Silvina Montrul

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Silvina Montrul is Professor of the Department of Spanish, Italian and Portuguese and 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. She is also co-editor of the journal Second Language Research. She is author of The Acquisition of Spanish (Benjamins, 2004), Incomplete Acquisition in Bilingualism. Re-examining the Age Factor (Benjamins, 2008), El bilingüismo en el mundo hispanohablante (Wiley-Blackwell, 2013), and The Acquisition of Heritage Languages (Cambridge University Press, 2016), as well as numerous articles in journals such as Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, The International Journal of Bilingualism, Language Learning, The Heritage Language Journal, Studies in Second Language Acquisition, Language Acquisition, Second Language Research, Language. Her research focuses on linguistic and psycholinguistic approaches to adult second language acquisition and bilingualism, in particular syntax, semantics and morphology. She also has expertise in language loss and retention in minority language-speaking bilinguals, or heritage speakers.

Abstract
Supporting Heritage Language Development

Defined by their transmission across a generation, heritage languages are spoken by the bilingual children of immigrant parents. There is little consensus in the U.S. today about the language education of English Language Learners (ELLs) who I refer to as heritage language speakers: while some call for the early teaching of English, others insist that this can have negative repercussions for the full development and maintenance of the heritage language. Similar concerns affect heritage speakers in other parts of the globe. In this talk, I challenge widely held ideas about native language proficiency: namely, that once acquired early in childhood, a language is stable, especially in adults. I argue instead that native language proficiency can be shaped by the environment, and this is particularly true for U.S. bilinguals. In contrast to monolingual native speakers, the language mastery of heritage speakers by early adulthood is often significantly different from that of both their immigrant parents and native speakers in the home country. Heritage speakers, like all speakers, are born with the ability to learn one or more languages fully and indeed retain native ability in selected grammatical areas due to their early exposure to the language, when compared to second language learners who start acquisition of the second language much later, for example. I will show how insufficient use of the language during late childhood and adolescence can profoundly affect specific aspects of their command of grammar, interrupting the full development of the language and turning their native language into a second language. I will conclude with suggestions for supporting heritage language development during the language-learning period.