Cross-Cultural Approaches: Comparing Heritage Languages in Toronto

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University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics
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Nagy, Naomi

Comparable documentation across language varieties can contribute to linguistic knowledge, e.g., what types of structures and patterns are cross-linguistically possible? common? Such analyses also provide a proving ground on which to test which theoretical principles of sociolinguistics are universal. To begin to tackle the complex issue of how we might develop a framework for cross-cultural sociolinguistics, I share some insights from comparative analysis of several languages that are spoken in one city but that have not been subjected to much sociolinguistic analysis. The languages in question (Cantonese, Faetar, Korean, Italian, Polish, Russian, Ukrainian and Hungarian) are heritage languages spoken in Toronto for 50-100+ years and subjected to variationist scrutiny since 2009. Comparative analyses of homeland and heritage patterns across several heritage languages are compared to better understand the processes of language variation and change in this set of lesser-studied varieties. I highlight trends observed in seven years of ongoing study of Toronto’s heritage languages that may help us understand contact-induced change in this context at the community, generation, and individual level. Comparisons reveal surprising discrepancies between reports of linguistic attitudes and language use and evidence of ongoing change. The most surprising trend is the lack of correlation between usage patterns and attitudes to linguistic innovation. Such issues must be understood if we are to develop a framework for cross-cultural comparisons.

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