals who are brought up with Nynorsk as their primary variety of Norwegian (through school and local environment) are also very much exposed to Bokmål, whereas the converse situation rarely holds for individuals who are brought up with Bokmål as their primary variety. This situation thus produces Nynorsk children who are also highly proficient in Bokmål (bidialectally literate) and Bokmål children who are less proficient in Nynorsk (monolectally literate).

In our study we combine large statistical data from national tests in reading (Norwegian), arithmetic and English of 5th and 8th graders over three years with data on socio-economic status (SES) at the level of municipalities. We consider three SES characteristics: (i) education level of the adult population, (ii) female employment rates, and (iii) single parenthood. Whereas municipalities in which Nynorsk is the main variety achieve somewhat less than Bokmål municipalities in the national tests, when leveled for SES the situation is turned around: the children from Nynorsk municipalities perform better than expected by the SES characteristics, and albeit small the role of bidialectal literacy comes out as statistically significant.

We will discuss two possible explanations for the effect. It could be a reflex of the same bilingual cognitive advantages that have been established over the last couple of decades in many studies by several labs and research groups. The varied linguistic training of the bidialectally literate may boost executive functions and metalinguistic awareness.

Another explanation could be cultural and sociolinguistic. The Bokmål standard associates to a greater extent with sociolinguistic hierarchies than do the Nynorsk standard. The spoken language of the capital area (Oslo) is the most prestigious vernacular and is clearly associated with the Bokmål written standard. For Nynorsk there is no prestigious spoken variety, meaning that individuals who relate to this written variety to a lesser degree need not place his or her spoken dialect in a linguistic hierarchy. A speculation then could be that this is less detrimental to the Nynorsk pupils (linguistic) self-esteem in areas with dialects that deviate from the Oslo spoken dialect.

The bilingual, cognitive explanation is arguably more prone to further experimental research and the cultural, sociolinguistic one harder to establish firmly. Studies of other similar language situations may shed valuable light on the matter.  

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