Patterns of language dominance in German-Turkish heritage bilingualism: the case of adolescent learners of French

Christoph Gabriel & Jonas Grünke | Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz

This contribution focuses on heritage bilingualism and concomitant language dominance patterns by analyzing six German-Turkish high school students, who have grown up in Northern Germany (ages 15–17). We calculated dominance scores for the participants based on the interplay of language use and self-assessed proficiency as indicated in a sociolinguistic questionnaire, which categorized them as balanced bilinguals. However, proficiency measures in both languages revealed that all but one participants score higher in German than in Turkish concerning reading comprehension (LGVT, Schneider et al. 2017) and writing skills (Klinger et al. 2019). This finding might be explained by the fact that they generally use German in public and educational contexts, while Turkish is restricted to the familial domain, as a closer look at the questionnaires shows.

Furthermore, to determine how strongly the Turkish spoken by the bilinguals is affected by CLI from the environmental language German at the prosodic level, we compared their productions to control data recorded from (a) Turkish monolinguals and (b) monolingual German learners of Turkish. Measurements of rhythmic and intonational properties showed that the bilinguals’ prosody does not substantially deviate from the monolinguals’.

Finally, as Turkish largely patterns with French regarding rhythm and intonation and thus might constitute a source of positive transfer, the HL speakers’ prosody was also assessed in their foreign language French. However, they did not perform better than a control group of monolingual German learners. We interpret this finding as showing that in a clearly German-dominated domain such as the educational system the degree of activation of the HL Turkish is low and French seems to be mainly acquired through the majority language. To make HL speakers benefit from their first language at school, both activation and awareness of its structural properties should be fostered in the multilingual classroom.


Klinger, T., Usanova, I., & Gogolin, I. 2019. Entwicklung rezeptiver und produktiver schriftsprachlicher Fähigkeiten im Deutschen. Zeitschrift für Erziehungswissenschaften 22, 75–103.

Schneider, W., Schlagmüller, M., & Ennemoser, M. 2017. LGVT 5-12+. Manual. Göttingen: Hogrefe.