Thirteenth Heritage Language Virtual Research Institute

Language similarity and language distance in bilingual/heritage situations

Thirteenth Heritage Language Virtual Research Institute
Monday, June 7, 2021 to Thursday, June 10, 2021
(Pacific Time)
Location: University of North Carolina

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The research institute will be held through live online sessions. Details to follow.

Director: Maria Polinsky, (University of Maryland, College Park)


  • Misha Becker (University of North Carolina)
  • Abbas Benmamoun (Duke University)

Researchers working on heritage languages and bilingualism more generally occasionally notice that the degree of heritage language maintenance varies depending on the dominant language of the bilingual dyad. For example, Spanish as a heritage language spoken in Germany seems to be weaker than Spanish as a heritage language with French as the dominant language. While some such differences in heritage language maintenance are undoubtedly attributable to societal factors, it is also important to consider the linguistic distance between the two languages and the role structural and genetic relations between languages in the bilingual dyad in the maintenance of the heritage member of that dyad.

Language similarity, however evaluated, has played a prominent role in studies of L2 and L3 acquisition (Rothman 2011, Montrul et al. 2011, Polinsky 2015, Benmamoun and Albirini 2016) but has not been systematically considered in heritage contexts. Further still, in considering language similarities and distance, it is important to include not only different languages but different dialects of the same language. For instance, a heritage speaker of Levantine Arabic may find it easier to accommodate to the Egyptian variety of Arabic than to a Moroccan variety. Yet another important dimension of language similarity and distance emerges when we include heritage creole languages. Being languages in their own right, they are nevertheless largely ignored in the classroom to the extent that a heritage speaker of Haitian Creole may be asked to take French as their “home” language.

The 13th Heritage Language Research Institute is designed to address these and related issues of linguistic distance and language or dialect similarity in the heritage context, both in relation to linguistic research and research-based language pedagogy. The Institute will give equal time/coverage to pedagogical and theoretical-linguistic approaches to heritage languages and will actively seek new ways to build synergies between these two approaches.

We welcome abstracts for presentations. Please check the Call for Abstracts webpage for more information.

If you have any questions, please contact us at

Sponsor(s): Center for World Languages, National Heritage Language Resource Center, Center for Near Eastern Studies, Center for Southeast Asian Studies, University of North Carolina, Duke University