Degree Date



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Heritage speakers (HSs) of Russian in the United States form a very complex and diverse group of learners. Research in heritage linguistics has examined key parameters of the HSs’ oral production. Important work has been done in heritage language (HL) pragmatics, morphology, and lexicon. However, very few studies have been conducted to investigate HL writing. The present study expands current research on heritage learners by introducing new data on their written language production.

The present study investigated syntactic and lexical complexity, accuracy, and fluency in the academic writing of heritage students of Russian enrolled in language courses in American universities. Using a variety of measurements, this study analyzed global parameters of heritage speakers’ writing and compared them with the writing of Russian native speakers. The research data came from the essay contest administered by American Councils for International Education (ACTR) and from essays written by native speakers, collected separately. The combination of HSs and native speakers’ essays resulted in a corpus of 118 texts and approximately 34,000 words.

The results indicate that, in general, noticeable differences exist between heritage students of the lowest-proficiency group and other groups, including NSs. Heritage speakers in the more proficient groups often did not differ from native speakers (with the exception of accuracy measures) and sometimes even outperformed them in lexical sophistication. It is apparent that students who attended school in a Russian-speaking country for five years or more have considerably different linguistic profiles from those who attended school for less than five years or ii did not have any formal schooling at all. The analysis of errors shows that the interlanguage of heritage students in all groups exhibits relatively strong syntax but incomplete acquisition of morphological structures, spelling, and punctuation. The acquisition of syntax is fairly uniform, as revealed by the similar syntactic scores for all three groups, and the low error rate in syntax.


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