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Research

This paper presents an overview of the linguistic system characteristic of heritage speakers and discusses several competing factors that shape this system in adulthood.

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Summary

 A main focus of linguistics is to discover how grammatical knowledge is manifested in the brain, and which components may be universal. Many linguists believe in the universality of grammar, arguing that children receive too little input to develop language’s full complexity without some inherent structuring in the brain. (This is sometimes called the “poverty of stimulus” problem.) Language acquisition becomes even more complex when one considers the various degrees of fluency that are achieved. How much language exposure is needed to become a “native” speaker? And what about the role of age? Second-language learners who acquired the language after puberty, regardless of their level, persist in making mistakes that even the youngest of native speakers do not.

In Benmamoun, Montrul, and Polinsky (2010), referred to as BMP below, the focus is on heritage speakers – speakers of a language who interrupted or otherwise incompletely acquired their first language (or one of their first languages, in the case of children exposed to multiple languages from birth). For these speakers, one of the languages eventually becomes the primary language and the other weakens; this finding is at odds with the linguistic assumption that first languages are stable in adult speakers. Usually, the majority language of the country/region becomes the primary language, and the minority (incompletely acquired) language becomes the secondary. Depending on the situation, the heritage speaker might not receive formal education in the heritage language, which then remains rooted in a specific context such as the home and/or immediate community. Despite the fact that heritage speakers are given the same early linguistic exposure as native speakers, the interruption of their acquisition limits their grammatical competence, and this problem worsens by attrition as time passes. This group lies between L1 and L2 learners, making them an extremely useful source of linguistic information about acquisition and native competence.

Heritage speakers in the United States are usually immigrants or children of immigrants. They are a diverse group, and using them in linguistic analysis is complicated. For example, incorrect self-reporting of language level may occur because they lack metalinguistic awareness, which further complicates the use of grammaticality judgment tests. Typically, we must deploy multiple linguistic diagnostics -- cloze tests and new tests of speech rate and lexical proficiency -- to study these speakers.

Despite these challenges, the study of heritage language learners offers many benefits. It lends insight into the cues that lead people to categorize a speaker as native or non-native. It also reveals much about the process of acquisition generally. For example, studies show that mere exposure to a language during the critical period is not enough to acquire native competence; the quality and quantity of exposure matter as well. (Being bilingual from birth sometimes actually results in a lower ability in the heritage language than being monolingual with a second language added later.)

BMP analyze in detail six ways in which heritage speakers diverge from native speakers: phonology, lexical knowledge, morphology, syntax, case marking, and code-switching.

  • Phonology is generally an area in which heritage speakers excel, but a “heritage accent” may develop due to incomplete acquisition and attrition. This area has been understudied thus far. The authors suggest several fruitful directions for research.
  • Lexical knowledge among heritage speakers is often much weaker than among native speakers; research on which basic lexical categories are most difficult for heritage speakers may help clear up the controversy over whether a noun-verb distinction is a component of Universal Grammar. (Studies so far seem to support the distinction even in these incomplete grammars.)
  • Morphology, particularly inflectional morphology, is an area in which heritage speakers often have the most trouble. Preliminary research suggests some generalizations: They appear to struggle more with nominal morphology than verbal morphology (although there are differences as well within verbal morphology); agreement, aspect, and mood are much weaker areas in heritage speakers than is tense.
  • Syntax is more likely to be completely acquired, but some areas are problematic. Notably, complex syntax such as recursion and higher CP projections tends to be worse in heritage speakers. In languages with pro-drop, heritage speakers often lose that feature, possibly due to the difficulty of establishing syntactic dependencies. This also leads to issues with binding that may be manifested in problems with anaphors. Heritage speakers may also have difficulties with word order, passive constructions, and comprehension of relative clauses. (Some of these may originate from a neglect of the relevant morphology.)
  • Case marking is a common problem for heritage speakers. Inherent case may be highly affected, revealing that semantics does not escape weakness. Additionally, fine-grained semantics contrasts (such as definiteness, quantification, and genericity) are difficult for some heritage speakers. (We must note that these generalizations could stem from the influence of English, such that heritage speakers in countries with a different dominant language may exhibit different patterns. Further research in other contexts is required.)
  • Code-switching among heritage speakers occurs when two languages (or language varieties) are present in the same discourse segment. Code-switching involves embedding one language within the syntax of another; because it requires knowledge of many syntactic properties, code switching can be used as a tool for gauging heritage speakers’ knowledge of their languages.

Although they acknowledge that the data is far from comprehensive, BMP highlight three factors that help shape heritage grammars: incomplete acquisition, attrition, and transfer from the dominant language.

Incomplete acquisition (due to insufficient language input during childhood) often produces adult heritage speakers who pattern like child learners with regards to certain language features. Attrition is a much more controversial factor in heritage languages, partly because it is unclear at what point acquisition stops, but also because there is so much variation in heritage language. (For example, are there degrees of attrition in which features are present to lesser degrees than in full language?) BMP suggest that attrition may be present when a heritage speaker demonstrates difficulty with a language property that should have been fully acquired by age 4-5 (e.g., relative clauses). Finally, BMP highlight language transfer, which occurs when there is interference between the first language and the primary language. This is well documented in second language research, but should also be considered in the analysis of heritage languages.

BMP discuss four ways in which heritage language research can benefit the linguistic community.

First, heritage speakers allow us to investigate the phenomena that researchers have traditionally studied in children’s language use, but with test subjects that are more sophisticated and manageable. We can also test more complex theoretical issues, such as the relationship between agreement and case. (For example, should we classify the ergative as an inherent or as a structural case? Preliminary research suggests that structural case is more vulnerable than subject-verb agreement and inherent case, but agreement and structural case do not pattern together and may be disassociated – heritage language research could provide insights into the encoding of temporality and ergativity patterns.)

Second, heritage language studies that compare the grammatical competence of heritage speakers and L2 learners may have significant benefits. Heritage speakers have a distinct advantage when it comes to phonological competence, but no clear advantage in morphosyntactic competence. L2 learners make fewer mistakes in written language than heritage speakers, and tend to perform better in tasks that require metalingistic knowledge of the language.

Besides its value to theoretical linguists, heritage language research can benefit the field of education. Notably, because many heritage speakers sign up for second language classes in their heritage language, educators need to understand how to serve this large group of students. When special heritage tracks are created, they would benefit from materials that are “purpose-built” to address the strengths and weaknesses of heritage learners.

Finally, there are social benefits. On one hand, these accrue to the heritage language communities that wish to teach and maintain their languages and cultures. On the other, heritage speakers can be a resource of communication skills that benefit the nation in our increasingly globalized world.

The goal of the survey is to collect information from Heritage Language Learners currently enrolled in post-secondary heritage language courses to better understand their backgrounds, attitudes, and goals in studying their heritage language. The data collected will inform the NHLRC in designing heritage language curricular materials, as well as heritage language professional development projects.

The report posted on this page presents the analysis of 1,701 responses collected during academic years 2006-2007 and 2007-2008. The survey is ongoing, and the report will be updated after another 1,000 responses is collected. Data on individual languages are available on request to NHLRC (see email given below).

If you are a language instructor and teach a college-level class of heritage students, we would welcome your participation in the survey. For more information, please contact nhlrc@international.ucla.edu.

View the Heritage Language Learner Survey report.

 

The Heritage Language Journal (HLJ), an online, blind peer-reviewed journal, was established in 2002 to provide a forum for scholars to disseminate research and knowledge about heritage and community languages. HLJ is published by the National Heritage Language Resource Center at UCLA. The journal seeks submissions focused on acquisition and pedagogy of heritage and community languages from any of the following perspectives:

applied linguistics
theoretical linguistics
sociolinguistics
language pedagogy
language policy
other relevant fields
HLJ is published three times a year, in April, August, and December.

View the Heritage Language Journal.

How to Participate

Goals

The goal of this site is to provide a central location for a collection of references, proficiency assessments, questionnaires, and research tools that may be utilized for assessing or conducting research on heritage speakers/learners' language skills. We hope that researchers, teachers, and program administrators will both use and contribute to this site, creating a community that exchanges ideas on current issues involving heritage languages and promotes collaboration and further study of this topic.

Using this site

Feel free to share, copy, or distribute the work contained on this site. Also feel free to adapt the work to suit your particular context. Many of the materials on this site are provided in Word document form for ease of adaptation. You may not, however, use any materials on this site for commercial purposes.

In addition, you MUST attribute any materials you share or adapt to the author. Citations should take the following form:
Author, date of doc, title of doc, National Heritage Language Resource Center, available at [URL of the doc].

As the NHLRC is funded by the U.S. Department of Education, we are required to report on the ways in which the materials provided on this site are used, and for this reason ask that you send a brief email to Claire Chik chik@international.ucla.edu describing how you are using or plan to use any materials that are of interest to you.

Contributing to this site

If you would like to contribute materials that you have developed and think are relevant to this site, please contact Julio Torres j.torres@uci.edu. Please submit materials that have been used in studies published in peer-reviewed publications or in approved dissertations.

Additionally, if you adapt any of the documents you find here for your own purposes, please could you send a copy to Claire or Julio so we can add your material to this website.

Language Background Questionnaires

Questionnaire in English for bilingual speakers of Spanish/English

Questionnaire in English for heritage speakers of Spanish

Description: Elicits information about heritage language students' backgrounds in Spanish use.

Source: Prof. Maria Carreira, CSULB

 

Proficiency Assessments

Literature Review for Proficiency Assessments

A gradient Bilingual Dominance Scale

Description: A bilingual gradient scale consisting of lexical and sentence translation tasks

Languages: Spanish/English

Source: Dunn, A. L. & Fox Tree, J.E. (2009). A quick, gradient Bilingual Dominance Scale. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 12(3), 273-289.

 

The development and validation of a Korean C-Test using Rasch Analysis

Description: C-Test

Language: Korean

Source: Sunyoung, L. (2009). The development and validation of a Korean C-Test using Rasch Analysis. Language Testing, 26(2), 245-274.

 

Linguistic correlates of proficiency in Korean as a second language

Description: Linguistic Correlates of Proficiency (LCP)

Language: Korean

Source: Lee, S-Y., Moon, J., & Long, M. H. (2009). Linguistic correlates of proficiency in Korean as a second language. Language Research, 45 (2).

 

Determining language dominance in English-Mandarin bilinguals

Description: Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test

Languages: Mandarin/English

Source: Lim, V.P.C. et al. (2008). Determining language dominance in English–Mandarin bilinguals: Development of a self-report classification tool for clinical use. Applied Psycholinguistics, 29, 389-412.

 

The Language Experience and Proficiency Questionnaire (LEAP - Q)

Description: The Language Experience and Proficiency Questionnaire (LEAP-Q)

Languages: Spanish/English

Source: Marian, V. et al. (2007). The Language Experience and Proficiency Questionnaire (LEAP-Q): Assessing language profiles in bilinguals and multilinguals. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 50, 940-967.

 

A standardized set of 260 pictures for assessing differences and similarities in the processing of pictures and words

Description: Picture-naming task

Languages: Any language

Source: Snodgrass, J. G. & Vanderwart, M. (1980). A standardized set of 260 pictures: Norms for name agreement, image agreement, familiarity, and visual complexity. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Learning and Memory, 6(2), 174-215.

 

The case of four large scale tests of ESOL ability Assessing language dominance in bilingual acquisition

Description: Mean Length of Utterance (MLU)

Languages: Cantonese/English

Source: Yip, V. & Matthews, S. (2006). Assessing language dominance in bilingual acquisition: A case for mean length utterance differentials. Language Assessment Quarterly, 3(2), 97-116.

 

Assessing language dominance in bilingual acquisition

Description: Mean Length of Utterance (MLU)

Languages: Cantonese/English

Source: Yip, V. & Matthews, S. (2006). Assessing language dominance in bilingual acquisition: A case for mean length utterance differentials. Language Assessment Quarterly, 3(2), 97-116.

 

 

Sample Proficiency Exams

Problem sets targeting vocabulary, semantics, listening comprehension, etc.

Description: Vocabulary, semantics, listening comprehension and more for Russian language instruction.

Language: Russian

Source: Dr. Tania Ivanova-Sullivan, University of New Mexico

  • DELE Proficiency Test

  • Description: Multiple choice and cloze test with answers.

    Language: Spanish

    Source: Dr. Silvina Montrul, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

  • Role-play situations to elicit requests:

    Description: The role plays elicit requestive acts on the part of the speaker being tested. Based on the CCSARP by Blum-Kulka, House, & Kasper (1989. Cross-cultural pragmatics: Requests and apologies). In the category of speech act pragmatics.

    Language: Russian

    Source: Irina Dubinina, Brandeis University. Please contact Irina for materials by email at: idubinin@brandeis.edu

 

Websites Providing Assessment Tools

Bilingual Language Profile (BLP)

Description: The BLP is an open assessment tool for assessing language dominance through self-reports, producing a continuous dominance score and a general bilingual profile that takes into account a variety of linguistic variables.

 

Experimental Research Tools

Literature Review for Research Techniques

Psycholinguistic tool for the assessment of language loss: The HALA project

Description: An easy-to-use psycholinguistic measure of language strength, a body-part naming task, is described.

Source: O’Grady, W. et al. (2009). A psycholinguistic tool for the assessment of language loss: The HALA project. Language Documentation and Conservation, 3(1), 100-112.

 

Measuring implicit and explicit linguistic knowledge. What can heritage language learners contribute?

Description: Validates Ellis' (2005) battery of tests that measure both implicit and explicit knowledge of the L2, and extends the use of these tests to HL students (of Spanish).

Source: Bowles, M. (2011). Measuring implicit and explicit linguistic knowledge. What can heritage language learners contribute? Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 33(2), 247-271.

Experimental Methods in Language Acquisition Research

Description: Provides information on the most frequently used methods in language acquisition research. Practical discussions of experimental methods, the rationale behind these, and advantages and disadvantages of each.

Source: Blom, E. & Unsworth, S. (2010). Experimental Methods in Language Acquisition Research. Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Co.

Second Language Research: Methodology and Design

Description: Describes research methodology and design for those involved in second language studies.

Source: Mackey, A. & Gass, S. (2005). Second language research: Methodology and design. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Software for Designing/Creating Experiments, Collecting/Analyzing Data

  • SuperLab 4.0

    Description: Software to assist with designing experiments as well as collecting and analyzing data.

  • E-prime

    Description: Software to assist with designing experiments as well as collecting and analyzing data.

  • NVivo

    Description: Software to help organize and analyze qualitative types of data.

  • Experigen

    Description: Software for auditory experiments created by Michael Becker and Jonathan Levine at Harvard University.

  • IBEX

    Description: A platform for creating and hosting experiments created by Alex Drummond.

  • LINGER

    Description: A software package for performing reading, listening, and other sentence processing experiments. Able to handle non-alphabetic languages.

  • Mechanical Turk

    Description: Amazon-hosted website for experimental data collection. See Gibson, E., S. Piantadosi, and K Fedorenko. 2011. Using Mechanical Turk to Obtain and Analyze English Acceptability Judgments. Language and Linguistics Compass 5 (8).

  • DMDX

    Description: A free Windows display system that is used to measure reaction times to visual and auditory stimuli.

  • PsyScope X

    Description: A free Apple MacIntosh program that enables users to create psychological experiments.

  • ExperigenRT

    Description: A free program designed to measure reaction times in web-based auditory experiments.

  • SR Research: Complete Eye Tracking Solutions

    Description: A company that sells eye-tracking equipment and software.

  • Electro-Cap International

    Description: A website from which electro-caps to conduct ERP experiments can be ordered.

  • GOLD: Corpus Portal

    Description: A web-based program for creating linguistic corpora.

  • ActiView

    Description: Description: An acquisition program for displaying EEG/ECG/EMG data.

  • ERPLab

    Description: Description: A free and downloadable toolbox to analyze ERP data.

Websites for Data Collection Instruments and Linguistic Corpora

  • IRIS

    Description: A digital repository of data collection instruments for research into second language learning and teaching.

  • CHILDES

    Description: A database that contains interactional conversations with children in different languages.

  • AILA ReN

    Description: A research network for investigating the role of instructor and individual instructor differences that may affect SLA.

  • New England Corpus of Heritage and Second Language Speakers

    Description: An online corpora of oral and written production from heritage and L2 Spanish and Portuguese speakers.

  • Heritage Language Variation and Change in Toronto

    Description: A corpus of conversational speech from heritage languages speakers in the Toronto area.

Experimental Tasks

  • Pictures

    Description: Images for collecting data on relative clauses.

    Source: Polinsky, M. (2011). Reanalysis in adult heritage language. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 33(2), 305-328.

  • Visual Task

    Description: Visual tasks with kitchen vocabulary.

    Source: Bowles, M. (2011). Exploring the role of modality: L2-heritage learner interactions in the Spanish language classroom. Heritage Language Journal,8(1), 30-65.

Project Leader: Maria Polinsky; Project Advisor: Olesya Kissilev

To help scholars document and study heritage languages, we will create a database of various types and modalities of data collected from second (foreign) language speakers and monolingual speakers of the target languages. Based on notions of ethical data sharing and searchability, we will compile audio and video recordings and written materials that will allow comparative research into HL language acquisition, maintenance, and change. The Repository will be seeded with a number of existing HL databases; we also have in-principle commitments from four research groups to contribute. To implement it, we will promulgate protocols for data collection and management.

The Repository will have immediate value to scholars. It will: (1) facilitate replication and meta-analysis; (2) encourage collaboration among researchers studying different languages; (3) avoid duplication and permit division of labor; (4) provide a mechanism to meet the federal agencies’ (NSF, NIH, etc.) data sharing requirements; and (5) facilitate access to materials in less-commonly-taught languages.


Colorado State University - Pueblo: Building a Program to Serve all Students

Dr. Alegría Ribadeneira, Associate Professor of Spanish; Associate Chair of the English and Foreign Languages Department; Head of the Foreign Languages Program at CSU-Pueblo


Identity: The Driving Force behind Heritage Language Learning

Maria Carreira (UCLA & CSULB) and Claire Chik (UCLA)


The Acquisition of Heritage Languages

Silvina Montrul (University of Illinois)

 

 


Heritage Languages and Their Speakers

Maria Polinsky (University of Maryland)

 

 


The Routledge Handbook of Heritage Language Education: From Innovation to Program Building

Edited by Olga Kagan (UCLA), Maria Carreira (UCLA & CSULB), and Claire Chik (UCLA)

 


Lead with Languages

 


Heritage Language Education: A New Field Emerging

Edited by Donna M. Brinton (UCLA & USC), Olga Kagan (UCLA), and Susan Bauckus (UCLA & Santa Monica College)

 

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Wiley, T. (2001). On defining heritage languages and their speakers. In J. K. Peyton, D. A. Ranard, & S. McGinnis (Eds.), Heritage languages in America: Preserving a national resource (pp. 29-36). McHenry, IL: Center for Applied Linguistics. 

Wiley, T. G. (2014). The problem of defining heritage and community languages and their speakers: On the utility and limitations of definitional constructs. In T. G. Wiley, J. Kreeft Peyton, D. Christian, S. C. K. Moore, & N. Liu (Eds.), Handbook of heritage, community, and Native American languages in the United States: Research, policy, and educational practice (pp. 19-26). New York, NY and Washington, DC: Routledge and Center for Applied Linguistics. 

Wiley, T. G. (2014). Policy considerations for promoting heritage, community, and Native American languages. In T. G. Wiley, J. Kreeft Peyton, D. Christian, S. C. K. Moore, & N. Liu (Eds.), Handbook of heritage, community, and Native American languages in the United States: Research, policy, and educational practice (pp. 45-53). New York, NY and Washington, DC: Routledge and Center for Applied Linguistics. 

Wiley, T. G., De Klerk, G., Li, M-Y, Liu, N., Teng, Y., & Yang, P. (2008). Language attitudes toward Chinese "dialects" among Chinese immigrants and international Students. In, A. He & Y. Xiao (Eds.), In, A. He & Y. Xiao (Eds.), Chinese as a Heritage Language in the United States, (pp. 67-87). Monograph. National Foreign Language Resource Center. University of Hawaii at Manoa. Honolulu, HA: University of Hawaii Press.

Wilson, W. H. (2014). Hawaiian: A Native American language official for a state. In T. G. Wiley, J. Kreeft Peyton, D. Christian, S. C. K. Moore, & N. Liu (Eds.), Handbook of heritage, community, and Native American languages in the United States: Research, policy, and educational practice (pp. 219-228). New York, NY and Washington, DC: Routledge and Center for Applied Linguistics. 

Wright, W. E. (2014). Khmer. In T. G. Wiley, J. Kreeft Peyton, D. Christian, S. C. K. Moore, & N. Liu (Eds.), Handbook of heritage, community, and Native American languages in the United States: Research, policy, and educational practice (pp. 284-296). New York, NY and Washington, DC: Routledge and Center for Applied Linguistics. 

Wu, M., & Chang, T. (2010). Heritage language teaching and learning through a macroapproach. Working Papers in Educational Linguistics, 25(2), 23-33.

Yanguas, I., & Lado, B. (2012). Is thinking aloud reactive when writing in the heritage language? Foreign Language Annals, 45(3), 380-399.

Zhang, D. (2008). Between two generations: Language maintenance and acculturation among Chinese immigrant families. El Paso, TX: LFB Scholarly Publishing.

Chinese

Chinese Immigrants and Heritage Schools in the United States

The current Chinese-speaking population in the U.S. is marked with rapid expansion and high geographic concentration. The U.S. Census 2007 reported a total of 3,538,407 persons of Chinese origin (90% in Chinese race alone and the rest in combinations), forming 1.17% of the U.S. population and indicating a 22.88% increase over the year of 2000 (2,879,636 in total).

German

Heritage German in the United States

The position of German as an immigrant and then a heritage language in North America is particularly important for the linguistic history of European settlement in the western hemisphere as one of the earliest, widely spoken immigrant languages. German-Americans are often considered and, by some measures, are the largest heritage group in the United States (e.g., The Economist 2015), and the language remains widely spoken across many very different settings and regions.

Japanese

Japanese Language Education of the Earlier Generations: From 1885 to World War II

Japanese people officially began migrating to Hawai'i in 1885 and, at the turn of the century, the migration spread to the western continental United States. The immigrants left an economically troubled homeland and came to these shores in search of prosperity and the chance to provide a better life for their children.

Russian

Russian Old Believers in the USA: Language and Belief

Russian Old Believers from all over the world came to the United States for various reasons and in various ways. This article is dedicated to the Old Believers' preservation of the Russian language and their beliefs in North America in the 21st century. It also provides an overview of the measures taken for the preservation of the Russian language in the state of Oregon.