Heritage Languages and Their Speakers: Opportunities and Challenges for Linguistics

Elabbas Benmamoun, Silvina Montrul, Maria Polinsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

In this paper, we bring to the attention of the linguistic community recent research on heritage languages. Shifting linguistic attention from the model of a monolingual speaker to the model of a multilingual speaker is important for the advancement of our understanding of the language faculty. Native speaker competence is typically the result of normal first language acquisition in an environment where the native language is dominant in various contexts, and learners have extensive and continuous exposure to it and opportunities to use it. Heritage speakers present a different case: they are bilingual speakers of an ethnic or immigrant minority language, whose first language often does not reach native-like attainment in adulthood. We propose a set of connections between heritage language studies and theory construction, underscoring the potential that this population offers for linguistic research. We examine several important grammatical phenomena from the standpoint of their representation in heritage languages, including case, aspect, and other interface phenomena. We discuss how the questions raised by data from heritage speakers could fruitfully shed light on current debates about how language works and how it is acquired under different conditions. We end with a consideration of the potential competing factors that shape a heritage language system in adulthood.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)129-181
Number of pages53
JournalTheoretical Linguistics
Volume39
Issue number3-4
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 20 2013

Fingerprint

linguistics
language
adulthood
Heritage Language
community research
language acquisition
immigrant
minority
Heritage Speakers
Language
Adulthood
Language Faculty
Minority Languages
Immigrants
Native Speaker
Language Studies
First Language Acquisition
Theory Construction
Bilingual Speakers
Native Language

Keywords

  • Agreement
  • Case
  • aspect
  • attrition
  • bilingualism
  • critical period
  • interfaces
  • lexical categories
  • tense
  • ultimate attainment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language

Cite this

Heritage Languages and Their Speakers : Opportunities and Challenges for Linguistics. / Benmamoun, Elabbas; Montrul, Silvina; Polinsky, Maria.

In: Theoretical Linguistics, Vol. 39, No. 3-4, 20.11.2013, p. 129-181.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Benmamoun, Elabbas ; Montrul, Silvina ; Polinsky, Maria. / Heritage Languages and Their Speakers : Opportunities and Challenges for Linguistics. In: Theoretical Linguistics. 2013 ; Vol. 39, No. 3-4. pp. 129-181.
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