I understand it well, but I cannot say it proper back: language use among older Dutch migrants in New Zealand
The purposes of this study were (a) to examine two groups of healthy older Dutch English bilingual migrants in a New Zealand setting to investigate whether they were showing signs of L2 attrition with accompanying L1 reversion post-retirement, and (b) to identify possible factors which might play a role in the incidence of any L2 attrition and concomitant L1 reversion. Previous research has focused on similar groups of migrants in the Australian context, while New Zealand based research has focused on language shift and maintenance amongst three generations of migrants. The research design involved an analysis of sociolinguistic life, using questionnaires. These included self-assessments of L1 and L2 proficiency at three key times: on arrival in New Zealand, at time of ultimate attainment and post-retirement. Further, an analysis of assessments of respondents’ L1 and L2 proficiency pre-and post-retirement completed by interviewees’ adult children moderated respondents’ self-reports. The findings revealed a considerable overlap between participants’ self-reports and assessments by their adult children. The study also revealed a relationship between participants’ level of prior education and their ultimate attainment in the L2, with those who had come to New Zealand having learned English at Secondary School English very likely to have achieved a “good” or “very good” level of L2 proficiency. Conversely, those who had not learned the L2 at secondary school prior to arriving in New Zealand, were less likely to have achieved a “very good” level of ultimate attainment as evident both from self-reports and assessments by adult children. The design also included a linguistic analysis of elicited free speech. Data focused on key indicators of age, gender, social class, prior education, occupation and predominant linguistic environment pre- and post-retirement. Free speech was examined for code-switching, response latency and L1 structure in respondents’ spoken L2. Results indicated that a majority of respondents showed minimal if any signs of L2 attrition with concomitant L1 reversion, both as evidenced by their spoken L2 and as indicated by self-reports and assessments by adult children. Any signs of L2 attrition which were found appeared linked to respondents’ level of prior education and L2 proficiency on arrival in New Zealand. Being exposed to a predominantly L1 social environment post-retirement also appeared to result in a lifting of the threshold for L2 lexical items, resulting in a slightly increased response latency in the spoken L2. Three participants said they experienced some problems expressing their healthcare needs to medical professionals, to the extent that they were searching for words. All stated they “got there in the end” but needed more time to paraphrase their health needs. Two subjects avoided the use of the L2 during the interview, even when prompted in English. Three respondents engaged in significant codeswitching from L2 to L1 and vice versa, with two engaging in what Muysken (2000) terms “congruent lexicalisation”. Adult childrens’ reports indicated that the respondents in question had always spoken in this manner, but to a greater extent now, post-retirement. Overall, a number of the healthy older subjects interviewed for the study were showing some signs of increased response latency and lexical retrieval problems when expressing themselves in the L2, but none to the degree that they were no longer able to communicate in that language.