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Heritage Language Education and Identity in the United States

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 March 2015

Jennifer Leeman*
George Mason University, Fairfax,


Despite the frequent references to identity within the field of heritage language education, it is only in the past decade or so that scholars have begun to conduct empirical research on this topic. This article examines recent research on identity and heritage language education in the United States. The article begins with a discussion of the simultaneous development of heritage language education as a field and growth of interest in identity and language learning, followed by a critical examination of the terms “heritage language” and “heritage language education,” as well as of “heritage language learner” as an identity category. Next is a review of empirical studies conducted within the past 5 years, including survey-based research that considered identity in the exploration of students’ reasons for heritage language study, in addition to qualitative and ethnographic research that focused specifically on heritage language learners’ sense of themselves and their relationship to the heritage language, as well as on the ways that heritage language learner identities are constructed, indexed, and negotiated in classroom settings. The next section looks at recent research on pedagogical approaches designed to engage heritage language learners in critical considerations of language and identity. The article concludes with suggestions for future research.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2015 

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This book contains a historical account of scholarly interest in second language identities since the 1960s, including a theoretical overview as well as a synthesis of research in identity and language learning in several second language contexts.

Brinton, D., Kagan, O., & Bauckus, S. (eds.). (2008). Heritage language education: A new field emerging. New York, NY: Routledge.

This key edited volume in the field of heritage language education includes a foundational chapter by Hornberger and Wang exploring identity and biliteracy among heritage language learners. Other chapters examine language ideologies and linguistic variation among heritage speakers, learner profiles and needs analysis, and program development.

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This is an updated edition of Norton's seminal monograph of identity and language learning among immigrant women in Canada. This edition, which includes a new introduction as well as an afterword by Claire Kramsch, provides an overview of Norton's framework of investment and imagined communities and examines their impact on the field.

Wiley, T. G., Peyton, J. K., Christian, D., Moore, S. C. K., & Liu, N. (eds.). (2014). Handbook of heritage, community, and native American languages in the United States: research, policy, and educational practice. New York, NY: Routledge.

This comprehensive volume has chapters on demographics, policy issues, and specific heritage languages in the United States, as well as topics such as program development and assessment, among many others.


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