The Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion

Recognising the contribution of Wales in contemporary society

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home > Transactions > Volume 20 - 2014 > Heritage Welsh and the Bilingual Continuum: Gender Under Incomplete Acquisition

Heritage Welsh and the Bilingual Continuum: Gender Under Incomplete Acquisition

The term heritage language (HL) refers to the proficiency of a speaker with a particular language background. The label connotes a cultural connection between the speaker and the language, but, in the narrow sense used here, also indicates some level of functional proficiency in that language. The heritage speaker is both, and neither, a native and non-native speaker. The HL was the First language (L1) chronologically, but the acquisition process was curtailed during childhood. Consequently, that L1 never reached full native speaker proficiency. The result is an imbalanced bilingual whose second language (L2) has become her dominant language. This bilingual state is closely connected to the phenomenon of language shift, not only in the context of immigration, but also among young speakers of minority languages. In the Celtic countries, these speakers have been referred to most frequently as ‘semi-speakers’,2 though I hope to make a case for a revision of that terminology here.

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