Heritage languages in adults and children

Datum: 27. Januar 2017
Ort: Leibniz-ZAS, Schützenstr. 18, 10117 Berlin, Seminar room 403
Organisation: Natalia Gagarina and Artemis Alexiadou

The aim of this workshop is to inform about ongoing research on different heritage languages in children and adults, to discuss the ongoing PhD and postDoc projects and to sketch possible joint research (e.g. experimental) across the four groups situated at Leibniz-ZAS, Humboldt University, Konstanz U and Tromsø U. The heritage languages under investigation are Greek, Russian and Turkish and the environmental or majority languages are German and Norwegian.

Research on heritage languages as opposed to majority languages (Valdés 2000; Fishman 2001; Cummins 2005; Polinsky and Kagan 2007; Benmamoun, Montrul et al. 2010; Polinsky 2012) was essentially based on the definition of heritage languages: heritage languages “were first in the order of acquisition but were not completely acquired because of the individual’s switch to another dominant language” (Polinsky 2007: 369-370). Additionally, variation in different heritage grammars has been observed by researchers, which poses problems in search for stability or categorical manifestation in a language system.

Investigating heritage languages in children aims to find regularities in L1 acquisition and attrition, define developmental stages of L1 in migration context and compare them with monolingual typical language acquisition, to differentiate between L1 (incomplete) learners and those with language disorders, and finally, to establish characteristics of a new heritage language system. With respect to the last point, we note that the L1 language is usually not preserved (in its  majority form) already in the third generation of migrants, thus, a special attention not only to age of the speakers of L1 but also to their L1 input or, to the wave and migrants’ generation should be paid. Heritage language in adults aims at finding morphosyntactic patterns, typical for different language systems.

During this workshop we plan to discuss both these domains and show how research on different heritage languages is crucial in many respects: not only can it enrich theoretical linguistics and be a source of new empirical evidence for various phenomena, it also has a practical value and importance for diagnosing language disorders, since only a proper consideration of the L1 of migrants (together with the analyses of internal and external factors influencing language acquisition) leads to the proper diagnosis of language disorders in multilingual speakers.


  • Benmamoun, E., S. Montrul, et al. (2010). Prolegomena to Heritage Linguistics. 1-96.  
  • Cummins, J. (2005). A proposal for action: Strategies for recognizing heritage language competence as a learning resource within the mainstream classroom. The Modern Language Journal 89: 585-592.
  • Fishman, J.A. (2001). 300-plus years of heritage language Education in the United States. In J.K. Peyton,
  • D.A. Ranard, & Scott McGinnis (Eds.), Heritage languages in America: Preserving a national resource (pp. 81-97). Washington, DC & McHenry, IL: Center for Applied Linguistics & Delta Systems. 
  • Polinsky, M. (2012). What linguistics can learn from heritage languages: Research questions and research methods. Conference on Formal Approaches to Heritage Languages.
  • Polinsky, M. and O. Kagan (2007). Heritage Languages: In the 'Wild' and in the Classroom. Language and Linguistics Compass 1(5): 368-395.
  • Valdés, G. (2000). Introduction. Spanish for Native Speakers. New York, NY: Harcourt College.