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Bilingualism, Heritage Language Learners, and SLA Research: Opportunities Lost or Seized?

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In this article I invite a reconceptualization and expansion of the field of second language acquisition (SLA) by examining possible intersections between SLA and the area of language instruction currently referred to as the teaching of heritage languages. I discuss the ways in which the opportunity of broadening SLA-and-instruction research can be seized by current researchers so that it can address the most intractable educational problems involving language. Drawing from current research on bilingualism, I first describe the challenges of providing language instruction for heritage speakers and examine the bilingualism of these unique language learners. I then offer an overview of the questions raised by the study of heritage language learners. Finally, I describe communities of professional practice and existing disciplinary boundaries and conclude with a discussion of the ways in which the field of SLA can draw from other areas in order to affect the educational futures of language minority children around the world and, at the same time, contribute to our greater understanding of the human language faculty.
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Bilingualism, Heritage Language
Learners, and SLA Research:
Opportunities Lost or Seized?
GUADALUPE VALD´
ES
Department of Spanish and Portuguese
Stanford University
Pigott Hall, Building 260
Stanford, CA 94305-2014
Email: gvaldes@stanford.edu
In this article I invite a reconceptualization and expansion of the field of second language
acquisition (SLA) by examining possible intersections between SLA and the area of language
instruction currently referred to as the teaching of heritage languages. I discuss the ways
in which the opportunity of broadening SLA-and-instruction research can be seized by cur-
rent researchers so that it can address the most intractable educational problems involving
language. Drawing from current research on bilingualism, I first describe the challenges of
providing language instruction for heritage speakers and examine the bilingualism of these
unique language learners. I then offer an overview of the questions raised by the study of her-
itage language learners. Finally, I describe communities of professional practice and existing
disciplinary boundaries and conclude with a discussion of the ways in which the field of SLA
can draw from other areas in order to affect the educational futures of language minority
children around the world and, at the same time, contribute to our greater understanding of
the human language faculty.
THE PURPOSE OF THIS ARTICLE IS TO
invite a reconceptualization and expansion of
the field of second language acquisition (SLA)
by examining possible intersections between SLA
and the area of language instruction currently re-
ferred to as the teaching of heritage languages.
In proposing a reconceptualization of SLA, I am
well aware of the existing disagreement within this
field about the relationship between SLA and lan-
guage pedagogy. Some researchers (e.g., Crookes,
1997; Spolsky, 1990) consider that a relationship
between these two areas is fundamental, while oth-
ers (e.g., Sharwood Smith, 1994) view SLA as en-
gaged in basic rather than applied research and
in contributing, not to the teaching of language,
but to the understanding of the workings of the
human mind while following the methodological
standards of quantitative-experimental scientific
The Modern Language Journal, 89, iii, (2005)
0026-7902/05/410–426 $1.50/0
C
2005 The Modern Language Journal
inquiry. My own position concurs with the for-
mer. I agree with Ortega’s injunctions (this issue)
about the role and purpose of research: (a) that
research should be inspired by considerations of
societal needs, and (b) that in carrying out re-
search we should embrace with genuine concern
questions of “for whom” and “for what.”
In proposing a reconceptualization of SLA, I
argue that an intersection between the area of
heritage language teaching and SLA responds
to Cook’s (2002) proposal to researchers to al-
ter the perspective of SLA by including second
language (L2) users. I also suggest that a mean-
ingful connection between these two areas would
begin to address recent criticisms about the nar-
rowness of SLA (Block, 2003; Firth & Wagner,
1997; Johnson, 2004) by focusing on the com-
plexities of heritage language speakers within
whose lives commonplace concepts such as mother
tongue,first language, second language, dominant
language, and home language become problematic.
I maintain that the term Second Language Acqui-
sition, as Block (2003) has argued, has “built-in
Guadalupe Vald´
es 411
assumptions about monolingualism and separa-
ble L1 [first language] and L2 competences”
(p. 44). These assumptions have not allowed the
field to engage in the examination of instructed
language acquisition beyond L2 learners or to
address the most challenging issues and prob-
lems that arise in various educational contexts
for the most vulnerable minority language speak-
ers around the world. A reconceptualized field of
SLA, as I envision it in this article, would exam-
ine language learning in various language edu-
cation contexts and view the language education
field as going beyond beginning, intermediate,
and advanced L2 instruction and as involving sev-
eral types of language acquisition/development
as well, such as acquisition of second dialects,
acquisition of a standard language, acquisition
or development of specialized language registers
and styles, and acquisition of written language. I
strongly believe that this reconceptualization has
the potential to allow the field of SLA to address
today’s most intractable educational problems in-
volving language.
The article is organized as follows. I first de-
scribe the challenges of providing language in-
struction for heritage speakers and examine the
bilingualism of these unique language learners. In
doing so, I draw on a bilingualist perspective of L2
and heritage language acquisition that emerges
from the study of bilingualism and has been advo-
cated by some in SLA (notably, Cook, 1992, 2002).
I argue, however, that the term L1/L2 user is a bet-
ter choice than L2 user as a synonym for the her-
itage language learner. I then offer an overview of
the questions raised for the field of SLA by this par-
ticular educational endeavor. Finally, I describe
communities of professional practice and exist-
ing disciplinary boundaries and conclude with a
discussion of the ways in which the opportunity
of broadening the field of SLA can be seized by
current researchers so that it can directly affect
the educational futures of language minority chil-
dren around the world and, at the same time,
contribute to our greater understanding of the
human language faculty.
HERITAGE LANGUAGE SPEAKERS:
PROBLEMS OF DEFINITION
In recent years, the term heritage language has
been used broadly to refer to nonsocietal and
nonmajority languages spoken by groups often
known as linguistic minorities. Those members
of linguistic minorities who are concerned about
the study, maintenance, and revitalization of their
minority languages have been referred to as her-
itage language students. Such minorities include
populations who are either indigenous to a par-
ticular region of a present-day nation-state (e.g.,
Aborigines in Australia, speakers of Breton in
France, Kurds in Turkey, Iran, and Iraq) or pop-
ulations that have migrated to areas other than
their own regions or nations of origin (e.g., Mex-
icans in the United States, Turks in Germany,
Moroccans in Spain, Pakistanis in England). Mi-
nority languages or heritage languages include
indigenous languages that are often endangered
and in danger of disappearing (Scots Gaelic,
Maori, Romani) as well as world languages that
are commonly spoken in many other regions
of the world (Spanish in the United States,
Arabic in France).1Because these speakers may
acquire and use two or more languages in order to
meet their everyday communicative needs in such
settings, they have been referred to as circumstan-
tial bilinguals/multilinguals (Vald´
es & Figueroa,
1994) and contrasted with elite or elective bilin-
guals/multilinguals who learn a L2 in classroom
settings and have few opportunities to use the
language for genuine communication. Circum-
stantial bilingualism/multilingualism is generally
characteristic of populations who occupy subal-
tern positions in particular settings, whether they
are indigenous minorities in established nation
states (e.g., Bretons, Samis, Kurds) or other bor-
der crossers such as migrants, refugees, nomads,
and exiles.
As the work carried out by Fishman (1964,
1985) has made evident, minority language com-
munities in the United States have been deeply
committed to maintaining their community lan-
guages. In spite of strong assimilative pressures,
these communities have nevertheless established
language programs (e.g., Saturday schools) where
children are expected to develop existing her-
itage language proficiencies. Within the last few
years, moreover, individuals concerned about
the erosion and disappearance of minority lan-
guages have turned to educational institutions
in the hope that formal classroom instruction,
by revitalizing and developing the home lan-
guages of young speakers of indigenous and
immigrant languages, will be able to retard lan-
guage shift. Fishman (2001) has argued that for
these individuals and communities it is the his-
torical and personal connection to the heritage
language that is salient and not the actual profi-
ciency of individual students. Armenian, for ex-
ample, would be considered a heritage language
for American students of Armenian ancestry even
if such students were themselves English-speaking
monolinguals. In terms of strengthening and
412 The Modern Language Journal 89 (2005)
preserving Armenian in this country, such her-
itage students would be seen as having an impor-
tant personal connection with the language and
an investment in maintaining the language for fu-
ture generations. Their motivation for studying
Armenian would thus contrast significantly with
that of typical students of foreign language.
I have argued elsewhere (Vald´
es, 2000a, 2000b,
2001) that the foreign language teaching profes-
sion currently uses the term heritage student in a re-
stricted sense that is distinct from the broad sense
of the term outlined above. In the foreign lan-
guage teaching profession, the term designates
a student of language who is raised in a home
where a non-English language is spoken. The stu-
dent may speak or merely understand the her-
itage language and be, to some degree, bilingual
in English and the heritage language. This defini-
tion is distinct from the scenario described above
where individuals work with endangered indige-
nous or immigrant languages that are not regu-
larly taught in school (e.g., as in the case of Ar-
menian). This difference has to do with actually
developed functional proficiencies in the heritage
languages. Moreover, for foreign language teach-
ing professionals, the term refers to a group of
young people who are different in important ways
from English-speaking monolingual students who
have traditionally undertaken the study of foreign
languages in U.S. schools and colleges. This need
to distinguish between the two groups of students
arose in the Spanish-teaching profession during
the 1970s. At that time, the terms native speak-
ers of Spanish,quasi native speakers of Spanish,and
bilingual students were common. A dissatisfaction
with these labels led to increased use of other
terms such as home background speakers (as used in
Australia) and heritage language speakers (as used
in Canada). Members of the profession in the
United States are currently engaged in examin-
ing the use of the term heritage language student
as they research the various types of students who
have a family background in which a non-English
language is, or was, spoken.
LANGUAGE INSTRUCTION AND HERITAGE
SPEAKERS IN THE UNITED STATES
The use of the term heritage student in the
restricted sense adopted within the foreign lan-
guage teaching profession is relatively new, and
its use was not generalized until the publication
of the Standards for Foreign Language Learning
(ACTFL, 1996). Up to that time, Spanish instruc-
tors were the only members of the foreign lan-
guage teaching profession who had worked with
large numbers of students who already under-
stood and spoke the language that they taught.
They had been doing so since the early 1970s, in
response to increasingly large numbers of Span-
ish heritage students who turned to already ex-
isting foreign language programs in language de-
partments at the postsecondary level in the hope
of developing their home languages. The large
number of Spanish speakers entering the coun-
try undoubtedly was part of the trend that signif-
icantly affected the Spanish-teaching profession.
College- and university-level faculty who had expe-
rience in teaching Spanish as a foreign language
opened their doors to students who, in some cases,
were more fluent in the language than they were,
but who could not talk about the language us-
ing the terminology used in the teaching of tradi-
tional grammar. Individuals involved in teaching
Spanish to such students in the classroom setting
quickly discovered that these young people had a
very difficult time learning grammar rules taught
to foreign language students. Not only did they
become confused by explanations of aspects of
the language that they already knew (e.g., the
difference between ser and estar), but they also
refused to confine themselves to the limited vo-
cabulary of the textbook. Because many Latino
students who entered college had been schooled
exclusively in English, they had no experience
in reading and writing in Spanish. Worst of all—
from the perspective of some faculty—they were
often speakers of stigmatized varieties of Spanish
(e.g., rural Mexican Spanish, rural Puerto Rican
Spanish). There were no textbooks on the market
that could adequately deal with the “problem,”
and there was little agreement among Spanish-
teaching professionals (most of whom had been
trained in literature) about what to do and how to
do it. The consensus, reflected in the textbooks
of that period (e.g., Baker, 1966; Barker, 1972),
was that bilingual hispanophone students were in
need of remediation, of techniques and pedago-
gies that would help undo the damage that had
been done at home.2The terms used during those
years by the Spanish-teaching profession to refer
to these students—native speakers of Spanish,quasi
native speakers of Spanish,orbilingual students—
reflected this deficit orientation. As mentioned
earlier, with time, other more positive terms such
as home background speakers and heritage language
speakers gained currency.
Since the early 1970s, the teaching of com-
monly and uncommonly taught foreign lan-
guages has greatly expanded. Interest in heritage
students and improvements in educational ap-
proaches and resources began in the late 1990s
Guadalupe Vald´
es 413
and continue today. Increased attention to the
role of formal instruction in maintaining heritage
languages has come about as a consequence of
the events of September 11th, which brought to
the nation’s attention the strategic importance
of “foreign” languages. As a result, the intelli-
gence and military communities (Muller, 2002)
have expressed a growing interest in expanding
the nation’s linguistic resources by both teach-
ing non-English languages and by maintaining
the heritage or home languages of the 47 mil-
lion individuals who reported speaking both En-
glish and a non-English language in the latest
census in 2000 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2003). For
many individuals concerned about language re-
sources, the development of strategic languages
can only be brought about by expanding the mis-
sion of foreign language departments to include
the maintenance and expansion of the varieties
of non-English languages currently spoken by im-
migrants, refugees, and their children.
Professional activities focusing on the teach-
ing of heritage languages have increased enor-
mously. The American Association of Teachers
of Spanish and Portuguese (AATSP) initiated
its Professional Development Series Handbooks for
Teachers K–16 with Volume 1: Spanish for Na-
tive Speakers (AATSP, 2000). The National For-
eign Language Center (NFLC) in cooperation
with the AATSP developed a language-based re-
source, Recursos para la Ense˜
nanza y el Apren-
dizaje de las Culturas Hispanas, known as REACH
(http://www.nflc.org/REACH/), for teachers of
Spanish to heritage speakers. The NFLC also
developed LangNet, a searchable database that
includes Spanish and contains numerous re-
sources for the teaching of heritage languages.
In collaboration with the AATSP, the NFLC
also conducted a survey of Spanish language
programs for native speakers (Ingold, Rivers,
Tesser, & Ashby, 2002). The Center for Ap-
plied Linguistics and the NFLC launched the
Alliance for the Advancement of Heritage Lan-
guages (http://www.cal.org/heritage/). The Al-
liance sponsored two national conferences, in
1999 and 2002, on the teaching of heritage lan-
guages in which many members of the Spanish-
teaching profession participated. The first con-
ference led to the publication of the volume Her-
itage Languages in America (Peyton, Ranard, &
McGinnis, 2001), in which much attention was
given to the teaching of uncommonly taught lan-
guages, and also to the publication of a special
issue of the Bilingual Research Journal focusing on
heritage languages (Wiley & Vald´
es, 2000). The
second conference led to the publication of a re-
port on research priorities on the teaching of her-
itage languages entitled Directions in Research: In-
tergenerational Transmission of Heritage Languages
(Campbell & Christian, 2003).
THE BILINGUALISM OF AMERICAN
HERITAGE LANGUAGE STUDENTS
American heritage language students include
children of native American background, foreign-
born immigrants who came to the United States at
a young age, the native-born children of foreign-
born immigrants, and occasionally the native-
born children of native-born individuals of immi-
grant background. The experiences of these her-
itage speakers are similar. They speak or hear the
heritage language spoken at home and in their
immediate communities, but, with few exceptions
(e.g., Foreign Language Elementary School pro-
grams, Bilingual Education), they receive their
formal education entirely in English. They receive
no instruction in the heritage language during the
elementary or secondary grades and, as a result,
become literate only in English.
Heritage Learners as L1/L2 Users
In the last several years, Vivian Cook, a very
distinguished researcher in the area of SLA, has
made a strong case for the study of what he refers
to as multicompetence (Cook, 1992, 2002). He has
argued that it is of particular importance for the
SLA field to engage in the study of the L2 user, an
individual who has knowledge of and uses a L2,
rather than to engage in the exclusive study of the
L2 learner, an individual whose task of acquisition
is seen as not yet finished. Drawing from research
on bilingualism, he has pointed out, moreover,
that L2 users are, by definition, different from
monolingual speakers. Rejecting the view that the
ultimate state of L2 learning is to pass undetected
among native speakers, Cook (2002) emphasized
that “the minds, languages and lives of L2 users
are different from those of monolinguals,” and
that “L2 users are not failures because they are dif-
ferent” (p. 9). In suggesting the term L2 user and
rejecting the designation bilingual, Cook (2002)
pointed out that the term has “contradictory defi-
nitions and associations in both popular and aca-
demic usage” (p. 4).
Although I do not disagree with Cook about
the contradictory definitions of the term bilin-
gual, I nevertheless argue that the term L2 user
is not entirely appropriate for the description of
heritage language learners who may, at different
points in their lives, exhibit various degrees of
414 The Modern Language Journal 89 (2005)
language expertise and language affiliation in
spite of their language inheritance (Leung,
Harris, & Rampton, 1997; Rampton, 1997). Even
though the term L2 user implies the continued
use of the L1, and even though recent work on L2
users (Cook, 2003a) is clearly concerned about
the relationship of the L1 to the L2 and of the L2
to the L1, it is my position that the term L2 user still
tends to emphasize and focus attention primarily
on the L2. In this article, I therefore use the term
L1/L2 user interchangeably with heritage student
to describe heritage learners, many of whom ac-
quire the L2 in a combination of naturalistic and
instructed settings.
The L1/L2 User Continuum
Although absolutely equivalent abilities in two
languages are theoretically possible, except for
rare geographical and familial accidents, individ-
uals seldom have access to two languages in ex-
actly the same contexts in every domain of inter-
action. L1/L2 users do not have the opportunity
to use two languages to carry out the exact same
functions with all individuals with whom they in-
teract or to use their languages intellectually to
the same degree. They thus do not develop iden-
tical strengths in both languages. Heritage L1/L2
users are bilingual individuals who manifest very
different strengths in their two languages and who
may best be thought of as falling along a contin-
uum of different types of bilinguals such as that
presented in Figure 1.
In Figure 1, different size fonts indicate differ-
ent language strengths in language A and lan-
guage B for different L1/L2 users. A recently
arrived immigrant, for example, might be repre-
sented as Ab (dominant in the immigrant lan-
guage and in the beginning stages of learning
English). Similarly, a fourth-generation L1/L2
user could be represented as Ba (having acquired
English as a L1, dominant in English, and still
retaining some proficiency in the immigrant lan-
guage). In minority language communities all
FIGURE 1
A Continuum of L1/L2 Users
Monolingual Monolingual
A Ab Ab Ab Ab Ab AB aB aB Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba B
over the world, such different types of L1/L2 users
live together and interact with each other and with
monolinguals on a daily basis, using one or the
other of their two languages. L1/L2 users will fluc-
tuate in their preference or perceived strengths in
each language, depending on the nature of the in-
teraction, the topic of discussion, the domain of
activity, and the formality or the informality of the
situation.
Heritage Learners (L1/L2 Users) as Speakers of
Contact Varieties of Language
L1/L2 users are speakers of what is known in
the field of bilingualism and sociolinguistics as
contact varieties of language. Languages are said
to be in contact (Weinreich, 1974)when they are
used alternately by the same speakers to engage
in communication. A Singaporean youngster, for
example, who uses Chinese at home, English
in school, Malay in the market place, and both
Chinese and English with his same-age friends,
lives in a setting in which Malay, English, and
Chinese are in contact. The young speaker him-
self is considered to be the locus of language
contact.
Contact varieties of language have developed
in very different types of settings all over the
world, most frequently as a result of a socio-
historical background involving nation-building,
conquest, colonization, and immigration. Exam-
ples include the so-called New Englishes spoken
around the world in postcolonial settings (e.g., In-
dian English); the varieties of Spanish spoken by
Quechua, Aymara, and Maya bilinguals in Latin
America; as well as Canadian French; Louisiana
French; Chicano English; and varieties of U.S.
Spanish. In the United States, all non-English lan-
guages spoken by indigenous or immigrant mi-
norities as well as by political refugees, exiles, and
professional elites are in contact with English in
that these non-English languages are used alter-
nately with English by the same speakers. As is
the case with all languages in contact—depending
Guadalupe Vald´
es 415
on a variety of social factors—the results of such
contact may include language shift (the abandon-
ment of the regular use of the non-English lan-
guage) as well as development of ways of speaking
that are different from those used by monolingual
speakers in countries of origin. In such settings,
bilingual individuals develop a special bilingual
communication mode (Grosjean, 1997), used pri-
marily with other bilinguals, that is character-
ized by widespread borrowing of lexical items as
well as by code-switching, the alternating use of
two languages at word, phrase, or clause levels.
Over time, contact varieties of language are often
characterized by loss, addition, and replacement
of linguistic features.
The Knowledge Systems of L1/L2 Users: A
Bilingualist Perspective
By definition, L1/L2 users have internalized
two implicit linguistic knowledge systems, one in
each of their languages. Whether they acquired
the societal language and the heritage language
simultaneously as infants or sequentially as young
children or as adolescents, L1/L2 users utilize
their two languages on an everyday basis with in-
terlocutors who are both monolingual in each of
their two languages as well as bilingual in both lan-
guages. Moreover, as Grosjean (1985) and Cook
(1997) have argued, L1/L2 users are not two
monolinguals in one, but rather specific speaker-
hearers who have acquired their two languages
in particular contexts and for particular reasons.
Viewed from a bilingualist rather than a mono-
lingualist perspective, L1/L2 users have acquired
two knowledge systems that they use in order carry
out their particular communicative needs, needs
that may be quite unlike those of monolingual
native speakers who use a single language in all
communicative interactions.
Also arguing for a bilingualist perspective on
L1/L2 users, Grosjean (1997) contended that, at
any given moment, bilinguals are in states of acti-
vation of their languages and language processing
mechanisms that are either monolingual or bilin-
gual. Depending on the base language used and
the interlocutors involved, a L1/L2 user will be
either in (a) a monolingual mode in language A,
(b) a monolingual mode in language B, or (c) a
bilingual mode. While the language user is in one
or the other of the monolingual modes, the other
language is deactivated to some extent and trans-
fer between the two languages is reduced. While
the speaker is in the bilingual mode, however, be-
cause both languages are active, transfer between
the two languages as well as the tendency to code-
switch is evident to a greater degree. Grosjean
argued that, since language behavior in different
modes most probably reflects how bilinguals pro-
cess their two languages, research on bilingual
competence and performance must take into ac-
count language mode.
The notion of the native speaker—especially as
applied to bilingual individuals—is neither sim-
ple, obvious, nor straightforward (Davis, 1991,
2003). From some perspectives (e.g., Coulmas,
1981), potential informants can only be speakers
“whose first language it is” (p. 4). According to
this view, there is a qualitative difference between
a L1 and a L2. Other students of the concept of na-
tive speaker take an even more extreme position.
Ballmer (1981), for example, argued that bilin-
gual individuals are not native speakers of either
of their languages. According to Kramsch (1997),
“originally, native speakership was viewed as an un-
controversial privilege of birth. Those who were
born into a language were considered its native
speakers, with grammatical intuitions that non-
native speakers did not have” (p. 363). Kramsch
argued that a close examination of the concept
reveals that it has often been linked to social class
and to education. She maintained that the native-
speaker norm that has been recognized by for-
eign language departments in the United States,
for example, is that of “the middle-class, ethni-
cally dominant male citizenry of nation-states” (p.
363). By implication, the language of non-middle-
class citizens of such nations has been considered
suspect.
Taking a slightly different perspective, Haugen
(1970) contended that the native-speaker norm,
even as a popular concept, is difficult to apply to
most bilinguals:
To be natively competent in two languages would
then mean to have had two childhoods, so that all
the joys and frustrations of the fundamental period
of life could penetrate one’s emotional response to
the simple words of the language. It would mean to
have acquired the skills of reading and writing that
go with two separate educational systems such as all
literate societies now impose on their adolescents, or
the corresponding rigorous forms of initiation and
skill development that formed part of all nonliterate
societies. It would mean to have two different identi-
ties, one looking at the world from one point of view,
the other from another: it would mean sharing in the
social forms, prejudices, and insights of two cultures.
In short, it would mean being two entirely different
people. (p. 225)
More important, is it perhaps not the case that
all monolingual native speakers would be success-
ful if measured against the norm of the educated
416 The Modern Language Journal 89 (2005)
native speaker? It thus makes little sense to use
a monolingual native-speaker norm to evaluate
the competence of L1/L2 users. As Cook (1997)
has argued, it is not clear why we should “ever
compare two types of people in terms of a book-
keeping exercise of profit and loss” (p. 294).
QUESTIONS RAISED BY THE STUDY OF
L1/L2 USERS
The greatest challenge facing the foreign lan-
guage profession in teaching L1/L2 users who
elect to maintain or develop their L1 in formal in-
structional settings is the design of instruction that
is not only appropriate for their current and fu-
ture needs but that is also based on coherent the-
ories of instructed language acquisition for these
particular groups of learners. Ideally, pedagogi-
cal approaches designed for L1/L2 users would
be based on an understanding of the implicit lin-
guistic knowledge systems of these learners and
on a familiarity with the processes involved when
speakers of such nondominant first languages at-
tempt to develop or re-acquire these languages
in formal instructional settings. At present, al-
though we have some knowledge of the role of
instruction in restructuring the interlanguages of
L2 learners,3we have no information about the
role of formal instruction in restructuring or re-
shaping the knowledge systems of learners who
are in many ways quite different from traditional
classroom learners.
Identifying Key Differences among L1/L2 Users
Given the complexity of the bilingual experi-
ence and the fact that there are few L1/L2 users
who are ambilingual, we can hypothesize that
there are important differences in the implicit
linguistic knowledge systems of various types of
L1/L2 users who are grouped under the label
heritage speakers in an academic context. A re-
search agenda designed to support theories of the
development/reacquisition of heritage languages
that are acquired as L1s by these users, therefore,
would need to begin by developing procedures
for examining similarities and differences among
individual heritage speakers of the same language
as well as between categories of heritage speakers
of different languages. These procedures would
be directed to the development of typologies of
heritage speakers that are potentially important
for classroom instruction. What are needed are
typologies that go beyond the traditional genera-
tional categorizations (first, second, third gener-
ation) of immigrant speakers commonly used in
sociolinguistic research as well as beyond other
categorizations that have focused on recency of
arrival, schooling, and access to the standard lan-
guage (e.g., Vald´
es, 1995). For pedagogical pur-
poses, useful classifications should be able to pro-
vide information about the linguistic proficiencies
of L1/L2 users, the characteristics of their under-
lying implicit knowledge systems, and the differ-
ences among L1/L2 users of the same generation
and background.
In order to provide adequate instruction for
L1/L2 users, it is important to determine not only
speaking fluency in general, but also the number
of registers and varieties that speakers can pro-
duce and understand as well as their levels of lit-
eracy in the heritage language. Fine-grained cat-
egorizations are a necessary preliminary to the
detailed study of both inter- and intraheritage
learner variation in the various subsystems of
their nondominant language. Assessment proce-
dures are needed that adapt or draw directly from
methodologies used in the study of fossilization
in L2 learners (Han, 2003) and that include oral
and written proficiency tests, dialect- and register-
sensitive cloze procedures (Gibbons & Ramirez,
2004), and grammaticality or acceptability judg-
ments. A focus on the linguistic forms frequently
examined by L2 researchers might be especially
useful in comparing L1/L2 users with L2 learners
and in examining the role of instruction in the de-
velopment/reacquisition of heritage languages in
classroom contexts.
Identifying the Communal Language
It is clear that, in order to understand the
knowledge systems of L1/L2 users, an analytical
model is needed that is capable not only of “trac-
ing changes in relative L1 competence over time,
after immigrants have arrived in the L2 environ-
ment” (Kenny, 1996, p. 6), but also of providing
information about what Mufwene (2001) referred
to as the communal language to which they have
been exposed as well as the I-Language (an indi-
vidual speaker’s idiolect). A speaker who has been
raised in a community within which the commu-
nal language is a contact variety of that language,
for example, will produce speech that may appear
flawed from the perspective of an urban or pres-
tige monolingual variety. Such seemingly flawed
speech, however, might nevertheless be gener-
ated by a fully acquired linguistic system that has
not undergone attrition. As Kenny (1996) argued,
in understanding language loss or attrition, re-
searchers must go beyond a structural approach
that is limited to the identification and analysis of
Guadalupe Vald´
es 417
linguistic elements that appear to be either dif-
ferent or missing when compared to the speech
of normative L1 speakers. In immigrant commu-
nities, the various incoming varieties of the her-
itage language may have converged to produce a
new dialect through processes involving accom-
modation, the development of interdialectalisms,
leveling, and simplification (Penny, 2000). The re-
sulting communal language may have undergone
a series of both downward and upward changes
through the imitation of both the features used
by high prestige speakers as well as features used
by less privileged speakers who nevertheless en-
joy covert prestige. Features that were stigma-
tized in the original home country, for example,
may spread among speakers who need particular
“street credibility” (Penny, 2000, p. 69). In addi-
tion, moreover, through its contact with the domi-
nant language, the communal language may have
also undergone contact-induced language change
(Thomason, 2001; Thomason & Kaufman, 1988)
through lexical and structural borrowing. Finally,
changes may have taken place in the communal
language that, while originating in the monolin-
gual environment, may have been accelerated be-
cause of contact with the dominant language.4
TOWARDS A THEORY OF HERITAGE
LANGUAGE REACQUISITION/
DEVELOPMENT
Briefly stated, the real world problem in the
case of L1/L2 users who elect to study their L1
formally is designing instruction that is appropri-
ate to their current and future needs and goals. In
order to design appropriate instruction, it is nec-
essary to determine which students—by formally
studying their L1—are involved in one or more of
the following processes: (a) acquisition of incom-
pletely acquired features of the L1 as a “second”
language, (b) first language (re-)acquisition in-
volving the acquisition of features that have under-
gone attrition, (c) acquisition of a second dialect
(D2 acquisition), (d) development of discourse
skills in the written and oral language including
the acquisition of formal registers and styles (R2
acquisition) and literacy, and (e) expansion of re-
ceptive proficiencies into productive grammars.
Incomplete Acquisition of the Heritage Language
Some heritage speakers seeking formal instruc-
tion in their L1 may have incompletely acquired
some features of the language. In her work on
the Spanish of Los Angeles, for example, Silva-
Corval´
an (1994, 2003a, 2003b) reported on the
Spanish of young children in Los Angeles who
at school age had not yet acquired the complete
tense, aspect, and mood system of Spanish. Ex-
planations she considered include (a) the limited
access to Spanish language input, given that in Los
Angeles the use of Spanish in the home appears
to be much less frequent among both second-
and third-generation speakers than among first-
generation speakers; and (b) the extended, in-
tensive contact with the societal language in the
school context, which appears to interrupt the
normal process of L1 acquisition in later child-
hood. Heritage language children move through
the same stages of acquisition at an early stage as
do youngsters in monolingual settings, although
at possibly a different rate and, once the L2 be-
comes dominant, their use of the L1 decreases
significantly. Silva-Corval´
an argued that, without
L1-based school support, such children would not
completely acquire the linguistic system of the lan-
guage as used by normative L1 speakers.
The use of a simplified verb system (as well as
the uneven control of the heritage language of-
ten made evident by the constant use of pauses,
hesitations, and fillers) may not, however, indicate
that the language has been incompletely acquired
by a heritage speaker. What will not be immedi-
ately clear from superficial assessments is whether
flawed production is due to interrupted acquisi-
tion, individual language attrition, or “full” acqui-
sition of a contact variety of the heritage language
that is now quite different from the varieties of
the heritage language originally brought to the
community.
A theory of instruction supporting the devel-
opment/reacquisition of a nondominant L1 for
such learners will require an understanding of
how and whether the implicit systems of speak-
ers who have incompletely acquired the heritage
language, speakers whose heritage language has
undergone attrition, and speakers of a heritage
language that has undergone extensive change
are alike or different. What needs to be explored
is how these different systems—if indeed they are
different—might be reshaped by formal instruc-
tion. In the case of incomplete acquisition, the in-
structional problem to be solved might involve, for
example, the full acquisition of tense, aspect, and
mood in the L1. Instructional approaches might,
therefore, include L2 methodologies used in the
teaching of both the oral and written language to
L2 learners.
Reacquisition of Features after Attrition
In the case of language attrition (the ero-
sion, decay, contraction, or obsolescence of a lan-
guage), the process of reacquisition might be
418 The Modern Language Journal 89 (2005)
quite different. Much attention, therefore, must
be given to the study of suspected language attri-
tion among heritage learners. What needs to be
understood is both the process and the speed of
attrition in individuals who are members of par-
ticular communities as well as the subsystems that
undergo attrition. In a foundational article on lan-
guage attrition, Anderson (1982) argued that lan-
guage attrition researchers must take into account
comprehension and production, uses of both oral
and written language, traditional linguistic levels
(i.e., phonology, morphology, syntax) as well as
functions, domains of use, and discourse com-
petencies of the speakers in question. Anderson
maintained that for each linguistic feature exam-
ined, researchers must have what he terms a base-
line comparison (p. 85); that is, they must have two
types of normative data: (a) the normal use of par-
ticular features by fully competent speakers, and
(b) the use of the features by the individuals being
studied before they underwent language attrition.
Anderson emphasized that a distinction must be
made between dysfunctional attrition, which causes
a reduction in communication, and cosmetic attri-
tion, which involves the reduction of features that
are socially valued but which does not interfere
with communication.
Unfortunately, diagnosing attrition and distin-
guishing attrition from incomplete acquisition as
well as from full acquisition of a contact variety
of a language on the basis of language assessment
procedures is not simple. The same features listed
by Anderson to signal attrition (use of analytic
vs. synthetic structures, use of lexical borrowings,
convergence of syntactic form, cognate transfer,
literal translation) could be indicative of all three
types of conditions. In the case of language attri-
tion, the goal of instruction is either reacquisition
of the subsystems that have undergone attrition,
or the reversal of ongoing attrition of particular
subsystems and features, or both. One can conjec-
ture that if attrition is caused by a removal from
“the type and quantity of linguistic input and lin-
guistic interaction necessary to maintain the full
lexical, phonological, morphological, and syntac-
tic distinctions that are made by fluent compe-
tent speakers of this language” (Anderson, 1982,
p. 91), reversal of attrition would need to in-
volve rich input and intensive interaction typical
of monolingual linguistic environments. Without
evidence to the contrary, one could not conclude
that direct forms or form-focused instruction or
other typical pedagogies used in L2 instruction
would be particularly beneficial in the process of
reacquisition or reversal of attrition. This is, how-
ever, an empirical question, and one that can only
be answered by examining the effects of different
types of instruction designed to reverse attrition
in a category of students who have been carefully
identified as having undergone attrition in their
heritage language.
Instruction for Heritage Speakers of Contact Varieties:
D2 and R2 Acquisition
For the L1/L2 user who has fully acquired a
communal language that has undergone exten-
sive changes through its contact with other vari-
eties of the same language and with the dominant
language, the instructional problem to be solved
is quite different. If the goal is for such speak-
ers to acquire the normative monolingual variety
through formal instruction, what needs to be un-
derstood is the process of D2 acquisition. These
L1/L2 users are not involved in acquiring parts
of a system that they have incompletely acquired,
nor are they involved in reacquiring subsystems
that have been lost. In this case, heritage speakers
are involved in acquiring an additional variety of
the same language. What they must learn is which
features of the communal language correspond
to the features of the normative monolingual va-
rieties of the language and which features do not.
A possible theory of D2 acquisition, for example,
might parallel theories of L2 acquisition and pro-
pose that in acquiring D2s, learners move through
a set of interdialect grammars until they reach
the desired end state. In addition, if the goal of
heritage language instruction is also for these D2
learners to develop reading and writing skills, lit-
eracy instruction would ideally be based on an
understanding of the differences and similarities
between literacy acquisition in a D2 and literacy
acquisition in both a L1 and a L2.
If the goal of heritage language instruction for
L1/L2 users who are acquiring a D2 is also for
them to extend their repertoires to include styles
and registers of the heritage language appropriate
for communicating in academic or professional
settings, instruction must be based on an under-
standing of the acquisition of additional registers
by monolingual speakers who have not had ac-
cess to contexts in which these particular registers
are used. The instructional goal to be achieved in
this case is the acquisition of additional registers
(R2 acquisition), that is, a set of discourse prac-
tices that are directly tied to values and norms
of a particular social group (Gee, 1990). As Gee
also pointed out, however, particular discourse
practices are difficult to acquire in classroom set-
tings because learners may have little or no access
to speakers who use these particular specialized
Guadalupe Vald´
es 419
registers. In attempting to add such higher reg-
isters of their heritage language to their reper-
toires, L1/L2 users may attempt to produce these
registers by transferring and adapting features of
similar registers from their L2. A possible theory
of R2 acquisition might, therefore, parallel theo-
ries of L2 and D2 acquisition and propose, as did
Vald´
es and Geoffrion-Vinci (1998), that in acquir-
ing second or additional registers, learners move
through a set of interregisters until they reach
the desired end state. Clearly, in order to develop
adequate and effective instruction for heritage
learners whose goal it is to acquire additional vari-
eties and registers of the heritage language, care-
ful research must be carried out on the process
of D2 and R2 acquisition in naturalistic settings as
well as on the effects of different types of instruc-
tion on both of these processes.
Receptive and Productive Grammars
A final category of heritage speakers includes
L1/L2 users who cannot or will not speak the her-
itage language although they are able to partici-
pate in interpersonal, face-to-face communication
with bilingual individuals who speak to them in
this language. These passive L1/L2 users exhibit
strong receptive proficiencies in their heritage
language, which, although limited, still exceed
the receptive proficiencies acquired by beginning
and even intermediate learners of a foreign lan-
guage. At a minimum, receptive L1/L2 users offer
evidence of having acquired what Clark (2003)
referred to as C-representations, that is, a system
of representations for comprehension of the lan-
guage that allows them to parse the stream of
speech into meaningful units. How this system
is related to the productive system in the L1 and
to the receptive and productive systems in the L2
is of central importance to the development of
pedagogical approaches for developing the exist-
ing proficiencies of such speakers in a classroom
setting. A theory of heritage language growth
or development for such individuals must be
based on a better understanding of comprehen-
sion and production grammars (Swain, Dumas, &
Naiman, 1974). We need to understand (a)
how and why these two types of knowledge sys-
tems develop independently, (b) how compre-
hension and production grammars are related,
(c) whether the presence of comprehension
grammars supports the acquisition of production
grammars in specific ways, and (d) whether these
individuals are more similar to L2 learners than
to L1 speakers.
Questions for the Study of Instructed Heritage
Language Acquisition
In sum, the challenge of designing instruction
in the L1 for L1/L2 users raises a number of im-
portant theoretical issues for practitioners who
want to maintain or develop heritage languages
as well as for researchers seeking to understand
the human language faculty. Some of these ques-
tions include:
1. How can the different sources of “flawed”
language production (interlanguages? inter-
dialects? interregisters?) in the L1 of L1/L2 users
be identified?
2. How does the “flawed” language production
of L1/L2 users compare with that of L2 learners?
3. How do monolingual L1 speakers acquire a
range of registers and genres in their L1?
4. What is the order of acquisition of particular
features of R2s and second genres by L1 speakers?
5. How do monolingual L1 speakers acquire a
D2?
6. What is the order of acquisition of particular
features in a D2 by L1 speakers?
7. Are notions of interdialect or interregister
useful in describing the acquisition of additional
registers and dialects of L1 by L1/L2 users?
8. What types of conditions account for the ac-
quisition of receptive versus productive compe-
tence in L1/L2 users?
9. How can comprehension grammars (as op-
posed to productive grammars) be described?
10. What accounts for the development of ex-
ceptional bilinguals (simultaneous interpreters)
among heritage speakers (see Vald´
es, 2003)?
11. What can formal classroom instruction ac-
complish for L1/L2 users? Are there types of
instruction that can reverse language attrition?
What types of instruction can result in the acqui-
sition of a range of registers and styles?
CHANGING THE FIELD: COMMUNITIES OF
PRACTICE AND DISCIPLINARY BOUNDARIES
In considering a reconceptualization or expan-
sion of the field of SLA that could take on the
challenge of examining the questions presented
above, researchers might first examine existing
professional communities of practice and make
evident the epistemological and methodological
assumptions and research traditions that are part
of each contributing field. In a recent work on
the nature of academic language (Vald´
es, 2004),
I argued that scholarly discussions do not take
place in a social vacuum. Even without the insights
420 The Modern Language Journal 89 (2005)
offered by the Bakhtin Circle5about the nature
of intertextuality, it is very generally accepted
that scholars engage in an ongoing dialogue with
other members of their academic communities
and their professional organizations. Scholars re-
spond to each other’s papers, engage in polemi-
cal debates about theories and their implications,
and write dense scholarly tomes, sometimes un-
derstandable exclusively to other members of the
same inner scholarly circle. The context for all
discussions, including academic debates, encom-
passes a multitude of dialogues that help shape, re-
configure, and constantly change the multivoiced
utterances of the various speakers. The discussion
of L2 acquisition, with its focus on L2 learners, is
no exception. The various existing approaches in
SLA have developed and evolved in communica-
tion with a particular set of voices that are part of
specific professional worlds. The study of heritage
language speakers and the discussion of heritage
language students, as well, have taken place in
separate communities of practice. Given the vari-
ous boundaries of academic professions, the dia-
logues about these particular areas of knowledge
are unfortunately made up of a series of uncon-
nected conversations that often fail to be heard by
scholars who are members of other closely related
professions.
Heritage language speakers have been the fo-
cus of researchers engaged in the study of bilin-
gualism. As is made evident by Figure 2, bilingual-
ism has been studied from the perspectives of the
disciplines of sociolinguistics, linguistics, and psy-
cholinguistics.
Research conducted from the perspective of
each of these three disciplines asks different ques-
tions about the nature of bilingualism and bilin-
gual individuals. The sociolinguistic study of bilin-
gualism, for example, has centered on the study
of societal bilingualism. Phenomena such as lan-
guage maintenance, language shift, reversal of
language shift, and language death have been of
particular interest to sociolinguists. By compari-
son, linguistic studies of bilingualism focus pri-
marily on understanding how languages in con-
tact can influence one another and how gram-
matical changes due to language contact differ
from other kinds of grammatical changes. Re-
searchers working in this tradition, for example,
have attended to grammatical borrowing and the
examination of the influences of one language
on another, including phonological, morpholog-
ical, syntactic, and lexical transfer. Researchers
have attempted to classify types of borrowing, to
identify the social and cultural determinants of
such borrowing, and to examine structural con-
straints on borrowing. The psycholinguistic study
of bilingualism, however, centers on study of the
bilingual individual. Four general areas have been
of particular interest to researchers: (a) bilin-
guistic development and attrition, (b) informa-
tion processing in bilingual individuals, (c) neu-
ropsychological foundations of bilingualism, and
(d) bilingualism and cognition. Studies of bilin-
guistic development include research on stages of
bilingual development, differentiation in linguis-
tic systems, age-related specifics of consecutive
bilinguality, and the role of context in bilingual ac-
quisition. Research on information processing in
bilinguals includes work on language representa-
tion, bilingual memory, and separate versus com-
mon processors. Attention has also been given
to the development of models of bilingual in-
formation processing. Neuropsychological stud-
ies of bilingualism, however, include a focus on
hemispheric preference and on neuropsycholog-
ical development.6
As seen in Figure 2, then, the broad study of
bilingualism involves three different but related
disciplines: sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics, and
linguistics. As will also be noted from the figure,
however, the study of incipient bilingualism, the
focus of SLA research, is only a narrow subarea
of the field of bilingualism, the use of two lan-
guages across a lifespan. Moreover, as a number
of researchers have recently pointed out, SLA pri-
marily draws from the fields of linguistics and psy-
cholinguistics (Atkinson, 2002; Block, 2003; Firth
& Wagner, 1997; Johnson, 2004). It does not at-
tend to the social context of language use in a
broad sense, and it has, to date, focused primarily
on L2 learners rather than L2 users. Figure 2 sug-
gests that the study of SLA should also involve the
perspectives of the sociolinguistic study of bilin-
gualism.
Finally, in the United States, the language edu-
cation field encompasses both L1 teaching and L2
or foreign language teaching. In the case of vari-
ous aspects of L1 teaching and learning, the lan-
guage education field draws from research in lin-
guistics, psycholinguistics, and sociolinguistics to
focus on the language development of L1 speak-
ers, on the acquisition of academic English by
speakers of nonstandard varieties of English, and
on the development of reading and writing by
both mainstream and linguistic minority students.
The broad language education field has also con-
cerned itself with the acquisition of English and
with the acquisition of foreign languages. SLA,
the study of incipient bilingualism, is but a small
area of the language education field and has pri-
marily informed L2 teaching. It is interesting that
Guadalupe Vald´
es 421
FIGURE 2
The Study of Bilingualism
L1/L2 users who enroll in the study of their L1
have been studied not by L1 researchers, and un-
til recently, not by SLA researchers, but by the
community of foreign language teaching practi-
tioners and researchers as well as by linguists and
sociolinguists who are often members of foreign
language department faculties.
The various communities of professional prac-
tice delineated here ordinarily have little to do
with one another. Published research in jour-
nals rarely includes the perspectives of members
of other communities of practice. Even when
present at conferences, members of the various
communities (e.g., L1 acquisition, L2 acquisition,
language pedagogy, sociolinguistics) may attend
competing sessions because large meetings are
generally not organized to provide opportunities
for dialogue among experts who are part of differ-
ent professional compartments. Epistemological
and technical questions are drawn from long-term
traditions within each professional community.
What counts as knowledge, what questions are
worthy of attention, how theories are formulated
and tested, and how research is carried out are
part of the socializing professional experiences of
every researcher.
Opportunities Lost or Seized?
In imagining the reconceptualization and ex-
pansion of SLA that engages in the study of L1/L2
users and that takes seriously societal needs in the
area of language education, I also imagine a con-
tinuing conversation between members of the var-
ious compartments depicted in Figure 2. Using as
a point of departure what I referred to at the be-
ginning of this article as “the most intractable edu-
cational problems involving language,” a number
of areas and questions that are crucial to school
success of linguistic minority children all over the
world come to mind. Given limitations of space,
however, I will propose only three topics for con-
tinued consideration.
Terms Used to Refer to the Language Education Field
The terms used to refer to an area of inquiry
are basic to the definition of a field. Unfortu-
nately, the term Second Language Acquisition,as
Block (2003) argued, has “built-in assumptions
about monolingualism and separable L1 and L2
competences” (p. 44). A reconceptualization of
language learning in various language education
422 The Modern Language Journal 89 (2005)
contexts that can embrace the needs of L1/L2
users must of necessity view the language educa-
tion field as including L1 instruction in its many
manifestations and involving several types of lan-
guage acquisition and development (i.e., acquisi-
tion of D2s, acquisition of a standard language,
acquisition and development of specialized lan-
guage registers and styles, acquisition of written
language) as well as L2 instruction that takes into
account beginning, intermediate, and advanced
learners. I propose, therefore, that the term In-
structed Language Acquisition (ILA) be considered
carefully as a way of including a variety of ques-
tions and issues that will broaden the scope of
the existing field. Alternatively, I suggest that the
term Educational Linguistics proposed by Spolsky
(1978) be discussed as a label that clearly signals
the involvement of SLA in educational contexts.
Moving beyond the Monolingual Norm
As Cook (2002) argued in proposing a shift in
the perspective of SLA researchers, the study of
L1/L2 users requires a viewpoint that no longer
focuses exclusively on the educated monolingual
native speaker. It requires an understanding of
both societal and individual bilingualism and a
consideration of the methodological issues cen-
tral to the study of the language behavior of bilin-
gual persons that were raised by Wei (2000). As
do other students of bilingualism, Wei has main-
tained that, in bilingualism studies, issues such
as the bilinguality and ethnic origin of the re-
searcher, the researcher’s attitude toward bilin-
gualism, the definition of language used by the re-
searcher, the research agenda of the researcher,
and his or her choice of appropriate methods for
answering particular research questions are of key
importance in obtaining valid results.
Expanding the investigation of instructed lan-
guage acquisition beyond L2 learners to include
L1/L2 users will also involve a rethinking of partic-
ipant selection. Bilingual individuals do not con-
stitute a homogeneous group and thus cannot be
grouped together by SLA researchers without risk-
ing the almost immediate dismissal of the research
by students of bilingualism. Citing Grosjean
(1998), Wei (2000) pointed out that in choosing
bilingual speakers in research the following fac-
tors should be considered: (a) language history
and language relationship, (b) language stability,
(c) functions of languages, (d) language profi-
ciency, (e) language modes, and (f) biographical
data.
Finally, moving beyond the monolingual norm
must involve the rejection of the standard mono-
lingual language (e.g., standard Spanish, stan-
dard Russian) as the norm against which the
L1/L2 users are measured. If researchers are seri-
ous about definitions of multicompetence (Cook
2002, 2003b) and about the rejection of the knowl-
edge of the native speaker as the ultimate goal of
L2 acquisition, they cannot simply compare pro-
duction by L1/L2 users with that of native speak-
ers of the standard language.
Potential Contributions of Various Areas
of Knowledge to Specific Language Problems
The identification and examination of specific
language problems and the potential contribu-
tions of various areas of knowledge to the solution
of these problems might well provide an organiz-
ing framework for examining ethical issues revolv-
ing around knowledge and utilization. However,
as Spolsky (1978) pointed out when discussing
the field of educational linguistics many years ago,
the notion that linguistic theories can be used di-
rectly in the solution of educational problems is
na¨
ıve. Today, addressing educational problems in-
volving language will require the collaboration of
researchers from many different backgrounds, in-
cluding nonlinguist educational researchers who
have a deep understanding of educational policy,
schools, classrooms, and ways in which knowledge
about language might inform particular practices.
A discussion of specific problems and the ways
they can be approached from the perspective of
different areas of inquiry can lead to a better un-
derstanding of what it means to generate theoret-
ical knowledge and to contribute to educational
practice.
CONCLUSION
In this article, I have called for the reconceptu-
alization and expansion of the field of SLA by us-
ing the teaching of heritage languages to L1/L2
users as a lens through which such a reconcep-
tualization and expansion might be envisioned.
I maintain that in taking seriously the questions
raised by the teaching of a nondominant L1, SLA
can position itself to respond to criticisms leveled
at it because of its seeming narrowness and exclu-
sive preoccupation with L2s from the perspective
of cognitive psychology. I also maintain that the
most difficult problems in education today involve
issues of language and groups of children who
are acquiring or are using the societal language
while at the same time interacting with family and
community members who speak a heritage lan-
guage. The expansion of SLA to the study and
Guadalupe Vald´
es 423
examination not only of the acquisition of L2, but
also of L1 development in minority populations,
L1 reacquisition, D2 acquisition, and R2 acquisi-
tion has much to offer both to the theory and
the practice of instructed (rather than second)
language acquisition. There is much that the study
of L1/L2 users can contribute to our understand-
ing of the human language faculty. S´
anchez and
Toribio (2003), for example, provided an excel-
lent overview of the theoretical understandings
that can be drawn from the study of bilingual
speakers, including: characteristics of native lan-
guage decline, identification of formal features re-
sistant to deterioration, differences between faulty
morphology in production and impairments in
the interpretation of aspect, permeability of L1
grammars, and the structure of unconscious ab-
stract linguistic knowledge as viewed through the
use of grammaticality judgments of code-switched
forms.
Expanding SLA to engage in the study of the
possible results of L1 instruction for students
who have already acquired some competence in
this language bridges the distance between lan-
guage education and a research field. Experi-
ence in attempting to teach the L1 to speak-
ers who use the language in their everyday lives
raises key questions that directly complement in-
terests in L2 acquisition that have shaped the field.
These questions include variability in learner lan-
guage, the significance of learner error, the im-
pact of input and interaction, language trans-
fer, the characteristics of learner systems at dif-
ferent points in the acquisition/reacquisition/
development process and, perhaps most impor-
tant, the impact of formal instruction on the reac-
quisition/development of language.
Because language occupies a central position
in education, there is a need to address instruc-
tional language problems in ways that can make
a difference in the lives of children who have not
been served well by existing educational institu-
tions. Societal needs in the area of language are
pressing. However, as Pennycook (1994) pointed
out, schools are not “sites where a neutral body
of curricular knowledge is passed on to students,”
but rather “cultural and political arenas within
which various political, cultural, and social forms
are engaged in constant struggle” (p. 297). Ideo-
logical contexts are very much a part of the stu-
dents’ success and failure in the acquisition, reac-
quisition, and development of both L1s and L2s.
A mapping (Wetherell & Potter, 1992) of both
the popular and the scholarly discourse on bilin-
gualism is beyond the scope of this article, but
researchers in instructed SLA who are interested
in contributing to the study of heritage language
learning cannot afford to ignore the multilayered
set of themes that contribute directly to a version
of reality within which monolingualism is viewed
as the normal and ideal human condition and
bilingualism is viewed as profoundly suspect.
A discussion of research goals and social re-
sponsibility cannot take place, moreover, if there
is little knowledge about the most challenging
issues and problems that arise in various edu-
cational contexts or about the most vulnerable
groups of L2 learners and L1/L2 users. Given
the boundaries between areas and fields, few SLA
researchers have engaged in the extensive study
of minority language issues beginning with lan-
guage policy and planning and including the ex-
amination of social, political, and economic con-
texts in which language education takes place. A
reading of the critical language researchers (e.g.,
Bhatt & Martin-Jones, 1992; Canagarajah, 1999,
2002; Corson, 1997; Fairclough, 1989; Pennycook,
1994; Tollefson, 1991; Wallace, 1992) offers one
perspective on such contexts as does work in the
area of linguistic human rights (Skutnabb-Kangas,
2000; and Skutnabb-Kangas & Phillipson, 1995).
The possibility of conceptualizing SLA so that
it brings together researchers from various com-
munities of practice is an exciting one. It is par-
ticularly exciting because of the possible impact
that such a community might have on important
language education issues and on what I have
called the most intractable problems facing mi-
nority youngsters in American schools. I am con-
vinced not only that SLA researchers have a par-
ticular expertise that can contribute in important
ways to the solution of language problems that
affect the lives of minority children all over the
world, but also that the presentation of even con-
tradictory research claims can inform important
policy decisions. In California, for example, the
proponents of Proposition 227, the antibilingual
education initiative, claimed that after 1 year of
English instruction in a classroom of multi-aged
children, these students would be ready for an
all-English academic curriculum. The opponents
of the initiative, including SLA researchers of the
stature of Kenji Hakuta, considered it essential to
engage in the debate and try to bring reason to a
politically charged anti-immigrant movement.
As was made evident by the recent Ebonics con-
troversy (Baugh, 2000), the opinions of university
researchers and scholars often become very much
a part of national debates on issues in which the
public has strong interest. The public’s stereo-
typical view of the isolation of scholars in their
“ivory towers” and the perceived irrelevancy of
424 The Modern Language Journal 89 (2005)
their opinions to public debates has given way
to a view in which scholarly “experts” have taken
on the role of providing information and back-
ground to the courts, media organizations, and
the public in general. As members of profes-
sional media organizations work to provide both
background for their audiences and a balance
of differing opinions, they seek out scholars who
will present their views and participate in what
Tannen (1998) called the “argument culture.”
Scholars are expected not only to engage in a dis-
cussion of the complexity of the issues, but also to
expand the public’s understanding of problems
of enormous significance. For the field of SLA,
it is time to seize this opportunity to contribute
directly to a broader understanding of language.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
I would like to express my appreciation to MLJ review-
ers for their helpful comments on an earlier version of
this article and to Lourdes Ortega, the editor of this spe-
cial issue, for her extraordinarily insightful suggestions.
NOTES
1Vald´
es (1995) includes a definition of the term lin-
guistic minority and a discussion of various perspectives
on these minorities around the world. The article also
includes a dated, but still useful, view of instruction of
minority languages as academic subjects.
2For an overview of the teaching of Spanish as a her-
itage language see Vald´
es (1995). This overview includes
an examination of the key areas (e.g., the teaching of
grammar, testing and assessment, the teaching of the
standard dialect) examined by both practitioners and
researchers.
3For a recent, thorough discussion of this topic, see
Han (2003).
4Gutierrez (2003), for example, argued that, in Span-
ish, the innovative use of estar in domains previously oc-
cupied by ser had its origin in a monolingual context but
is advancing at a faster rate in bilingual communities in
the United States.
5I use the term Bakhtin Circle in the same way as Du-
ranti and Goodwin (1992) and Moraes (1996) in order
to avoid the debate concerning the specific authorship
of the works of Voloshinov and Medvedev that have been
attributed to Bakhtin.
6Introductions to field of bilingualism include: Ro-
maine (1995), Hamers and Blanc (2000), Wei (2000),
and Bhatia and Ritchie (2004). Wei’s volume is orga-
nized to illustrate the contributions of sociolinguistics,
linguistics, and psycholinguists to the study of bilingual-
ism and includes an excellent bibliography.
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A much-cited and highly influential text by Alastair Pennycook, one of the world authorities in sociolinguistics, The Cultural Politics of English as an International Language explores the globalization of English by examining its colonial origins, its connections to linguistics and applied linguistics, and its relationships to the global spread of teaching practices. Nine chapters cover a wide range of key topics including: international politics colonial history critical pedagogy postcolonial literature. The book provides a critical understanding of the concept of the ‘worldliness of English’, or the idea that English can never be removed from the social, cultural, economic or political contexts in which it is used. Reissued with a substantial preface, this Routledge Linguistics Classic remains a landmark text, which led a much-needed critical and ideologically-informed investigation into the burgeoning topic of World Englishes. Key reading for all those working in the areas of Applied Linguistics, Sociolinguistics and World Englishes.