Grammatical competence in adult heritage speakers of Italian and adult immigrants: A comparative study

Guiditta Smith, Roberta Spelorzi, Antonella Sorace, Maria Garraffa

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


The grammar of bilingual children has been shown to be sensitive to linguistic markers for language impairment. These markers can detect similarities and differences between typical bilingual profiles and atypical monolingual profiles in children. In this chapter, we review a study exploring whether the same markers can detect differences in the grammatical patterns of adult bilingual speakers of Italian immersed in an English-speaking environment. Adult immigrants (AI) and heritage speakers (HS) of Italian are bilinguals who are native speakers of a l anguage that is not dominant in their current environment. The study exploits language markers applied to the investigation of language-specific vulnerabilities in Italian children with language impairments, in particular the production of clitic pronouns and the task of sentence repetition. In both tasks, accuracy in HS is significantly worse than that in AI, showing that both linguistic markers are sensitive to a difference between AI and HS grammatical profiles. In sentence repetition both groups show high accuracy; in clitic production HS are considerably more affected than AI. Qualitatively, the markers show similarities, with most produced sentences being grammatically licit in both groups, but also important differences, with HS showing a selective and more severe disadvantage in the use of functional words modifying sentence structure (complementisers, clitics).

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationStudies in Italian as a Heritage Language
EditorsFrancesco Romano
PublisherMouton de Gruyter
Number of pages30
ISBN (Electronic)9783110759587
ISBN (Print)9783110759518
Publication statusPublished - 26 Apr 2023


  • Clinical markers
  • Clitic pronouns
  • Heritage speakers
  • Immigrants
  • Sentence repetition

Cite this