Heritage Language and Cultural Identity

Topics: Linguistics, Culture, Multilingualism Pages: 10 (3810 words) Published: April 9, 2013
For my topic I chose heritage language and cultural identity. This topic is important to me because it personally affects me. My father was born in Israel and immigrated to America as a young child. He grew up in a home that did not speak English and had to learn the language in school. His home was a relatively religious home. His parents kept their cultural identity and so did my father. They observed all things Jewish in their lives. My mother is a third generation American. She grew up speaking only English in her home; she never learned any other language. My mother is also Jewish, but they never really observed anything related to the religion in her home. Growing up in my household we observed all the Jewish holidays and attended temple on a regular basis. We only spoke English in my house. When we went to my aunt’s house for holidays everyone would speak Hebrew (including my father) and my mother, siblings and I would be left out. I never thought too much about this when I was younger; I just thought it was rude. As I got older, I began to search for my own identity. I was American and proud, but I felt like something was missing from me. After I went to Israel for three weeks a few years ago I realized what was missing, a piece of my culture, my Jewish identity was missing. Even though I was raised with the holidays, not knowing the language meant I was left out of something. I couldn’t communicate with my family and when I was in Israel I couldn’t communicate with the people. I felt like an outsider. I knew I wasn’t the only person out there that felt this way- that not knowing my heritage language felt like a piece of my cultural identity was missing. I wanted to know why my father chose not to teach us Hebrew. I also wanted to find other people that had been affected by not knowing their heritage language, how this has affected them and the reasons that their parents chose not to teach them. This paper explores various questions about an individual’s relationship with language. Why do parents not teach their children their heritage language? Why do people begin learning their ‘heritage language’? Why do they stop learning? Or why do they continue learning? Through this paper I will try to gain the answers to these questions and an understanding of this topic.

Related Literature:
When you don’t know you’re heritage language you are missing out on a portion of your cultural identity. Regardless what language your ancestors spoke or what culture you belong to a piece of you is missing. You can’t relate to those in your culture that do speak the language. Parts of your traditions that are performed in your heritage language are lost when performed in English. They are many articles out there that discuss heritage language and cultural identity. Before I began my research I thought I was alone in thinking this, but quickly found out that I am not. Many factors go into a person’s cultural identity, not just language. I am mainly focused on how heritage language affects their cultural identity. Rehhun and Levy (2006) state how ethnic or religious identity is the individual's self-concept of his group-belonging and the value and emotional significance attached to it {Beit-Hallahmi 1989; Galkina 1996; Herman 1977: London and Hirschfeld 1991;Tajfel 1981). They go on to say in the social and cultural context of contemporary America, in which group identity is not regulated by formal provisions, the definitions of collective boundaries and group belonging are complex and often confusing. Before beginning my research on heritage language and cultural identity, I wanted to find some background information on what heritage language is and what cultural identity is. Isajiw (1990) provides a practical, operational definition of ethnic identity. He divides ethnic identity into external and internal aspects. External aspects of ethnic identity involve observable behaviours...

References: Avni, S. (2011). Toward an understanding of Hebrew language education: ideologies, emotions, and identity. International Journal Of The Sociology Of Language, 2011(208), 53-70. doi:10.1515/IJSL.2011.012
Brown, Clara Lee
Cho, Grace G. (2000). The Role of Voluntary Factors in Heritage Language Development: How Speakers Can Develop the Heritage Language on their Own. International Technical Literature Guide, 127-127 (Jan), 127-140, January 2000.
DeCapua, Andrea & Wintergerst, Ann C. (2009) Second-Generation Language Maintenance and Identity: A Case Study. Bilingual Research Journal, 32(1), 5-24, 2009.
Doerr, N. (2010). INTRODUCTION: HERITAGE, NATIONHOOD, AND LANGUAGE. Critical Asian Studies, 42(1), 53-62. doi:10.1080/14672710903537472
Hinton, Leanne L
Risager, Karen. (2006). Language and Culture: Global Flows and Local Complexity. Toronto: Multilingual Matters Ltd. Page 107
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