Advancing the Research on Heritage Language Speakers

This month we published Heritage and School Language Literacy Development in Migrant Children edited by Raphael Berthele and Amelia Lambelet. In this post Raphael introduces the book and reveals how it came about.

The investigation of transfer phenomena is a classic topic in multilingualism research. Scholars have developed useful tools and frameworks for investigating crosslinguistic influence on linguistic structure and meaning: when patterns in an individual’s speech or writing can be compared to patterns known from dialects or languages that are in contact, positive or negative transfer can be identified. By contrast, the transfer of literacy skills, for example in the form of reading skills or knowledge about text genres, is trickier to investigate. Heritage and School Language Literacy Development in Migrant Children addresses this unsolved problem. Several studies focusing on different language pairs are presented; they deploy diverse methods, but all attempt to measure the impact of skills developed in one or more languages on the development of those same skills in another language. Languages investigated include – among others – Albanian, Turkish, Portuguese, French, German and Russian.

A considerable part of this book is devoted to a longitudinal study of primary school children who are heritage language speakers of Portuguese in Switzerland. This is the fruit of a project that was directed by the book’s two editors. Intrigued by some rather unexpected findings and questions that arose during this project, we contacted colleagues who had been investigating similar issues but with different methods and tasks. We realized that our work was complementary, and that they were able to fill some of the gaps we had identified in our data and in our thinking. That is how this book project was born. We are confident that it is a new and different contribution to the field, that puts into question some – at least in our view – rather problematic assumptions about the interdependence of heritage languages and school languages. We therefore hope that our contribution will nurture future thinking about research on heritage language speakers.

For more information about this book please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Crosslinguistic Influence and Distinctive Patterns of Language Learning edited by Anne Golden, Scott Jarvis and Kari Tenfjord.

Crosslinguistic Influence in Multilinguals

Earlier this month we published Wai Lan Tsang’s book Crosslinguistic Influence in Multilinguals which studies Cantonese, English and French multilinguals in Hong Kong. In this post, Wai Lan tells us how her own experience as a multilingual learner inspired further examination of the influence of other languages on the language being learned. 

The fact is that if you have not developed language,
you simply don’t have access to most of human experience,
and if you don’t have access to experience,
then you’re not going to be able to think properly.
Noam Chomsky

Chomsky’s quote tells us how important human language is in formulating our experience and thoughts. But what happens when we know more than one kind of human language? How do we think these different human languages influence or interact with each other?

Born into a cosmopolitan city like Hong Kong, I have the privilege of being exposed to different languages. As a native speaker of Cantonese (a variety of Standard Chinese), I have acquired English, French and Japanese. During the acquisitional process, I have become more and more aware of how the languages I know might influence each other – as expected or to my surprise. For example, once in a Japanese course I was taking, my French was activated quite a number of times when I was trying to figure out the pronunciation of some Japanese words. It was a surprise to me because those moments of activation came unconsciously, and I would expect languages similar to Japanese, for example Chinese, to be activated, but it was not. This kind of amazing experience has inspired me to explore more about how different languages in a multilingual’s mind may interact with each other.

Crosslinguistic Influence in MultilingualsThis book on crosslinguistic influence among three languages, namely Cantonese, English and French, in multilinguals, draws on the notions of ‘interface’ and ‘reverse transfer’ in second language acquisition. In particular, it addresses the possible positive or negative transfer effect from French as a third language (L3) to English as a second language (L2):

Does the acquisition of a later acquired language (i.e. French) have any effect on the reception and production of an earlier acquired language (i.e. English)?

The answer to the above query is not an unequivocal ‘yes’ or ‘no’, possibly because of a number of factors at play: L3 proficiency, linguistic feature or structure involved (which in turn relates to the notion of ‘structural linguistic complexity’), typology/ psychotypology and receptive and productive use of L2. These factors may in turn make the acquisitional process most intriguing.

In order to relish and excel in this fascinating acquisitional process, both language learners and language educators are encouraged to become more aware of the different factors and the resulting potential interaction among languages. The book will show them how those factors might have worked among a group of speakers of Cantonese with knowledge of English and French. The discussions in the book will also highlight other issues that are worth investigating in our quest for how crosslinguistic influence among three languages may take place.

Hope you all enjoy reading it and find it useful!

Crosslinguistic Influence in Second Language AcquisitionFor more information about the book, please see our website. If you found this interesting you might also like Crosslinguistic Influence in Second Language Acquisition edited by Rosa Alonso Alonso.

What is CLI and why is it so interesting to researchers?

This month we are publishing Rosa Alonso Alonso’s new book Crosslinguistic Influence in Second Language Acquisition which is a collection of chapters written by key scholars researching in the field. In this post, Rosa introduces her book and tells us a bit more about crosslinguistic influence (CLI).

Crosslinguistic Influence in Second Language AcquisitionInterest in the influence of one language on another goes back a long time, with a variety of motives – historical, psychological, social, and pedagogical – figuring in diverse research traditions. The eleven chapters of this volume offer, it is hoped, an unprecedented look at the phenomenon of crosslinguistic influence from a cognitivist perspective by leading scholars in the field, including pioneer researchers such as Terence Odlin and Håkan Ringbom and current scholars such as Scott Jarvis or ZhaoHong Han.

This collection offers viewpoints that, although distinct, overlap. The book also addresses crosslinguistic influence involving vocabulary in some analyses (e.g. Chapters 2, 3, 5, and 10), while other studies consider morphosyntactic categories (Chapters 4 and 9), semantic structures (Chapters 6, 7, and 8), and phonetic and phonological structures (Chapters 1 and 2). Of course, some boundaries between morphosyntactic and semantic transfer can be elusive, as in the discussion of crosslinguistic influence involving prepositions (Chapter 6) and of articles (Chapter 8), and not surprisingly, these analyses have possible implications for the study of cognitivist problems such as linguistic relativity. Readers will find some perennial themes of cognitive linguistics in the volume, such as the notion of construal (e.g. Chapters 6, 7, and 8) and the notion of activation (Chapters 1, 2, and 5). Another issue of concern, linguistic relativity, has grown more prominent in cognitive linguistics in general and is likewise the focus for a number of studies here (Chapters 4, 6, and 9). Other cognitivist topics appear in other chapters, including the possible contributions of neurolinguistics (Chapters 3 and 5), the problem of cognitive development (Chapter 10), and the role of frequency of structures in acquisition (Chapter 7). While every chapter discusses some empirical work, Chapters 6-10 present new empirical investigations.

The relevance of crosslinguistic influence research for teaching comes in for discussion in a number of chapters (e.g. 1 and 5), as does the phenomenon of multilingualism. Moreover, many languages figure in the theoretical discussions and empirical work, including Chinese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Hindi, Japanese, Malay, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Slovenian, Spanish, Swedish, Tagalog, Thai, Turkish and Ukrainian. The book ends with the thoughtful critique by Janusz Arabski and Adam Wojtaszek in the final chapter of the volume.

The variety of approaches taken in the different chapters provides the reader with the most revealing studies on CLI. The volume as a whole is intended to provide novel insights about both theoretical and empirical issues in CLI, and can serve as a reference for SLA researchers, as a text book and might also prove interesting to the general reader in the field of language acquisition.

New Perspectives on Transfer in Second Language LearningYou can find more information about Rosa’s book on our website. If you found this interesting you might also like New Perspectives on Transfer in Second Language Learning edited by Liming Yu and Terence Odlin.