Children’s preference for English-sounding neologisms: An experimental approach

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Background: The past decade witnessed a socio-pragmatic turn in research on the lexical influence of English on Western European languages, prioritizing the social meaning of English influence over their structural integration in the receptor language (Peterson & Beers-Fägerten 2017, Zenner et al. 2019). Missing so far is attention for the role of children as potential leaders in the global proliferation of English (compare Berns, 2007). Aim: This study aims to contribute to this developmental perspective (see De Vogelaer & Katerbow 2017) by experimentally investigating variation in Belgian Dutch elementary school children’s preference for English- or Dutch-sounding neologisms for a series of new objects. Respondents: 120 monolingual children from the same dialect area are included, in a sample balanced for gender and age (including 8-9, 10-11 and 12-13 year olds). Design: The experiment introduces children to 12 new concepts belonging to 3 different semantic fields. Two alternative names are presented to the child for each concept, viz. phonotactically similar artificial neologisms (compare Samara et al. 2017) which can be pronounced in a Dutch or English way (e.g. ‘snaster’, Dutch [snɑstər] vs. English [snɑːstə]). Children are asked to indicate which of the two alternative names they prefer for the object. Two post-tests are included: (1) a categorization task verifies children’s awareness of the language manipulation; (2) a short direct questionnaire charts children’s attitude towards English. Explaining the variation: Multifactorial analyses uncover the complex interplay between lexical preference (dependent variable) and semantic field of the concept, age, gender, awareness and reported attitudes (independent variables). In all, the results allow us to track the evolution in children’s positioning towards English and Dutch as available lexical resources in their community.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2020
EventAnnual meeting of the Societas Linguistica Europaea 2020 -
Duration: 26 Aug 20201 Sep 2020
Conference number: 2020


ConferenceAnnual meeting of the Societas Linguistica Europaea 2020
Abbreviated titleSLE2020
Internet address


  • developmental sociolinguistics
  • language variation
  • contact linguistics
  • language attitudes
  • social meaning of language variation


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