Family Language Policy, Language Maintenance and Language Shift: Perspectives from Ethnic Chinese Single Mothers in Malaysia

  • Teresa Wai See Ong Griffith University
Keywords: language maintenance and language shift, family language policy, single mothers, ethnic Chinese, heritage languages, Malaysia


Family language policy comprises three components, namely, ideology, practice, and management. Using the conceptual framework of family language policy, this study draws on data from semi-structured interviews and participant observation to explore the role of mothers in the process of language maintenance and language shift in Malaysia. First, it investigates the language choices and ideologies of four Chinese single mothers from Penang that lead to speaking heritage languages and/or dominant languages with their children. Second, it examines the strategies for heritage culture maintenance adopted by these mothers. The study found that two of the mothers speak Chinese heritage languages with their children to reinforce emotional attachment and family cohesion. Conversely, two other mothers face socioeconomic and educational pressures in relation to maintaining Chinese heritage languages, which trigger a shift to using dominant languages such as Mandarin Chinese and English with their children. Nevertheless, all four mothers made efforts in exposing their children to ethnic Chinese cultures. The findings indicate that maintaining heritage languages in the current era has become a challenge for many families in Malaysia while speaking dominant languages is becoming a necessity.


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How to Cite
Ong, T. W. S. (2021). Family Language Policy, Language Maintenance and Language Shift: Perspectives from Ethnic Chinese Single Mothers in Malaysia. Issues in Language Studies, 10(1), 59-75.