A Case Study of Eight Heritage Speakers of Czech: Identity and Cultural Problems

11. 12. 2018 / Karen von Kunes

Studii profesorky Karen von Kunes z Yale University o kulturních a jazykových  problémech tzv. "heritage speakers", dětí českých imigrantů do USA, přineseme v brzké budoucnosti také v českém překladu. Zde je mezitím anglická verze.


Maria Polinsky and Olga Kagan define heritage speakers’ language as “a language typically acquired before a dominant language that is not completely acquired because of the individual’s switch to that dominant language.”1 In the traditional terminology, the dominant language has been known as native language, as defined by Noam Chomsky and other prominent linguists, and perceived by individual communities as the language of a speaker who is a part of their community and has an intuitively innate sense of correct phonological, morphological and syntactic patterns. In her contribution to PMLA on non-native speakership, Claire Kramsch noted: “Chomsky seems to conceive his ‘ideal speaker-listener’ as a monolingual individual whose intuitions perfectly match the expectations of one homogeneous standard community. Such a standard community is increasingly difficult to find in multiethnic industrialized urban societies.”2

For our current findings it is necessary to define heritage speakership in a broader sense to avoid a limited perception of the study subjects. Thus, the terminology heritage speakers/speakership is used in a larger sense of affinity, not only linguistic, but above all cultural and psychological.

This paper presents a case study of eight subjects chosen among Czech immigrant population residing on the United States East Coast and affiliated with higher education institutions. The research was conducted as a cultural inquiry rather than a study in theoretical linguistics, and its findings reflect this purpose. Each subject has been given a letter name in alphabetical order so as to be easily identified. All interviewed subjects reside in the United States; seven have been single and two got married in recent years. All were born between the early 1980s to late 1990s; thus, roughly representing a generation of millennials. Five participants are male and three are female. All hold a B.A. degree, and three hold a graduate degree or are currently enrolled in M.A. or Ph.D. programs in cultural history, law and education. One subject has received additional intensive training in computer science, and another has been completing his second professional degree. Interviews with two subjects were conducted in English over the telephone and were brief (circa 20 minutes), and the interviews with the six subjects completed in person were more extensive (circa two hours) and conducted in Czech. The two subjects interviewed in English were unable to form and understand full Czech sentences, and would be at the Novice Low to Mid scale according to the ACTFL Proficiency Scale testing.3 Each subject was presented with a range of questions on which they could elaborate freely, such as talking about their families, their childhood memories, and their goals for immediate future. Additionally, two short reading texts—one from a newspaper and the other from Václav Havel’s play Vernisáž—were presented to each subject interviewed in person. The subjects were asked to identify textual terminology that was unknown to them, and then to write two sentences in Czech what the context of the two readings meant to them. All the subjects permitted their findings to be published in a case study provided their names were withheld and geographical positions were somewhat altered.

The subjects A and B were born in Prague and spent their early childhood in the Czech Republic (former Czechoslovakia), attending a pre-school. The subject A was born to Czech parents, but his parents divorced shortly after his birth, and the household became a single-parent unit, supervised by his mother and grandparents. This subject left the country at the age of five with his mother who re-married a British citizen and moved to the US West Coast with her new husband. At the time of interviewing, the subject A had an inadequate recollection of linguistic, social and emotional transition from his native Czech to his dominant language, English. He was placed in a private school one grade below his age in order to benefit from an additional year for his linguistic and social adjustment. The family spoke English, and the subject A easily adapted to social environment, quickly building his new cultural and linguistic identity. However, several years later his stepfather passed away in unusual circumstances, and he and his mother switched back to speaking Czech. At this juncture, the subject A’s native Czech (heritage language, or L1) became the weaker language, both structurally and functionally. While his knowledge of Czech stabilized with time, it did not progress in phonology, morphology, syntax and semantics due to a limited access, if any, to a Czech community and to formal Czech educational structure unavailable on the West Coast. Thus, within the linguistic heritage speaker terminology, the subject A became an unbalanced bilingual (or sequential bilingual), retaining his L1 at the Intermediate High level, but differing from his Superior Level of his dominant language, English. Quoting H. Seliger and other linguists, the authors of the study “Heritage language and linguistic theory” suggest that the second language (L2, or dominant language) sometimes “encroaches on the structure of the native language in systematic ways.”4 The subject A’s incomplete acquisition (or using currently preferred expression, lack of mastery) of Czech was emphasized by the reality that he had lost contacts with his biological father and grandparents. Thus, his L1 input was limited to communication with his mother only. The outcome of his trajectory was L1 attrition, which is defined as ‘reaching full mastery of L1 grammatical structure before suffering its weakening or complete loss.’5 Several years later, the subject A made a consistent attempt to regain his proficiency and reach attainment (or the Advanced High level of Czech) by reading books on various topics, but this strategy did not advance his performance satisfactorily. He confirmed that he had become frustrated due to the lack of his efficient reading skills, grammar and advanced vocabulary. Subsequently, during the next decade, the subject A’s knowledge of L1 regressed, reaching a higher level of temporary attrition: he experienced difficulties constructing complete sentences and making grammaticality judgments. However, since 2008, he began visiting his close relatives in Prague on a somewhat regular basis. This allowed him to reconnect with his biological father and his half-related siblings, forcing him to retrieve structural aspects of the dormant knowledge of spoken Czech, especially since his father’s English was non-existent. He made a conscious attempt to formalize his knowledge by reading journals and news-papers, and once in college he took private tutorials with his professors, in addition to attending classes in Czech language and literature. Within several years, his exposure to a written register provided him the opportunity to expand his semantic and syntactic repertoires. He was able to rebuild a baseline of heritage learner’s platform that allowed him to be proficient in both colloquial and literary Czech and to become a decent writer of literary texts. With additional editing by native speakers, he succeeded to publish several articles in the Prague press.

In oral expression, the subject A shares common characteristics with the subject B, who left Prague with his parents at the age of four. In pronouncing Czech words during the interviews, both subjects neglected the length of Czech long vowels and mumble difficult sounds, such as [-ř-] and [ch].6 Their pronunciation was choppy and sounded somewhat artificial. Their accent was placed in the middle of words, seldom on the first syllable as Czech requires. By native speakers, both subjects would be immediately recognized as second-language heritage learners. This is a natural phenomenon, as the authors of the study “Heritage Languages and Their Speakers: Opportunities and Challenges for Linguistics” claim: “Native speakers of a language intuitively recognize fellow native speakers upon seeing or hearing them.”7 The subjects A’s and B’s word order, which plays a crucial role in Czech sentence patterns, was usually assembled in their speech correctly by preserving the rigidity of positioning particles se, si, mi, ti, nám, etc., called enclitics, in the second position in a sentence. While heritage speaking, reading and writing abilities and their productions in both subjects exhibited persistent signs of similarities, their personal histories and their emotional and cognitive responses to their heritage backgrounds have been substantially different.

The subject B’s father, a Czech, was employed in international services, and his mother was a Vietnamese. When residing in Prague, the mother spoke Czech to her son. Czech was her acquired third language, and she retained a Vietnamese accent. Neither did she attain full acquisition of syntactic and morphological features of Czech and its wealth in semantic complexity. The subject B’s pronunciation reflected his mother’s phonetic deficiencies; i.e., Vietnamese mispronouncing of certain Czech sounds, such as [c], despite the fact that he hardly spoke any Vietnamese. His childhood recollections of his Prague pre-kindergarten have not been encouraging: he recalled being punished by standing for prolonged periods in a corner of his classroom and not understanding why. These daily punishments lasted until his mother entered the school grounds to pick him up. The preschool teachers immediately changed their attitudes by becoming polite and nice, praising the boy; albeit remaining distant. The subject B encountered a similar attitude in his father’s family. He was convinced that his Czech grandparents, living in a small village of white Caucasians only, seemed to have difficulty in accepting the fact that their son married an Asian woman and their grandson inherited physical Eurasian features. As a result of encountering discrimination in his first years of life, the subject B has not developed a strong emotional affinity to his Czech relatives, or to his heritage language and his native land (at the time of interviewing, he had no other citizenship and passport than Czech). He felt much stronger family and cultural connections to his mother’s side in spite of his very minimal knowledge of her native Vietnamese. In addition, he grew up with a notion that his mother’s side family belonged to the upper crust of Vietnamese society, and he has himself identified with that attitude, striving to interact socially with children from well-to-do families. Furthermore, he perceived his Vietnamese relatives as hard working, ambitious and focused people, while he saw his Czech relatives as less accomplished and ambitious, if not envious folks. As pointed out, his situation has been complicated by his dominant language, as well as by his citizenship status. His father brought the family to the United States on Czech passports and temporary visas, and the subject B was sent to a private French school. Thus, growing up, he essentially had no dominant language; he could have been considered a trilingual native speaker (Czech, French and English) or a four-lingual heritage speaker, provided that his significantly low-level (or Novice Low) Vietnamese with a strong emotional attachment to its culture would be categorized as his second heritage speakership. Definitions of heritage speakership vary, for little attention has been paid to learners whose family and linguistic backgrounds fluctuate among several cultures.

The cultural axiom of the subject B is the following: his native Czech was not replaced by English, the dominant language of his country of residence, but by French, the dominant language of his school environment. Can it be claimed that the subject B had two dominant languages, French and English or that he had two heritage languages, Czech and French? Given the ambiguity of the definition of heritage learners and speakers, it would be difficult to categorize and define the subject B’s acquisition of his three languages and four cultural backgrounds. He has not received a sufficient input to qualify his English, in which he has retained an accent, for his dominant language or his heritage language. While he himself considered French to be his dominant language, his affinity to French culture was weak, due in part to a cognitive context that he had no French relatives and had not lived in a French-speaking country.

As for the subject A, after reviving his family ties with his biological father and his second family, he felt much stronger emotional and ethnic affinity to his heritage. In addition, his mother regained a partial residence in Prague, which made him feel more at home when visiting her in Prague. These circumstances established his motivation to further improve his knowledge of Czech, and by the same token, it reinforced his hopes to move to Prague in the future, if only for limited periods. But he was fully aware of his partial attainment of heritage speakership and of disadvantages and difficulties it could bring along. He was now well aware that he would not become fully assimilated in Czech culture. He felt comfortable speaking Czech on one-on-one basis but was fully aware of his morphosyntactical inadequacies and felt unsure and uncomfortable in a group situation of native Czechs, or in public situations as a group speaker.

In her article “The Privilege of the Nonnative Speaker,” Claire Kramsch claimed: “Speakers with nonstandard accents and speakers of local varieties of the standard language are placed below the top of the hierarchy of social acceptability.”8 Thus, the subjects A and B have been forced by circumstances to take into consideration their social status and acceptance whenever tempted to formalize their heritage speakership.

However, the situation might be gradually changing. In their study, Elabbas Benmamoun, Silvina Montrul and Maria Polinsky noted that acquisition of a second language traditionally belonged to the fields of bilingualism, linguistic anthropology, sociolinguistics and/or historical linguistics. Those were the fields whose experts expressed interest in the language of immigrants, but today the world of globalization and population movements has made “the study of heritage speakers” more prominent, and it “lies at the forefront of language development in migration contexts,”9 becoming a cultural and linguistic field of primary attention and larger social acceptance.

The subject C has been free from psychological constraints that we have observed in the subjects A and B. Like the subject B, her heritage speakership sprang from a tree of cultures and languages. Born in the USA to immigrant parents, the subject C as a child was exposed to two heritage cultures, Czech and Japanese. Her mother would fall into the category of multi-dimensional immigration: she left her native Prague with her parents for Finland at the age of twelve, and later with her husband for the United States. While the subject B’s mother seemed to be highly functional as a L1 speaker of Czech (in part because by puberty she covered most grammatical domains of her native Czech), she has instilled the heritage speakership to her daughter only partially. She spoke to her, read fairytales and took her to Prague to visit relatives about every two years with gaps in between. The subject C took a private Czech course one summer in Prague, and in college she enrolled in Czech classes after studying Japanese for several years. Compared with the subjects A and even B, her knowledge of Czech culture was less sophisticated. Like the subject B, she held her Japanese heritage, linguistic and cultural, in higher esteem than Czech heritage. After college she has chosen to spend several years living and working in Japan, not in the Czech Republic. As she explained during the interview, she perceived Japanese economic and work culture better focused and more accomplished than Czech. Before she decided to improve her knowledge of Czech heritage speakership, she spoke very little Czech; however, her pronunciation and understanding of morphological structure patterns were excellent. Initially, her vocabulary was limited to basic words of everyday objects and fairy tales, often in their diminutive forms, such as, chlebíček, šáteček, peřinka, prstíček, panenka, žili byli, kdysi, etc. As a student majoring in languages, she was highly motivated and thorough in her daily routine of learning Czech. Growing up in a family of immigrant parents with two different L1 speakers, and no siblings or relatives in her community, she developed a degree of uneasiness when it came to socializing and absorbing American culture of free spirit on college campuses. She did not appear to have many friends in her childhood; she felt excluded from childhood activities typical in American culture. Clearly, she was a low-level heritage speaker of two cultures (Novice Mid- to High), but due to her diligence and hard persistent work, she reached the Intermediate High level of Czech and most likely the Advanced Mid- to High levels of Japanese (she confirmed that she knew Japanese “far better than Czech”). As a child, she made several trips to visit her mother’s parents in Finland and thus was also exposed to her grand-parents’ dominant language, Finish, in which they had not attained complete mastery.

It is questionable whether her heritage language acquisition could be viewed as sequential bilingual, particularly in regard to her Japanese, for her exposure to a home language was highly accented English of each parent, and in both cases, diverged from the native baseline since Czech and Japanese were rarely spoken to her. Her back-ground is somewhat similar to the subject D.

The subject D’s mother has been a multilingual Czech national, and his father a monolingual American. The subject D was exposed to a small amount of hearing Czech in his early childhood; the language spoken at home was English. When he was seven years old, his mother received a research grant for Prague, and took her son with her, sending him to a Czech neighborhood school for one year. Within six months he acquired spoken communicative competence and limited written competence close to the level of his age. He excelled in math and English but had problems with Czech and other non-visual subjects. On the one hand, his speech rate was slow and his knowledge of lexical items much lower than his native baseline and/or than typical for local Czech children of the same age. In addition, morphosyntactical features of his Czech were not yet organized in consistent manner. He would confuse verbal past tense with the present tense, and misplaced the position of jsem, jsi, se, si, etc. On the other hand, he absorbed Czech culture common for his peer group, such as playing Czech games, understanding December customs of Mikuláš a Čert, Easter’s pomlázka, etc. After returning to his American school, where he previously spent two years (Kindergarten and First Grade), the subject D showed problems of re-adaptation, and to appease them his mother stopped speaking Czech to him. He reverted to his dominant language, but encountered a severe attrition of heritage Czech as a result, and gradually lost his interest in retaining the heritage language and knowledge of culture.10 Clearly, he cannot be classified as an unbalanced, simultaneous or sequential bilingual; however, because he had been exposed to some Czech from infancy through his mother, he would fall into a loosely defined category of heritage speakers. Culturally, ethnically and socially, he felt that his place was in the United States; however, he gained renewed interest in Czech heritage after finishing his high school education. He has remained in touch with his Czech friend from Second Grade that he has considered till this date as one of his best friends. He used to travel to Prague to visit him about every second or third year and recently met with him in Indonesia where his Czech friend became a construction company manager. The two friends have been using English as a language of communication. The subject D showed no strong ties to his cousins in Prague because of the large disparity in their ages.

The subject E stated that he had no real knowledge of Czech nominal and verbal morphology. He claimed that he hasn’t been using his heritage language professionally and that he “invents” endings when speaking with his relatives in the Czech Republic. When tested, his reading performance was comparatively higher than his speaking ability. Since he has not received formal education in his L1 Czech, he exhibited errors in gender and case agreement, especially in abstract and uncommon words (mluvim o tom starožitnostu, s tim Vernisážem, to je taková gesta, etc.) and had difficulties finding Czech words to complete a sentence. His mother had a turbulent trajectory, ethnically and professionally. Born during WWII in Istanbul to a Czech father (a high military General), she was taken home to Czechoslovakia at the age of two. Before being born, her father—the subject E’s grandfather—was stationed in several European countries and became personally acquainted with Charles de Gaulle. He spoke to his daughter only in French, even after their return to Prague. But during Klement Gottwald’s leadership, he was arrested for anti-regime involvement and his family was exiled to a small town 100 kilometers south of Prague. In the turmoil of the Warsaw Pact Occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1968, the subject E’s mother left for Vienna and then emigrated to the United States, where she taught Czech at Cornell University while completing her Ph.D. At Cornell she met the subject E’s father, and they moved to Australia. The subject E’s mother was employed in Foreign Services, and her son was born in Washington, D.C. He grew up in three countries (US, Australia and Germany) and since the age of eight, he was spending summers in Prague. He completed his education in the D.C. area in a private establishment. Despite his difficulty writing in Czech (his spelling is based on English phonetics, such as, ahoy, vajíchko), he has been maintaining correspondence with his aunt, uncle and cousins who still have been residing in the Czech Republic. Because of his mother’s and grandfather’s complex history, he seemed to be proud of his Czech heritage, romanticizing it as a fascinating asset for his family. He has not experienced emotional or ethnic anxieties, social barriers, or shame for his linguistic inadequacies in L1.

On the contrary, the subject F has appeared confused about his ethnic, linguistic, geographical and emotional identity. Like the subject E, he was born in the Washington, D.C. area to an American-Jewish mother and Czech-Jewish father. His grandparents on both sides were well-respected families, prominent in politics and arts. His father took the entire family back to the Czech Republic once he received a teaching position at an American university that had opened its campus in Prague. The subject F’s first memories were tied to Prague: he remembered growing up in a college dormitory and spending his summer in his grandparents’ house in Philadelphia. When he was five years old, his family moved to an apartment in Prague 6. By this time, he was perfectly bilingual; he didn’t distinguish between the two languages, switching easily to English when speaking with his mother and her relatives who didn’t speak or understand much Czech. He entered a Jewish nursery in his Prague neighborhood, and a year later started First Grade in a Czech school. Due to the lack of flexibility, the subject F lasted in this school only two months, complaining to his parents about rigid rules he had to observe: how to sit, how to write, how to play, etc. His parents transferred him to the British International School, which provided education in both English and Czech. He recalled that Czech teachers used to assign a lot of homework to keep up with the pace of the Czech state schools curriculum. By the age of 11, the subject F mastered two dominant languages, Czech and English, escaping linguistic anomalies that he would have encountered as a non-native heritage speaker. Growing up hearing, speaking and being schooled in two majority languages simultaneously, he felt confident and comfortable in two, if not three, cultures and identities, if adding his Jewish ethnicity. In his Prague environment, he was a Czech of Jewish descent, and when spending summers in his grandparents’ house, he was an American. Once his family returned to Washington, D.C., he went through a cultural and linguistic shift, searching for his emotional and ethnic identities. The permanent geographical move has made him feel less American than ever before: his classmates considered him a foreigner and his gaps in literary English became evident. He became aware that he was lacking a degree of sophisti-cation not only in L2 but also in culture, including a range of humanitarian or sport activities—an approach emphasized in America from childhood as a crucial segment in children’s education.

One of the familiar facts to all learners of foreign languages has been supported by a cultural linguist’s theory—Claire Kramsch stated that “whereas students can become competent in a new language, they can never become native speakers of it.”11 The participant F, however, was not subjected to this phenomenon. After taking intensive courses in English and American literatures, he significantly enlarged his lexical and syntactic register by the time he reached the age of 18. Prague and its culture became a distant vision, and his L1 regressed significantly. His father and younger sister remained the only two people he would communicate with in Czech. When visiting the Czech Republic seven years after he had moved to D.C. with his parents, he felt profound effects of globalization and displacement. In his view, the Prague airport lost its specificity, looking like any other modern airport around the world. The presence of commercial chains, such as KFC, McDonald’s and Starbucks, only reinforced the subject F’s feeling of lost identity, evoking too familiar uniformity. The subject F admitted that he felt like Franz Kafka—alienated from and depersonalized in each of his three identities, which he considered almost mutually exclusive: Czech, American and Jewish. His attrition in L1 reached its peak; he was unable to think spontaneously in Czech, painstakingly searching in his morphological and semantic repertoires to recover what only several years ago seemed so natural and easy going. During the interview, he asked how to say in Czech to distinguish, what means nesrovnatelně, etc.

His sister, a few years younger, is the subject G of our case study. Her trajectory is a reminder of her brother’s but in a less significant or dramatic form. When residing in Prague with her parents and siblings, she attended the British International School like her brother, but because she was younger when they moved to the US, she did not reach the same level of morphosyntactical fluency in Czech as he did. In addition, her identity was not at stake: she has felt at home in America and has preserved dear recollections of her journey in Prague. Interestingly, she extended the idea of the Czech Republic to a larger European context. In her view, daily life in Europe was less superficial than in the United States and for that reason, she expressed a desire to live and work in Europe, at least temporarily. However, she was convinced that she would never give up her US citizen-ship. Unlike her brother, she felt that her native language has always been English, though she recalled speaking L1 Czech since her infancy. Whereas her acquisition of L1 and L2 was simultaneous rather than sequential (the latter usually taking place after the onset of schooling), the subject G’s L1 oral expression has been lower (the Intermediate Low level) than her brother’s and phonologically slightly digressed from native speakership. In her speech, the three-gender morphological system of hard- and soft-endings of animate and inanimate nouns correlated with her smaller lexical repository. She showed occasional hesitations in speech, especially when using literary words in the plural, such as o spisích (instead o spisech), ty filozofi (instead of ti filozofové), etc. She had problems with writing, saying that she didn’t know how to spell Czech words. She said that she occasionally spoke Czech with her brother, especially if they didn’t want people around to understand them. With their younger siblings, they both spoke only English because the level of linguistic comfort of L1 of their younger siblings was not adequate (estimated Novice Mid- to High levels). The subject G felt that she had acquired knowledge of L1 history and culture, including customs practiced during holidays (Easter, Christmas, etc.) mostly through her father. She remarked that in schools she attended in the US, cultural courses in Czech language and history had not been offered. But in high school she found a friend, Sarah, whose mother was also a Czech, and the girls cherished cultural affinity that had brought them together. One of the greatest advantages of heritage speakers, in the subject G’s view, was the edge that one got when writing an SAT essay for a college admission in the United States.

Finally, the subject H is the one who underwent an almost complete attrition of her L2. Born in Cambridge, MA, and speaking only English, she attended a Czech nursery school, jesle, in Prague 6 Na Petřinách between the ages of two and three. Within three months, she spoke Czech at the level of any 3-year old. In fact, when people heard her speaking English, they were impressed by the child’s knowledge of English, assuming she was Czech born. While she has retained Czech citizenship (in addition to several other citizenships), she has lost her linguistic ability of acquired heritage Czech because her parents did not continue speaking Czech to her after their return to North America. However, due to her cultural exposure to children’s activities, albeit infrequent, and her several trips to the Czech Republic, she has retained an affinity for the country and a dormant knowledge of the language that, if necessary, could be brought forward by consistent heritage speakers’ training to regain Intermediate Mid-range fluency.

In conclusion, each of the eight subjects interviewed showed cultural affinity, albeit not always positive, to their Czech heritage. For instance, as a heritage speaker the subject D had a great disadvantage in comparison with the subjects A, B and C, but from an emotional viewpoint, his identification was strong as a citizen of the United States and a bearer of American cultural background. The subject C, while showing strong ties to America—her native country—exhibited characteristics of a person growing up in a displaced family. These characteristics were most prominent in the subject B, a born Czech and bearer of Czech citizenship, and yet feeling not at ease with his heritage background. The subject A was a “classic” example of double heritage: he could easily identify with either culture but at the same time was smart enough to weigh advantages of each heritage. In his case, one could believe that he would leave his future to the destiny, but would remain in a close contact with his L1. The subject E appreciated his L1 Czech heritage with pride and acceptance of his deficiencies in his L1 language. While the subject F has been tormented by a variety of his linguistic and cultural exposures, his L1 Czech has been at the highest speaking, reading and writing levels of all the interviewed participants. The subjects G and H gave the impression of being content with their own linguistic and cultural L1 affinities. They perceived their knowledge, no matter how good or bad, as a non-compromising advantage.

The richness of personal stories of the studied subjects emphasizes the need of rethinking approaches to current teaching and learning of foreign languages (in our case of Czech) in the United States, and of showing more understanding and empathy for immigrant speakers and their children. In the past two decades, many educational institutions have made a conscious attempt to expose their students to ethnic, linguistic and social diversity by establishing summer and semester programs in countries around the globe. Inasmuch as the dominance of technology facilitates easily accessible acquisition of global cultures and languages, the predominance of English as a world language, frailty of migrant resettlements and political unstabilities make heritage learning of languages in many ways more complex and further confusing. Czech, a language spoken by a miniscule percentage of global population, has been vulnerable even more. Czechs in the United States strive for full assimilation, and unless they maintain close ties with their native country, they do not necessarily see the purpose of transferring their own heritage to their children and grandchildren. As if an outspoken rule governs: “The more successful, the more American!” A good example is the three oldest children of the current President of the United States. American media seem to ignore their Czech heritage, and the President’s children do not identify themselves as ethnically half Czech; at least not publicly.

Notes

The author would like to express gratitude to each interviewed participant to make this case study possible.


Sources used

Claire Kramsch, “The Privilege of the Nonnative Speaker,” Modern Language Association: PMLA, Vol. 112, No. 3, May, 1997, pp. 359-369.

Gregory Scontras, Zuzanna Fuchs and Maria Polinsky, “Heritage language and linguistic theory,” Frontiers in Psychology/Language Sciences, 09 October 2015. http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01545/full#B128

H. Seliger’s “Primary language attrition in the context of bilingualism,” in Handbook of Second Language Acquisition, edited by W. Ritchie and T. Bhatia, New York: Academic Press, 1996, 605–625.

Elabbas Benmamoun, Silvina Montrul, Maria Polinsky, “Heritage Language and Their Speakers: Opportunities and Challenges for Linguistics,” Theoretical Linguistics 39, No. 3-4, pp. 129–181.

Simone H. Hrouda, “Czech Language Programs and Czech as a Heritage Language in the United States,” Heritage Briefs. Her contribution contains additional bibliography specifically concerning Czech immigration and heritage speakership.

http://www.cal.org/heritage/pdfs/briefs/czech-language-programs-in-the-united-states.pdf

K. Hannan, “Reflections on assimilation and language death in Czech-Moravian Texas,” Kosmas: Czechoslovak and Central European Journal, 2003, Vol.16, No. 2, pp. 110-132.

Maria Polinsky, “Heritage Language Narratives,” in D. Brinton, O. Kagan & S. Bauckus (eds.), Heritage Language Education. A New Field Emerging, New York: Routledge, 2008, pp. 149–164.

D. Bíróczi, “The Maintenance of Czech Identity in the Contemporary USA,” Czech Language News, No. 30, 2008, pp. 9-11.

Montrul, Silvina, Second language acquisition and first language loss in adult early bilinguals: Exploring some differences and similarities. Second Language Research, No. 21 (3), 2005, pp. 199–249.

Meisel, Jurgen, First and Second Language Acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Wikipedia: Heritage Language. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heritage_language

Footnotes:

1 Wikipedia: Heritage Language, p. 1.

2 Claire Kramsch, “The Privilege of the Nonnative Speaker,” Modern Language Association: PMLA, Vol. 112, No. 3, May 1997, p. 368.

3 The ACTFL Proficiency Scale testing was developed by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, and has four levels: Novice, Intermediate, Advanced and Superior; the first three are additionally subdivided into Low, Mid and High sublevels.

4 Gregory Scontras, Zuzanna Fuchs and Maria Polinsky, “Heritage language and linguistic theory,” Frontiers in Psychology/Language Sciences, 09 October 2015. http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01545/full#B128 More details to be found in H. Seliger’s “Primary language attrition in the context of bilingualism,” in Handbook of Second Language Acquisition, edited by W. Ritchie and T. Bhatia, New York, NY: Academic Press, 1996, pp. 605–625.

5 ibid.

6 Whenever possible, the subject B instinctively attempted to replace words containing -ř- with non-ř- words of similar meaning, such as “řekl jsem” with “vysvětlil jsem,” or “vysvětloval jsem.”

7 Elabbas Benmamoun, Silvina Montrul, Maria Polinsky, “Heritage Language and Their Speakers: Opportunities and Challenges for Linguistics,” Theoretical Linguistics 39, No. 3-4, p. 2.

8 Claire Kramsch, “The Privilege of the Nonnative Speaker,” Modern Language Association: PMLA, Vol. 112, No. 3, May 1997, pp. 359-369.

9 Elabbas Benmamoun, Silvina Montrul, Maria Polinsky, “Heritage Language and Their Speakers: Opportunities and Challenges for Linguistics,” Theoretical Linguistics 39, No. 3-4, pp. 3-4.

10 Some of these facts were confirmed by the subject D’s mother who was present during the interview.

11 Claire Kramsch, “The Privilege of the Nonnative Speaker,” Modern Language Association: PMLA, Vol. 112, No. 3, May 1997, p. 359.



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