Word order in heritage Russian: Transfer effects?

By Yulia Zuban (Universität Stuttgart), Maria Martynova (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin), Luka Szucsich (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin), Sabine Zerbian (Universität Stuttgart) & Natalia Gagarina (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin & Leibniz-Zentrum Allgemein Sprachwissenschaft)

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The production of heritage speakers (HSs) of Russian is claimed to differ from that of monolingual speakers and that of L2 learners of Russian incl. the domain of syntax (Romanova 2008; Laleko 2019). In particular, several studies on heritage Russian in the US and Germany reveal that starting from the second generation of migrants heritage Russian undergoes significant changes in word order (Polinsky 2011; Brehmer and Usanova 2015; Laleko and Dubinina 2018). Specifically studies on Russian-English language contact generally report the increase of the SVO order use and the reduction of word order flexibility in productions of HSs of Russian (Isurin 2005 Polinsky 2006 2011 Isurin & Ivanova-Sullivan 2008 Laleko and Dubinina 2018 Kisselev 2019). Brehmer and Usanova (2015) found that HSs of Russian in Germany produced significantly more V-final linearizations in main and embedded clauses than monolingual speakers of Russian. The results of the aforementioned studies are attributed to the potential transfer from the majority languages (MLs) English and German. Russian is claimed to have a SVO in neutral contexts which is usually governed by information structure (cf. Švedova 2005 Kallestinova 2007 Slioussar 2007 2011). In contrast to Russian, English and German behave differently. English, apart from residual V2 position, is a strict SVO language with little reordering options (cf. Eppler 1999 De Vogelaer 2007 Kempen & Harbusch 2019). German is a SOV language with V2 in main clauses and V-final in embedded clauses (with limited exceptions cf. Wegener 1993 Gärtner 1998). Non-verbal constituents may be re-ordered.The current study investigates word order patterns in semi-spontaneous productions of 8 HSs of Russian in the US and 8 HSs in Germany as well as 8 aged-matched monolingual controls. The data were elicited according to the RUEG method (Wiese 2020). Comparison of HSs in the US and in Germany allow to differentiate the influence of the ML from the results that can be explained by general language contact. The study addresses the difference in the word order patterns produced by the HSs and monolingual speakers of Russian compared across the groups. The results reveal that HSs in Germany behave similarly to monolinguals. As for HSs in the US they differ from monolinguals by producing significantly more SVO and less OVS orders in line with the findings of other studies. In addition and in contrast to the other groups HSs in the US produce predominantly SVO orders in embedded clauses. Such results can point at language transfer from English. However in main clauses HSs in the US behave similarly to both other groups. Thus transfer may not be a convincing explanation for these findings. As an alternative, we will discuss general contact-induced strategies of change for word order e.g. what has been labelled narrowing of options" (Heine 2006).

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Published: Thursday, April 22, 2021