Language Education Policy Studies
An International Network
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Family Language Policy (FLP) and Maintenance

/Intergenerational Language Transfer 

Schools can facilitate intergenerational language transfer but not alone. The family is clearly an important arena for language. The family is also a domain, and recently a research focus to understand language practices and intergenerational transfer or in many cases non-transfer, meaning certain generations or individuals shift to the dominant language. 21st century forces in language-in-education policies cause more language shift than intergenerational language transfer (See Family Language Policy and Shift). Therefore, this page is dedicated to exploring ways for families to maintain heritage language by attempting to find successful models of the latter.


In anthropological terms, it seems that certain cultures or domains are more susceptible to shifts than others. Some seem weak, and break and disappear (or assimilate) easily. In one of this website’s author’s experience, a theory is that those that appear the strongest have a strong spiritual or religious element. That would include the Islamic world, including Indonesia and SE Asian nations that are Muslim, (perhaps paradoxically) Israel, China, India, Papua New Guinea, and many parts of Africa. In addition some Indigenous groups of the Americas who have remained isolated until recently from the forces of the Cold War and western imperialism still have their language, although often without the traditional knowledge. This leaves Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia.

In other words, the theory is that these are places where family domains perpetuate and transmit a language other than the dominant one. These would seemingly contraindicate many of the negative claims on other pages that indicate linguistic imperialism and imminent language shift. However, unlike those scholars who wish to point out such realities in defense of inaction, we point them out in order to argue in favor of not just action but urgent action in the name of multilingualism, mother tongue education, and linguistic human rights; all as an integral ingredient for biocultural and multicultural diversity and a sustainable future.

Please note that the above is a very subjective and informal survey. Your comments below are greatly appreciated as input and feedback. Please see Islamic World, Israel, Papua New Guinea, Multilingual Education, Heritage Languages, Resisting Linguistic Imperialism, Cultural Competence.


Videos to order specifically for families to maintain language and cultural competence:

Videos below:

Fishman on Minority Languages and Language Shift:



Fishman, J. (1991). Reversing language Shift: Theory and Practice of Assistance to Threatened Languages. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.


Fishman, J. (2001). Can Threatened Languages Be Saved: reversing language shift revisted: a 21st century perspective? Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.


Ross, N. (2002) Cognitive aspects of intergenerational change: Mental models,   cultural change, and  environmental behavior among the Lacandon-Maya of southern  Mexico. Human Organization, 61, 125–138.


Taylor, L. K., Bernhard, J. K., Garg, S., & Cummins, J. (2008). Affirming plural belonging: Building on students' family-based cultural and linguistic capital through multiliteracies pedagogy. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 8(3), 269-294.


This web page has a copyright. It may be referred to and quoted, or reproduced and distributed for educational purposes according to fair use legislation only if the following citation is included in the document:

This information was originally published on the website of the International Network for Language Education Policy Studies ( as

Harrison, K.  M. (2013). Family Language Policy and Language Maintenance/Intergenerational language transfer. In F. V. Tochon (Ed.), Language Education Policy Studies (online). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin—Madison. Retrieved from: (access date). 

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