A MULTIGENERATION STUDY OF JAPANESE AMERICAN HERITAGE LANGUAGE LEARNERS OF JAPANESE
This dissertation explores motivation in Japanese American learners of their heritage language. This area of study is significant because existing research primarily looks at heritage language learners as “balanced bilinguals” and limits their learning purpose to professional motivations. Also, research on “passive” or “receptive” bilinguals and the impact of history and ethnicity on motivation builds new knowledge in the field from which other scholars can construct their own studies. Through my interview-based case studies and autoethnography, I found that historical, social, and ethnic identity factors contribute considerably to the motivation to maintain or reject the heritage language. My findings reveal that the traumatic events of WWII such as the forced incarceration of over 110,000 people of Japanese descent led to the loss of the heritage language and a denial of the heritage culture. I also discovered that third generation Japanese Americans are motivated to learn Japanese for professional reasons whereas fourth generation Japanese Americans study Japanese to gain a stronger sense of ethnic identity.