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Does anyone know how you would say "heritage speaker" of German, in the linguistic sense of having informally learned the language growing up? Does Herkunftssprecher work? Danke!

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    I would have no clue what a "Herkunftssprecher" is without some context but I don't know of a single word term for this concept either.
    – idmean
    Aug 22 at 17:50
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    I wonder, whether that would still be a 'Muttersprachler' - but I don't know, whether linguists have a separate German term for this concept.
    – Arsak
    Aug 22 at 19:44
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    What's the difference between 'heritage speaker' and 'native speaker'? Aug 22 at 20:06
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    @planetmaker You should read the linked wiki-article.
    – Paul Frost
    Aug 22 at 23:42
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    @planetmaker The very first sentence of the Wikipedia article names a difference between native and heritage languages.
    – David Vogt
    Aug 23 at 7:39
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The German word is "Herkunftssprecher". See here and here. It was transferred from English to German (loan translation).

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  • I do not see “Herkunfssprecher” in your second reference.
    – Carsten S
    Aug 23 at 9:28
  • @CarstenS Look at the preview below "Zusammenfassung".
    – Paul Frost
    Aug 23 at 9:37
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    I see, thanks. Still a strange word…
    – Carsten S
    Aug 23 at 17:16
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Herkunftssprecher seems to be what academia is starting to use as the German equivalent of heritage speaker. It is not a widely known word yet.

To call it a translation seems a far stretch though, Herkunft (meaning origin, provenance) is a strange word to use here, it's not a translation of heritage, which would be Erbe or Abstammung. I don't see how a an immigrant's child or grandchild that is born in Germany is supposed to have a Herkunft in a different country, which is what Herkunftssprecher can be understood to imply. They probably mean Herkunft in the sense of social origin, namely the family in which the child grows up, but that is very open to misunderstandings. Herkunft is never only the family.

At the moment, I would personally probably just go with the english term heritage speaker and avoid Herkunftssprecher for now.

To make things more complicated, the German word for native speaker is Muttersprachler (literally "mother language speaker"), which also makes it hard or impossible to redefine his term to mean the language that the society in which the child grows up speaks but not the child's mother.

So this clearly needs new vocabulary, for both the parent's language and the surrounding society's language, and it's not as easy as it is in English. Perhaps "Herkunftssprecher" will stick after all, but at the moment, it seems like a strange translation attempt for "heritage speaker".

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    I haven't heard "Herkunftsprecher" so far; it seems to be a specialist term used by linguists. Probably it has become well-established in specialist groups and thus it does not make much sense to question whether is an "adequate" neologism. I agree to you that it is not a literal translation of "heritage speaker", but nevertless it is an obvious analogy of the English original which was created by German linguists. It will presumably never be used in everyday language. Aug 24 at 7:45
  • Is it well-established? It seems like such a Verlegenheitslösung.
    – HalvarF
    Aug 24 at 8:19
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    I am not a linguist, and I may be wrong. But I wrote probably well-established because my personal "Google research" showed that the term is used as standard in professional literature. For example read this paper: Im Mittelpunkt des Interesses stehen vor allem die so genannten Herkunftssprecher, die eine ihrer Muttersprachen im Kontext von Migration und einer dominanten Umgebungssprache erworben haben. Aug 24 at 22:00
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    Während der Begriff der Herkunftssprecher (‚heritage speaker‘) und die damit verbundenen Besonderheiten zunächst in den USA und aus der Perspektive von bildungs- und erziehungswissenschaftlichen Fragestellungen betrachtet wurden (Valdés 2014), ist diese Gruppe mehrsprachiger Sprecher in den letzten Jahren auch in den Fokus sprachwissenschaftlicher und europäischer Forschung gerückt. And even if Herkunftssprecher should be a "Verlegenheitslösung" - it is too late to replace it by any other term you would prefer. We have to accept reality. Aug 24 at 22:05
  • A Google search also shows that the English "heritage speaker" is quite prevalent in German academic literature, too. Which, as I said, makes much more sense to me than using a bad translation that fits neither the meaning of "Herkunft" nor the existence of "Muttersprache".
    – HalvarF
    Aug 25 at 15:45
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"Herkunftssprecher" would work considering the definition, but I have never heard it used. If you grew up with german you could simply consider it your mothertongue which would be "Muttersprache", which would make you a "Muttersprachler"

Just because you don't know a language well doesn't make it any less your mothertongue

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