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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.
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. 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. In morphosyntax as well, heritage speakers have been found to be more native-like than second language learners, although they are typically significantly different from native speakers.
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).
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