A heritage language is a sociopolitically minority and/or minoritized language acquired as the first or one of the first languages in a bilingual or multilingual context. Heritage languages are typically acquired under conditions of reduced exposure and are often used less than the majority language during late childhood and adolescence. Heritage languages show structural differences and changes at all levels of linguistic analysis from baseline grammars that arise from the complex interaction between the nature and quantity of input and the age of bilinguals. Although many situations give rise to heritage languages, this article focuses on immigrants and their children and reviews foundational studies of the linguistic properties of heritage languages; studies of age effects that have shed light on critical differences between first, second, and heritage language acquisition; and recent studies of heritage language relearning and reactivation. The implications of the study of heritage languages for bilingualism and society and for the language and cognitive sciences are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)399-418
Number of pages20
JournalAnnual Review of Linguistics
StatePublished - Jan 17 2023


  • Heritage languages
  • L1 attrition
  • bilingualism
  • heritage speakers
  • native speakers
  • reactivation
  • relearning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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