BilingBank French-English MLE-MPF Corpus

Penelope H. Gardner-Chloros
Applied Linguistics and Communication
Birkbeck, University of London

Jenny Cheshire



Maria Secova

Open University


Participants: 34
Type of Study: naturalistic interview
Location: Paris
Media type: audio
DOI: doi:10.21415/T5CD0M

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Citation information

Gardner-Chloros, P. & Cheshire, J. (forthcoming 2018) (Eds.) Journal of French Language Studies, Special Issue on Language Innovation and Change in Paris.

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Project Description

The ESRC- funded project Multicultural London English/Multicultural Paris French ran from 2010-2014. Penelope Gardner-Chloros (Birkbeck, University of London) was Principal Investigator, Jenny Cheshire (Queen Mary, University of London) was co-Investigator and Maria Secova (Open University) was Post-doctoral Researcher. The project compared developments in young people’s London English with those occurring in equivalent speakers’ French in Paris. More broadly, it sought to understand language change in complex urban environments. Particular attention was paid to the role of bilingual speakers who belong to major communities of immigrant origin, including Afro-Caribbeans in the UK and French Caribbeans and Maghrebans in France.

In London, the emergence of a multi-ethnolect had already been described (Cheshire et al 2008; 2011). What characterizes multiethnolects is that they do not show direct influences of language contact from just one language. Instead, they take in elements from many different varieties, including long-standing indigenous vernacular forms of the dominant language. They are used indifferently by young people of various ethnic origins, immigrant and non-immigrant alike. Multi-ethnolects have also been documented in other Northern European cities, leading to the suggestion that they represent a new type of contact variety. Their characteristics include phonological and phonetic transfers from the languages of first generation migrants into the varieties spoken by the second generation, where they are used to index particular attitudes or stances; lexical transfers from those same languages, mingled with other lexical innovations from more local models; and grammatical changes, often illustrating processes of simplification or levelling. A major motivation for the project was that Paris, one of the 5 most populous capitals in Europe, has not so far been investigated in the same way; secondly, no direct comparison has so far been made between the different cities.

The data obtained in the previous projects on London were therefore used as a basis for a similar data-collecting exercise in Paris, having regard for the different socio-demographic and sociolinguistic factors which characterize the French capital. New linguistic features at a variety of levels were analysed to determine their relationship with ethnic-derived varieties and with more traditional sites of linguistic change, such as non-standard - but widely diffused or ‘levelled’ - varieties on the one hand, and ‘français populaire’ on the other. Following the London projects, the linguistic features were correlated with sociolinguistic variables including age, gender, ethnicity, network pattern and discourse type, with the purpose of drawing out more general conclusions about processes of language change in large metropolises. A comparison of the relevant sociolinguistic factors was considered necessary in order to avoid essentialising the phenomena observed and assuming them to be more internally consistent than they actually are.

Overall, the hypothesis that a multiethnolect is developing in Paris as in the other (Northern European) capital cities was not upheld. Although features from vernacular French are picked up and sometimes widely used by young people, notably those with high network/ high ethnic group scores, linguistic innovations do not appear to be spreading to different ethnic or social groups in the same way as in London. Furthermore, most of the linguistic features observed are also found in other large French cities.

The project constituted the first large-scale comparison of two significant Western European settings from a sociolinguistic perspective. It was unusual in tying together the study of variation and change at a monolingual level with the study of the interaction of different varieties derived from the mother-tongues of immigrant speakers with the main or ‘official’ language of the host country. Its results contribute to our understanding not only of sociolinguistic processes of language change but also to social questions to do with migration, integration and their educational consequences.

The results of the project will be published as a Special Issue of the Journal of French Language Studies in 2018 and will include papers on the following: