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Heritage speaker competence differences, language change and input type: inflected infinitives in Heritage Brazilian Portuguese

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  • Education
  • Linguistics


It has been argued that colloquial dialects of Brazilian Portuguese (BP) have undergone significant linguistic change resulting in the loss of inflected infinitives (e.g., Pires, 2002, 2006). Since BP adults, at least educated ones, have complete knowledge of inflected infinitives, the implicit claim is that they are transmitted via formal education in the standard dialect. In the present article, I test one of the latent predictions of such claims; namely, the fact that heritage speakers of BP who lack formal education in the standard dialect should never develop native-like knowledge of inflected infinitives. In doing so, I highlight two significant implications (a) that heritage speaker grammars are a good source for testing dialectal variation and language change proposals and (b) incomplete acquisition and/or attrition are not the only sources of heritage language competence differences. Employing the syntactic and semantic tests of Rothman and Iverson (2007), I compare heritage speakers' knowledge to Rothman and Iverson's advanced adult L2 learners and educated native controls. Unlike the latter groups, the data for heritage speakers indicate that they do not have target knowledge of inflected infinitives, lending support to Pires' claims, suggesting that literacy plays a significant role in the acquisition of this grammatical property in BP.

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