The Spanish of second generation bilinguals in New York: A linguistic approach

1:00 pm on Friday, April 19, 2013
1:50 pm on Friday, April 19, 2013
Contact Name:
Carol Neidle
The term ‘heritage speaker’ has become established as a description of speakers of languages other than English who were born in the U.S. or came here in early infancy, and who are almost without exception bilingual in English and such languages as Greek, Russian, Spanish, etc. The term is the new element of a new three-way distinction that has replaced the old two-way differentiation between native and non-native (or L1 and L2) speakers of a language. The three new categories are L1 - heritage – L2. For example, a Russian born in Brooklyn to two Russian-speaking parents (and who likely spoke only Russian from birth to age four or five) is clearly not an L2 speaker of Russian, but is not an L1 speaker either; he is a heritage speaker of Russian. The three-way distinction is now commonly used as the platform on which the notion of ‘incomplete acquisition’ is built. Based on careful research and extensive experimental evidence, heritage speakers have been increasingly found in the research literature to lack the complete acquisition that is typical of native speakers and that presumably once took place in their native speaking parents. Dissenting from this trend, this presentation will offer a criticism of the notion of incomplete acquisition in second-generation bilinguals (the term we prefer over heritage speakers). We will concentrate on second-generation Latinos and their Spanish, but the points made here are applicable to other languages as well. We will argue that the three-way distinction is terminological, not substantive, and that there are just as many reasons for thinking of second generation bilinguals as native speakers. Seen in this light, the literature is proposing that there are languages whose native speakers fail in many cases to acquire the language fully -- a difficult proposition to sustain. We will propose that second generation bilinguals are native speakers whose main point of distinction from the first generation is their lack of exposure to schooling in the language at issue. Lack of exposure to schooling means, of course, limited exposure to the forces of standardization. The conclusion of incomplete acquisition is flawed on both theoretical and empirical grounds. Second generation native speakers of Spanish do not have an incomplete grammar when compared to that of their also native speaking parents; they have a different grammar. This grammar can be shown empirically to differ in the allocation of formal and communicative environments to the roles of categorical or variable predictors. The grammar of the second generation is, with respect to lexicon and morphosyntax, more variable than that of the first. The increased variability of second generation grammar is attributed to the second generation having been spared (because of their lack of schooling) the reductive force of variability that is typical of standardization. Lecture sponsored by the Department of Romance Studies, CAS