Heritage Arabic speakers in the United States

A sociolinguistic profile

Authored by: Abdulkafi Albirini

The Routledge Handbook of Arabic Linguistics

Print publication date:  January  2018
Online publication date:  December  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138783331
eBook ISBN: 9781315147062
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter focuses on heritage speakers of Arabic with special attention to the US context. Heritage Arabic speakers are born to first- or second-generation Arab immigrants in contexts where Arabic is a minority language. These speakers acquire their parents’ colloquial Arabic dialects at home and may get exposed to Standard Arabic at some point in their informal education (e.g., Sunday school) or through other channels (e.g., Arabic television). However, once they reach school age, they start shifting gradually from their heritage/first language to a second, more dominant language due to the widespread use of the dominant language in society and the limited input and use opportunities in the first language. In the American context, the dominant language is English. Eventually, English becomes the medium of their everyday communication, whereas Arabic becomes restricted mainly to the home domain and immediate community. As a result, many heritage speakers lose certain aspects of their Arabic language as they progress with age. The existing research indicates that vocabulary, inflectional morphology, and complex syntactic structures are the major areas of language attrition among this group (Albirini et al. 2011; Albirini and Benmamoun 2014; Benmamoun et al. 2014; Bos 1997; El Aissati 1996). However, cases of total language loss are rare among heritage speakers of Arabic.

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