Exploring Linguistic Characteristics of Heritage Persian speakers a preliminary study Anousha Sedighi Portland State University. Subjects: Heritage Persian speakers at the university level in U.S. Method: - Recoded Spontaneous speech (before entering language class) Class performance
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Heritage Persian speakers
a preliminary study
Portland State University
Heritage Persian speakers at the university level in U.S.
- Recoded Spontaneous speech
(before entering language class)
(mixed class with L2 learners)
Persian has two distinct styles/registers:
the way native speakers converse (both in formal
& informal settings) (letters and Modern poetry)
the way language is written, Media, also spoken by
Heritage speakers (not much formal education in heritage language) so they fail to perform in the written form of the language.
They may not comprehend the written form.
Even if they do, producing such forms is not possible for them.
1) a. be-ræv-im! (written)
b. be-r-im! (spoken) (HS’s comfort zone)
Another problem: in the usage of the honorific form.
Both spoken and written forms of Persian can be used in honorific form when addressing people older than you or higher in rank, position, or just people that you are not very close to:
2) mændiruz to ro/ra did-æm Non-honorific
I yesterday you.sg. Acc. saw-1sg.
I saw you yesterday
3) mændiruzshomaro/ra did-æm Honorific
I yesterday you.pl Acc. saw-1sg.
I saw you yesterday (addressing one person)
This is similar to the French “tu” and “vous” where the latter is utilized for “politesse”.
L2 learners seem to pick up this honorific rule faster than heritage learners.
This could possibly be because L2learners are more mindful of cultural points where as heritage learners generally assume they know more than they really do!
Polinsky & Kagan (2007) report that heritage speakers have up to 30 percent slower rate of speech than those of the native speakers.
Heritage Persian speakers also speak slower than native speakers (exact percentage not calculated) but definitely slower.
Heritage Persian speakers pronounce certain sounds different than native speakers:
The Persian letter “r” is has different phonemes based on its location in the word.
“r” is pronounced as a trill at the beginning of a word such as “”Rostæm”.
“r” in the middle of a word is pronounced as a flap as in “bæraye/for”, (similar to the American pronunciation of better)
“r” is pronounced as a voiceless trill at the end of a word (mar/snake).
Heritage speakers of Persian are challenged when pronouncing the middle “r”.
They tend to pronounce it the way “r” sounds in the English word “merit”.
Although heritage Persian speakers are most challenged by the middle “r”, there are subtle differences in their pronunciation of “r” in all three positions.
Another cause of accent is the sound “ pronouncing the middle “r”. gh”:
Almost all of the heritage speakers (other than the ones who are entirely fluent in speaking) pronounce the sound “gh” as “g”
which is the closest familiar sound in the dominant langue.
Two instances of “gh” in Persian:
4. ghæza(voiced uvular stop)
5. hæghighæt(voiced velar fricative)
None of the above sounds exist in English so the closest strategy is “g” the “velar stop”.
Again pronouncing the middle “r”.
knowing that these are new sounds, L2 learners make a conscious effort to capture the new sounds
(not always successful)
Heritage speakers have been using the wrong sounds in a fossilized form (mainly without being corrected at home) so its more difficult for them to use the correct sound.
While “gh” is hard to achieve for heritage speakers,
“kh” which also doesn't exist in their dominant language is much easier captured by heritage speakers and L2 learners.
This observation requires further exploration.
While the above sounds may cause in an accent for heritage speakers, they almost always exhibit less accent than L2 learners.
Heritage speakers have much shorter utterances than native speakers and show a significant t lower number of embedded clauses(Polinsky 2008).
This is also true for heritage Persian speakers.
Also, Persian language produces much longer sentences and sentences than English (dominant language).
That could also be a leading factor in producing shorter utterances by heritage Persian speakers.
Heritage Persian speakers tend to stay away from: pronouncing the middle “r”.
and clauses with resumptive pronouns.
6) a. mærd-e ketu television-e hafte-ye pishinja bud
Man-definite that in TV-is week-ezafebefore here was
The man who is on TV was here last week.
Instead they use a simplification strategy and simply say the following by pointing to the man on TV.
b. un pronouncing the middle “r”. mærd-e hafte-ye pishinja bud
That man-indefinite week-ezafe before here was
That man was here last week
Heritage Persian speakers make no distinctions between certain tenses such as “simple past” and “present perfect”.
7) mæn-æmunja raft-e-æm
I-too there went-participle-1sg
I have gone there too.
8) mæn-æmunja raft-æm
I-too there went-1sg
I went there too.
The verb in (7) consists of two vowels in a row “e” and “æ’ which for the ease of pronunciation and in the fast speech neutralizes into one and only the second vowel will be heard.
Native speakers (because of their familiarity with the written form of the language) can easily distinguish between (7) and (8), while heritage speakers have no distinction in comprehending or producing these two tenses (simple past & present perfect).
Imperatives “æ’ which for the ease of pronunciation and in the fast speech neutralizes into one and only the second vowel will be heard.
Heritage Persian speakers are very strong in production of Imperatives and its vowel harmony while L2 learners struggle with imperative and its vowel harmony.
This could be attributed to the fact that the first and most frequent form of verb that children encounter is Imperatives. Commands such as:
bokhor/eat! - bekhab/sleep! – saket bash/be quiet!
are known by any heritage Persian language learner even those with very basic level of proficiency.
Word Order: “æ’ which for the ease of pronunciation and in the fast speech neutralizes into one and only the second vowel will be heard.
Persian is a Pro-drop language with the underlying word order:
(subject)-(adjunct)-direct object-indirect object-verb
Scrambling and Topicalization are very common so the Persian word order is not as strict as English.
Heritage speakers have a good command of word order and seldom transfer the English word order into their utterance.
L2 students however, struggle a lot with the word order. They often use the verb right after the subject (transfer the English rule) even at advance level.
Future Tense: “æ’ which for the ease of pronunciation and in the fast speech neutralizes into one and only the second vowel will be heard.
Future tense is seldom used in spoken form (simple present can refer to future). Heritage speakers almost have no knowledge of this tense.
L2 students learn the future tense much easier than HLs.
Generic Nouns: “æ’ which for the ease of pronunciation and in the fast speech neutralizes into one and only the second vowel will be heard.
Persian uses singular nouns in generic form.
9) (mæn) ketab [doostdar-æm]
(I) book friend have-1sg
I like books
Heritage speakers have no problem with this rule and never transfer the English rule.
L2 learners are constantly challenged by this rule even at higher proficiency levels.
Verbal Agreement “æ’ which for the ease of pronunciation and in the fast speech neutralizes into one and only the second vowel will be heard.
Verbs agree in Person and Number with the subject.
Heritage speakers have no problem with the verbal agreement.
L2 learners are also the same (they may forget the appropriate verbal ending but the rule is easily acquired)
Exceptions to verbal agreement “æ’ which for the ease of pronunciation and in the fast speech neutralizes into one and only the second vowel will be heard.
Psychological verbs (also known as impersonal):
10) (mæn) (az un) khosh-æm mi-a-d
I from s/he/it good-1sg present-come-3sg
I like s/he/it
The verb does not agree with the subject. It agrees with the psychological state (also: I m hungry, thirsty, sleepy, sad…)
these constructions are easily performed by heritage speakers
They are major problems for L2 learners (no English pattern to follow)
Heritage speakers only have access to the inventory of the vocabulary and lexicon of the spoken form, which is much more limited than the written form.
Polinsky (2008) argues that heritage speakers have “serious problems with lexical access and retrieval” and that code switching is one of the strategies to deal with this issue.
Completely true for Persian. In fact even native speakers who have lived abroad for a while do this frequently.
Code switching happens frequently among native speakers and heritage speakers.
A distinguishing factor between Persian and other languages is:
Almost 70-80% of Persian verbs are compounds (non-verbal element + verbal element)
Certain light verbs such as “kærdæn/to do”, “shodæn/to become”, “gereftæn/to take”, and “zædæn/to hit” are extremely versatile and may take any foreign word as their non-verbal element:
11) log-in kærd-i?
Did you long in?
12) heritage speakers. mænhænuz-(h)am OK næ-shod-æm
I yet-also OK neg-become-1sg
I have not become OK yet/ I am not OK yet.
In (12) the word “OK” replaces the adjective “khoob” (good) and is used very frequently by both native and heritage speakers.
Code switching is not only limited to compound verbs:
13) bayæd team-work dahst-e bash-im
must team-work had-participle be-imperative-1pl
we must have team-work
In (13) the verb takes the English word “team-work” as direct object.
The way heritage Persian speakers carry themselves, their discourse, gestures, facial and linguistic expressions, and even the way they sit in class is more affected by their dominant language/culture.
In some instances, while heritage speaker might be behaving completely politely, their mannerism might come across as rude to a native speaker who has just arrived from Iran and is not acquainted with the foreign culture.
So, without intending to do so, heritage speaker of Persian may have ignorant or rude mannerism in the eyes of native Persians.
Identity issues heritage speakers.
Due to current political situation between Iran and U.S. Persian speakers exhibit two distinct patters:
They are either extremely mindful of showing that they have Iranian origin (are Iranian) or
They try not to show their ethnicity as much as they can (for instance tell people that their exotic look is due to having Italian origins etc.)
Heritage speakers of Persian usually over-estimate their linguistic knowledge, i.e. they think they know more than they do.
In a mixed class with both heritage and non-heritage students
(in my experience) heritage students start with a higher proficiency than non-heritage students but end up with almost the same scores at the end.
Partially because their written knowledge is not any better than non-heritage learners.
This issue further supports the need for separate classes for heritage learners.
Persian as a heritage language is a new and emerging topic that requires much more attention.
Need for systematic research
Need for instructional material
Need for appropriate assessment tools
Need to raise awareness in educational institutions to
invest (as heritage Persian classes are usually not cost
Need to raise awareness for families to foster the
heritage language of their children