The rise of scientific inquiry focusing on bilingualism over the past few decades has also borne witness to an increase in the study of individuals and communities who speak a native language that is not the sociolinguistically dominant language of the environment in which they grew up. While it is common practice to refer to these diverse groups and individuals as “heritage speakers”, it is unclear whether it is appropriate to classify all of them under the same terminology. In this chapter, we take a closer look at three different groups: (i) children, (ii) young adults, and (iii) elderly, moribund bilinguals who have all been referred to as heritage speakers in the literature. After exploring aspects of phonological, (morpho)syntactic, and semantic/pragmatic developments, we show that a great deal of symmetry exists between them, thus justifying the cohesive, overarching label of “heritage speakers” to all three sub-groups. Finally, we outline what this broader definition of heritage speakers means for long-standing debates in the literature, such as those that concern the acquisition, development, and maintenance of the heritage grammar across the lifespan.
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