Language Education Policy Studies
An International Network
New members welcome!

Family Language Policy (FLP) and Language Shift 

More recently in human history, perhaps since the dawn of neoliberalism, the spread of educational agendas, and the spread of English as a global lingua franca, the lingua franca often causes language shift. Claims that historically the same occurred before ignore the realities of communication, homogenization, cultural influences, political power, and schools all on a global scale unheard of in the past with the impending disappearance of so many languages. In the study of sociolinguistic language ecology and the effect of language-in-education policies, the role of the family and family domain is important and fills a gap in the 21st century complexity as a place to understand language practices and intergenerational transfer or in many cases non-transfer, meaning certain generations or individuals shift to the dominant language. Family language policies not only vary, but the same educational and linguistic situations and policies may vary by family. Therefore two families in the same community who experience similar language situations will have differences – one may have language transfer while the other has language shift.


Schools through language-in-education policies can facilitate intergenerational language transfer, yet often a conflict between schools and family or a home and school gap is present. The inner workings of the family domain show that it includes inner ethnic cultural patterns, parental misconceptions about language and proficiency, and the role of grandparents. A big part of the conceptual framework as it relates to families dealing with heritage languages is also emotional, and psychological – such as anxiety dimensions.


For immigrants and Indigenous language speakers, the typical model has the older generation monolingual in the heritage or mother tongue, the second generation bilingual, and the third generation monolingual in the dominant language. Of course these results cannot be sanitized or simplified, codeswitching and codemixing is also common. Often differences by generation in signifier/signified are found, in the importance of the mother tongue and language meaning. The older generations may feel they pay the price for having immigrated or not learned the language when the younger generation does not learn and maintain the mother tongue. In the case of conflict areas, the intergenerational language transfer also often deals with historical trauma that may be more recent.


Early language shifts and loss of heritage language have damaging effects, and intergenerational trauma is tied to language loss, particularly in the case of Indigenous people.  See Neoliberalism, English as a Lingua Franca, Indigenous, Heritage Languages.


Curdt-Christiansen, X. L. (2009). Invisible and visible language planning: Ideological factors in the family language policy of Chinese immigrant families in Quebec. Language Policy, 8(4), 351-375.


King, K. A., Fogle, L., & Logan‐Terry, A. (2008). Family language policy. Language and Linguistics Compass, 2(5), 907-922.


Luykx, A. (2005). Children as socializing agents: Family language policy in situations of language shift. In J. Cohen, K. McAlister, K. Rolstad & J. MacSwan (Eds.) ISB4: Proceedings of the 4th International Symposium on Bilingualism (pp. 1407-1414). Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press. Retrieved at on July 27, 2013.


Spolsky, B. (2012). Family language policy- the critical domain. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 33(1), 3-11.


Tannenbaum, M. (2005). Viewing family relations through a linguistic lens: Symbolic aspects of language maintenance in immigrant families. The Journal of Family Communication, 5(3), 229-252.


Tannebaum, M. (2012). Family language policy as a form of coping or defence mechanism. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 33(1), 57-66.


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 Shift. In F. V. Tochon (Ed.), Language Education Policy Studies (online). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin—Madison. Retrieved from: (access date). 

Widget is loading comments...