A heritage language is one that families bring with them when they move from one country to another. At the same time, speakers of a heritage language are also expected to speak the language of the country or society they have moved to. The latter is called the ‘dominant language’. Typically, increased exposure to the dominant language means reduced input from the heritage language, resulting in so-called unbalanced bi- or multilingualism.
In the context of a globalised Europe, the number of bilinguals based on a heritage language (with varying degrees of command of the heritage language) is on the rise. Nonetheless, there is surprisingly little research into bi-/multilingualism based on heritage languages. Moreover, speakers of heritage languages often face particular barriers relating to perceptions of immigration and ethnic diversity across Europe.
This research theme is therefore geared towards understanding how to help speakers maintain their heritage language and reach proficient bi- or multilingualism. In order to reach this main objective, researchers first need to understand the sociolinguistic context and the factors contributing to partial language development (when the heritage language is not acquired completely) as well as the attrition of heritage languages (when speakers lose proficiency in their heritage language).
The researchers will investigate a speaker’s knowledge of his or her heritage language and compare this to his or her proficiency in this language by various methods, including questionnaires, interviews and on-line experiments. They do this with a view to preserving and improving linguistic knowledge of heritage languages across Europe, thereby stimulating multilingualism as an important resource in European societies. Finally, this group of researchers will investigate the impact heritage languages have on the dominant language.