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Heritage languages are incompletely acquired versions of languages spoken at home but not spoken in the wider community. Heritage speakers acquire the home language before acquiring the region's dominant language. However, acquisition of the heritage language slows when the speaker begins primarily using the region's dominant language. Although heritage speakers are comfortable in all registers of the dominant language, mastery of the heritage language may vary from purely receptive skills in only informal spoken language to native-like fluency.

The term "heritage language" may also refer to a language that is acquired in a classroom by an individual who has a cultural connection to the language but lacks early childhood exposure to it. This usage of "heritage" is purely adjectival and does not refer to a linguistic phenomenon.

Proficiency in heritage languages Edit

Heritage learners have a fluent command of the dominant language and are comfortable using it in formal settings, due to their exposure to the language through formal education. Their command of the heritage language, however, varies widely. Some heritage learners may lose some fluency in the first language after beginning formal education in the dominant language. Others may use the heritage language consistently at home and with family, but receive minimal to no formal training in the heritage language and thus may struggle with literacy skills or using it in broader settings outside of the home.[1]

Some heritage speakers explicitly study the language to gain additional proficiency. The learning trajectories of heritage speakers are markedly different from the trajectories of second language learners with little or no previous exposure to a target language. For instance, heritage learners typically show a phonological advantage over second language learners in both perception and production of the heritage language, even when their exposure to the heritage language was interrupted very early in life.[2][3][4] Heritage speakers also tend to distinguish, rather than conflate, easily confusable sounds in the heritage language and the dominant language more reliably than second language learners.[5] In morphosyntax as well, heritage speakers have been found to be more native-like than second language learners,[6][7] although they are typically significantly different from native speakers.[8][9]

Controversy in definition Edit

The definition of a heritage speaker in general and for specific languages continues to be debated. The debate is of particular significance in such languages as Chinese, Arabic, and the different languages of India and the Philippines, where speakers of multiple languages or dialects are seen as heritage speakers of a single standard language taught for geographic, cultural or other reasons (Mandarin Chinese, Classical Arabic, Hindi, or Tagalog, respectively).

See alsoEdit

NotesEdit

References Edit

  • (2002). Overhearing a language during childhood. Psychological Science 13 (3): 238-243.
  • (2008). Salvaging a childhood language. Journal of Memory and Language 58 (4): 998-1011.
  • (1997) "Does childhood language experience help adult learners?" The Cognitive Processing of Chinese and Related Asian Languages, 417-443, Hong Kong: Chinese University Press.
  • (2011). Production of phonetic and phonological contrast by heritage speakers of Mandarin. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 129 (6): 3964-3980.
  • Montrul, Silvina (2002). Incomplete acquisition and attrition of Spanish tense/aspect distinctions in adult bilinguals. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition 5 (1): 39-68.
  • (2010). Early childhood language memory in the speech perception of international adoptees. Journal of Child Language 37 (5): 1123-1132.
  • (2003). Holding on to childhood language memory. Cognition 86 (3): B53-B64.
  • Polinsky, Maria (2008). Gender under incomplete acquisition: Heritage speakers' knowledge of noun categorization. Heritage Language Journal 6 (1): 40-71.
  • (2007). Heritage languages: In the ‘wild’ and in the classroom. Language and Linguistics Compass 1 (5): 368–395.


Further readingEdit

  • Fishman, Joshua A. (2001). "300-plus years of heritage language education in the United States" Heritage Languages in America: Preserving a National Resource, 81–98, McHenry, IL & Washington, DC: Delta Systems Co. & Center for Applied Linguistics.
  • Valdés, Guadalupe (2000). "The teaching of heritage languages: An introduction for Slavic-teaching professionals" The Learning and Teaching of Slavic Languages and Cultures, 375–403, Bloomington, IN: Slavica Publishers.
  • (2003). Toward a definition of heritage language: Sociopolitical and pedagogical considerations. Journal of Language, Identity, and Education 2: 211–230.


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