ARC Seminar: Finex Ndhlovu: The Language Nesting Model: Prospects for Heritage Language Transmission in Immigrant and Diasporic Contexts
The intergenerational transmission and use of languages among migrants and diasporas outside metropolitan areas present different challenges to those encountered in the more frequently-studied urban contexts. In predominantly immigrant countries such as Australia, populations outside the major cities are small and widely dispersed, sometimes hundreds of kilometres from an urban centre. People in rural and regional areas have less access to the educational, health and cultural resources which support language learning and the maintenance of language diversity than do those in cities. Some communities may consist of only a few speakers or a single family, presenting problems for language maintenance across generations. Despite widespread perceptions of a linguistic monoculture beyond Australian cities, recent increases in settlement of immigrants and refugees in regional areas have given rise to previously undocumented patterns of language use among communities that have shared migration histories and journeys. Beyond the gaze of mainstream urban society, individuals and communities manifest creative responses to the challenges of geographic isolation for small language groups. This paper reports on the outcomes of a study of the language practices of refugee background Africans (hereafter, African diasporas) in regional New South Wales (NSW), Australia. It uses the language nesting model (Ndhlovu, 2013 & 2014) to describe participants’ language practices and the spheres of possibilities they present for heritage language transmission in low population regional areas. Language nesting refers to the use of multiple languages by individuals and groups with each of the several languages being strategically deployed in a wide range of domains of interaction (Ndhlovu, 2013). Taken after the image of a bird’s nest, which is built through complex and criss-crossing bits and pieces of grass and twigs, the concept of language nesting captures previously unexplored habitats of mixed and interlocking linguistic usages. The language nesting model extends what has been called ‘hybrid language use’ (Garciá, 2009) in order to account for the strategic, affiliative and sense-making process characterising the language practices of African diasporas in regional Australia. Unlike mainstream sociolinguistic approaches that tend to reify and view immigrant groups and their languages as bounded and discrete entities based on countries of origin, the language nesting model considers such boundaries to be fluid, porous and capable of contracting and expanding depending on the dynamics of spatial and virtual scales of social interaction. The paper concludes that such unpredictability, emergent and unbounded nature of the language practices of multilingual individuals facilitate the building of closer intra- and inter-community ties that may support heritage language maintenance and transmission across generations
Finex Ndhlovu is Associate Professor of Language in Society at the University of New England in Armidale, Australia. His research interests sit at the cutting edge of contemporary linguistic and socio-cultural theories around language, identity and sociality in relation to transnational African migrant and diaspora communities; language and development; and language and everyday forms of exclusion. He has previously held teaching and research positions at Victoria University in Melbourne, the University of Fort Hare in South Africa and the Midlands State University in Zimbabwe. From July to December 2015, Finex was a Visiting Professor at the Archie Mafeje Institute of Social and Policy Research, University of South Africa. His most recent major publications include Language, Vernacular Discourse and Nationalisms: Uncovering the Myths of Transnational Worlds (forthcoming); The Social and Political History of Southern Africa’s Languages (2017); Language, Migration, Diaspora: Challenging the Big Battalions of Groupism (2016); Hegemony and Language Policies in Southern Africa: Identity, Integration, Development (2015); and Becoming an African Diaspora in Australia: Language, Culture, Identity (2014). Finex is an experienced supervisor of higher degree student research projects with an outstanding record of completions.