Educational Success through Language Death? New Challenges for (Linguistic) Migration Research

Brizic, Katharina

Institute for Linguistics, University of Vienna, Austria


Which languages are actually transmitted in immigrant families? This is a crucial point in the present fierce debate on family-language use and immigrant pupils’ linguistic/ educational success – since quantitative sociology often arrives at the conclusion that maintaining immigrant-family languages is counterproductive to children’s success, while qualitative linguistics mainly reveals a positive maintenance effect on children’s school-language proficiency.

Why such inconsistencies? A planned Austrian project is dedicated to this question, tied to an explorative study’s results and to the hypotheses of a new socio-linguistic explanatory model (Brizić 2006), saying:

(a) Familial language use, transmission and proficiency highly depend on socio-political macro conditions (language planning, educational and language policies). On the example of Turkey, among other countries of origin, repressive linguistic minority policy, together with far-reaching linguistic marginalisation of the rural majority population, are known to highly impede family-language as well as school-language acquisition. (b) In the countries of immigration first-generation immigrants’ language proficiency and behaviour still mirror these experiences, often being compounded by further stigmatisation. Thus on the parental meso-level language shift is a common phenomenon (e.g. from Kurdish to Turkish or even to German, in our case), with relatively low parental proficiency in the newly acquired “L1”. (c) Language shift in turn means a rather weak “starting position” for immigrant children’s (school) language acquisition on the individual micro-level. However, the planned study will focus not only on the importance of spoken and silenced family languages for children's linguistic achievement, but also on the relevance of this achievement for (Austrian) education and labour-market policies.

The sample will consist of children attending the fourth grade of school and thus being close to the transition from primary to secondary school. The schools will be located in the country of immigration (Austria/ Vienna) as well as in the country of origin (in our case: Turkey/ Istanbul), in each case in districts with a high proportion of (international or intra-national) migrants.

How will data be collected? On the children’s level L1 and school-language proficiency will be tested, as well as a further proficiency (e.g. mathematics) and other variables relevant for educational success. On the parental level, language use/ transmission behaviour will be investigated (1) quantitatively and (2) in time-consuming in-depth interviews with the parents (in the languages parents know best, as far as possible), since our methodical hypotheses say (a) that the inconsistent findings (see above) result from fundamentally differing data-collection methods; (b) that language shift or stigmatised languages can only be detected through a highly sensitive approach; and that (c) if language-use patterns/ language shift remain undetected, their (dis)advantages cannot be named. On the macro-level information will be collected by intensive literature research, mainly comprising sociological and political-science literature on the societies of immigration and emigration. We will thus try to overcome the quantitative-qualitative gap innovatively by interdisciplinary methods as well as theory.

Brizić, Katharina (2006): The secret life of languages. Origin-specific differences in L1/L2 acquisition by immigrant children. In: International Journal of Applied Linguistics (INJAL) 16: 3/2006, S. 339-362.

Session: Paper session
Planning/Policy 3
Thursday, April 3, 2008, 13:45-15:15
room: 14