Intergenerational Transmission of Minority Languages

Project leaders:
Una Cunningham
Jeanette King

The Intergenerational Transmission of Minority Languages (ITML) Project is studying the extent to which speakers of minority languages in New Zealand are passing their language on to their children. The phrase ‘minority language’ is used here to refer to languages other than the three official languages of New Zealand: English, Māori and New Zealand Sign Language.

We are planning a number of interrelated projects, including a ‘bilingual teens’ project, which, with funding from NZILBB, focuses on the experiences of parents and their teenage children in situations where intergenerational transmission has been successful. The data sources for the ‘bilingual teen’ ITML project are twofold: recent census data on the number of child speakers and interviews with parents and their minority language speaking teenagers. Information from both sources will allow the ITML project to address the deficits in current knowledge with pamphlets and presentations to parents and relevant professional bodies. The project also aims to set up a website which includes information, resources, advice and encouragement drawn directly from the interviews to encourage parents to raise their children as speakers of their minority languages.

One of the initial motivations for the ITML project was a report from the Office of Ethnic Affairs where it was suggested that migrant families should consider speaking English to their children to improve their level of English. Our concern is that advice such as this may encourage migrant families to abandon intergenerational language transmission without considering the long-term personal and societal benefits of competence in the heritage language. It is also worth noting that in comparison with other jurisdictions there is a dearth of public understanding and knowledge about multilingualism in New Zealand and a lack of information for professionals working with parents and children.

The project is hosting a one day live-streamed symposium on Friday 11 December 2015. For more information click here