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Eid, Zeina Achkar (2019) A sociolinguistic study of language practices and language attitudes of Lebanese families in London. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI: https://doi.org/10.25501/SOAS.00032207

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Abstract

This study explores the intergenerational patterns of language use and family language policies (FLPs), language attitudes towards Arabic and multilingualism, and identity practices of Lebanese families in London. It also investigates whether heritage language maintenance (HLM) or language shift (LS) is taking place, and whether assimilation or integration into the host society is occurring. My motivation for focussing on Lebanese immigrant families is that this ethnic group is relatively under-researched, despite being arguably one of the more heterogeneous Arabic-speaking communities ethnically, socio-historically and religiously. The participants in this study are first-generation Lebanese parents who were born in Lebanon, and their second-generation Lebanese-British children born in the UK. The study uses a mixed-method approach and data is collected by means of questionnaires, distributed to children and parents, semi-structured interviews with children and Arabic schoolteachers, focus group discussions with parents, and ethnolinguistic observations of families. The findings show that Lebanese parents are engaged in family language practices and FLPs to maintain the use of Lebanese Arabic (LA) at home. Children respond by speaking mostly LA with their parents and grandparents, and mostly English with their siblings and peers. However, the domain of FLP is dynamic and multi-directional. Children exercise their own agency in various ways to (re)negotiate FLPs and socialise their parents into their own language practices and behaviours. They use code-switching (CS), with both adults and peers, as a practical bilingual practice to fulfil various communicative needs and index different identities. With regards to Arabic literacy, the data indicates that children have ‘average’ literacy skills in Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), but these skills are comparatively lower than those in English, despite the input from various socialisation sources such as dense networks of Lebanese and Arabic-speakers, Arabic mass media and Arabic complementary schools in London. The data also shows that parents and children prefer English for most literacy purposes. With regards to language attitudes, Lebanese parents and children hold positive attitudes towards both varieties of Arabic. The communicative need for LA, its emotional and symbolic value, its important role in guaranteeing strong familial and cultural connections, and participants’ oral proficiency support favourable attitudes towards LA. On the other hand, the educational, economic and religious value ascribed to MSA shape participants’ positive attitudes. However, the learning of MSA is perceived as more challenging than LA and as requiring more efforts and motivation to attain competence. As for identity practices, Lebanese parents and children have successfully managed to integrate into British society, whilst equally retaining their ethnocultural identity. This study contributes to the literature on FLPs, HLM and LS, and identity practices within ethnic minorities in the UK. It also highlights the diversity within the micro-level of Lebanese families in particular, and Arabic-speaking communities in general, and the dynamics of HL learning and language practices.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Julia Sallabank
DOI (Digital Object Identifier): https://doi.org/10.25501/SOAS.00032207
Date Deposited: 29 Jan 2020 08:25
URI: https://eprints.soas.ac.uk/id/eprint/32207

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