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.