Academic journal article International Journal of English Linguistics

The Role of Arab Fathers in Heritage Language Maintenance in New Zealand

Academic journal article International Journal of English Linguistics

The Role of Arab Fathers in Heritage Language Maintenance in New Zealand

Article excerpt


This paper aims to explore Arab immigrant fathers' language attitudes and practices toward their children's heritage language maintenance in New Zealand. Using a questionnaire and semi-structured interviews, data were collected from 10 Arab immigrant fathers of children aged 14 and under, all living with their families in Auckland. Semi-structured in-depth interviews were used to gain insight into the participants' language attitudes and practices toward their children's heritage language maintenance. The findings reveal that the participants were very positive toward the heritage language and its maintenance. Although the participants differed in their countries of origin, Arabic, as a pluricentric language, seems to operate as a unifying core cultural value (Smolicz, 1981) that intertwines with other core values such as religion and ethnic consciousness. While emphasizing the complementary nature of their own and their wives' roles in the process of heritage language maintenance, the participants highlighted some of their key roles and contributions as Arab Muslim immigrant fathers in the process of heritage language intergenerational maintenance, such as explicitly setting and monitoring family language policy, establishing co-ethnic contacts, and providing Arabic materials to enhance Arabic literacy learning among their children.

Keywords: Arabic, fathers, heritage language maintenance, identity, immigrant, language attitudes

1. Introduction

New Zealand is a linguistically and culturally diverse country with immigrants from different parts of the world. Usually, immigrant families arriving in their new places of relocation do find themselves members of a minority group interacting with a more powerful majority group which is culturally and linguistically different. Such ethnolinguistic differences can threaten the ethnic and linguistic continuity of the immigrant family (Fishman, 1989). In such immigrant minority contexts, heritage language maintenance becomes one of the major challenges faced by many immigrant families in the host society (Fishman, 1991; Tannenbaum & Howie, 2002). The term language maintenance refers to the situation when members of a minority ethnolinguistic group 'continue to use their language in some or all spheres of life despite competition with the dominant or majority language to become the main/sole language in these spheres' (Pauwels, 2004, p. 719).

Research on immigrant children in numerous multilingual contexts around the world shows that maintaining a stable active bilingualism in the minority (L1) and majority (L2) language is difficult to achieve because as soon as immigrant children become exposed to the L2 in their host society, they are more likely to experience a gradual process of language shifttoward the L2 (Clyne, 2003; Fillmore, 1991; Kaufman, 2001; Pauwels, 2005; Shin, 2005). Thus, the dilemma facing immigrant children, as described by Fillmore (2000) and others, may be viewed as less a problem of learning the dominant mainstream language than of heritage language loss.

It is to be noted, however, that language maintenance is not an all or nothing matter. Different minority language families in different contact settings can achieve different degrees of success in maintaining their heritage language among their children. Researchers have identified a number of factors that might account for differential success in heritage language maintenance among immigrant minority communities (e.g., Clyne, 1982; Kloss, 1966; Smolicz, 1981, among others). In the New Zealand context, for example, Holmes, Roberts, Verivaki and 'Aipolo (1993) identified a number of factors conducive to heritage language maintenance among Tongan, Greek and Chinese speech communities including: (a) regular social interaction between community members, (b) use of the community language in the home, (c) positive attitudes to the language and a high value placed on it in relation to ethnic identity, (d) community identified religious organization, and (e) a positive orientation to the homeland. …

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