Eleventh Heritage Language Research Institute

Heritage Languages in Unexpected Places

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Raised signing: Heritage language effects

by Diane Lillo-Martin (University of Connecticut)

When hearing children of Deaf, signing parents (Codas) are raised with a natural sign language such as American Sign Language (ASL) at home, these children may be considered heritage language users. They vary notably in fluency with their sign language, which may lose dominance to the majority spoken language, especially once they enter school. As adults, although many embrace their identity as Codas, and some continue to use their sign language regularly in the Deaf community, others find their signing has greatly diminished and it is needed only rarely, with their parents and limited others.

This context, like those of other heritage language users, is predicted to lead to potential grammatical properties in the heritage sign language including slower production rate, reduced rate of complex structures, lower vocabulary diversity, and decreased Mean Length of Utterance. We assessed these predictions in a study of heritage signers in the US (ASL/English) and Brazil (Libras/Brazilian Portuguese). Preliminary results will form the first part of the presentation.

Like other bilinguals, Codas may engage in bilingual language phenomena such as code-switching. However, unlike unimodal bilinguals using two spoken languages, bimodal bilinguals using a sign language and a spoken language can also engage in code-blending, which functions similarly to code-switching but includes simultaneous production of signed and spoken linguistic elements. Code-blending is linguistically constrained, like code-switching is. The second part of the presentation will discuss the constraints on code-blending that we have observed, and how they too show some heritage language effects.

This presentation is based on work conducted in collaboration with many others, particularly Ronice Müller de Quadros, lead investigator of the Brazilian component.

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