Birna Arnbjörnsdóttir and Elma Dröfn Óladóttir

Icelandic as a Heritage Language: some thoughts about “incomplete acquisition”

Recently there has been renewed interest in examining the development of heritage languages, not from the perspective of attrition and how they diverge from their “standard” varieties (Birna Arnbjörnsdóttir 2006), but rather what they can tell us about the nature of bilingual language acquisition (Birna Arnbjörnsdóttir, 2013; Putnam and Arnbjörnsdóttir, submitted).  Speakers of heritage languages are bilingual in the dominant language (L2) and the heritage language (L1) (Valdés 2000). Proficiency in the L1 amongst individual heritage speakers varies greatly and their heritage language grammars can differ in fundamental ways from the grammar of fully competent native speakers (Silva-Corvalán 1994, 2000). Montrul (2009) points out that it is not clear which aspects of their syntax and morphology are underdeveloped, which makes them incomplete learners (Montrul, 2009) of their L1, and which are lost, L1 attriters. Similar to attrition, acquisition seems to subject to maturational affects (Polinsky, 1997, 2006; Montrul, 2002, 2008).

In this paper we investigate one area of the grammar of NA Icelandic from this new perspective, namely V2. NA Icelandic is a heritage language spoken mainly in North Dakota and Manitoba in North America and its grammar diverges in many ways from Icelandic in Iceland (Birna Arnbjörnsdóttir, 2006). One of the more prominent features of NA Icelandic morpho-syntax is the use of the rule Verb Second (V2) in relation to adverb placement  (V2 is the rule that states that the finite verb be no further to the left in the clause than in second position). We suggest that these features of Icelandic grammar may be acquired late in childhood, and as English gradually became dominant when NA Icelandic children went to school and English became their dominant language. We suggest that a more appropriate term may be “incomplete maintenance” as a result of “incomplete input” (Putnam and Sanchez, submitted).