NHLRC's Arizona State University Baseline Data Project

The aim of the project was to explore intergenerational heritage language transmission and preservation among selected immigrant and refugee language minority communities in the United States.
Under the direction of Dr. Terry Wiley, a research project was conducted at Arizona State University between 2006-2009. The purpose of this research project was to investigate intergenerational heritage/community language transmission and preservation among selected immigrant and refugee language minority communities in the United States. It was based on the assumption that successful heritage language materials design requires an understanding of the cultural, historical, and linguistic context that defines heritage speakers. For example, an immigrant community’s density, relationship to the home country, rate of continuing immigration, average education, and commercial activity in the immigrant language, may be anticipated to influence the character of language retention and language shift (UCLA Steering Committee, 2001). Moreover, identifying types and tokens of home-country cultural offerings valued in immigrant communities is fundamental to the content of materials to be developed for heritage language learners. Knowing which dialects are spoken in communities, for example, and how those dialects are regarded within the communities and by monolingual native speakers is also important, since effective heritage instruction is designed to “expand the bilingual range” (Valdés 2000, p.388) and building on existing knowledge rather than stigmatizing it is central to this process. Likewise, not enough is known about why some language groups have been more likely to retain their languages, or retain them longer, than others.

Although there is a growing body of literature on immigrant and refugee language minority groups, language retention, educational success, and literacy/bi-literacy (Gibson & Ogbu, 1991; McKay & Wong, 2000; Weinberg, 1997; Wiley, 2005), there have only been a few attempts at cross-group comparisons (Portes & Rumbaut, 2001; Rumbaut, 2009). Moreover, additional research needs to be done on the conditions under which language shift occurs and whether these conditions are identical for each group. The efforts of the NHLRC have been useful in promoting this research, to which this project has attempted to contribute.

Heritage Language Group-specific Analysis

The ASU Baseline Data Project’s original research tasks were designed to include producing summaries of selected heritage and community language groups’ histories up to and including the present time, noting factors relevant to language knowledge (demographics, emigration, historical treatment in home country, contemporary relationship with home country, etc.), undertaking a demographic analysis of each group’s language, educational characteristics, resources for preserving its language on levels from local to national, and the character of language contact along with the effect on heritage language preservation. Papers solicited for this area of work were intended as background papers that would identify and rely heavily on extant data. It was not assumed that information would be equally available for each language group. In some cases, multiple papers were written for some language groups in which the topic focus was allowed to become more specific than that specified in the suggested outline. Where possible, we also encouraged the inclusion of original data. 

As expected, papers varied in quality and format partly as a result of the amount of information available on specific languages and ethno-linguistic groups. It became useful to find a range of outlets for the completed papers, allowing us to find the best fit with a particular paper’s format, focus, and intended audience. Some papers were submitted to journals, others have been posted on online information sites. Some of the original draft papers were not published but inspired more ambitious projects, including a number of dissertations.

A number of the contributors to the original project continue to extend their work into new venues, including work currently underway to produce a research handbook on heritage and community languages in the United States. We are pleased that the NHLRC project not only produced its originally intended work, but has also witnessed the flowering a new generations of scholars who are helping to define the field.

Project-related publications

  • 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.
  • de Klerk, G. & Wiley, T.G. (2008). Using the American Community Language Survey to investigate bilingualism and biliteracy among immigrant communities. Journal of Southeast Asian Education and Advancement, 3, 68-78.
  • de Klerk, G., & Wiley, T.G. (2010). Linguistic landscapes as multi-layered representation: Suburban Asian communities in the Valley of the Sun. In E. Shohamy, E. B. Rafael, M. Barni, (Eds.), Linguistic Landscapes in the City (pp. 307-325). Bristol, England: Multilingual Matters.
  • Wiley, T.G. (2007). The foreign language “crisis” in the U.S.: Are heritage and community languages the remedy? Critical Inquiry in Language Studies, 4(2-3), 179-205.
  • Wiley, T.G. (2007). Heritage and community languages in the national language debate. Modern Language Journal 91(2), 252-255.