Academic journal article Journal of New Approaches in Educational Research

Research on Heritage Spanish Phonetics and Phonology: Pedagogical and Curricular Implications

Academic journal article Journal of New Approaches in Educational Research

Research on Heritage Spanish Phonetics and Phonology: Pedagogical and Curricular Implications

Article excerpt

Rajiv Rao1*, Emily Kuder2

1Department of Spanish and Portuguese, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA {}

2Department of Spanish and Portuguese, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA {}

Received on 10 March 2016; revised on 6 April 2016; accepted on 21 Abril 2016; published on 15 July 2016

DOI: 10.7821/naer.2016.7.171

*To whom correspondence should be addressed:

1220 Linden Drive, Van Hise Hall 1018, Madison, WI 53706, USA


This paper creates a novel link between research on linguistics and education by discussing what we know about the sound system of heritage language users of Spanish and how these findings can inform practices implemented in heritage Spanish courses in the USA. First, we provide an overview of terminology associated with heritage language research, situating heritage Spanish programs within the educational context of the USA, and explaining why heritage Spanish phonetics and phonology remain relatively unexplored. Next, we delve into previous linguistic research on the heritage Spanish sound system in terms of individual vowels and consonants, as well as at the level of intonation, rhythm, and stress, while highlighting any observed differences between the system of heritage Spanish and those of Spanish speakers of other backgrounds. Finally, motivated by the phonetic/phonological insight of previous work, in addition to existing pedagogical and curricular research on heritage Spanish, we consider how and why the inclusion of specific types of sound-system-based commentary and practice in the educational experience of heritage users of Spanish could be beneficial.



The terms heritage speaker and heritage language user refer to a type of bilingual who grows up with some degree of exposure to a minority language at home, or to a heritage language (HL) (Valdés, 2000; among others).i Subsequently, entrance into the educational system marks a point of increased input and use of the socially dominant language, which leads to a wide range of linguistic outcomes in both languages involved. HL users of a particular language form a highly heterogeneous group, ranging from individuals with high levels of linguistic proficiency to those who barely speak the language but still identify with the culture associated with it (Helmer, 2011; Kondo-Brown, 2010; Van Deusen-Scholl, 2003). HL users are also widely diverse as regards their cultural background and home language variety. Though some debate exists as to who can be labelled a HL user, as well as regarding the term itself (Wiley, 2001), the classification primarily relates to individuals born in the county of immigration or those born abroad who immigrated before school age or before their teen years (Potowski, 2013).

While HL users of various languages reside across the globe, one of the most populous examples is HL users of Spanish in the USA. Decades of Spanish speakers immigrating from Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean, among other regions, has resulted in a significant increase in the number of HL users of Spanish all across the USA, but particularly in larger urban areas (e.g., Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Miami) and in the southwestern region of the country (e.g., Arizona, New Mexico) (United States Census, 2010). According to population census estimates, Hispanics accounted for 17% of the population (54 million people) in 2013 compared to 12.5% (35 million) just 13 years earlier in 2000. As universities, colleges, and high schools have taken note of this population growth, more heritage Spanish courses have been developed. A key part of the formation of such courses is that institutions have recognized that a HL learner, or a HL user who takes courses in an academic setting to learn more about and expand their HL proficiency, has different needs than the traditional adult second language (L2) learner (Montrul, 2010; Valdés, 2001). …

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