What Are Dutch-Speaking Parents’ Attitudes Towards Their Children’s Heritage Language Maintenance in the Migrant Setting in New Zealand? A Critical Exploration

Mertens, Elfried
Crezee, Ineke
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Master of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology

This study examines Dutch-speaking parents' attitudes toward their children's heritage language maintenance in a New Zealand setting. Earlier New Zealand-based research has concentrated mainly on heritage language maintenance, shift and loss amongst three generations of Dutch migrants. This ethnographic qualitative study used one-on-one interviews with parents via Zoom due to COVID-19 restrictions. The twenty-one participants were all Dutch-speaking parents who had at least one child between the ages of 5 and 12 years old and who lived in New Zealand. I recorded, transcribed, coded and analysed the interviews using Thematic Analysis. The findings revealed that most parents had positive attitudes towards bilingualism and multilingualism. Almost all parents reported putting varying degrees of effort into fostering and maintaining an interest in the Dutch and Belgian Dutch culture and the Dutch language in New Zealand. Parents wanted to cultivate them so their children might have some language knowledge that would allow them to function well enough within a multicultural and bilingual extended family or community. Positive attitudes were influenced by contact with extended family members overseas. This was one of the main elements in parents' decisions to maintain the heritage language in the home. The Dutch abroad are well-known for the rate at which they assimilate and switch from their native language to the dominant one, even in domains where there should theoretically be less pressure. In line with the findings of previous research, not all of the parents interviewed in this study considered their language as a core value of their Dutch or Flemish identity. In fact, the study found that parents switched to English when their children indicated they needed it to maintain good-quality intergenerational communication. This represents one of the challenges addressed by many parents in this research, as they wished to retain the heritage language, but not at the expense of positive communication in the home. This meant that the maintenance of Dutch was laborious, and many found it difficult, except for those families who made extensive efforts to use and improve the Dutch language. With regard to the future of their heritage language maintenance journey, most parents interviewed stated they would be quite disappointed if their children lost the aptitude to speak or even understand their heritage language. Many parents recognised that their children making the shift to English is a reality they could be faced with over time, living as they were in an English-dominated society. Some parents who reported putting significant effort into nurturing and maintaining the heritage language in the home stated that they were unsure whether they would remain or move away from New Zealand at some point. Early Dutch immigrants were not concerned about this as, once they had moved to New Zealand, moving back to the Netherlands was not an alternative (Crezee; 2008, 2012). The significance of this study lies in its discovery that some parents spoke of the prospect of their children moving to the Netherlands or Belgium for further studies. Parents hoped that their children would at least understand the heritage language and develop receptive bilingualism, which would evolve into active bilingualism after a relatively brief period of immersion.

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