The heritage language maintenance of Chinese migrant children and their families
thesisposted on 2022-03-28, 16:23 authored by Yining Wang
This thesis explores the Chinese heritage language maintenance attitudes and practices of migrant families in Australia. Chinese heritage language maintenance in the 21st century is situated at cross-roads: On the one hand, there is the well-established sociolinguistic fact of rapid heritage language loss and shift to English; on the other hand, the rise of China has significantly increased the value of the Chinese language globally. This thesis explores Chinese heritage language maintenance against this tension between the well-known tendency of assimilation to English and the emerging importance of Chinese. Adopting a sociolinguistic ethnographic approach, the study focuses on the language attitudes of both parents and children, heritage language practices both in and outside the home, and children's Chinese language proficiency outcomes and contributing factors. Data were collected through open-ended interviews, informal conversations, participant observation, the collection of evidence of literacy practices, postings on WeChat, and background questionnaires. A total of 31 families, including 27 parents and 32 children, participated in the study. Findings show that parents are highly motivated to maintain their children's Chinese heritage language, while children's attitudes to Chinese are more varied. Both parents and children highlight the economic value of Chinese for career development and the symbolic value of Chinese for identity expression. Even so, children sometimes resist learning Chinese because they perceive Chinese to be an irrelevant and difficult language. The key factor mediating children's attitudes is their age of arrival and their age at the time of the research. With regard to language practices diverse maintenance strategies in and outside the home were observed. In the home domain, the common strategies employed are speaking Chinese, practising Chinese writing, and consuming Chinese through media entertainment. The major difficulties and obstacles undermining maintenance efforts are children's resistance, parents' dual expectations with regard to heritage language maintenance and mainstream educational success, and lack of societal support. Spaces outside the home for Chinese language practice include community schools, mainstream schools and peer communication in mainstream schools. Age of migration is highly relevant to children's language preferences and use at home, their perceptions of Chinese classes, and engagement in peer networks. Overall, language attrition and underdevelopment constitute the most frequent Chinese proficiency outcome, particularly when it comes to reading and writing skills. However, proficiency outcomes are variable, and outcomes correlate with age of migration, parental involvement, print resources, and peer influence. The study has multiple implications for migrant families, policy makers, and schools -- abstract.