Tag Archives: Heritage Learners

FAQ: What is a heritage language?


A heritage language is a language learned the same way as a native language, but it is thought of as being learned in an incomplete manner. There are different degrees to which someone can be a heritage speaker. This can range from having only passive knowledge (understanding) to very advanced fluency (passive and active).

For example, a person can grow up in a house where his or her parents speak only Ukrainian, but outside the home everybody else speaks English. If the only Ukrainian input this person gets is from his or her parents then, this speaker will most likely become a heritage speaker of Ukrainian.


UIC TiL: Kim Potowski

This Friday, April 9th, UIC’s very own Kim Potowski will be presenting a talk entitled, “Intrafamilial dialect contact: The Spanish of MexiRicans in Chicago.”

Join us at 3 PM in 1750 University Hall (601 S. Morgan St. Chicago, IL 60607) for the talk and as usual light refreshments will be provided.

Kim Potowski (University of Illinois at Chicago)
Intrafamilial dialect contact: The Spanish of MexiRicans in Chicago

When speakers of different dialects share social space, interact frequently, and wish to gain each other’s approval or show solidarity, there exists the very strong possibility that they will adopt features from each other’s dialect. This process is known as accommodation, and when individual accommodations spread through a speech community over a long term, a common result is dialect mixing. Dialect mixing has received considerable attention in English (Trudgill 1986; Schneider 2003; Bauer 1994; Kerswill 2002) and in some parts of the Spanish-speaking world. However, there is a gap in our knowledge of Spanish dialect contact in the United States, which at approximately 30 million speakers is the fifth largest Spanish-speaking nation and the most dialectally diverse.

In addition, there is an increasingly common and particularly interesting case of Spanish dialect contact in the U.S.: What does a child’s Spanish look like when members of two different ethnolinguistic groups – a Mexican and a Puerto Rican, for example – marry and each speak their own Spanish dialect in the home? This situation, referred to as intrafamilial dialect contact, falls within Hazen’s (2002) call for research on the family as an intermediate grouping between the individual and the speech community. I will present a brief summary of general principles of dialect contact before examining studies of Spanish dialect contact in the U.S. and then focusing on cases of intrafamilial dialect contact in Chicago.

UIC TiL: Kenneth Konopka

Tomorrow, February 5th, we will have another session of UIC Talks in Linguistics from 3 PM to 5 PM in 1750 University Hall (601 S. Morgan Street 60607). This week we will have a talk from Kenneth Konopka of Northwestern University. As always, light refreshments will be served. The talk is entitled, “Vowels of Mexican Heritage English: Beyond the static.”

Kenneth Konnopka (Northwestern University)
Vowels of Mexican Heritage English: Beyond the static

Mexican Heritage English (MHE) speakers are first generation Mexican-Americans who are native speakers of English living in communities characterized by the general presence of the Spanish language. In this talk I compare the vowel structure of MHE to that of the regional Anglo dialect in the Albany Park community of Chicago. Analyses of vowel formant trajectories and durations provide evidence for a Spanish influence that is not captured in traditional static vowel plots.

The participants in the study comprise four groups: Anglo speakers of the regional dialect characterized by the Northern Cities Vowels (N=12F); MHE speakers who are life-long community residents with varying Spanish proficiency (N=14F); late learners of English (L2E) who are native Mexican Spanish speakers (N=12F); and native Mexican Spanish speakers (N=7F). Speakers from the first three groups were recorded responding in English to a variety of materials. From CVC wordlist productions eleven English vowels were analyzed. These vowels, from a range of consonantal contexts, were analyzed for duration and first and second formant values at .20, .50 and .80 of the duration. Mexican Spanish speakers were also recorded reading tokens from a Spanish wordlist for a corresponding analysis.

In this talk I will show how temporal cues reveal clear distinctions between the vowels of the regional dialect, MHE, and L2E. In addition, I will provide evidence from Spanish for the origins of these cues. I will discuss the resultant vowel structure of MHE and how it provides insight into the interaction of the two disparate vowel systems. In addition to their relevance for the study of language contact, we will see how features normally considered secondary in vowel production may provide a basis for systematically evaluating vowel structure resulting from language contact.

Generative SLA Workshop

On January 29th, 2010 UIC will be hosting a Generative Second Language Workshop featuring:

  • Tania Ionin, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
    “Production and interpretation of articles in second language acquisition”
  • Silvina Montrul, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
    “Morphological Errors in L2 Learners and Heritage Language Learners: Missing Surface Inflection or simply experience?”
  • Roumyana Slabakova, University of Illinois
    “The Bottleneck Hypothesis: What is easy and what is hard to acquire in a second language”

The workshop will take place from 3 PM to 6 PM in Grant Hall 207 (703 South Morgan Street, 60607).

Tania Ionin (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)
Production and interpretation of articles in second language acquisition

Among the learning tasks faced by second language (L2) learners is to map linguistic form to its corresponding meaning. Recent investigations into L2-acquisition at the syntax/semantics interface have shown that learners face particular difficulties when the form-meaning mappings in the learners’ first language (L1) are different from those in the L2; at the same time, these difficulties are not insurmountable, and L2-learners have been found to exhibit sensitivity to subtle syntax-semantics mappings that are not present in their L1 and not subject to explicit instruction (see Slabakova 2008 for an overview).  The domain of article semantics is one area in which L2-learners have to acquire subtle form-meaning mappings. For example, L2-English learners coming from an article-less L1 (such as Russian or Korean) have to acquire the contrasts between definite, indefinite, and bare (article-less) noun phrases; and L2-English learners coming from an L1 which has articles (such as Spanish) have to reconfigure some aspects of article semantics, for example in the area of generic reference. This talk will report on several experiments probing how L2-English learners from different L1s use and interpret English articles a variety of semantic environments; these experiments aim to tease apart L1-influence from learners’ sensitivity to semantic universals.  The findings show that (i) L1-transfer plays a role in how L2-English learners use and interpret English articles; and (ii) L2-learners are sensitive to subtle contrasts in meaning which are not morphologically marked in their L1, and not subject to (much) classroom instruction, such as the contrasts between specific and non-specific indefinites, and between definite and indefinite generics. It is argued that L2-learners, regardless of their L1, have access to semantic universals through Universal Grammar. Errors with article choice are shown to be due to L1-transfer and to difficulties acquiring language-specific form-meaning mappings, but not to lack of semantic knowledge. Implications of these findings for both semantic theories and theories of L2-acquisition are discussed.

Silvina Montrul (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)
Morphological Errors in L2 Learners and Heritage Language Learners:
Missing Surface Inflection or simply experience?

Morphological variability and the source of these errors have been hotly debated in generative approaches to L2 acquisition. A recurrent finding is that postpuberty L2 learners often omit or use the wrong affix for nominal and verbal inflections in oral production, but less so in written tasks. According to the Representational Deficit View (Hawkisn & Chan 1997, Tsimpli and 2007), morphological errors arise from deficits at the level of linguistic representation due to maturational effects. But for the Missing Surface Inflection Hypothesis (Prévost & White 1999, 2000), L2 learners have intact functional projections and their parameterized features, but errors stem from problems during production only (a mapping or processing problem). Interestingly, inflectional morphology is also a problem area for heritage language speakers, who were exposed to the language earlier in life than the L2 learners. In this talk I compare knowledge of Spanish nominal and verbal morphology in L2 learners and heritage speakers and examine whether these theoretical accounts can be extended to explain the patterns of morphological variability observed in many heritage language learners. The results suggest that while the Missing Surface Inflection Hypothesis correctly characterizes the performance patterns observed in L2 acquisition, it does not correctly describe the performance of the heritage language learners tested in this study. I argue that morphological errors in the two populations seem to be related to the type of experience.

Roumyana Slabakova (University of Iowa)
The Bottleneck Hypothesis: What is easy and what is hard to acquire in a second language

In recent years, the modular view of the L2 acquisition experience and the interlanguage grammar has been gaining in importance. It is no longer controversial to argue that the different components of the L2 grammar may have different sensitive periods of acquisition. This argument is supported by evolving views of the language architecture (Minimalism, Jackendoff 2002). The current emphasis is on the relative difficulty of linguistic features and constructions, as well as on how the language architecture, input properties, and speakers’ processing resources affect developmental sequences. Based on comparison of findings on the L2 acquisition of inflectional morphology, syntax, the syntax-semantics and the syntax-context/discourse interface, the Bottleneck Hypothesis argues that the functional (inflectional) morphemes and their features are the bottleneck of L2 acquisition; acquisition of syntax and semantics (and maybe even the syntax-discourse interface) flows smoothly (Slabakova, 2006, 2008). I will present recent experimental studies supporting this view. I will also discuss a pedagogical implication of this model, namely, that an enhanced focus on practicing grammar in language classrooms will be beneficial to learners.