This chapter describes a sociolinguistic research project undertaken jointly by French and British teams that will examine the influence on the English and French languages of varieties spoken by major communities of immigrant origin, including Afro-Caribbeans in the UK and French Caribbeans and Maghrebis in France. Two previous studies, funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), will be used as a basis for a similar data-collecting exercise in Paris, though with regard to the very different distribution of ethnic communities in the two cities. This project constitutes the first large-scale comparison of two significant western European settings from a sociolinguistic perspective. The project will contribute to our understanding not only of sociolinguistic processes of language change but also to social questions to do with migration, integration and their educational consequences.
The project aims to achieve a better sociolinguistic understanding of processes of language change in metropolises, by analysing changes in two European languages, French and English, as spoken by young people in the capital cities. These changes are seen as related to changes in the composition of the relevant societies in the wake of postcolonial immigration.
Sociolinguistics is viewed very differently in France and Britain. Highly productive both theoretically and empirically in Britain, in France it is marginalised, and research based on large-scale surveys and corpora is less common than in other European countries. There is therefore a dearth of survey-based sociolinguistic information about French. This project aims to help fill that gap by providing a sound empirical basis for understanding ongoing change in French compared with English, which is better documented. The role of the different sociolinguistic factors in each country will be highlighted in a way which could not be done through the observation of a single language. It will also be possible to obtain a clearer idea of the relative roles of linguistic and sociolinguistic factors (including typological and discourse-universal factors).
The sources of change are found in everyday spoken language, especially the vernacular used by young urban speakers. The influence on the language of large ethnic groups present in France and Britain is basic. In both countries influences from Caribbean (creole) linguistic features are found, but the relevant communities differ in size and distribution.