Chapter 5. Quantifying language experience in hl development Sharon Unsworth 35. Introduction



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To appear in Schmid, M. & Köpke, B. (Eds.) (forthcoming) The Oxford handbook of first language attrition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Chapter 35. Quantifying language experience in HL development

Sharon Unsworth
35.1 Introduction

Bilingual children’s heritage language (HL) experience may vary in many different ways. For example, some children hear the HL from both parents whereas others from one parent only, some children grow up in a wider HL-speaking community whereas other families live in relative isolation, some children mostly hear input from attrited HL speakers whereas others do not, and some children have access to schooling in the HL, whereas others do not. To understand the impact of these and other different experiences on children’s HL outcomes, researchers typically collate and quantity specific aspects of children’s language input, transforming or reducing them into other, more general variables, such as language richness as a measure of input quality and amount of language exposure as a measure of input quantity. As Montrul (2008: 270) notes, “a problem with using input as a key variable to explain much of language acquisition is that it is difficult to operationalize”.

This chapter presents an overview of the most frequently used method of operationalizing language input in bilingual language acquisition research, namely the parental questionnaire. It is organised as follows: after providing a brief summary of the main experiential factors known to affect bilingual/HL development (§35.2), I outline some conceptual and practical issues surrounding parental questionnaires as a means of quantifying bilingual language experience (§35.3), before reviewing a number of questionnaires used in recent studies in more detail (§35.4). The focus is on bilingual/HL development in childhood and as such, questionnaires designed for use with adult HL speakers (see e.g., work by Naomi Nagy) are not included.




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