Family language policies in Singapore: The case of interactions between Indian parents and children

Author: Seyed Hadi Mirvahedi (Nanyang Technological University)
Speaker: Seyed Hadi Mirvahedi
Topic: Language socialization
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL CALA 2019 General Session


With a population of 3.9 million residents (citizens and permanent residents) – comprised of three major ethnic groups of Chinese (74.3%), Malays (13.3%) and Indians (9.1%) together with a small minority of others (3.2%) (Singstat, 2015b), Singapore is considered to be the most globalized nation in the world (Curdt-Christiansen, 2016). It is noted that this state of globalized nation has been brought about through the active role of the bilingual educational policies in producing “English-knowing bilingual” labour force, i.e. English plus one’s Mother Tongue (Bokhorst-Heng & Caleon, 2009). What has ensued as the consequence of such language policies, however, has been the spread of English as a home language, and de facto ‘mother tongue’ for increasing numbers of Singaporeans across ethnic groups. According to the recent Census of Singapore, 36.9 per cent of the population claimed English as their dominant home language (Singsat, 2015a).

Against this background, this paper, as part of a larger postdoctoral project on family language policy across communities in Singapore, reports on an ethnographic study of three Indian families from upper, middle, and lower socioeconomic statuses. Drawing upon findings from video and audio recordings and face-to-face interviews with the parents and their children, the research examines parents-children interactions focusing on certain moments where the heritage language maintenance or shift to English is “talked into being” (Gafaranga, 2010, p. 242). Arguing for considering children’s agency in shaping FLP, the study suggests how findings from parents-children interactions in language contact situations can provide us with insightful evidence to discuss the future trajectory of languages.

Keywords: language policy and planning, family language policy, heritage language maintenance, Singapore, Indian community