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Third culture kids in the outer circle: The development of sociolinguistic knowledge among local and expatriate children in Singapore


Children acquiring sociolinguistic knowledge in transnational migration settings must learn to evaluate multiple languages and dialects in a fluid, multifaceted social landscape. This study examines the sociolinguistic development of local and expatriate children in Singapore and investigates the extent to which they share sociolinguistic knowledge and norms. One hundred fourteen children ages five to nineteen completed a region identification task and an occupation judgment task, focusing on their perception of four regional English varieties: Australian English, Northern-China-accented English, Filipino English, and Singapore English. While all groups performed well on the region identification task, expatriate children outperformed locals within the youngest age group. Singaporean and expatriate children attending local schools showed greater familiarity with local norms than international school students in their occupation ratings. Participants mapped speakers to occupations by general prestige level, suggesting that children rely on indirect knowledge of social status rather than direct experience with speakers in their development of sociolinguistic evaluation. (Children's sociolinguistic development, transnational migration, language attitudes)*

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Rebecca Lurie Starr, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, National University of Singapore, Block AS5, 7 Arts Link, Singapore 117570
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This project was funded by a startup grant from the National University of Singapore and carried out with the assistance of the Undergraduate Research Opportunity program. The authors wish to acknowledge the various contributions made by Anirudh Krishnan, Stacey Sherwood, Rosey Billington, Lauren Gawne, Ng Qiu Rong, Kathleen Tan Li-Wun, Bai Lu, Cheng Yu Yao, Tang Dong Li, Jarrie Ann Roman, Brinda Balasubramaniam, Ong Wen Yi, and Tammy Lim. Portions of this article were originally presented at NWAV 44 in Toronto, Canada; LSA 2016 in Washington, DC; and NWAV Asia-Pacific 4 in Chiayi, Taiwan. The authors particularly thank Dennis Preston, Qing Zhang, Mie Hiramoto, and Lionel Wee for their helpful comments. Special thanks to all of the parents and children who have participated in the Voices of Children in Singapore project.

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Language in Society
  • ISSN: 0047-4045
  • EISSN: 1469-8013
  • URL: /core/journals/language-in-society
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