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On Heritage Speakers as Native Speakers: Description, Identity, Ideology

G39 School of Education
Social Sciences
Monday 15th February 2016 (15:00-17:00)
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Sarah Martin at

The MOSAIC Centre for Research on Multilingualism is pleased to welcome Professor Silvina Montrul to the University of Birmingham on 15th February 2016.  Silvina Montrul is Professor of Linguistics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where she is also Director of the University Language Academy for Children, and Director of the Second Language Acquisition and Bilingualism Lab.  

Venue: G39, School of Education, University of Birmingham ( R19 in red zone)


Although the term “native speaker” conjures different ideological and linguistic connotations related to place of birth, ethnicity and linguistic proficiency, native speakers are not easily defined by one or two parameters.  We often define a native language as a language learned from birth and used during the critical period for language acquisition, which lasts until puberty. The outcome of the language acquisition process is a fully fluent, mature native speaker: somebody who, as a member of a sociolinguistic and ethnic group, has the accent of a regional variety of the language, grammatical intuitions and communicative competence, as judged by their peers.

Most people equate a native speaker with a monolingual when in fact the majority of native speakers in the world know more than one language. Children born in a multilingual environment can have more than one native language. However, bilingual native speakers can show different degrees of ability in one of the native languages because language proficiency can be profoundly shaped by the environment. This is particularly true for heritage speakers of immigrant languages in many parts of the world. Heritage speakers grow up exposed to a minority language from birth in a naturalistic environment. In contrast to monolingual native speakers, the language mastery of heritage speakers in early adulthood is often significantly different from that of both native speakers in the home country and their immigrant parents. But does this make them non-native speakers, like those who learn a second language later in life? While heritage speakers resemble non-native speakers in many ways, they also display high incidence of native-like abilities in some grammatical areas. In this talk, I discuss how heritage speakers’ ideas of themselves relate to their language abilities and how age of acquisition and language-learning experience explain these effects. I also show how ideas and attitudes about their linguistic abilities can be linked to measurable psycholinguistic effects.

This event is free and open to all. However, please register with Sarah Martin at

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