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Sociolinguistics Symposium 19: Language and the City

Sociolinguistics Symposium 19

Freie Universität Berlin | August 21-24, 2012

Programme: accepted abstracts

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Abstract ID: 281

Part of Session 129: Multilingualism and emotions in urban settings (Other abstracts in this session)

Inner speech and emotional inner speech: the language preferences of adult multilinguals

Authors: Dewaele, Jean-Marc
Submitted by: Dewaele, Jean-Marc (Birkbeck, University of London, United Kingdom)

To date, relatively little research has been carried out on multilinguals’ language choices for inner speech.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that the L1 is preferred for emotional inner speech even when this language is partly attrited (Söter 2001). The present study compares the language preferences of multilinguals for inner speech in general, and for emotional inner speech in particular, with their general use of the language.  Recent research has shown that multilinguals tend to prefer their L1 to talk about emotional matters (Dewaele 2010, Pavlenko 2005).  Languages learnt later in life (L2, L3, L4, L5) tend to be used less frequently to talk about emotions.  Individual differences in frequency of use have been linked to multilinguals’ linguistic history and current linguistic practices. The main research question present study is: Do multilinguals use their languages with equal frequency for general use, for inner speech and for emotional inner speech?  Additional questions are linked to the effect of various sociobiographical variables, the linguistic history and current linguistic practices of multilinguals on their language preferences for (emotional) inner speech. Our sample consists of 1,459 multilinguals (1,040 females, 419 males) speaking a total of 77 different L1s. There are 221 bilinguals, 362 trilinguals, 390 quadrilinguals and 486 pentalinguals.  Data were collected through an on-line questionnaire (Dewaele & Pavlenko, 2001-2003).

Friedman ANOVAs confirmed that languages acquired later in life are less likely to be used for inner (emotional) speech compared to early acquired languages. A Wilcoxon Signed Rank test showed significant differences in language choice for general use, inner speech and inner emotional speech in the L2, L3, L4 and L5.  These languages were used less frequently for inner speech than for general use, and even less frequently for emotional inner speech.

Multiple regression analyses carried out separately for the five languages (L1-L5) revealed that overall frequency of use of a language was the strongest predictor for use of that language for inner (emotional) speech.  Other predictors included socialization in the language, size of network of interlocutors, context of acquisition of the language and number of languages known. Age of onset of acquisition had no effect.  Gender, age and education level had some scattered effects. 

It thus seems that multilinguals who use different languages in their everyday interactions do maintain a preference for languages acquired early in life for inner speech, and even more so for emotional inner speech.



Dewaele, J.-M. (2010). Emotions in Multiple Languages. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan,

Dewaele, J.-M. and A. Pavlenko (2001-2003). Web questionnaire ‘Bilingualism and Emotions’. University of London.

Pavlenko, A. (2005). Emotions and Multilingualism. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

Söter, A. (2001). Straddling three worlds. In D. Belcher and U. Connor (eds), Reflections on Multiliterate Lives, 67-73. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

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