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Language exposure, ethnolinguistic identity and attitudes in the acquisition of Hebrew as a second language among bilingual preschool children from Russian- and English-speaking backgrounds

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Abstract

This chapter examines the influence of sociolinguistic and exposure factors on second language (L2) proficiency in Russian-Hebrew and English-Hebrew (second generation) preschool children. The children come from two distinct ethnolinguistic populations with different motivations for immigration and different opportunities for linguistic exposure. Sociolinguistic factors include measures of ethnolinguistic identity and attitudes to speakers and languages. Quantitative L2 exposure is investigated in terms of chronological age, age of onset of language acquisition, and length of language exposure to the target language. Quality of L2 exposure is investigated in terms of parents’ education, family size, and birth order. Thirty-one Russian-Hebrew children and 18 English-Hebrew children (4;4–6;1) participated. L2 acquisition was measured by a standardized screening test for Hebrew (Goralnik 1995). Findings showed that Russian-Hebrew bilinguals exhibited higher L2 abilities than English-Hebrew bilinguals. Sociolinguistically, English-Hebrew children preferred to define themselves as Israelis regardless of their language ability or the amount of exposure to Hebrew. In contrast, for the Russian-Hebrew bilinguals, positive correlations emerged between exposure to Hebrew, L2 language ability and sociolinguistic identity. These findings show distinct L2 acquisition factors that reflect the ethnolinguistic identity and attitudes of two distinct populations and are discussed in light of differences in motivation for immigration.

References

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