Bilinguality, gender, and religion as influences on Arabic-Heritage Australian youths’ attitudes to their ambient languages and cultures.

Verna Robertson Rieschild Jan Tent

Macquarie University, Australia


Opinions in the public arena that represent Arabic-heritage Australians as an internal threat to national and social cohesion rely on the myths of an identifiable mainstream Australian core and a homogeneous Arabic-heritage group. Like members of other minority groups, Arabic-heritage Australians are encouraged to “integrate” – a refashioned “assimilation” promoted to remedy multiculturalism’s perceived negative impact on social cohesion. Calls for integration include explicit promotion of English as the national language with no similarly strong calls for maintenance of the languages of minority groups. This paper will present some of the findings from our study of young Arabic-heritage Australians’ language attitudes and use. Bilinguality, religion, and gender are shown to have different important influences on the individuals’ attitudes to the ambient languages, to their perceived status within a pluralistic society, and to their cultural identity. Being Muslim and being literate in Arabic was associated with the most positive attitudes to the ambient languages, blended identities, and perceptions of intergroup attitudes. Religion was more relevant than gender for perceptions of whether mainstream-Australians respect Arabic-heritage Australians, while gender was more relevant than religion for being happy to be called Australian. Frequent use of Arabic as an adult and as a child appears to associate with positive attitudes to the home culture and to blended identities. The findings, then, suggest that being bilingual in the home and mainstream language is potentially positive for developing blended identities that work towards not against social cohesion.

Session: Paper session
Attitude 3
Friday, April 4, 2008, 15:45-17:15
room: 09