Language change in bilingual returnee children over the course of five years: Mutual effects of bilingual experience and cognition

While the literature on heritage speaker bilinguals has grown in size over the last decades, relatively little is known about a specific, severely understudied subset of heritage speakers, namely “returnees”: children of immigrant families who spend a significant portion of their formative developmental years in a foreign majority language context yet return to their homeland later in life. Revealing the linguistic consequences of returnees is especially important in the current context of global mobility where language development in the native and additional languages for millions of children is dynamic and fluid. However, little is known about what happens after the point of return to their homeland: how does re-exposure to the native/heritage language; HL (what was a HL when aboard) and reduced contact to the second language; L2 (the majority language of the diaspora in which many would have achieved dominance in prior to their return) influence their continued bilingual developmental trajectories? What variables predict individual differences in language development/change? 

In this talk, I will discuss the process of HL re-exposure, L2 attrition, and executive function development in Japanese-English returnee children by showcasing longitudinal data collected over the course of five years. These studies examine the interplay of language change and executive function development from a quantitative perspective (Kubota et al., 2020a) and show that executive function, in addition to bilingual experience (i.e., exposure, use, age of L2 onset) modulate changes in various aspects of the languages such as morphosyntax (Kubota et al., 2020b), lexical access (Kubota et al., 2019), global accent (Laméris et al., in preparation), and narrative structure (Kubota et al., 2022). This research contributes to the field by offering a novel approach that showcases the utility of the natural laboratory of returnee context to unpack and better understand the dynamic and complex nature of bilingualism.

Dr Maki Kubota | 窪田麻希

Maki Kubota is a postdoctoral researcher in the HeLPiNG (Heritage-bilingual Linguistic Proficiency in their Native Grammar) project at the Department of Language and Culture at UiT, The Arctic University of Norway and the PoLaR lab’s Outreach Coordinator. Her PhD research at the University of Edinburgh examined the interplay of language attrition and cognitive development in a special group of bilingual children, returnees. Her work mainly involves examining language development in children, including bilinguals, attriters (returnees), and heritage language speakers. She uses a variety of offline and online methods to track language development in children longitudinally.