Jason Rothman

Foto: Jonatan Ottesen, UiT
Foto: Jonatan Ottesen, UiT

Jason Rothman

Heritage-Bilingual Linguistic Proficiency in the Native Grammar (HeLPiNG): Charting and Explaining Differences

HOST INSTITUTE: Department of Language and Culture, HSL-fak

Heritage Language Bilinguals are people who grow up speaking a different language in their home (the language of the family´s cultural heritage, so often but not exclusively the language of immigrants) from the majority language of the greater society in which they live and will be educated.  So, anyone growing up speaking a language other than Norwegian in Norway, for example, in their home can be considered a heritage language bilingual.  Sometimes, these heritage languages are supported by a considerably sized community of speakers outside the home and the opportunity for education in the heritage language alongside the majority one (like Sami in Northern Norway), but often this is not the case.  Research shows that heritage speaker bilinguals almost always have different knowledge about their natively acquired heritage language than other sets of native speakers who are more dominant in the language, especially monolingual ones.  There is considerable variation across heritage bilingual individuals in this regard, whereby some are more and less similar (on a wide scale) to monolingual baselines.  While we have pretty good descriptions of differences in heritage bilingualism, we do not yet understand why this comes to be and especially why heritage bilinguals show so much variation from one another.  The Heritage-bilingual Linguistic Proficiency in their Native Grammar (HeLPiNG) project is focused on filling our gaps in knowledge in this regard.  HeLPiNG asks: Why is Heritage language bilingualism characterized by such variation in grammatical knowledge and language use to degrees unseen in monolinguals?

HeLPiNG is one of the largest funded projects to date on heritage language bilingualism and will answer the above question by focusing our efforts and resources on these equally fundamental secondary objective questions:

  • Aim 1 When and why do developing monolinguals and heritage speakers (HS) begin to diverge for the same language?
  • Aim 2 At what levels (under what modalities of testing) do HSs truly differ?
  • Aim 3 What is the role of the (lack of) HL literacy in explaining (some) observed HS outcomes?

HeLPiNG will address these queries combining insights from several work packages focusing on complementary questions and using complementary methodologies (cross-sectional and longitudinal offline behavioral testing, EEG/ERP, eye-tracking).  We aim to offer key insights for scientific knowledge, but also for the clear practicalities addressing this issue has for hundreds of millions of people across the world who are themselves or are raising heritage language bilinguals.