Research interest in heritage speakers and their patterns of bilingual development has grown substantially over the last decade, prompting sign language researchers to consider how the concepts of heritage language and heritage speakers apply in the Deaf community. This overview builds on previous proposals that ASL and other natural sign languages qualify as heritage languages for many individuals raised in Deaf, signing families. Specifically, we submit that Codas and Deaf cochlear implant users from Deaf families (DDCI) are heritage signers, parallel to heritage speakers in spoken language communities. We support this proposal by pointing out developmental patterns that are similar across children who are bilingual in a minority home language and a dominant majority language, regardless of modality. This overview also addresses the complex challenge of determining whether unique patterns displayed by heritage speakers/signers in their home language reflect incomplete acquisition, acquisition followed by attrition, or divergent acquisition. The themes summarized in this article serve as an introduction to subsequent papers in this special issue on heritage signers.


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pp. 309-327
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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