Heritage languages are sociopolitically minority languages learned in a bilingual or multilingual a context. They include standard national languages in the diaspora spoken by immigrants and their children, among other situations. Heritage speakers are bilinguals (or multilinguals) who tend to be dominant in the majority language and their proficiency in the heritage language varies from merely receptive to fully fluent. Place of birth, age at immigration and age of onset of bilingualism are key variables that determine language proficiency in the heritage language. Linguistics-based experimental studies of heritage languages have focused on understanding both current and developing linguistic knowledge of heritage speakers in different grammatical areas. Collective findings from studies on different heritage languages allow generalizations about what has been uncovered so far and identification of gaps in our current knowledge. This chapter provides a general overview of heritage languages within linguistics research and discusses areas in need of further research, such as the role of dominant language transfer and sociopolitical factors that contribute to eventual proficiency, language maintenance or loss, in heritage languages.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationStudies in Italian as a Heritage Language
PublisherDe Gruyter
Number of pages28
ISBN (Electronic)9783110759587
ISBN (Print)9783110759518
StatePublished - Apr 26 2023


  • Heritage language
  • Italian
  • Majority language transfer
  • Morphosyntax
  • Phonology
  • Second language
  • Sociopolitical context
  • Spanish

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities
  • General Social Sciences


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