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Regular version of the site

Article

Heritage speakers can actively shape not only their grammar but also their processing

Sekerina I. A., Laurinavichyute A.

Polinsky and Scontras (Polinsky & Scontras), in their thought-provoking keynote article, bring
together two perspectives on heritage languages, i.e., of theoretical linguistics and of psycho-
linguistics, and show how they interact and enrich each other. The authors list three causes of
differences (transfer from the dominant language, attrition, divergent attainment) and out-
comes (avoidance of ambiguity, resistance to irregularity, shrinkage of structure) of how the
heritage languages differ from their baselines, but say that they do not know whether there
is “agency on the part of heritage speakers” with regards to these outcomes. In this commen-
tary, we provide psycholinguistic evidence that supports Polinsky and Scontras’ idea of how
important it is for psycholinguistics and the linguistic theory of heritage languages to feed
each other. We show that (a) heritage speakers’ processing can diverge from the baseline in
online but not offline measures, (b) transfer from the dominant language does not always hap-
pen, and (c) heritage speakers can actively shape their processing that can contribute to heri-
tage language restructuring in a chain reaction fashion.