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Stable and vulnerable domains in Germanic heritage languages


  • Marit Westergaard UiT The Arctic University of Norway/NTNU Norwegian University of Science and Technology
  • Tanja Kupisch Universität Konstanz/UiT The Arctic University of Norway



This paper provides an overview of Germanic languages as heritage languages, i.e. languages acquired naturalistically by children in parts of the world where these languages are not the majority language. Summarizing research on different types of heritage speakers of Danish, German, Icelandic, Norwegian, and Swedish, we identify certain stable and vulnerable domains. We focus on the so far best studied areas, word order and grammatical gender, adding evidence from other lesser studied domains, such as definiteness and phonology. We propose that in addition to the linguistic make-up of the phenomena in question, the size of the heritage community and, relatedly, opportunities to use the language need to be taken into account. The latter may explain, for example, why moribund varieties of German and the Scandinavian languages in North America appear to be less stable than the language of second-generation heritage speakers in Europe.