When speaking their heritage language, heritage speakers typically sound much like other “native speakers.” However, recent studies have found that heritage speakers (HSs) are highly variable and produce a range of more and less “native-like” phonetic features. In an effort to stimulate productive new research in this area, this article addresses some of the methodological challenges of heritage language phonetics research, namely dealing with high variability and identifying the best predictors of that variability. A study on heritage Spanish rhotics is presented to elucidate those methodological challenges. The study took an exploratory, bottom-up approach to analyzing the rhotics produced by speakers of central Mexican and Salvadoran Spanish with different language profiles: HSs, traditional native speakers, long-term immigrants, and second language learners. The results suggested that overall between-group comparisons of means based on isolated acoustic features could be insufficiently informative. The study also evaluated the contribution of various linguistic (e.g., proficiency and use) and extralinguistic (e.g., cultural and ethnic identity) factors for identifying more homogeneous subgroups of HSs and found that the latter were useful for predicting phonetic variation.

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Copyright © 2018, Elizabeth M. Kissling. This article first appeared in Heritage Language Journal 15:1 (2018), 25-70.

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Kissling, Elizabeth. "An Exploratory Study of Heritage Spanish Rhotics: Addressing Methodological Challenges of Heritage Language Phonetics Research." Heritage Language Journal 15, no. 1 (2018): 25-70.