Sixth Heritage Language Research Institute

From Overhearers to High Proficiency Speakers: Advancing Heritage Learners' Skills

professional development \ institutes \ 2012 institute

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The role of child heritage language speakers in family discourse

by Agnes Weiyun He

Language socialization, a linguistic anthropological model of the intricate connection between language and cultural development (Ochs & Schieffelin, 1984, 2011; Schieffelin & Ochs, 1986a, 1986b, 1996), has a two-faceted concern: (1) how novices are socialized to be competent members in the target culture through language use, and (2) how novices are socialized to use language.   Given such formulation with “novices” being the grammatical subject of some passive voice construction, it is perhaps not entirely surprising that, until recently, research drawing upon this model has tended to emphasize the socializing efforts made by the experts (e.g., parents, caregivers, and teachers).  Less visible are the responses and responsibilities of the novices. Likewise, sociocultural studies on heritage languages have often focused on children as passive recipients of socialization. 

This presentation examines the active, agentive role child heritage language speakers play in the socialization of their families to new language forms, new language varieties, and new communicative modalities.  It shows that children in HL households may play an important role in shaping their family linguistic landscape.  Children’s relative strength in English mitigates their parents’ (linguistic) authorities in and outside the household.  Children also function as the most accessible resources that parents can draw on to perfect their English and to communicate effectively with the outside world.  Finally, the patterns and needs of children’s language use compel parents to adjust their own language use, resulting in new interactional routines and rituals that permeate and transform all aspects of family discourse.   The presentation will focus on turn-taking patterns, discourse strategies such as reframing and refocusing in the context of language brokering, as well as conversational repairs in households where Mandarin Chinese is used as a heritage language.