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Auteur: Constanze VORWERG

Language assessment in Swiss-German-speaking children

Abstract/Résumé: In language assessment, there is often a gap between the linguistic homogeneity assumed by norm-referenced methods and the linguistic heterogeneity found in regionally, socially or ethnically variable language use (e.g., Ball, 2005). In German-speaking Switzerland, which is characterized by a diglossic situation, the differences between standard and vernacular varieties with respect to status and structure are so large that is frequently discussed whether Swiss German and standard German should be regarded as different languages (see, e.g., Werlen, 1998). Nevertheless, standard-German test procedures are routinely used to assess language development in Swiss-German-speaking children. This contribution presents the concept and first results of a research project designed to contribute to closing the gap in the diagnostic inventory in German-speaking Switzerland. An overview of commonly used standard-German test procedures is presented together with an analysis of linguistic differences, as a first step in analyzing the validity of standard-German tests for assessing Swiss-German language development. An example is the „Marburger Sprachscreening“ [‚Marburg Language Screening‘] which is often employed in nursery school screenings. It uses five items for testing knowledge of pluralization three of which have a null morpheme in Bernese German. As for speech sound production, neither the sounds tested nor the words elicited in picture naming for testing the production correspond completely between Swiss (here Bernese) German and standard German. An exploratory study with 15 preschool children revealed that kindergarteners reported to communicate mainly in standard German in their group due a high portion of L2 speakers often use Swiss German to describe pictures spontaneously or answer questions, even if addressed in standard German. The results are discussed with respect to validity studies, and the question of how written-language norms used in testing and oral development are related. References: Ball, M. J. (ed.) (2005). Clinical sociolinguistics. Malden, MA: Blackwell. Werlen, I. (1998). Mediale Diglossie oder asymmetrische Zweisprachigkeit? Mundart und Hochsprache in der deutschen Schweiz [Medial diglossia or asymmetric bilingualism? Dialect and standard language in German-speaking Switzerland]. Babylonia, 1, 22-35.