This article presents on interviews with 10 bilingual speakers of American English and Wisconsin Heritage German (WHG), with respect to their licensing of high (NP1) versus low (NP2) agreement. In terms of linguistic typology, English copular constructions license only NP1 agreement, in which the verb agrees in person and number with the first—or syntactically high—nominal element in the clause; Standard German copular constructions license NP2 agreement with the lower nominal element in the clause (though subsequent topicalization of this element is also licit). As a second variable, a subset (7) of these speakers license complementizer agreement (C-agr) in WHG, which obtains from a second, syntactically high agreement structure in the complementizer field, in addition to the canonical German NP2 structure. These data were compared to a control group of the remaining three WHG speakers who did not license C-agr.
Data presented here suggest a bi-directional transfer of both NP1 and NP2 agreement structures for both groups of heritage language (HL) speakers. The control group produced a majority of forms consistent with both English and German language-specific grammars. Evidence of NP2 structures in the control group’s English, however, suggests that these speakers are HL-dominant—since NP2 is categorically prohibited in English. WHG speakers with C-agr, in contrast to the control group, produced a majority of NP1 forms in both languages, with the presence of C-agr being a predicting factor in the presence of NP1 agreement in the English of WHG speakers. It is here argued that the presence of C-agr in the HL is similar to the canonical NP1 structures of Standard English, allowing for overlapping licit NP1 structures in both varieties. Data from Assumed Identify Constructions (AICs) suggests that canonical NP2 agreement in C-agr WHG may have been weakened as a result. This research suggests that even superficially English-like grammar may obtain not from a direct transfer from the L2 into the HL, but rather from the interaction of English grammar with the autochthonous grammatical structures of non-standard HLs.
We report on work with German-English bilinguals, heritage speakers of German, and their licensing of parasitic gaps (a type of multiple gap construction) in English-to-German translation tasks. English allows such constructions variably, while European German does not. While some recent work reports that some heritage speakers have difficulty licensing null elements generally, most of our speakers allow some gaps in German. Structurally, these gaps correspond closely to the more-accessible end of Engdahl’s accessibility hierarchy for parasitic gaps (p-gaps). We suggest that this pattern reflects structural influence from socially dominant English on heritage German.