In this article, Lucy Tse examines the experiences of one group of U.S. native bilinguals who have managed to develop high levels of literacy in both English and their home or “heritage” language (HL). This unique group has defied the typical pattern among U.S. minority language speakers of losing the home language while learning English. The results show that biliteracy development is aided by the coexistence of two sets of factors related to a) language vitality and b) literacy environment and experiences. Participants had high levels of perceived language vitality resulting from parental, institutional, and peer support, which helped in their formation of a social identity inclusive of their heritage language and culture. Having access to HL literacy environments and guidance from more literate adults and peers allowed the participants to observe the use of HL literacy in meaningful and socially important ways. Tse discusses these and other results in terms of social and cultural identity formation, literacy access and practices, and the social nature of literacy development. (pp. 677–709)
According to the U.S. Bureau of the Census (1990), over 14 percent of children ages five to seventeen live in homes where languages other than English are spoken. Although these students tend to develop high levels of English, far fewer maintain and develop proficiency in the home language (Portes & Hao, 1998). Researchers explain this failure to develop a “heritage” language (HL) in part by pointing to the strong societal push toward English, which makes retaining the heritage language while growing up, and especially over generations, unlikely (Fishman, 1991; Veltman, 1988). While researchers have identified some of the societal factors contributing to this “language shift,” we know far less about the conditions that support maintenance and development of the heritage language, especially in terms of literacy. By looking at what Patton (1987) calls “extreme” or “deviant” cases of individuals who have not only managed to become orally fluent in the home language, but have also developed high levels of HL literacy despite pressure to shift to English, we may discover more about how languages are lost and, more importantly, how they may be preserved. Understanding the influences at work at the individual level may contribute to efforts to stem language shift at the community level.
In this article, I present the findings of a study on language shift resistance and reversal, focusing on the conditions that contributed to literacy development in the heritage language among a group of biliterates from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds. Despite being born or raised in the United States since early childhood and schooled entirely in this country, the participants in this study have managed to gain high levels of literacy in their heritage language. This study addresses the question, “What factors and experiences among this linguistically diverse language group made it possible for them to develop literacy in the non-English language?” In this investigation, I rely on research from several different areas of study. These include second language, foreign language, bilingualism and biliteracy, sociolinguistics, and social psychology research and traditions, all of which contribute to addressing the central question in this study.
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