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The Frequency Code and Gendered Attrition and Acquisition in the German – English Heritage Language Community in Vancouver, Canada
How do bilinguals realise language specific aspects of prosody? For the purposes of this chapter, how do they do so within their own unique heritage language communities, and what might particular aspects of prosody signal to members of their community? The present research investigated these questions with regard to pitch level and pitch span in a group of German L1 – English L2 late bilinguals (n=10) in comparison to two monolingual control groups (n=20). The late bilinguals had moved to Vancouver, Canada in adulthood, and had been living in Vancouver for an average of 40 years, in most cases longer than they had lived in Germany. As such, the bilinguals are considered to be heritage language speakers within the Vancouver German community. This community is reported to keep a low profile with regard to their ethnic origin since WWII, as they have been associated with the “enemy” (Todd, 2011, para. 44). Previous research suggests that on average German men have a higher pitch level than English men (Scherer, 1974), whilst German women have a lower pitch level than English women (Mennen, Schaeffler, & Docherty, 2012). Moreover, research suggests that pitch span is narrower in German women than in English women, which is not necessarily the case for German and English men (Mennen et al., 2012). Accordingly, the task of German men acquiring English was expected to be reversed in comparison to German women acquiring English, assuming monolingual native norms are the target, and attritional effects may therefore likewise also been reversed between men and women. However, in line with the Frequency Code (Ohala, 1983, 1984), and crucial to this research, it has also been claimed that a high pitch level, and potentially a wider pitch span, are universally associated with friendly and non-aggressive behaviour, whilst the opposite is universally encoded to mean “dominant or aggressive individuals” (Gussenhoven, 2004, p. 80). Therefore, it was of interest to examine how the bilinguals from the German language community in Vancouver would navigate a potential desire to portray themselves as friendly and non-aggressive (and therefore dissociate from the “enemy”), whilst at the same time acquiring English pitch norms. This was particularly relevant with regard to the males, who would need to decrease their pitch level and narrow their pitch span to be in line with English male norms, which could then potentially be associated with dominance and aggression, and, in turn, lead to associations with the “enemy” (Todd, 2011, para. 44). As expected, the results from the monolinguals (n=20) supported that pitch level was on average lower and pitch span narrower for the German females than for the English females; and that pitch level was on average higher and pitch span wider for the German males than the English males. Similarly, as expected under the long-term influence of English, the pitch level of the bilingual females was on average higher, in both German and English, than of the German monolingual females. However, on average the mean pitch level of the bilingual males also increased in both German and English. Similarly, the mean pitch span of the bilingual females was wider in both German and English than the German monolinguals, as expected; and, moreover, on average the mean pitch span of the bilingual males also widened in both German and English. The findings are interpreted to reflect the bilingual situation of the German heritage language community in Canada, in which the community is presented with the task of acquiring English pitch norms, whilst at the same time portraying itself as non-aggressive and friendly. In particular, with regard to the male German – English bilinguals, these objectives collide. The results indicate that on average the bilingual males increased their pitch in both English and German, and widened their pitch span, therefore indexing non-aggressive, friendly behaviour, as proposed by the Frequency Code, but thereby forgoing the realisation of male English pitch norms. Understandably, the male English monolinguals would socially not suffer from a low pitch and narrow span, as they are not already stereotyped to be aggressive. In sum, this research relates phonetic findings regarding pitch changes in bilinguals to the unique social and political history of the German heritage language community in Canada. In doing so, the findings suggest that acquisitional and attritional processes are at least in part dependent on the social and political environment in which they are embedded.