Bilingual Immigrant Children in North Norway: The Norwegian Welfare Society and the Language of Norwegian-Russian Children



Research team: Yulia RodinaNatalia KukarenkoAnn Therese LotheringtonTore NessetAntonella SoraceMarit Westergaard

Funding sources: Regional Research Fund of North Norway – a branch of the Research Council of Norway(RCN) 2010/2011, and Tromsø Research Foundation2011/2012.

This project investigates the language situation of bilingual Norwegian-Russian children living in Tromsø. The project is a result of collaboration between CASTL, Universitetet i Nordland (Ann Therese Lotherington), and Northern (Arctic) Federal University (Natalia Kukarenko). It is thus unique in its multidisciplinary approach, combining the social sciences with the humanities. The main focus is on studying linguistic properties of bilingual immigrant children’s language use as well as the social and political aspects of their situation.

In 2011 the research team worked on a pre-project funded by the Regional Research Fund of North Norway. This is a pilot study investigating a selection of Norwegian-Russian children, their parents and other caregivers, in order to build an empirical basis that will serve as a starting point for a larger project on the same topic.

In 2011 the social science dimension (Natalia Kukarenko and Ann Therese Lotherington) carried out a statistical analysis of the immigrant population in North Norway and the Tromsø area in particular. The analysis shows that in 2011 the Russian-speaking group was the largest immigrant group in the two northernmost counties, Troms and Finnmark, and that Russians constitute the largest labor immigrant group in the city of Tromsø. The social science dimension also focused on studying the attitudes, motivation, and challenges of the parents of Norwegian-Russian children. These issues were addressed in interviews with the parents and the teacher of Russian working in the Russian Language Sunday School. The results of this investigation will be presented at the 11th Nordic Conference on Bilingualism 14-16 June, 2012 Copenhagen (Kukarenko and Lotherington ‘Unrecognized (Linguistic) Work: Russian Mothers in Norway’).

The linguistic dimension (Yulia Rodina and Marit Westergaard) focused on studying the acquisition of grammatical gender in Norwegian and Russian by two groups of bilingual children, those growing up with one and those who have two Russian-speaking parents. The results of this pilot study show that the transparency of the gender system in the target language and the amount of parental input that the children receive in their minority language affect the acquisition process. These results also suggest that bilingual children with only one parent speaking the minority language are in a vulnerable situation linguistically and need the most support in order to maintain their bilingualism. The results of this study have been submitted for publication in LiMA volume on Multilingualism (Rodina and Westergaard. ‘Two gender systems in one mind: The acquisition of grammatical gender in Norwegian-Russian bilinguals’).

The project continues in 2012, investigating a larger group of Norwegian-Russian children and their parents.