Project Description

Danko Šipka

Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian Heritage Speakers in Four Major US Metropolitan Areas – Resources for the Attainment of Full Professional Linguistic Proficiency


The present project, funded by the U.S. Department of State through ACLS, is aimed at surveying the needs of the heritage speakers of Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian and designing a syllabus tailored to their particular linguistic situation, with an eye toward an accelerated attainment of the full working proficiency (i.e., ILR 3).


A heightened interest in heritage speakers during the last decades has recently been crowned with a synthetic volume (Brinton at al., 2008) providing an excellent review of the field. The preceding developments involved the initiation of the Heritage Languages Journal, and the establishment of the National Heritage Language Center and the Alliance for the Advancement of Heritage Languages (see the Sources and References section for the latter three resources). The achievements in the field brought tangible results for Russian, most notably Kagan at al. (2003). Other Slavic languages, Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian (BCS) therein, have not been commanding such interest. Aside from occasional reviews of teaching programs, such as Šipka and Dunatov (1988), there are no qualitative or quantitative accounts of the BCS heritage population of BCS in the United States. U.S. Census Bureau (2009) shows the following distribution of BCS (labeled Serbo-Croatian) heritage speakers according to the 2000 census data. There are 233,865 heritage speakers of BCS with the highest numbers in the following nine states: New York 31,553, Illinois 29,631, California 23,872, Ohio 12,577, Michigan 11,950, Florida 11,654, New Jersey 10,420, Pennsylvania 8,648, Arizona 7,438. If one takes into the account the factors such as the recent migrations of these speakers to the South-West, the gravitation of potential students toward university centers (e.g., New Jersey to the city of New York), the size and availability of BCS university programs (see Šipka, 2008), and the sheer concentration of such speakers (e.g., the fact that a decisive majority of Arizonan heritage speakers is in the Phoenix metropolitan area while the population remains widely dispersed in most other places), one can safely estimate that the highest concentration of BCS heritage with language-learning potential can be found in the following four metropolitan centers: New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Phoenix.

Research Design

The proposed research is divided into the following distinct phases:

a. General orientation, initial design, and literature review,
b. Data-gathering in the four aforementioned metropolitan centers,
c. Writing of the preliminary report,
d. The design of the syllabus and on-line surveys,
e. On-line data gathering,
f. Testing of the syllabus and its possible modification,
g. Writing of the analytic paper

The following theoretical backgrounds and research techniques will be deployed: structured open-questions interviews and qualitative research methodology (during on-site data gathering and the analysis of these results), closed-question surveying and quantitative research (in the survey research and analysis, see more about these research techniques in Creswell, 2003), contrastive and cognitive linguistics as well as the ILR guidelines (ILR, 2009) - in the design of the syllabus.


Prior to engaging in on-site interviews, the contacts with the local community (through the teachers of BCS, with whom the author maintains regular contacts, and using various heritage organizations and businesses) will be achieved and face-to-face interviews with at least thirty heritage students or potential students in each of the centers arranged. Similarly, interviews with BCS instructors will be scheduled, as well as the visits to the local heritage sites (places of worship, stores, sports clubs, cultural clubs, restaurants, etc.) to assess their values as immersion venues. The visit to Los Angeles will be used to meet with Prof. Kagan or another specialist from the National Heritage Language Center and discuss this project. All gathered data will be included in the preliminary report, which will contain a general overview of all four centers, most notably a qualitative analysis of the speakers, teaching programs (with an eye toward the inclusion of a program for heritage speakers).

On-line Survey

The qualitative data contained in the preliminary report will be used to design an on-line survey targeted at getting quantitative data about the needs and preferences of heritage speakers as well as their potential and motivation to eventually reach ILR 3 proficiency. The on-line survey will be placed at an author's server and all US university centers who have heritage speakers as their students and all heritage organizations and other venues will be invited to fill it out. Twofold use of this quantitative data is envisaged. First, the design of the syllabus will rest on the findings of this and the previously conducted qualitative survey. Secondly, the data will be incorporated in the analytical paper, one of the deliverables. The analysis will be performed along the lines of qualitative and quantitative research respectively (see Creswell, 2003).

Syllabus Development and Testing

The syllabus design will rest on the following four foundations:
a. The fieldwork and on-line data,
b. The author’s longitudinal experience in teaching year-round BCS courses for heritage speakers and his current syllabi,
c. The practice ACLS funded summer courses (including advanced mastery courses as well as the courses taught by the author in the past),
d. The author’s experience in language assessment (designing various tests and working as a certified OPI tester).

The syllabus will be tested in the author’s BCS 495 (BCS for Heritage Speakers) in the fall of 2011.


1. A preliminary report containing qualitative data from the field research in four metropolitan centers (delivered before January 15, 2011),
2. An analytical paper containing the data from the field research and on-line survey (delivered before December 31, 2011),
3. A syllabus for BCS summer language course for heritage speakers (delivered before December 31, 2011).

Sources and References

Heritage Languages Journal, accessed on 1/5/2009
Alliance for the Advancement of Heritage Languages, accessed on 1/5/2009
National Heritage Language Center, accessed on 1/5/2009
Brinton, O. Kagan, & S. Bauckus (editors). (2008). Heritage Language Education: A New Field Emerging. Routledge.
Creswell, J. W. (2003). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed method approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Kagan, O., Akishina, T., & Robin, R. (2003). Russian for Russians: Textbook for Heritage Speakers. Bloomington, IN: Slavica
ILR (2009) ILR Scale, accessed on 1/5/2009
Šipka, D. (2008) Serbo-Croatian (BCMS) Programs, posted on SEELANGS: Slavic & East European Languages and Literatures list on Thu, 13 Mar 2008 17:27:55
Šipka, D. & Dunatov R. (1988) "Serbokroatistika u SAD”, in Odjek, Sarajevo, XLI/12, p. 21.
U.S. Census Bureau (2009) Language Use, accessed on 1/5/2009

If you have any questions or suggestions, please contact me at: Danko.Sipka@asu.edu or sipka@cox.net.