In the field of sociolinguistics, much research has gone into exploring first language acquisition and how children manage to acquire all the complexities of a language relatively quickly. This research mainly focuses on the order of the acquisition of different structural properties of a language and the process by which they acquire these properties. The study of the acquisition of various dialects by children is a less frequently explored area. Generally, the dialect that children acquire reflects the family and environment they grow up in. However, if they encounter different dialects or are placed in a new environment with a dissimilar dialect, the result is less predictable.
For this reason, in the article How’d you get that accent?: Acquiring a second dialect of the same language, Tagliamonte and Molfenter examine the dialects of children who have been transplanted to a new country with a different dialect of English. They look at how different factors, such as age, family and school, affect the accent and whether the children eventually successfully acquire the local dialect. Specifically, they examine the speech of three children,over the period of six years, who move from Canada to Britain. All the children are under the age of five at the time of relocation, and the study focuses on t-voicing in British English and the variation of the glottal stop with the voiceless alveolar stop. In North American English, the voiceless alveolar stop becomes voiceless when it follows a vowel or /r/ and precedes an unstressed syllable. In the shift from Canadian English to British English, the children had to “change these voiced stops to voiceless stops” (Trudgill 1986: 22). The study focused on the progression and success of the shift.
From their data, Tagliamonte and Molfenter were able to report a number of interesting things. The children’s progression was very gradual, and the acquisition of British English was relatively steady. Past research has also pointed to stable growth in second dialect acquisition. According to Chambers, a simple rule, such as T-voicing, is expected to show “sustained, if erratic, progress” (Chambers 1992:687).
Additionally, the study found variability amongst the three children. Past research has also shown variability in the process of second dialect acquisition. Trudgill’s work displayed notable differences in the progress made by twins (Trudgill 1986: 28-31). Some of the differences amongst the children can also be attributed to school. The commencement of school marks their first real connection to the local community and could have important effects of second dialect acquisition. This supports Trudgill’s accommodation theory, which purports the idea that second dialect acquisition exclusively occurs in face-to-face interaction. Education has a considerable effect on acquisition in general, and studies have found that parental influence is reduced when children begin school (Payne 1980; Kerswill 1996;...