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Lost in transmission: the role of attrition and input in heritage language development

Brehmer, B. and Treffers-Daller, J. ORCID:, eds. (2020) Lost in transmission: the role of attrition and input in heritage language development. Benjamins, Amsterdam. ISBN 9789027205391

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1075/sibil.59


This volume makes a major contribution to the discussion around the factors that have an impact on the outcomes of heritage language acquisition. While heritage language acquisition has been studied in great detail in the US context, the concept of heritage language speakers is relatively new in the European context where this group has often been subsumed under the broader umbrella of bilinguals. Heritage language bilinguals are a specific category of bilinguals, typically either first language learners of an immigrant, minority language spoken in the home or simultaneous bilinguals of the “home” language alongside the societal majority language in the parents’/community’s host country. In most cases heritage speakers receive significantly reduced input in their heritage language from around school age, as they gradually shift in dominance towards the majority societal language. Research has shown that the outcomes of heritage language acquisition are often significantly different from monolingual peers, for reasons that are not entirely clear (see e.g. Montrul, 2016 for extensive review). Among the contributory factors that give rise to heritage speaker differences in developmental sequence and ultimate attainment are differences in the input—quality and quantity—they receive as compared to monolinguals. A major contributor to input differences is likely cross-generational attrition, that is, L1 attrition from the older generations of immigrants who provide the primary linguistic data to heritage speakers (cf. Sorace 2004; Rothman 2007). The volume will concentrate on describing and explaining (some) differences in heritage bilingual knowledge and use from a range of perspectives. By taking into account different potential sources of heritage speaker linguistic differences (incomplete acquisition, reduced input quantity, attrited input/cross-linguistic influence in input, sociolinguistic factors) the volume will make a significant contribution to disentangling these factors with regard to their effects on heritage language acquisition. The inclusion of work done on contact-induced language change in the volume is new, as insights from this field have often not been perceived in the field of SLA or extensively discussed in the literature on heritage languages. Another major strength of the volume is that syntactic, pragmatic and lexical aspects of heritage language development are discussed in one volume, thus bringing together researchers working on a range of aspects of heritage language development which increases the attractiveness of the volume to a wide audience. Furthermore, the contributions deal with a wide range of different heritage languages, including Romance (Portuguese, Spanish), Slavonic (Russian, Polish) and Germanic languages (Norwegian) as well as Greek, Turkish and Chinese as important immigrant languages in different European countries. The inclusion of papers dedicated to the same heritage languages, but targeting heritage speaker communities in different countries (e.g. Turkish in the UK, Netherlands, and Germany), and on different heritage languages spoken in the same host community (e.g. Portuguese, Turkish, Russian and Polish as heritage languages in Germany) allows for cross-linguistic comparisons between different heritage language communities in the same linguistic environment and for comparisons regarding the effects of different majority societal languages on the same heritage language. Many of the papers for the volume were first presented at the second seminar in the ESRC First Language Attrition Seminar Series, led by Monika Schmid (Essex), and organized – among others – by the three editors of this volume.

Item Type:Book
Divisions:Interdisciplinary Research Centres (IDRCs) > Centre for Literacy and Multilingualism (CeLM)
Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Literature and Languages > English Language and Applied Linguistics
ID Code:81428
Uncontrolled Keywords:bilingualism, heritage speakers, attrition, input, crosslinguistic influence


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