05/08/2019

Michael Clyne Prize

The 2019 Michael Clyne Prize has been announced. The prize this year has been awarded to Hanna Torsh (Macquarie University) for her thesis Between Pride and Shame: Linguistic intermarriage in Australia from the perspective of the English-dominant partner.

This year’s field of applicants for the Michael Clyne Prize was particularly strong, reflecting the high quality of research being carried out in this area at the postgraduate level, and the panel was faced with a very difficult decision in choosing the successful applicant.

Thesis summary and main findings:

Linguistic diversity in Australia is widely considered a social good, yet it exists in a context dominated by English monolingualism. This research sets out to examine this tension in a heretofore unexamined domain: linguistic intermarriage between English-speaking background (ESB) native-born Australians and language-other-than-English (LOTE) background migrants.

The research uses two main data sets, interviews and questionnaires, to examine participants’ discursive representations of language learning, LOTE interactions, language challenges of migration for their partner and language issues in the family. Using a qualitative, theme-based analysis, this research seeks to identify the contradictory ways that participants engage with the LOTE(s) spoken by their partner.

The findings show that ESB participants create and invest in a discourse of multilingual pride while simultaneously problematising LOTE use in practice. This is most obvious in the context of LOTEs used locally as opposed to overseas. Moreover, ESB participants felt proud of their partner’s bilingualism and, at the same time, expressed shame about their own monolingualism, a phenomenon I call “language cringe”. With regard to bilingual practices, in the domain of the family, gendered parenting roles mean that it is predominantly women who assume the responsibility for both their children’s LOTE skills and communication with LOTE-speaking in-laws even when they do not have the linguistic proficiency to do so effectively.

The thesis argues that the seemingly contradictory approach to LOTEs and multilingualism rests on conflicting social approaches to bilingualism more generally. On the one hand, linguistic diversity is practically subjugated to monolingual English-centric norms. On the other hand, discourses which valorise LOTEs and multilingualism are widely cherished as symbolic of tolerance. This research has implications for multilingualism and migration research, as well as language in education research. Moreover, it has the potential to provide a framework for those in linguistic intermarriages to understand and negotiate language/s in their relationship.

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