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Biliteracy and Heritage Languages

Nancy H. Hornberger, University of Pennsylvania

The two research questions I propose for heritage languages and their speakers are the same ones I have consistently posed for minority languages and their speakers over the last two decades. Namely:

Question 1: What global, societal, and local factors encourage and promote intergenerational transfer, maintenance, revitalization and development of HLs?

Question 2: What educational approaches--policies, programs, and practices--best serve HL learners and the intergenerational transfer of their languages?

These are large and encompassing questions, which I seek to answer, with the collaboration of students and colleagues, through comparative ethnographic policy research in multilingual settings in the United States and in other parts of the world. This research links highly detailed, microlevel, ethnographic data on multilingual classrooms, schools, and communities to macrolevel language and education policies, discourses and ideologies.

Key to this work is a unifying, coherent, conceptual framework, which I call the continua of biliteracy (Hornberger 1989, 1990, 2002, 2003, forthcoming; Hornberger and Skilton-Sylvester 2000; Hornberger and Wang, forthcoming). The continua model of biliteracy offers a framework in which to situate research, teaching, and language planning in linguistically diverse settings. The model uses the notion of intersecting and nested continua to demonstrate the multiple and complex interrelationships between bilingualism and literacy and the importance of the contexts, media, and content through which biliteracy develops. Specifically, the continua model depicts the development of biliteracy as it intersects with continua of first language-second language, receptive-productive, and oral-written language skills; through the medium of two (or more) languages and literacies whose linguistic structures vary from similar to dissimilar, whose scripts range from convergent to divergent, and to which the developing biliterate individual’s exposure varies from simultaneous to successive; in contexts that encompass micro to macro levels and are characterized by varying mixes along the monolingual-bilingual and oral-literate continua; and with content that ranges from majority to minority perspectives and experiences, literary to vernacular styles and genres, and decontextualized to contextualized language texts.

The notion of continuum conveys that all points on a particular continuum are interrelated, and the intersecting and nested relationships among the continua convey that all points across the continua are also interrelated. The model suggests that the more that learners and users are allowed to draw from across the whole of each and every continuum by their learning contexts and contexts of use, the greater are the chances for their full biliterate development and expression. Implicit in that suggestion is recognition that there has usually not been attention to all points and that movement along the continua and across the intersections may well be contested. In educational policy and practice regarding biliteracy, there tends to be an implicit privileging of one end of the continua over the other such that one end of each continuum is associated with more power than the other (e.g. written development over oral development). There is a need to challenge the traditional power weighting by paying attention to, granting agency to, and making space for, actors and practices at what have traditionally been the less powerful ends of the continua.

Following is an illustration of how the continua of biliteracy model can serve to situate research questions on the intergenerational transfer of HLs, using sample questions selected from the rich array posed in the preceding papers. The questions on the context and media continua have more to do with the first question above about the languages, while the questions on the development and content continua relate more directly to the second question above about the learners. In every case, my hypothesis would be, based on the continua model, that the more policies and practices pay attention to the traditionally powerless ends of the continua, the more conducive they will be for intergenerational transfer of the HL.

Context of Biliteracy (e.g. Socio-cultural Factors, Policies, Ideologies, Community, Classroom)

What can we learn from a comparative study of case histories and the contemporary experiences of various groups (immigrant and indigenous) that might better inform educational language policies (e.g. factors promoting or hindering retention, disposition of dominant societies, stance of language minority groups, folk theories of success)? (Wiley, this article, question 1)

What are the effects of the present societal pressures on children to master English? How are the pressures influencing parental decisions? Levels of student participation? Teaching practices? Are children more reluctant to use the HL in school or in social interactions outside of school? How do these pressures affect student attitudes toward the HL and participation in HL programs? (Wong Fillmore, this article)

How can we trace the formation and transformation of language ideologies within school settings? Do these ideologies change over time, and if so, how? How do language ideologies influence the implementation of dual language programs? (González, this article, question 1)

What is the composition of foreign language departments? What sets of beliefs about language do faculty and students articulate in departments of foreign languages? What perceptions do members of the department have about heritage speakers? (Valdés, this article)

How are Native American tribes and their respective language initiatives being affected by recent federal mandates and educational policies that focus on student achievement of national standards and standardized assessments? What new pressures have such policies begun to place on indigenous systems of language transmission in the home and in the community? (Sims, this article, question 4).

What can be revealed by comparative analysis of policy texts across national systems, as to their characterization of heritage/community languages, national attitudes and identity, and the claimed benefits for language learning? (Lo Bianco, this article, studies 1 and 2). Likewise, what can we learn from comparative analysis of policy culture and process across national systems? (Lo Bianco, this article, study 3).

Content of Biliteracy (e.g. Identities, Ideologies, Attitudes, Affiliations, Genres, Discourses)

How does participation in a Japanese HL program in Los Angeles affect second-generation Japanese teen-age students' ethnic identity, attitudes, and motivation toward the learning of Japanese? (Chinen and Tucker, this article, question 1a)

How can we study the formation and transformation of children's language ideologies? How do these ideologies influence HL Learners in formal and informal contexts? How are language ideologies related to literacy ideologies? How do language ideologies intersect/impact the development of biliteracy for HL Learners? (González, this article, question 2)

Media of Biliteracy (e.g. Media of Instruction and of Communication, Sequencing of Language Acquisition, Codeswitching, Multiliteracies, Hybridity)

What drives some parents to insist on the use of the HL and others to shift to English? (Shin, this article, question 1)

How can information about language acquisition be communicated positively to anxious parents who want their children to get a head start in English? (Shin, this article, question 2)

What are the curricular alignments across the years (grades K-16) that promote or hinder HL development? (Macías, this article, question 1.3)

Development of Biliteracy (e.g. Expertise, Proficiency, Skills, Transfer)

How does participation in a Japanese HL program in Los Angeles affect second-generation Japanese teen-age students' … development of, or changes in, Japanese proficiency? (Chinen and Tucker, this article, question 1b)

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