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Family language policy in the Chinese community in Singapore: a question of balance?

Curdt-Christiansen, X.-L. (2015) Family language policy in the Chinese community in Singapore: a question of balance? In: Li, W. (ed.) Multilingualism in the Chinese diaspora worldwide. Routledge critical studies in multilingualism. Routledge, London, pp. 255-275. ISBN 9781138794245

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This paper focuses on the language shift phenomenon in Singapore as a consequence of the top-town policies. By looking at bilingual family language policies it examines the characteristics of Singapore’s multilingual nature and cultural diversity. Specifically, it looks at what languages are practiced and how family language policies are enacted in Singaporean English-Chinese bilingual families, and to what extend macro language policies – i.e. national and educational language policies influence and interact with family language policies. Involving 545 families and including parents and grandparents as participants, the study traces the trajectory of the policy history. Data sources include 2 parts: 1) a prescribed linguistic practices survey; and 2) participant observation of actual negotiation of FLP in face-to-face social interaction in bilingual English-Chinese families. The data provides valuable information on how family language policy is enacted and language practices are negotiated, and what linguistic practices have been changed and abandoned against the background of the Speaking Mandarin Campaign and the current bilingual policy implemented in the 1970s. Importantly, the detailed face-to-face interactions and linguistics practices are able to enhance our understanding of the subtleties and processes of language (dis)continuity in relation to policy interventions. The study also discusses the reality of language management measures in contrast to the government’s ‘separate bilingualism’ (Creese & Blackledge, 2011) expectations with regard to ‘striking a balance’ between Asian and Western culture (Curdt-Christiansen & Silver 2013; Shepherd, 2005) and between English and mother tongue languages (Curdt-Christiansen, 2014). Demonstrating how parents and children negotiate their family language policy through translanguaging or heteroglossia practices (Canagarajah, 2013; Garcia & Li Wei, 2014), this paper argues that ‘striking a balance’ as a political ideology places emphasis on discrete and separate notions of cultural and linguistic categorization and thus downplays the significant influences from historical, political and sociolinguistic contexts in which people find themselves. This simplistic view of culture and linguistic code will inevitably constrain individuals’ language expression as it regards code switching and translanguaging as delimited and incompetent language behaviour.

Item Type:Book or Report Section
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > Institute of Education > Language and Literacy in Education
ID Code:46905

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