Friday, November 2


Presidential Ballroom

Columbia University Faculty House

64 Morningside Drive • New York, New York 10027

Heritage language acquisition and multilingual identity: Insights from the less commonly taught languages 

The recent so-called multi/plurilingual turn in applied linguistics (cf. Ortega, 2014; May, 2014), has called for increased attention to the “plurality, multiplicity, and hybridity of language and language use” (Kubota, 2016, p. 474). This reconceptualization of how we understand linguistic practices within the context of a superdiverse world has had a profound impact on second language acquisition theory but remains relatively underexplored within the field of heritage language acquisition (HLA).

Much work has been done on heritage learner identity (e.g. He, 2014) but the theoretical models have thus far largely assumed a static representation of heritage acquisition as a process of incomplete bilingual rather than multilingual acquisition. Thus, the linguistic heterogeneity of the heritage learner (HL) population is primarily viewed as comprising wide ranging differences in bilingual proficiency but has not generally been seen as stemming from the complex linguistic backgrounds of many heritage learners who grew up with multiple languages.

In this paper, I will take a closer look at heritage learners from multilingual backgrounds who are studying less commonly taught languages (LCTLs) and I will discuss how they negotiate their identities within a plurilingual and pluricultural context. The LCTLs have generally been under-represented in the HLA literature, although an understanding of the students’ learning trajectories can contribute to a more nuanced perspective on the complexities of HLA within a plurilingual world. I will outline some of the implications for aligning HLA theory more closely with current SLA theory.


He, A.  (2014). Heritage language development and identity construction throughout the life cycle. In Wiley et al. (Eds.) (Eds.). Handbook of heritage, community, and Native American languages in the U.S. Research, policy, and educational practice (324-332). Routledge.

Kagan, O. & Kresin, S. (2008). Czech emigration and Czech heritage: Implications for teaching.  In Cravens et al.  (Eds.), Between Texts, Languages and Cultures: A Festschrift for Michael Henry Heim (109-20). Slavica.

Kubota, R. (2016). The multi/plural turn, postcolonial theory, and neoliberal multiculturalism: Complicities and implications for applied linguistics. Applied Linguistics 37(4), 474-494.

May, S. (Ed.) (2014). The multilingual turn: Implications for SLA, TESOL, and bilingual education. Routledge.

Ortega, L. (2014). Ways forward for a bi/multilingual turn in SLA. In S. May (Ed.), (32-54).