The acquisition of European Portuguese (EP) as a Heritage Language is an almost unexplored field in language acquisition research. This project intends to fill this gap, by investigating the grammatical competence of first, second and third generation migrants of Portuguese origin resident in Germany with regards to their knowledge of EP. In recent years, bilingual speakers with a migrant background have been the focus of a growing body of research on language acquisition. The acquisition of the ambient language has been well studied, but there has been less attention paid to their competence in the home language (henceforth heritage language/HL). Studies on the heritage language of migrant children in the U.S. (e.g. Montrul 2008, Polinsky 2011) reveal a grammatical knowledge that differs from that of native monolingual speakers. This has been attributed to the fact that 2nd/3rd generation bilingual migrants (henceforth heritage speakers/HS) do not acquire their home language under the same input conditions as native monolinguals.

Some authors argue that this competence mismatch is the result of incomplete acquisition (of at least one grammar) or language attrition (loss of structures previously acquired) (Montrul 2008). The divergent input conditions of HSs are of immediate interest for studies of contact-induced language change. Language contact has been argued to play a key role in language change (Thomason & Kaufmann 1988), although the influence of one language over another is difficult to prove on the basis of empirical evidence (cf.Poplack & Levey 2010). Even though it is well established that bilingual children acquiring the two languages under optimal conditions develop full competence in both languages (Meisel 2007), they may go through stages of acquisition in which the two grammars influence each other (e.g. Müller & Hulk 2001). In the case of adults, several studies have shown that the second language acquired by first generation migrants may interfere with their native language. However, this kind of influence has been argued to predominantly affect language use and online processing and to interfere only marginally with the native grammatical competence (Sorace 2000). In this context, it becomes crucial to investigate the influence of (possibly attrited) input in the transmission of grammatical knowledge from one generation to the next. Viewed in this light, the study of first, second and third generation migrants may contribute to a better understanding of contact-induced change in heritage Portuguese. However, the properties of heritage language competence are not fully understood, partially due to the scarce number of studies on the phenomenon. There is indication that heritage bilingualism may vary significantly, depending for instance on factors such as the degree of formal instruction in the HL and the contact with formal register of the target-language (Pires & Rothman 2009), but further inquiry is needed. Moreover, the domains of linguistic competence that are more likely to be affected are yet to be precisely determined. This project focuses on syntax and brings together researchers with different but complementary expertise relevant for this project: theoretical syntax, bilingualism and diachronic syntax, Portuguese and German linguistics. The target populations are first, second and third generation Portuguese-German speakers living in the cities of Hamburg and Frankfurt. Following up on research conducted by Cristina Flores on 2nd generation Portuguese-German migrants (Flores 2010, 2011, FCT project POCI/LIN/59780/2004), we propose to investigate properties of EP that differ from German. A subset of these may be vulnerable to change because they are partially related to interface phenomena that may be affected in the course of bilingual acquisition under language contact (Sorace 2000). Thus, we will investigate properties related to the syntax- discourse or syntax-semantics interface, such as argument drop (null subjects and objects) and mood (subjunctive). The analyses will be conducted on the basis of empirical evidence from three databases of semi-spontaneous oral data which has been collected recently (on 1st and 2nd generation migrants and on monolingual native speakers of EP). The spontaneous production analysis will be complemented with elicited and experimental data, from both production and comprehension, which will be designed in the course of this project.


Research Team:

  • Cristina Flores [cv]
  • Pilar Barbosa [cv]
  • Anabela Rato [cv]
  • Esther Rinke [cv]
  • Daniela Neves (research assistant)


1) Papers

  • Rinke, Esther, Flores, Cristina & Barbosa, Pilar (accepted). Null objects in the spontaneous speech of monolingual and bilingual speakers of European Portuguese. Submetido a Probus.
  • Flores, Cristina, Rinke, Esther & Rato, Anabela (in press). Comparing the outcomes of early and late acquisition of European Portuguese: an analysis of morpho-syntactic and phonetic performance. Heritage Language Journal.
  • Flores, Cristina & Rato, Anabela (2016). Global Accent in the Portuguese Speech of Heritage Returnees. Heritage Language Journal, 13 (2). Special Issue on Heritage Phonetics and Phonology, edited by Rajiv Rao, 161 - 183.
  • Flores, Cristina & Rinke, Esther (2016). Migration und Mehrsprachigkeit in der Spracherwerbsforschung. Neuere Erkenntnisse aus dem Portugiesischen. REAL, 6, 21 – 30.
  • Barbosa, Pilar, Pereira, Cátia & Flores, Cristina (submetido). On subject realization in infinitival complements of causative and perceptual verbs in European Portuguese. Evidence from monolingual and bilingual speakers. In P. Guijarro-Fuentes & A. Cuza (eds.), Language Acquisition and Contact in the Iberian Peninsula. Mouton de Gruyter.
  • Flores, Cristina, Rinke, Esther & Azevedo, Cecília (2017). Object realization across generations. A closer look on the spontaneous speech of Portuguese first and second generation migrants. In E. Domenico (ed.), Complexity in Acquisition. Cambridge Scholars, pp. 178-205.
  • Flores, Cristina, Kupisch, Tanja & Rinke, Esther (2017). Linguistic foundations of heritage language development from the perspective of Romance languages in Germany. In P. Pericles Trifonas & Aravossitas, T. (eds.), International Handbook on Research and Practice in Heritage Language Education. Springer International Handbooks of Education. Springer International Publishing AG, pp. 1-18. DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-38893-9_12-1
  • Flores, Cristina (2016). Portugiesisch als Herkunftssprache. Deutsch als Umgebungssprache. Anmerkungen zum Erwerb der Familiensprache in einem Migrationskontext. In Born, J. & Ladoliva, A. (eds.), Sprachkontakte des Portugiesischen. Frankfurt/Main, London, New York: Peter Lang, pp. 45-65.
  • Flores, Cristina, Casa Nova, Manuela & Barbosa, Pilar (2016). A closer look at cross-linguistic influence in the acquisition of Portuguese as a Heritage Language. In S. Grucza, M. Olpińska-Szkiełko, P. Romanowski (eds.), Bilingual Landscape of the Contemporary World. Frankfurt/Main, London, New York: Peter Lang Verlag, pp.75 - 94.
  • Flores, Cristina (2016). Um olhar sobre o processo de aquisição da linguagem através do estudo do português como língua de herança. In Teixeira, J. (ed.), O português como língua num mundo global. Problemas e potencialidades. Braga: Centro de Estudos Lusíadas da Universidade do Minho/Húmus, pp. 161 – 173.
  • Flores, Cristina & Rinke, Esther (2015). Um estudo comparativo sobre o conhecimento do sistema pronominal português por parte de Falantes de Português Língua de Herança e Falantes de uma Língua Segunda. In M.A. Marques & X. Rei (eds.), Novas perspetivas linguísticas no espaço galego-português.Monografia 10. Universidade da Corunha, pp.11-33.
  • Flores, Cristina & Rinke, Esther (2014). Heritage Portuguese bilinguals’ morphosyntactic knowledge of clitics. Bilingualism. Language and Cognition. FirstView Article. doi:10.1017/S136672891300076X.
  • Flores, Cristina (2015). Understanding heritage language acquisition. Some contributions from the research on heritage speakers of European Portuguese. Lingua, 164, 251—265.
  • Flores, Cristina & Melo-Pfeifer, Sílvia (2014). O conceito “Língua de Herança” na perspetiva da Linguística e da Didática de Línguas: considerações pluridisciplinares em torno do perfil linguístico das crianças lusodescendentes na Alemanha. In Domínios de Lingu@gem 8 (3), Número especial "Migração, linguagem e subjetividade".

2) Talks

  • 25.2.2015 - Esther Rinke & Cristina Flores: The Grammar of EP Heritage Speakers is not incomplete. Workshop More than one language in the brain (University of Perugia).
  • 27.1.2015 - Esther Rinke: On the linguistic competence of adult Portuguese-German bilingual speakers", invited talk, Goethe-Universität Frankfurt.
  • 15.1.2015 - Cristina Flores, Esther Rinke & Pilar Barbosa: Input effects across two generations. Object realization in 1st and 2nd generation speakers of EP. Paper presented at the 1st Conference on Bilingualism in the Hispanic and Lusophone World (University of Leiden), 14-16.1.2015.
  • 13.12.2014 - Cristina Flores & Anabela Rato: “A perceção de sotaque em falantes de português língua de herança”, paper presented at 2as Jornadas de PLE. Didática e Aquisição. Faculdade de Letras da Universidade do Porto.
  • 6.12.2014 – Cristina Flores, Esther Rinke & Pilar Barbosa: Input effects across two generations, paper presented at Going Romance 2014 (Universidade Nova de Lisboa/Lisboa).
  • 24.10.2014 - Anabela Rato, Cristina Flores, Daniela Neves & Diana Oliveira: Perceção de sotaque não nativo em Português Língua de Herança, paper presented at XXX Encontro Nacional da APL (22-24.10.2014; Universidade do Porto)
  • 9.10.2014 - Cristina Flores: “Português Língua de Herança”, invited plenary talk at the conference Perspetivas da Língua Portuguesa, organized by Comissão Temática de Promoção e Difusão de Língua Portuguesa da CPLP, Universidade do Minho.
  • 6.6.2014 - Cristina Flores: "Reflexões sobre a competência linguística de falantes de herança lusodescendentes" / „Überlegungen über die Sprachkompetenz von portugiesischstämmigen Sprechern”, plenary talk at the Colóquio de Comemoração dos 50 anos da emigração portuguesa para a Alemanha. O Passado que se faz Futuro. Organized by Embaixada de Portugal em Berlim. Völkerkundemuseum. Hamburgo.
  • 23.04.2014 - Cristina Flores: “Os fatores idade e input na aquisição de uma língua de herança”, paper preseted at the workshop A diversidade dos espaços linguísticos em Portugal e nos seus contextos migratórios, organized by CES-Lisboa.

3) Master / Magister Thesis:

  • Cátia Daniela Vieira Pereira: "Construções de elevação de sujeito para objeto com verbos causativos e percetivos no português língua de herança". Mestrado em Ciências da Linguagem (Universidade do Minho)
  • Manuela Casa Nova: Formas de realização do pronome clítico em português europeu por falantes de herança luso-franceses (Mestrado em Português Língua Não Materna/Universidade do Minho)
  • Ina Pirkmayr: "Zur Sprachkompetenz portugiesischer Herkunftssprecher in Deutschland. Eine Studie zur Subjektverwendung". (Magister Romanistik / Universität Frankfurt)


  • Coming soon.


Cristina Flores (coordinator):




Centro de Estudos Humanísticos
Universidade do Minho
Campus de Gualtar
4710-057 Braga


Phone: 253604184/5

Fax: 253604164