Heritage languages are languages that are acquired and used in the home, but they are not the dominant language of the larger, national society (Rothman 2009). Heritage speakers are often descendants of migrants, and they represent an extremely interesting form of bilingualism: the heritage language is their first language in terms of order of acquisition, but it is not their dominant language when they reach adulthood.
In recent years, heritage Norwegian in North America, spoken by descendants of 19th and 20th century emigrants, has received considerable attention. Significant progress has been made, but some important areas remain unexplored. This project addresses two of them.
First, this project will, as the first of its kind, document and analyse a new variety of heritage Norwegian, namely heritage Norwegian spoken in Latin America. This is of great intrinsic value, as it is a relatively unknown side of Norwegian language and history; it will also facilitate comparative research on heritage Norwegian with different contact languages, since the dominant language in Latin America is Spanish, not English. Comparative studies of this kind can shed new light on the effects of language contact and help us understand whether a linguistic innovation is caused by direct influence from another language, or by more general processes of change. As of December 2022, the project has completed two field trips to Argentina (each trip 3–4 weeks) and also conducted online meetings with Norwegian heritage speakers in Argentina, Ecuador and Chile. Recordings from these trips and meetings are currently being transcribed so that they can be used for research in a systematic way.
Second, the project will investigate in depth how heritage Norwegian in North America has developed over time by making use of a unique resource, namely recordings of previous generations of heritage speakers. A number of these recordings, made by Einar Haugen in the 1930s and 1940s, will be transcribed and morphologically tagged. By searching directly in these data, we can understand whether innovative features in today's North American Norwegian were i) already present in the previous generation, ii) represents a systematic change between generations, or iii) is a result of attrition, i.e. loss of linguistic skills over the lifetime. As of November 2021, the project has transcribed and tagged more than 40 older recordings. This means that we now have immediate access to searchable speech data from more than 80 Norwegian speakers in North America from the 1930s/40s, in addition to more recent recordings of more than 150 speakers that have already been available for several years. Some research based on these data has already been published, and more research articles are forthcoming.
Theoretical linguistics has seen a shift away from idealised, monolingual speakers to capture the multilingual reality of many people across the world. A productive line of research is studying heritage languages, i.e. languages that are acquired and used in the home, but that are not the dominant language of the larger society. Research on heritage languages has the potential to shed new light on fundamental questions of linguistics, such as how stable a grammar is in the mind of the speaker; heritage languages are also windows into real-time processes of language change. One heritage language that has received considerable attention in recent years is North American Norwegian (NorAmNo), spoken by descendants of the 19th and 20th century emigrants to North America. This research has made significant progress; however, some important gaps and challenges remain.
First, the research on heritage Norwegian has only concentrated on societies where English is the dominant language. It is not always clear whether an innovation is caused by crosslinguistic influence (CLI) from English specifically, or by more general processes of change. To reach a better understanding of the conditions for CLI, comparative studies including different contact languages are required. This project will, as the first of its kind, meet this this challenge by studying heritage Norwegian in a non-English context, namely Latin America.
A second challenge, applying both to studies of NorAmNo and more generally, is the question of how to establish the baseline to which the heritage language is compared. Often, heritage languages are compared to the homeland variety, but this is not always sufficient to understand processes of change. This project will make use of a unique resource whose potential has not been fully utilised until now, namely recordings of previous generations of NorAmNo speakers collected in the 1930s–40s. This will facilitate in-depth, diachronic analysis on a whole new scale.