Register Usage by Heritage Speakers of Russian and English in Israel

By Anna Kostina (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem) & Elitzur Bar-Asher Siegal (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

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Multilingualism is viewed as a distinctive feature of an Israeli society. From its very inception Israel has welcomed numerous immigration waves from countries all over the world including the former Soviet Union, the USA, Germany Ethiopia, Brazil and many others. Despite the fact that Hebrew has become a dominant language for the children of the immigrants most of them still preserve their heritage languages. As a result, a considerable part of the population in Israel is bilingual varying in their linguistic proficiency. The purpose of my ongoing Ph.D. research is to determine the main features of register usage in the written language of bilingual ‘second generation’ in Israel i.e. those people who were born or grew up in Israel after their families moved here from either Russian- or English speaking countries. The research focuses on Russian-Hebrew and English-Hebrew bilinguals aiming at the evaluation of the difference between their formal and informal writing in Russian and in English in comparison with monolingual speakers of Russian and English. Russian and English are considered to be the heritage languages of the bilingual second generation adults in Israel. My hypothesis is that there will be a difference between the way adult ‘second-generation’ bilinguals in Israel use formal and informal written registers in their heritage language and the way monolingual speakers of this language use formal and informal written registers. It is assumed that the general informality which is common in Israeli society might influence the sensitivity of the speakers to different degrees of formality in written registers. Bilingual participants come from a wide range of social backgrounds to enable the analysis of the sociocultural factors influencing the usage of formal and informal written registers. In order to analyze how the participants cope with different degrees of formality in writing they are provided with a context. i.e. a formal/informal e-mail that they need to reply to. The comparison of formal and informal texts produced by bilinguals in their heritage language (Russian or English) is based on a set of the following criteria: passivization nominalization complex and compound sentences word origin (Germanic vs. Latin for English vocabulary; Slavic vs. Greek/Latin for Russian) average sentence length average word length and type-token ratio. Currently the data collected only from Russian-Hebrew bilinguals is being processed and it is early to draw final conclusions. However there are certain preliminary observations which indicate that Russian-Hebrew bilinguals do recognize the difference between formal and informal registers in their heritage language (Russian) despite some quantitative differences with monolingual participants particularly in the usage of nominalizations and a variety of coordinating and subordinating conjunctions.

View slides here.

Published: Thursday, April 22, 2021