Abstracts: 2020-2021 Academic Year

NB: All talks this academic year will take place virtually on a Friday 17.00-18.00 CE(S)T. The link with the virtual room address will be posted here, and on the landing page of this website.

Kate Bellamy (Lacito-CNRS), Brechje van Osch (Arctic University of Norway) & M. Carmen Parafita Couto (Leiden University)
Consistent definitions matter! Problematising the ‘heritage’ labels in bilingualism research

In this position paper, we depart from the observation that the burgeoning field of heritage language studies displays considerable inconsistency in the use of the terms ‘heritage language’ (HL) and ‘heritage speaker’ (HS), especially in relation to other categories, such as ‘minority language’, ‘endangered language’ and ‘native speaker’. Not only does the interchangeable use of these terms potentially cause confusion, the lack of consensus renders comparison between studies – especially those from different frameworks – problematic. We address two issues here: first, the definition of a HL and how HSs are claimed to differ (or not) from other types of asymmetric bilinguals; and second, why seemingly HLs require special attention, and special terminology, apart from other instances of bilingualism. These issues lead us to question the very construct of a heritage grammar (HG).

Defining what is meant by HL is not a new endeavour (see, for example, Polinsky, 2018; Ortega, 2019; Aalberse et al. 2019 for recent overviews). Key dimensions underpinning the proposed definitions include its official status and whether it is “divergent” from a baseline, as well as the language dominance, age of acquisition of dominant language, and personal or ethnic ties of the HSs (Aalberse et al., 2019: 11). One might argue that as long as each researcher defines what is meant by HL/HS in any given study, then the terminological issue is avoided. We argue that the solution isn’t that simple, since generalizations across studies are simply not possible if the HL populations are not comparable (see also Nagy, 2015). The label HL implies that all such languages can somehow be grouped together, as can ‘Romance languages’ or ‘endangered languages’, which importantly are categorised according to different, but clearly defined and measurable, criteria (genealogical affiliation vs. number of speakers). Moreover, a label such as ‘Heritage Spanish’ is overly generalised, paying insufficient attention to the varying societally dominant language(s), or the specific social circumstances of a given HS community.

Regarding the definition of HSs, studies variously label speakers whose age of onset of the dominant societal language ranges from birth to 15 years old (Ortega, 2019). It should come as no surprise, then, that we find non-trivial differences between HS populations across multiple variables. Some studies show that adult HSs pattern with L2 learners, child (L1) language learners, or with attrited native speakers (see Polinksy & Scontras, 2019). Others show that HSs behave as monolinguals, while others do not, a contrast linked to formal education in the HL (Kupisch & Rothman, 2018). Either HSs are unpredictable or the populations under investigation differ according to meaningful variables. These differences, in dominance, age of acquisition, age of interruption of input, domains of usage, formal education, prestige, etc. are exactly those found, and controlled for, in bilingualism studies more generally (see Mueller Gathercole, 2008).

To single out HLs and their associated HGs for special treatment seems unmotivated; psycholinguists see no principled reason to do so (see Aalberse et al., 2019: 184), so why do theoretical and sociolinguists? If we can define and discuss HSs and HLs using the terminology and methodologies already available to us in bilingualism and language contact research, why do we need (yet) another category of bilingual (see also Otheguy, 2013)? Adding further complexity to the typology of bilinguals not only risks excessive separatism in the field, but it also continues to ignore the reality of bilingualism as a gradient variable (e.g. Luk & Bialystok, 2004). No bilingual individual or community is evenly balanced, therefore HSs simply constitute asymmetric bilinguals of varying degrees, dependent on multiple variables. Their linguistic behaviour is naturally of interest, since it is informative about both language-internal and contact-induced change, as well as about language acquisition and attrition. But rather than treating them as a special group from the outset (Polinsky, 2018: 349), ​if we are to understand the nature of bilingualism, we need empirical evidence to assume that ‘imbalanced’ bilingualism of a particular kind (heritage in this case) merits special treatment.


Aalberse, Suzanne, Ad Backus & Pieter Muysken. 2019. ​Heritage Languages: A language contact approach. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
Luk, Gigi & Ellen Bialystok. 2014. Bilingualism is not a categorical variable: Interaction between language proficiency and usage, ​Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 25 (5): 605-621.
Kupisch, Tanja & Jason Rothman. 2018. Terminology matters! Why difference is not incompleteness and how early child bilinguals are heritage speakers. ​International Journal of Bilingualism, 22 (5): 564-582.
Mueller Gathercole, Virginia C. 2008. Miami and North Wales, So Far and Yet So Near: A Constructivist Account of Morphosyntactic Development in Bilingual Children. ​International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 10 (3): 224-247.
Nagy, Naomi. 2015. A sociolinguistic view of null subjects and VOT in Toronto heritage languages. ​Lingua 164: 309-327.
Ortega, Lourdes. 2019. The Study of Heritage Language Development From a Bilingualism and Social Justice Perspective. ​Language Learning 70 (S1): 15–53.
Otheguy, R. 2013. ​The linguistic competence of second – generation bilinguals: A critique of “incomplete acquisition”. Keynote Address delivered at the Linguistic Symposium on the Romance Languages. The Graduate Center, City University of New York, April 17–19, 2013.
Polinsky, Maria. 2018. ​Heritage Languages and Their Speakers.
Polinsky, Maria & Gregory Scontras. 2019. Understanding heritage languages. ​Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 1-17.

Marie Jacobs (Ghent University)
The Discursive Construction of Credibility: Storytelling in the Asylum Procedure

This talk examines interactional management practices in legal consultations between asylum seekers and their lawyers in Flanders, Belgium. Drawing upon linguistic-ethnographic fieldwork (authentic data in the form of participant observation, audio-recordings and interviews), I will investigate how both parties work together to re-orient the asylum seeker’s story from the authentic-experiential version, that he or she is prone to tell, towards a more objectified formal-institutional account, that has a better chance of being recognised as “credible” or “valid” by the asylum authorities (Jacobs & Maryns 2020). This re-orientation process is characterised by competing legal and experiential voices (Habermas 1996) as well as diverging views on roles and responsibilities (Smith-Khan 2020, Reynolds 2020). The data also reveals (micro) demonstrations of agency on the part of the asylum seekers, an observation that counters the prevalent discourse that conceptualises applicants for international protection as vulnerable, passive victims (Mainwaring 2016).

Remco Knooihuizen & Max Reuvers (University of Groningen)
The effects of hormone replacement therapy on the speech of transgender men 

Transgender men undergoing hormone replacement therapy through the administration of testosterone undergo physiological changes to their larynx and vocal folds that result in lower pitch. These changes are relatively well understood through research in medicine and speech therapy (Azul, 2015; Azul et al., 2017). But masculinity in voice depends on other cues than pitch as well; some of these may be physiological in nature, and others call for a sociolinguistic approach (Zimman, 2017).

Teasing apart the physiological and the sociolinguistic in transmasculine voice change is tricky, as there is great inter- and intra-speaker variation in the range of masculinities and other identities conveyed in speech (Zimman, 2018). To shed another light on this debate, we present data from an ongoing case study of two bilingual transmasculine speakers with differential socialisation in their two languages, Dutch and English.

Longitudinal data from monthly conversations of approx. 20 minutes in each of the two languages, starting simultaneously with hormone replacement theory, is analysed for (a) pitch, (b) vowel formants, and (c) spectral properties of /s/. We offer sociophonetic interpretations and suggest avenues for further research.

Jacomine Nortier (Utrecht University)
Multilingualism in old songs from the Low Countries

An intriguing aspect of medieval and early modern songs in the Low Countries is that a small proportion is multilingual. In several databases, songs are found in which Dutch is combined with Latin, French, German or other languages. An example is In Dulci Jubilo of which many versions are known with varying parts in Dutch or German and Latin (from the 14th century on). For a sociolinguist specialised in multilingualism, the medieval and early modern songs are an intriguing field where multilingualism serves a multitude of functions.

In spoken language, the use of more than one language may indicate, e.g., lack of knowledge in one of the languages or the expression of belonging to more than one culture. In songs, the functions may overlap with functions of multilingualism in spoken language. There are some differences, though, which may have consequences. Spoken language is spontaneous, there is not always time to look for the best or most appropriate word in one language (L) so the other L can be used, provided that speech partners master the same Ls. However, multilingualism in songs is not used ‘by accident’ but it is used with a purpose.

In my paper, I will present an analysis of functional aspects of multilingualism in old songs. Besides, a linguistic analysis reveals that types of codeswitching that do not occur in contemporary conversations are found in these songs. I will discuss whether Myers-Scottons Matrix Language Frame model (1993) is useful in the study of old multilingual songs.

The analyses will be based on a collection of songs mainly selected from the Liederenbank (Meertensinstituut, Amsterdam).


Myers-Scotton, Carol (1993) Duelling Languages. Oxford: Clarendon.

Nanna Hilton (University of Groningen/EFTA)
(abstract coming soon…)

Matthew John Hadodo (University of Pittsburgh)
Embodying Istanbul Greek: How language ideologies interact with speaker identities

Contemporary sociolinguistic research increasingly considers the lived experiences of speakers through the concept of embodiment. In this presentation, I analyze metapragmatic discourse of Istanbul Greek (IG) to address the role of language ideologies in the embodiment of a minoritized speech community. Specifically, I explore how IG-speakers understand themselves as embodying characteristics of the dialect (e.g., heaviness), and how the dialect reinforces traits of the community (e.g., cosmopolitanism).

IG is a contact variety of Greek as spoken by the few remaining IG speakers indigenous to Istanbul. Turkish, French and other minority languages of Istanbul have influenced multiple levels of linguistic structure in IG (Hadodo, 2020). Extensive ethnographic fieldwork and sociolinguistic interviews with over 100 IG-speakers revealed that widespread multilingualism and contact-induced change on IG are viewed as demonstrating cosmopolitanism absent in other Greek communities. Furthermore, IG-speakers often use descriptors such as “heavy” or “closed-off” not only to characterize IG dialectal features such as velarized laterals, but also to discuss social behaviors of the IG community.

Through metapragmatic discourse, IG-speakers distinguish themselves from other types of Greeks based on language ideologies. Consequently, we can better understand community formation when considering how speakers view themselves as embodying distinct traits based on language usage.

Roosmaryn Pilgram (Leiden University)
Sharing is Caring: Developing a Conversation-Sensitive Model of Shared Decision Making in Medical Consultation
(abstract coming soon…)

Andrew HarveyRichard Griscom (Leiden University)
Can the Subaltern Document? A mixed methods analysis of community-led  language documentation

When involving members of a speech community in the documentation of their own language, it is common to work with speakers who have some experience with formal education or technology (Roche et al. 2010; Olko 2019). But what about communities whose speakers have very little access to both? This talk describes documentary projects (viz. Harvey 2017, Griscom 2018, Harvey 2019, Griscom and Harvey 2020) spanning approximately ten years and involving four different speaker communities of the Tanzanian Rift Valley Area, all of which could be described as low-resource, marginalised, or existing outside of the larger power-structure.

Specifically, we aim here to assert that not only are Local Researcher led projects in these contexts possible (see Griscom 2020), but that they also result in objectively better documentations. In a previous talk (Griscom and Harvey 2021), a mixed methods analysis showed how Local Researcher led projects can produce documentations more comprehensive than those produced solely by outsider researchers, and thus of greater value to both linguists and fields beyond. This talk explores the other side of this coin, and employs a mixed methods analysis to show how Local Researcher led projects, especially in the context of marginalised speaker communities, can produce documentations more emically meaningful than those produced solely by outside researchers, and thus of greater value to the speaker community itself.

Methods will include a quantitative review of our projects, showing how Local Researchers work in different patterns to outsider linguists (i.e. the authors), as well as a qualitative examination of the nature of some of these different patterns. Patterns identified as supporting emically meaningful documentation are identified and suggestions for how to support these practices are provided.


Griscom, Richard. 2018. Documentation of Isimjeega Datooga. Hosted at the Endangered Languages Archive. Accessible at https://elar.soas.ac.uk/Collection/MPI971096
Griscom, Richard. 2020. Bush2Town: community-based research with the Hadza and Ihanzu. Talk given at the Rift Valley Network Webinar Series. 09/09/2020. DOI: https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.4022304
Griscom, Richard and Andrew Harvey. 2020. Hadza: an archive of language and cultural material from the Hadzabe people of Eyasi (Arusha, Manyara, Singida, and Simiyu Regions, Tanzania). Endangered Languages Archive. Accessible at http://hdl.handle.net/2196/82e2b99d-5c62-4210-8903-8dd976337c10
Griscom, Richard and Andrew Harvey. 2021. Community members make a more comprehensive documentary record. To be presented at the International Conference of Language Documentation and Conservation, March 4th, 2021.
Harvey, Andrew. 2017. Gorwaa: an archive of language and cultural material from the Gorwaa people of Babati (Manyara Region, Tanzania). London: SOAS, Endangered Languages Archive. Accessible at https://elar.soas.ac.uk/Collection/MPI1014224
Harvey, Andrew. 2019. Ihanzu: an archive of language and cultural material from the Ihanzu people of Mkalama (Singida Region, Tanzania). London: SOAS, Endangered Languages Archive. Accessible at https://elar.soas.ac.uk/Collection/MPI1315685
Olko, Justyna. 2019. Spaces for participatory research, decolonization and community empowerment: working with speakers of Nahuatl in Mexico. Language Documentation and Description 16: 1-34. Accessible at http://www.elpublishing.org/docs/1/08/ldd08_08.pdf
Roche, Gerald, Ban+de mkhar, Bkra shis bzang po, G.yu lha, Snying dkar skyid, Tshe ring rnam gyal, Zla ba sgrol ma, and Charles Kevin Stuart. 2010. Participatory Culture Documentation on the Tibetan Plateau. Language Documentation and Description 8: 140-158. Accessible at http://www.elpublishing.org/docs/1/16/ldd16_01.pd