cSCAN Rounds

The impact of socio-linguistic factors on cognitive and linguistic processing

Bilinguals face the extraordinary challenge of keeping their two languages separate when speaking. Another population that likewise needs to control lexical selection processes across two lexica are speakers of distinct regional dialects. For example, many Scots use one variant of English at home and with friends but use a different variant at work and school. Like distinct but related languages, these two dialects have phonetic, lexical and syntactic differences, despite also having considerable systemic overlap. As little is known about how speakers of two dialects keep their lexica separate, this talk presents a first step at investigating the processes that mediate selection of a target dialect by speakers of two distinct variants of English. I present a series of dialect switching studies designed to evaluate whether speakers of two dialects exhibit behavioural patterns similar to those of bilinguals. I then investigate whether those patterns persist when switching between sociolinguistically-defined subsets of the lexicon, namely formal and informal registers. The results support the hypothesis that a lifetime of exposure to two distinct dialects has a similar impact on some Scottish speakers as exposure to two languages has for bilinguals. The results imply that similar processes may underpin bilingualism and bi-dialectism.