Multilingual family language policy in monolingual Australia: multilingual desires and monolingual realities

Hanna Irving Torsh*, Loy Lising

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalEditorial

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On the 22nd of May 2022, Australia elected a new Prime Minister, Mr. Anthony Albanese, the son of an Anglo-Australian mother and an Italian migrant father. In his short acceptance speech Prime Minister Albanese directly referred to diversity four times: “our great multicultural nation”, “the diverse people of [my electorate]”, “no matter what your last name is”, “no matter where you come from” (ABC News 2022). The former two references are to diversity as a positive attribute, the latter two are to his desire to inspire people of non-Anglo background, that they too can enter politics and become Prime Minister. In his speech Mr. Albanese is drawing on the social and political currency associated with diversity to impress the public and affirm his credentials as a social progressive. This is a telling example of the shift in public discourse around the value of cultural (and sometimes linguistic) diversity compared with that of 50 years ago when being “diverse” was something to be disguised rather than celebrated (Hodge and O’Carroll 2006; Media Diversity Australia 2020; Smolicz and Secombe 2003; Wise and Velayutham 2009).

However, in Australia today a celebratory approach to diversity co-exists with an imagined monolingual nation, where education and institutions are imagined monolingual spaces despite the linguistic diversity of their populations (Ellis et al. 2010; Piller 2014). Even where languages other than English (henceforth LOTEs) are supported, they compete for a marginal space on the periphery (Black et al. 2018; Wright et al. 2018). The contributions in this Special Issue engage with heritage language maintenance (henceforth HLM) situated in this tension, where multilingual migrants, many of whom have high levels of English language proficiency, desire connections with home. At the same time, the pressure of language hierarchies (Labov 1966; Piller 2016) or deficit views of bilingualism (Gerber 2015; Piller and Gerber 2018) continues the push for English. The families represented in this special issue include speakers of Arabic, Bicolano, Cebuano, Czech, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, Ga, Gaelic, Hausa, Hiligaynon, Ilocano, Italian, Kapampangan, Korean, Kriol, Japanese, Malay, Mandarin, Portuguese, Spanish, Susu, Tagalog, and Zarma. Many of these languages are peripheral languages (De Swaan 2001) without a nation-state or a literate tradition. Some are national languages not used outside their national borders. Even those pluricentric languages that sit high on the global language hierarchy, such as Spanish, Arabic or Mandarin, remain to all intents and purposes peripheral in Australia. Home language maintenance for migrants thus continues to be the task of families, remaining as a form of private language planning (Piller 2001) rather than state language policy.

In this editorial we will briefly outline significant changes to migration which have altered the landscape for HLM research and discuss the three central questions this Special Issue seeks to engage with. These questions are:

How do today’s linguistically diverse families with migrant heritage negotiate these competing tensions, between multilingual desires and monolingual pressures?

How important is language status, that is the status of English vis a vis LOTEs, in FLP for heritage languages in Australia?

Finally, how do social factors such as gender and remoteness intersect with these tensions and affect the way family language policy is designed and implemented in linguistically diverse Australian households today?
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)519–527
Number of pages9
Issue number5
Early online date22 Aug 2022
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

Copyright de Gruyter 2022. Article originally published in Multilingua 41(5), pp. 519–527. The original article can be found at Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • English dominance
  • family language policy
  • heritage languages
  • linguistic stratification
  • multilingual families


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