DFG Research Unit in Emerging Grammars (RUEG)

Heritage speakers (HS) are bilinguals who are raised speaking two languages: heritage and majority. Their heritage language is a minority language in the country they live in, and HSs learn it from their family at home. Their majority language is the main language of the larger society that HSs live in (Rothman 2009), so they learn it in kindergarten, at school, and from caregivers/friends who do not speak the heritage language. Usually HSs become more dominant in the majority language later in life, when they leave their parents’ home (Polinsky 2018).
Heritage language research has mainly focused, as the name of the discipline suggests, on heritage languages. What tended to be overlooked is HSs’ majority language, which could be due to the fact that many adult HSs are mostly indistinguishable from monolinguals in everyday interactions. However, some experimental evidence suggests that HSs differ from monolinguals at least in some aspects of majority English, e.g., phonology (Polinsky 2018: 142-144), grammaticality judgments in subject-verb agreement (Rusk and Paradis, under review), and scope assignment (Scontras et al. 2017).
In a series of corpus-based and experimental studies, we investigate whether adult German, Greek, Russian, and Turkish HSs who were raised in the US and started learning English before age 5 show any differences in English productions compared to English monolinguals. So far, we have been exploring their article use, referent introduction in narratives, and syntactic complexity of their utterances. Since very little is known about how adult HSs’ use their majority language, we hope to provide more insight into understanding HS bilingualism, and broader, simultaneous and sequential bilingualism in other contexts.

Representative conference talks

Pashkova, T., Murphy, M., Hodge, A., & Allen, S. E. M. (March 4-6, 2020) Explicitness in Heritage Speakers’ Majority English. 42nd Annual Conference of the German Linguistic Society (DGfS). Hamburg, Germany.

Pashkova, T.,  Zuban, Y.,  Rizou, V., Allen, S. E. M., Zerbian, S., & Alexiadou, A. (June 23-28, 2019) Emerging Grammars for Referent Introduction in Heritage Speakers’ Two Languages. International Symposium of Bilingualism (ISB 12). Edmonton, Canada.