The Acquisition of Sociolinguistic Competence in a Welsh Immersion Context – Katharine Young

For an enlarged version, click on the poster or download file:

Abstracts page

Bios Page

Problems / Difficulties:

  1. I don’t know in advance which features I will be looking at since there’s no way to know a priori how frequently some of the features will appear in recordings.
  2. The current COVID-19 pandemic has caused substantial disruption to the normal working of schools around the country. With no indication as to when schools may return, and when external visitors may be allowed to visit, I welcome any recommendations or advice on alternative ways of collecting data from pupils in the three registers mentioned above.


  • Alison Wray

    Katharine, what an interesting topic.
    With regard to your first question, it might be a good idea to use have a solid idea of what you are looking for before you get the data and analyse it, so that you can say something about what’s not there as well as what is. Otherwise, there’s a risk that you are only able to list the features you see, without knowing what their presence signifies.
    There are two ways to make firm predictions. One is from the research literature – what have others found who looked at register differences?
    The other is from the answer to your first Aim, ie what the learners are exposed to, both in the classroom and outside it, and how those experiences are socially framed.
    Clearly they can’t use something they just don’t know (that’s why Welsh for Adults learners sometimes encounter problems – they’re not always being exposed to the literary versions, so they’re just not in their repertoire). But then there is a separate issue, regarding whether, when and why they choose to use the forms they have been exposed to.
    If teachers are insisting on the use of literary forms in class, what happens, socially, to the kid who uses colloqiual forms there? Or who uses literary forms in the playground? To what extent do the L1 English speakers seek to socially align with the L1 Welsh speakers (who may speak something more colloquial at home than at school)? How much variation is there is the Welsh actually used by the teachers, and how much register variation do they themselves display?
    One other thing: you may find variation that appears to be register-based but is actually lexically encoded. And it could lead to your having apparently identical constructions that are differently realised. My Welsh isn’t good enough to get far with giving you examples, but imagine that there was a popular song that featured ‘fy nghar i’ so it just tripped off people’s tongues. That might lead them to use that form, even though they didn’t use that construction for other words. We see it with mutations, where someone makes lots of errors in mutations when they have to put them together themselves, but never makes a mistake with, say, ‘ar ei ben’ because the mutation is baked into the phrase. So, that’s another reason for going in with a clear set of (research literature-based) predictions about what you ought to find – if you find something different, you can then ask why, knowing that you’re pushing against something robust.
    Hope this is useful

  • Emily Powell

    Could sociolinguistic interviews and conversations be done online?

  • Kate Kavanagh

    Hi Katharine, thanks for the poster! Like Emily, I was wondering what can be collected online… I was thinking that I tend to find zoom and skype conversations quite stilted (are they perhaps another register in themselves? Or maybe more suited to the ‘class presentation’ element of your data collection?) and that they don’t reflect the way I make conversation in real life. I know there are all sorts of nightmare logistics, but maybe a school could arrange for a video/audio recording to be made of a group chatting amongst themselves if you provide the equipment and instructions and collect again when done? Or they could live-stream it to you via a private link while the conversation takes place so you could provide input if necessary and download the resulting file… Good luck!

  • Katharine Young

    Hi Alison, thanks so much for your comments. I agree that the literature will be able to guide my choice of features to be analysed. Variation in possessive constructions (car fi/fy nghar i/fy nghar) and auxiliary deletion (rwyt ti’n/ ti’n) are two morphosyntactic features which appear in recent literature and are likely to be heard in pupil speech across all registers, so that could be a useful place to start. As you say, the first aim of the research (what the learners are exposed to) is likely to shape this further. With regards to the lexical encoding of the features, this is a really interesting point which I found some evidence for in my preliminary MA work. The non-use of plural adjectives (e.g. ceir mawrion/ceir mawr) is a feature rarely corrected in pupils’ speech by teachers as its use is firmly rooted in the literary register. However, some teachers reported teaching stock phrases such as ‘Gleision Caerdydd’ (Cardiff Blues – rugby team) and ‘rhosod cochion’ (red roses – in the popular folk song ‘Ar lan y môr’). It will be interesting to explore other cases such as this in further detail. Thanks again for engaging with my research!

  • Katharine Young

    Hi Kate and Emily, thanks for your comments about collecting data online. As you’ve mentioned, Kate, if I opt to use an online platform, the types of register may need to vary significantly as they don’t necessarily reflect ‘real-life’ situations. I’ve also started considering the option of getting teachers to undertake some of the recording themselves if I am unable to go into schools as a visitor (much like an external oral exam which also presents limitations to the register element). Obviously, this could also be an added unwanted stress on teachers, which I’m keen to avoid.
    I will certainly be considering talking to schools about the option of using Zoom (or similar) if it comes to it, particularly if I am then able to create and record breakout rooms for participants to engage in a peer-to-peer interaction. Thanks, both!

  • Lucy Chrispin

    Hi Katharine, have you so far quantified your data collection i.e. decided how many conversations / interviews etc. you will be collecting? I wonder if there would be a way to somehow supplement in-person data collection with online. For example, during these restricted times could you try to find substantial online data collection, and then still have the potential to carry it out in person later in the year. This sounds like a lot of work but could for now be a reduced fraction of your initial intention. As discussed above, this might lead to differences in register which could be a problem, but is that something you can acknowledge and potentially discuss (or perhaps it complicates things too much..)

  • Andy Buerki

    Annwyl Katharine,

    Poster da iawn! Dw i’n cytuno â Alison am yr ymadroddion parod – dw i’n wedi dysgu am y ‘brad y llyfrau gleision’, ond dw i’n defniddio dim ond ‘glas’ rhywle arall. Wrth cwrs, dyna eithriad prin. Efallai, oes modd recordio sesiwnau cyfarfod/sgwrs fideo? Mae’n anodd, on’d yw hi. Hefyd, wyt ti wedi gofyn i tîm corpws CorCenCC am recordiadau defnyddiol?

  • Debbie Cabral

    Shwmae, Katharine!
    I’m really sorry this pandemic affect your work so much… this looks like a really promissing, interesting and necessary research. I really hope you can still do it, the way you had planned.
    I’d like to raise a question that might be silly, since I am basing it in my context from Brazil. You mentioned the areas of the schools you’d select your data from. Does this mean the schools have Welsh as L1 or L2?
    In Brazil the way L1 and L2 are taught are completely different, even the government guidelines for them are different. So, I was thinking that this would influence greatly the children acquisition of SC.
    Once again, congratulations on the poster, and the research!

  • Kate Barber

    Hi Katharine
    It’s so good to see what your project is all about – it looks really interesting. Sorry to hear you’ve been so affected by the pandemic, it must be particularly stressful. I’m afraid I don’t have anything to add to the useful comments above but wanted to wish you luck in finding a way forward with this really cool research.

  • Gerard O'Grady

    Hi Katharine, this is a very clear poster and sets out your aims well. Perhaps you could consider Covid-19 as an opportunity rather than a problem. As a parent currently engaged in the futile attempt to homeschool, I can assure you that parents and probably schools would welcome any online educational initiatives? So could you run virtual classes and use those to harvest the required data. This could give you a wide geographical range of subjects. Though as Alison said you would need to be clear what you wished to glean before starting. Piloting would of course be essential. If the ethics proved too challenging perhaps the work could be done with adult L2 learners.
    For my own curiosity does your hypothesis imply that having L2 teachers of a language result in the change to tenor relations and the loss of registerial appropriacy?

  • Katharine Young

    Thanks all for your comments! I’ll try to reply to each one here:

    Lucy, thank you – I hadn’t considered the possibility of combining both online and face-to-face across the year! This could well be a viable option, as I’d be hoping for between 2 and 3 hours of recorded data per participant. I agree that whatever happens, talking about the corona impact will definitely inform an important part of my discussion!

    Helo Andy, diolch am eich sylwadau! Roedd ‘brad y llyfrau Gelision’ hefyd wedi dod i’r meddwl i fi wrth ystyried ansoddeiriau lluosog. Dw i’n gweithio’n rhan amser ar y prosiect CorCenCC ac wedi gweld bod llawer o ddata gan athrawon a myfyrwyr yn y dosbarth fyddai’n gallu bod yn ddefnyddiol – er, yn anffodus, does dim ffordd o wybod beth yw cefndir ieithyddol y plant yn y recordiadau, ond gallai fod yn fan cychwyn defnyddiol er mwyn penderfynu ar ba nodweddion ieithyddol i ganolbwyntio arnynt. Dw i wedi siarad â’m goruwchwylwyr am hyn hefyd!

    Shwmae, Debbie! No such things as silly questions, thanks for engaging with my work (and to you, Aurora and Lucy for organising this brilliant conference!). The situation with learning Welsh in Wales is slightly different from the dichotomy of L1 and L2: Welsh is taught as a ‘first language’ in the sense that the medium of education (all or most academic subjects) is Welsh. Welsh is taught as a ‘second language’ where an hour or so of Welsh lessons are taught as an academic subject only, and the medium of education for all other subjects (Maths, Science, Drama etc.) is English. However – to attend a ‘Welsh-medium’ school (often called Immersion) you do not have to speak Welsh at home, and Welsh does not have to be a strong community language. This is thought to create quite a heterogeneous group of pupils, therefore looking at the variation in sociolinguistic competence in a single class could prove really interesting! Hope that makes sense!

    Hi Kate, thanks for your supportive message. I’ve found this conference to be such a great opportunity to engage with the work of other PGRs – I am genuinely in awe of all the work going on in ENCAP!

    Hi Gerard. Thank you for your comment. I like the idea of looking on the challenges as opportunities, and I’m enjoying thinking up methodological alternatives, with the help of my peers! I was a secondary school teacher for three years and have been considering ways of offering some tuition (academic support, career/university advice for 6th formers etc.) to the schools who agree to participate. This could also be done online and I like the idea of collecting the data in collaboration with students, rather than just observing as an outsider. One of the registers I am interested in recording is a classroom presentation or similar, and I have been thinking about how I can deliver a module or similar which they then are required to present on. Lots of ideas are yet to be ironed out! With regards to your question about my hypothesis – though I recognise that input plays a critical role in the acquisition of sociolinguistic competence, that input is based on many other factors than just the teacher’s own variation (which will not always be a product of the teachers’ own home language background – L1/L2). Indeed, I have anecdotal evidence from some primary schools in the Cardiff area imposing a local ‘whole-school standard language’ which might differ from the teachers’ individual dialectal and stylistic variation. Whether this is the case in 6th forms in the different communities I hope to collect data from is yet unknown. Home language input, community input, peer input as well as teaching resources and teacher talk will be considered as factors influencing the acquisition of SC. Food for thought, and thanks for your suggestions!

  • Katy Jones

    Hi Katharine. This looks like very interesting research. Thinking about your data collection troubles, I wonder if you could collect conversations from friends while they are playing online computer games together. I’m very aware that the conversations my kids have online are a bit stilted (and will be even more so if they know they are being recorded), until they are playing together and then they are completely natural (and pretty hilarious). It would mean the register wouldn’t be ‘conversations’ exactly, and probably computer game chat is a genre in itself, but it might offer a workaround.

  • Katharine Young

    Hi Katy, thanks for your comment. I hope you’re well! I was recently reading about ministers urging pupils to practice their Welsh by chatting over Xbox and PS4 in lockdown, so this could definitely be an interesting alternative to collecting data face-to-face! Thanks for the great idea!

  • Sabrina Toumi

    Hello Katharine,
    Thanks for exciting poster! I enjoyed reading it. But, I am so sorry to hear that the pandemic is affecting your data collection. I guess digital/online methods would be the best alternatives in this case.
    Wish you all the best!

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