Heritage Portuguese unchained: border experiences and experiments

by John M. Lipski (The Pennsylvania State University)

This presentation offers suggestions for diversifying field research methodology with heritage and minority language speakers through a combination of ethnographic, sociolinguistic, and psycholinguistic techniques. The multi-faceted approach is exemplified by the analysis of heritage Portuguese speakers who live near the Brazilian border in northeastern Argentina (Misiones province), in bilingual contact with Spanish and with virtually no pressure to emulate prestige varieties of either language. The sociolinguistically unconstrained contact between these typologically and lexically similar sibling languages provides an ideal environment for morphosyntactic convergence and/or simplification (for heritage Portuguese speakers, in the direction of Spanish). The first suggestions that such convergence is not the typical outcome come from sociolinguistic corpora of vernacular Misiones Portuguese and Spanish. Even in this sociolinguistically permissive environment, heritage Portuguese speakers maintain distinct morphosyntactic systems, and no stable hybrid varieties are emerging. These conclusions are reinforced by systematic language-identification and translation tasks. A series of interactive experiments designed to delimit the structure of the bilingual lexicon points to a single lexical repository nonetheless differentiated by language. Another set of experiments probed the possible relaxation of intra-sentential language switching constraints, revealing a residue of permeable but grammatically-grounded constraints that argue against ongoing convergence. The arsenal of deployed techniques includes sociolinguistic interviews, speeded translation, language-identification, memory-loaded repetition, two-alternative forced-choice, false memory, lexical decision, and eyetracking, all of which can inform and enrich field-based heritage language research.

An analysis of spontaneous Spanish-Portuguese contacts near the Brazilian border, in order to determine the extent of when. After summarizing the use of Portuguese as a second language within border communities in Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, and Venezuela, attention turns to northeastern Argentina (Misiones province), Data from suggest that. A and the range of possible language mixing reveals a residue of permeable but grammatically-grounded constraints even between morphosyntactically and lexically cognate sibling languages, and suggest the feasibility of complementing sociolinguistic variationist studies with psycholinguistic techniques deployed in field settings.

Published: Tuesday, June 2, 2020