Family Language Policy in the Chinese Community in Singapore: A Question of Balance?

Room 423b, School of Education
Friday 17 April 2015 (13:30-15:00)

For further details contact Jaspreet Takhi:


MOSAIC Seminar Series, Spring 2015

The speaker at this seminar will be Xiao Lan Curdt-Christiansen from the Institute of Education at the University of Reading.


This presentation will focus on the language shift phenomenon in Singapore as a consequence of the top-town policies. By looking at bilingual family language policies I will examine the characteristics of Singapore’s multilingual nature and cultural diversity. Specifically, I will look at which languages are practiced and how family language policies are enacted in Singaporean English-Chinese bilingual families, and to what extend macro language policies – i.e. national and educational language policies influence and interact with family language policies. Involving 545 families and including parents and grandparents as participants, the study traces the trajectory of the policy history. Data sources include 2 parts: 1) a prescribed linguistic practices survey; and 2) participant observation of actual negotiation of FLP in face-to-face social interaction in bilingual English-Chinese families. The data provide valuable information on how family language policy is enacted and language practices are negotiated, and what linguistic practices have been changed or abandoned against the background of the Speaking Mandarin Campaign and the current bilingual policy implemented in the 1970s. Importantly, the detailed face-to-face interactions and linguistics practices are able to enhance our understanding of the subtleties and processes of language (dis)continuity in relation to policy interventions. 

The study also discusses the reality of language management measures in contrast to the government’s ‘separate bilingualism’ (Creese & Blackledge, 2011) expectations with regard to ‘striking a balance’ between Asian and Western culture (Curdt-Christiansen & Silver 2013; Shepherd, 2005) and between English and mother tongue languages (Curdt-Christiansen, 2014). Demonstrating how parents and children negotiate their family language policy through translanguaging or heteroglossia practices (Canagarajah, 2013; Garcia & Li Wei, 2014), I argue that ‘striking a balance’ as a political ideology places emphasis on discrete and separate notions of cultural and linguistic categorization and thus downplays the significant influences from historical, political and sociolinguistic contexts in which people find themselves. This simplistic view of culture and linguistic code will inevitably constrain individuals’ language expression as it regards code switching and translanguaging as delimited and incompetent language behaviour. 


Canagarajah, A. S. (2013).Translanguaging practice: Global Englishes and cosmopolitan relations. London and New York: Routledge. 

Creese, A. & Blackledge, A. (2011). Separate and flexible bilingualism in complementary schools:   Multiple language practices in interrelationship. Journal of Pragmatics, 43, 1196-1208.

Curdt-Christiansen, X. L (2014). Family language policy: Is learning Chinese at odds with leaning English in Singapore? In X.L. Curdt-Christiansen and A. Hancock (Eds.); Learning Chinese in Diasporic communities: Many pathways to being Chinese (pp.35-58). John Benjamins.

Curdt-Christiansen, X.L. & Silver, R.E. (2013). New wine into old skins: The enactment of literacy policy in Singapore. Language and Education, 27(3), 246-260.

Garcia, O. & Li, Wei. (2014). Translanguaging: Language, bilingualism and education. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave MacMillan.

Shepherd, J. (2005). Striking a balance: The management of language in Singapore. Berlin: Peter Lang Publishing.


Xiao Lan Curdt-Christiansen Xiao Lan Curdt-Christiansen is Associate professor in applied linguistics at the Institute of Education (IoE), University of Reading, UK. Her research interests encompass ideological, socio-cultural-cognitive and policy perspectives on language learning with particular focus on children’s multilingual education and biliteracy development. Obtained her PhD from McGill University, Montreal, Canada, she has been actively involved in research projects on topics of children’s literacy practices and language development in family domains, heritage language schools, and mainstream classrooms in Canada, France, Singapore and the UK. She is the guest editor of a special issue on Family Language Policy for Language Policy and an associate editor of International Journal of Learning. Her most recent books are entitled: Learning Chinese in Diasporic Communities (published by John Benjamins); The Politics of Textbook in Language Education, with Csilla Weninger (Routledge). Her publications have appeared in Language Policy; Canadian Modern Language Review; Cambridge Journal of Education; Journal of Early Childhood Literacy; Language and Education; English Quarterly; Language, Culture and Curriculum; Sociolinguistic Studies, Heritage Language Journal, etc.


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