Family Language Policy


This chapter focuses on the presentation of issues related to Family Language Policy remaining the central rheme of the monograph. While discussing FLP it needs to be implied that research interest in the field dates back to the beginning of the 20th century when two emblematic studies based on the One Parent - One Language (OPOL) tenet were conducted by Grammont and Ronjat. FLP obtained the status of a discipline in its own right not so long ago thanks to the contributions by King and Fogle who added much to our understanding of family language policymaking and child language outcomes. While conceptualising FLP, referring to the language policy model that considers rhe speech community proposed by Spolsky also seems vital. As a result, the concept of FLP should be understood as a construct combining language ideologies, language management and language practices. Because rhe discipline is anchored in language policy and child language acquisition, its research is primarily informed by the sociology of education, sociolinguistics, applied linguistics and psychology. A family is considered to be a predominant domain for studying language policy mainly due to the fact that it plays a critical role in the formation of children’s linguistic environment. Flence, as discussed in the chapter, the favourable maintenance of a community language is determined by a successful transmission of the language in the home.

Family Language Policy from the Inception Stage

The newly emergent field of Family Language Policy (FLP), from its inception in the 1990s, has been informed by the domains of language policy and language socialisation. FLP is defined as both explicit and overt as well as implicit and covert language planning with regards to the language choice and literary practices of family members (Shohamy 2006, King 6c Fogle 2008, Curdt-Christiansen 2009, Spolsky 2012). Deliberate and observable actions made by adult family members and their engagement in providing linguistic conditions for constant language learning are understood as explicit and overt elements of FLP. In comparison, default language practices that are the consequence of certain ideological beliefs are labelled as implicit and covert FLP (Curdt-Christiansen 2018). It can be deliberated that FLP as a field can provide answers to questions related to: (1) what type of language planning parents or caregivers maintain in order to support or avoid language use and practice, (2) how these decisions are interrelated to general language ideologies and educational policies, (3) what actions or practices are implemented by families leading to maintenance or loss of their heritage (minority) language at the cost of the majority language, (4) and why some family members are multilingual although they live in a monolingual environment while others despite being immersed in multilingual contexts are still monolingual (Fishman 1991, Curdt-Christiansen 2013).

A slightly different definition is offered by King, Fogle and Logan-Terry (2008) who perceive the field of FLP as an integration of how languages are managed, learnt and negotiated within families. This area of investigation concentrates on child-caretaker interactions and child language development (De Houwer 1999). At the same time it provides insight into parental language ideologies to be understood as broader societal attitudes and ideologies about languages spoken in a family and being a parent. Thus, FLP draws from and at the same time contributes to language policy and child language acquisition (King, Fogle & Logan-Terry 2008). An analysis of language beliefs or ideologies, language practices as well as manners of modifying them by means of language planning, and intervention or management, have all been the focus of language policy (Spolsky 2004). Child language acquisition (development) in multilinguals focuses on the investigation of mechanisms that enable children to learn one or more languages in the early years of life (De Flouwer 2009). More specifically, the aim of cross-linguistic child language research is to shed light on the conditions by which the acquisition of language occurs at an identical pace and trajectories under diverse learning circumstances (King 2006). Much as language policy and child language acquisition focus on the conditions of language learning and use, their research is primarily informed by distinct disciplinary perspectives, e.g. the sociology of education, sociolinguistics, applied linguistics and psychology. As a result, questions related to the intimate sphere of the home and family remain partially unanswered, because traditionally language policy has placed more importance on public and institutional contexts. Similarly, core issues of bilingual upbringing - including why children reared under identical conditions exhibit varying degrees of language proficiency - remain unclear (Saunders 1982, De Flouwer 1990, Lanza 1997, Gathercole, 2007, 2014, 2016).

As the field of language policy has traditionally encompassed three areas, i.e. status planning (functions of language), corpus planning (forms of language) and acquisition planning (language learning and teaching), likewise FLP involves actions and decisions in the same three spheres

(Fishman 1980, Cooper 1989, King 2001, King 8c Fogle 2006). In relation to German and English, King and Fogle (2006) contend that in practice all these actions refer to decisions taken by parents or caretakers concerning if and on what occasions English and German are to be used with their children (status planning), which variety of German to choose for various literacy activities (corpus planning) and finally, yet importantly, how and when a language is to be instructed, whether formally or informally (acquisition planning). Language policy research has targeted multilingual contexts focusing on planning language form, function and instruction. Therefore, in a similar manner, FLP research concentrates on multilingual homes, family environments and communities, i.e. parents of different native languages (Piller 2002), differences between a family (heritage, minority) language and a community (widely used) language (Wong Fillmore 1991) and parents and children sharing different language preferences (Fogle 2008).

In order to better understand the dynamic relationship between FLP and its wider sociolinguistic and sociocultural contexts, the theories of language policy and socialisation need to be briefly introduced as their combination represents the interdisciplinary character of the FLP conceptual framework (Curdt-Christiansen 2018).

While making initial conceptualisations concerning FLP it is crucial to refer to Spolsky’s classification of components of the language policy model considering the speech community. In his FLP model, Spolsky (2004, 2009) suggested an analysis of three interrelated components: language ideology, practice and management. Fie also proposed a clear distinction between habitual patterns of selecting among language varieties, beliefs about language and language use and any efforts aimed at modification or influence of the practice by means of intervention, planning or management. From the viewpoint of language socialisation theory we must remember about how children acquire sociocultural knowledge while using a particular language and how they are socialised to use language through participation in social interactions (Duranti, Ochs 8c Schieffelin 2011, Wqsikiewicz-Firlej 8c Lankiewicz 2019). Figure 3.1, based on Spolsky’s theory (2004, 2009) and further developed and extended by Curdt-Christiansen (2014) depicts the interdisciplinary nature of FLP. The core components of FLP in Spolsky’s theory have been placed in the inner circle. Each family decides about their rules and norms for speaking, acting and believing. FLP provides a cornerstone for language socialisation and development (Lanza 2007, Duranti, Ochs 8c Schieffelin 2011, Curdt-Christiansen 2018). Determining what languages to practise, encourage, avoid or abandon is dictated by the values that families ascribe to certain languages and perceptions they have towards them. Curdt-Christiansen (2009, 2012) rightly notices that this decisionmaking process is largely dependent on parental beliefs and goals for their children’s linguistic development. Thus, it may be argued that FLP decisions can be impacted by parents’ educational background, language learning

The interdisciplinary nature of Family Language Policy (adapted from X. L. Curdt-Christiansen)

Figure 3.1 The interdisciplinary nature of Family Language Policy (adapted from X. L. Curdt-Christiansen)

experience, their economic and immigration status. Since families are not isolated and co-exist in a larger sociocultural context by interacting with other families, the dotted lines surrounding the inner components of FLP and the outer settings of multiple social contexts act as walls, which on one hand separate families from the outside world, but on the other hand, allow external forces to infiltrate the family domain through language socialisation. At the same time they make it possible for inner forces of FLP to move in the opposite direction and affect other families and the general society. Curdt-Christiansen (2009, 2014, 2018) continues by indicating that FLP is shaped by internal and external forces, which form the ideological underpinnings of language choices, practices and investments at home. The social nature of families shapes FLP and moves beyond home parenting, affecting education, religion, identity and cultural and political allegiances (Piller 2002, Pavlenko 2004, King, Fogle & Logan-Terry 2008).

As mentioned previously, research on FLP traces its origins in socio- linguistic approaches to child bilingualism and exploring how language input has been central to elucidating the pivotal question of why some children achieve greater competency than others (De Houwer 1990, Smith- Christmas 2016). The field of FLP obtained the status of a discipline in its own right thanks to the research conducted mainly by Kendall King and Lyn Fogle (King & Fogle 2006, King & Fogle 2013). The work of these two scholars added much to our understanding of family language policymaking and child language outcomes (King 2016). The historical roots of the field were formed by classic diary studies that date back more than a century (Ronjat 1913, Leopold 1939/1949). They described mainly the authors’ own children’s bilingual language development and popularised early-accepted notions such as Grammont’s One Person - One Language tenet or OPOL (Ronjat 1913), which has been investigated, recommended and circulated for more than 100 years now (De Houwer 2007, King 2016). Early academic interest in the field can be traced back to the 1902 publication by Maurice Grammont’s “Observations on Children’s Language”. This is regarded as the first case study of the One Language - One Person strategy. After Grammont, his colleague Ronjat applied the same method in raising his son. In 1913 Ronjat, who lived in Paris and whose wife was German, published an account of the child’s French-German development from birth to the age of four years and ten months. Both parents used only their native languages when speaking to their son and their son was reported to have attained a proficiency similar to that of two monolinguals. The use of the OPOL strategy was later documented by Leopold, whose daughter was raised with a German-speaking father and an English-speaking mother in the USA (1939/1949). Leopold also noted success; however, when his daughter progressed to adolescence, she became reluctant to use German in her later life in America. In addition, her younger sister never attained the same German proficiency due to the fact that she did not grow up in Germany.

Following these two landmark studies, there was a thirty-year break in further investigations. Monographs by Fantini (1985), Dopke (1992), De Houwer (1990) and Lanza (1997) revived interest in this vein of inquiry in the 1980s. Their studies were instrumental in forging the path to a renewed interest in child bilingualism. Curdt-Christiansen (2018) highlights the fact that many of the early studies of FLP focused on language input, parental discourse strategies and parents’ language experiences and these primarily referred to Western middle-class bilingual families.

A pioneering study by De Houwer (1990) concentrated on a bilingual Dutch-English child and her morpho-syntactic development in two languages. By employing a naturalistic approach, De Houwer investigated how linguistic exposure from each parent affected the child’s general language development. In this early study, the girl had exposure to both languages and the parents employed the OPOL strategy. The researcher came to the conclusion that the child’s speech resembled her monolingual peers in both languages and two separate linguistic systems accounted for her language development in two separate languages.

In another study devoted to English and German bilingual couples, Piller (2002) tried to understand how and why parents undertook a particular approach to private language planning. Based on the collected data from online newsletters and conversations between couples, she realised that the majority of parents decided to raise their children by adopting the OPOL strategy, followed in popularity by a “home vs. community language” strategy (Curdt-Christiansen 2018).

Smith-Christmas (2016) theorises that several key factors have been identified as far as the paramount question of why some children attain higher levels of fluency while others do not. This happens to be in line with earlier findings by Dopke (1988) and De Houwer (2007), who implied that the overall amount of minority language input a child receives is the central issue. Obviously, the amount of exposure is determined by the amount of time a child spends with a caregiver. Lyon (1996) and Varro (1998) contended that when a mother speaks a minority language, children’s fluency is at a much higher level. Hence, mothers might be regarded as predictors of minority language maintenance (Gathercole 2007). The amount of input a child receives is also affected by other minority language-speaking caregivers, especially grandparents (Gathercole 2007, Ruby 2012, Stadthagen- Gonzalez et al. 2013, Kopeliovich 2013, Melo-Pfeifer 2014). Dopke (1992) also reported that older children normally receive more minority language input than their younger siblings and consequently they achieve higher levels of fluency. However, Schwartz (2010) contends that this does not have to be true about all multilingual families. She asserts that older children born in the heritage country usually have a positive impact on their younger siblings’ minority language input. While studying her own children’s Russian-Hebrew development, Kopeliovich (2013) found that her oldest child was initially monolingual in Russian because this was the language used at home in Israel. However, the situation with the next two children changed dramatically, since by the time they were born the oldest child had developed Hebrew. As a consequence, the second child used Hebrew with the third one. To make it even more complicated, Kopeliovich (2013) reported that when the fourth child was born, a shift into Russian was noticed due to the fact that all the siblings spoke Russian to the newborn baby.

Mishina-Mori (2011) points out that it is not just a high level of input that determines minority language maintenance or shift. The question of the input quality is equally important if we want to understand why some children achieve higher fluency in the minority language. For example,

Kasuya (1998) states that parental input consistency is a crucial element in the children’s use of the minority language, e.g. when parents refrain from code-switching. Based on her study, Stavans (2012) also observes that the wider the range of register, the higher the competence of an exposed speaker. Takeuchi (2006) considers style an integral ingredient affecting the level of attainment. The researcher concludes that the use of a style that encourages the child’s active participation in a conversation is central to language maintenance. By the same token, Dopke (1992) posits that language maintenance may hinge on the role a child performs in a particular interaction. Interactions that involve children more, e.g. play and storytelling, may positively affect the overall language development.

Another landmark study in terms of elucidating the child’s success in the minority language is that of Lanza (1997), who investigated parent-child interactions of bilingual English-Norwegian families. Her analysis takes a child language socialisation perspective, which views the acquisition of language as a process embedded in the child’s development of understanding culturally-appropriate norms (Schiefflin & Ochs 1986, Duranti, Ochs & Schiefflin 2011). This approach is comprised of an understanding of who uses a particular language, to whom and where it should be used and also whether or not it is appropriate to mix the two languages (Smith-Christmas 2016). In her study, she managed to identify five discourse strategies applied by parents in order to socialise their children into a particular linguistic behaviour, i.e. minimal grasp, expressed guess, repetition, move-on and code-switching. In the minimal grasp strategy, adults pretend not to understand the children’s chosen language in A (in a situation where the choice of the child’s language is A and the parents’ choice is B). The expressed guess strategy is used by adults asking yes/no questions in language В and accepting simple confirmation as an answer. The repetition strategy involves adults repeating children’s utterances expressed in language B. Adults use the move-on strategy to signal comprehension and acceptance of children’s language choice in A for a conversation to continue. While code-switching adults either switch over completely to language A when the child has used В or apply an intra-sentential change of language (Borowska 2017). In all these strategies children have an active role while making decisions regarding their language choice when parents employ private language planning. Lanza (1997) concludes that parents who enforce strict boundaries in terms of each language’s appropriateness always negotiate more monolingual-centred contexts for interaction, and as a result, they more adequately ensure the child’s development in the minority language.

While the early studies shed much light on language input and the linguistic conditions provided by parents to raise balanced bilingual children, Okita (2002) also stressed that bilingual upbringing of children was an emotionally demanding task, which involved the so-called “simultaneous accommodation of demands and goals” which to a large extent proved contradictory and opposing. King and Fogle (2006) revealed that parents’ positive perception of additive bilingualism was determined by their own experiences in language learning. At the same time, it was believed that raising bilingual children was related to notions of good parenting identity.

Studies of family language policy can be categorised according to the parental strategies employed in the promotion of bilingualism, as well as by the type, situation and context of the families studied (Lanza 1992, Romaine 1995). There has been a growing body of research exploring families enacting the One Person - One Language strategy, where parents are of different native languages, e.g. one parent speaks a language used in the wider community and is therefore considered the majority language, and each parent speaks their native language to their children (Ronjat 1913, Leopold 1939/1949, Arnberg 1987, De Houwer 1990, Dopke 1992, Takeuchi 2006). Other studies referred to OPOL families where each parent spoke a different minority language in the home (Hoffman 1985) with a third (majority) language used outside the home creating a trilingual context (Romaine 1989). Finally, there have been other OPOL studies involving families where one parent used a minority language that was not their native language in the home (Saunders 1988, Dopke 1992). There have been other types of language use in the home under active research, i.e. parents using a minority language only in the home (Fantini 1985, Kouritzin 2000), often labelled as the “hot-house” approach. Other non-OPOL approaches included those families that employed a mixed use of languages, where caregivers code-switched (Lyon 1996). There have been instances where paid caretakers would be employed to speak a minority language to children (King & Logan-Terry 2008) or children were sent to international schools. All these strategies increasingly promote bilingualism.

The outcomes of various family language policies, as discussed above, have led to a high degree of success in the bilingual development of the studied children (Ronjat 1913, Saunders 1982, De Houwer 1990) and a lower degree of success (Arnberg 1987, Dopke 1992, Lanza 1997). These diverse outcomes, as far as bilingual language proficiency is concerned, have been caused by numerous family-specific implementational factors, and probably a lack of consistency in applying the stated policy. No congruity in adherence to the stated FLP has been cited by Pan (1995) who found that the studied parents switched into English when their children spoke English, hence they jeopardised the optimal results. Also, Lanza (1997) noted that parental discourse strategies did not work well as parents promoted greater use of English (the minority language) by the child instead of speaking Norwegian (the majority language). Lanza (1997) concluded that the use of parental discursive strategies was vital in successful maintenance of children’s minority language. Along similar lines, Takeuchi (2006) investigating Japanese families in Australia stated that mothers’ sustained use of Japanese determined the success of bilingual language development in children. Correspondingly,

Dopke (1992) postulated that the quality of language interaction was more crucial than the mere quantity of time spent with the child.

Finally, yet importantly, age and context were reported as other relevant aspects affecting the success of implemented FLP. Dopke (1992) implied that children may find it difficult to develop in the minority language once they have begun to attend school in the majority language. Floffman (1985) also provided evidence of the role of context in determining children’s successful bilingual development. In her study of a family in the situation of double non-dominant home languages without community support (learning Spanish, German and English while residing in the UK), she confirmed that children could actively use all the three languages, but they were still English-dominant.

Research has thus indicated that lack of attention to language planning in the home may lead to language shift. Concomitantly, such factors as parents’ consistency of language choice, age and context are essential in detecting the success of children’s bilingual language development.

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