Bilingualism in the bush:

Reconceptualising ‘speech community’ in family language maintenance in regional Australia

presented by Dr Liz Ellis & Prof Margaret Sims, University of New England, Armidale
Thursday 12 November 2015, 12–1 pm

Oorala Lecture Theatre (Bldg E22)

The critical factor determining whether children of immigrants become bilingual is strong family and community support for and use of the home language(s) alongside English (Pauwels, 2005).

It is well accepted that children of immigrant parents often undergo language shift to English (Clyne and Kipp, 1997), that bilingualism is a cognitive and social asset to children (Wong Fillmore, 2000) and that maintaining “potential for belonging” (Ellis & Bilbatua, 2013) is a powerful motivator for families to maintain the home language. Family language policies aimed at achieving this goal vary and have differential success (de Houwer, 2007). As yet, however, we know little about how bilingual families in isolated circumstances in regional Australia manage this task in the absence of a co-located speech community or whether new ICT can assist with family language maintenance.

This paper reports on a current ARC-funded 3-year longitudinal multiple case study of 9 bilingual/multilingual families in 3 regional towns who all have a child between the ages of 2 and 4 years old. The study tracks families’ language goals, aspirations, beliefs and practices, using video recordings and interviews at regular intervals. The views and practices of their early childhood teachers are also documented, to form a picture of the knowledge and beliefs regarding first language maintenance of key educational stakeholders, and of how these interact with the family language goals.

Liz Ellis is Senior Lecturer in Linguistics at UNE. She is Chief Investigator on the ARC
project reported here. Margaret Sims is Professor of Early Childhood Education at UNE.