Greek Heritage Speakers in the USA: An Examination of Language and Identity

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Authors
Metaxas, Christiana
Issue Date
2016
Type
Learning Object
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Language
en_US
Keywords
Bilingualism--United States , Greek Americans , Greek Americans--Cultural assimilation , Greek Americans--Ethnic identity , Sociolinguistics
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Abstract
Research in bilingualism only goes as far back as the 1950s with such studies as Weinreich 1953, Haugen 1953, and Mackey 1967. While there are some studies that explore Greek and English speaking bilinguals in the United States, (Seaman 1972, Bardis 1976, Papaiologos 2006,) there is little research that focuses on more recent generations of American-born Greek heritage speakers, many of whom are further removed from their immigrant ancestors. The goal of my research project is to examine the Greek heritage speaking community in the United States. In my paper, I investigate language ability and attitudes towards the heritage and language. Furthermore, I investigate certain phonological realizations that may distinguish an individual as a Greek heritage speaker who was born and grew up in the United States. First, in order to understand the complex linguistic history that contributes to the Hellenic identity, I provide a survey of the Greek language from antiquity to modern-day Greece, and its eventual migration to the United States. Next, I outline the methodology of my study: I conduct an online survey of college-aged Greek-Americans and ten qualitative interviews with Greek-Americans of varying ages. I then report the results and provide an analysis of the data collected. The data identifies participants’ experience with the Greek language, their attitudes towards their Greek-American heritage, and an optional oral section where they are asked to read out loud a list of Greek words. Using the collected data and other informed research, I examine language as a function of identity and investigate a number of phonological phenomena relating to diphthongization, rhotic realization, and palatalization. I compare attitudes about heritage, self-assessed language ability, and pronunciation of Greek words among participants of differing backgrounds and exposure to the Greek language and culture. Lastly, I describe how factors such as exposure to the language and culture may be reflected in Greek language attitudes and pronunciation of heritage speakers. My hope is that this study will inspire further linguistic examination of Modern Greek as a heritage language.
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