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Are L2 Speakers Allowed to Use Colloquialisms? L1 Attitudes Toward Spanish L2 Speakers' Use of Informal Lexical Items


Extensive literature demonstrates that, with extended contact and high integrative motivation, L2 speakers gradually acquire L2 nonstandard variation over time as a result of interaction with speakers of the target language (Dewaele & Regan 2001, Dewaele 2002, Nagy et al. 2003, Raish 2015, Salgado-Robles 2011). Yet, some learners fear that adopting nonstandard variation would be inauthentic (Kinginger and Farrell 2004, Ringer-Hilfinger 2012, Trosset 1986), and various pedagogical models and scholarly works advocate against the dangers of overaccommodation, arguing that native speakers expect language learners to set a linguistic target more socially prestigious than the vernacular common to the L1 community (Andreasson 1994, Auger & Valdman 1999, Christophersen 1973, Saville-Troike 2003, Valdman 1988). The question of how native speakers perceive L2 use of nonstandard variation has received little attention in terms of empirical studies, and results have been conflicting among the few works which have investigated the issue. Some have found that L1 speakers respond negatively to such language use (Prodromou 2007, Ruivivar & Collins 2018, Swacker 1976) while others indicate the opposite (Beaulieu 2016; George 2013, 2014, 2017).

The present study sought to clarify these conflicting findings by investigating the attitudes of L1 speakers of Peninsular Spanish to the use of colloquial lexical items by L1 speakers of English. The study utilized a matched guise methodology (Lambert et al. 1960), asking over 200 participants to evaluate audio samples of L1 and L2 speakers using colloquial language which was selected according to a corpus analysis of Peninsular Spanish. Participants assessed the speakers according to factors such as linguistic proficiency, the appropriateness of language use according to context, and personality traits corresponding with the dimensions of status, solidarity, and dynamism common to language attitudes research (Giles & Billings 2004, Zahn & Hopper 1985). The results of the study found that the use of colloquial language did not quantitatively correlate with significantly higher or lower measures of linguistic proficiency on a broad level, despite its use being highly salient to participants. In terms of measures of contextual appropriateness and personality ratings, the study found that L2 speakers experience many of the same disadvantages suffered by native speakers when using nonstandard language—for example, being downgraded on personality characteristics associated with status (successful, intelligent, etc.)—but they do not have the same level of access to corresponding advantages, such as increased ratings of traits indicating solidarity (sociable, friendly, etc.). While these results verify to some degree the existence of a double standard in attitudes toward nonstandard language use according to the speaker’s L1, the lack of concrete benefits available to L2 speakers using colloquial language constituted a bigger drawback than any outright negative associations made with its use; what negative associations did exist were by and large those experienced by L1 speakers, and these were not so negative as to justify theoretical arguments in the literature advocating the wholesale avoidance of its production. Instead, the results of this study suggest that so long as L2 users are aware of the potential risks associated with using such language, there seems to be no reason to discourage its production.

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