English as a heritage language: The effects of input patterns and contact with Hebrew

Sidney Gordon, Natalia Meir

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Purpose: This study examines the extent to which language skills of adult speakers of heritage language (HL) English in a Hebrew-speaking society are affected by individual HL input patterns and cross-linguistic influence. Methodology: Adult HL-English speakers who grew up in families with one (N = 22) or two (N = 25) English-speaking parents were compared to a baseline group of native English speakers who emigrated to Israel as adults (N = 20). Data: Proficiencies in morphosyntactic and lexical domains were measured based on formal test performance and error types and frequencies in narratives. Detailed histories of speakers’ linguistic input were documented. Findings: Results showed near-ceiling performance across the three groups in the morphosyntactic domain, while significant differences were observed between the baseline and HL groups in the lexical domain. No differences were found between HL-English speakers who grew up in families with one or two English-speaking parents. Individual HL input patterns explained a larger proportion of the variance in the lexical abilities, compared to morphosyntactic ones. Evidence of cross-linguistic influence from Hebrew was not detected in the morphosyntactic domain, but only in the lexicon, in the form of minor lexical production errors and calques. Originality: The HL examined here was English which, unlike other HLs, is heard and used in a variety of contexts outside the home. In most previous studies on HLs, English was the dominant societal language. Implications: The results suggest that morphosyntactic divergences, unlike lexical divergences, are not necessarily found in all HLs—morphosyntactic structures acquired in childhood, reinforced periodically in the societal environment, may be well-maintained because of the language’s ubiquity and relatively sparse morphology.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Bilingualism
StateAccepted/In press - 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2023.


  • English
  • Hebrew
  • Heritage language
  • cross-language influence
  • input patterns
  • lexicon
  • morphosyntax


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