While heritage languages (HLs) have been receiving much research attention, there is still a scarcity of studies conducted on local HL communities. However, researchers in New Zealand have been actively engaged with various community languages for over four decades, providing rich insights into the dynamics of language maintenance and language shift within these communities. Although New Zealand sociolinguistic scholarship has covered a wide range of languages and ethnicities, there is no known study on the Indian Hindi community, whose HL is the fourth most spoken language in the country (Statistics New Zealand, 2013). Additionally, previous research has traditionally examined the functional aspects of language use and language attitudes in determining whether language can be preserved, viewing HL communities often as homogeneously formed. In contrast, current trends in the field of sociolinguistics aim to examine the connections between individuals and their languages (i.e. identity), taking multilingualism as a norm and focusing on dynamism in intraspeaker and interspeaker language use. This thesis addresses these issues by exploring how the realities that heritage language learners (HLLs) live connect to identity negotiation and development in social interaction. In particular, this thesis focuses on a group of learners of Hindi as a heritage language in New Zealand – a group that is under-explored.
Grasping the relationship between the HLLs’ experiences and how they develop and negotiate heritage-related identities necessitates a micro-level analysis of language use by casting an eye on language practices in the language maintenance school and the home, for they constitute two key spaces of exposure to the HLs and cultures. Moreover, examining how HLLs draw upon indexicality to conceptualise their languages provides rich insights into their identity negotiation and development.
The primary data for the analyses is mobilised in three dimensions adopting an ethnographic approach. The first dimension includes limited-participant observations for one school term, making a total of 20 hours of observation out of which 12 hours were recorded. The observations look at language practices in a multi-site Hindi School (HS) where families of Indian descent from various linguistic, ethnic, cultural and national backgrounds come together forming a constellation of communities of practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Wenger, 1998b) to stay connected with their Indian heritage. I also conducted semi-structured interviews with eight parents and stakeholders in the HS to enrich the analysis and check my interpretations of the observed and recorded practices.
The second dimension embraces recordings of home interaction within three families with the aim of exploring language practices in the home. A total of eight hours of recorded data were collected in different conversational encounters (e.g. in the car, at the dining table and playtime). The families participating in this research have unique characteristics in terms of their heterogeneous configuration. The first family exemplifies a transnational adoptive family which is a unique family structure that has not been researched in New Zealand. The other two families reflect multicultural New Zealand Indian families where the parents do not speak the same HL. Finally, the data in the third dimension comes from the learners through linguistic reflection drawings (Krumm & Jenkins, 2001; Seals, 2017b). Twenty HLLs participated in the drawing activity which aims at examining how they process meaning-making through the use of language-colour association and views the linguistic repertoire as embodied (Bucholtz & Hall, 2016; Krumm & Jenkins, 2001).
By employing the concept of communities of practice during in-depth discourse analysis, the HS data suggests that the shared practices within the school contribute to the construction of the learners’ multilingual and national/cultural identities, emphasising the Indian identity as an overarching one (i.e. Indianness), rather than privileging other regional, national or religious identities.
Additionally, the analysis of the home data suggests that no matter how committed community members are, the HL is not always actively used at home. Rather, the three families in this study take part in a wide range of language practices that index their Indian identities. They introduce aspects of the Indian culture, which is mostly indexed via music, food and cultural lexical items in their discourse (Friesen, 2008; Shah, 2013). While HL literacy skills (e.g. numeracy and the reading of literary texts) were elicited, English linguistic features that are often associated with Indian English were used to construct Indian identity. However, at times multiple memberships became problematic because it contradicted other socially constructed identities, depending on the membership that is activated in the interaction settings. The analysis offers insights into the complexities of discursive identity negotiation within the home and the intricate relationship between identity negotiation and multiple memberships.
Finally, the analysis of the HLLs’ linguistic reflection drawings through an indexical lens (Ochs, 1993) reveals that the participants use their languages as direct indices to display forms of capital (Bourdieu, 1986), which in turn are discursively used to index national and cultural identities. Likewise, some participants used their multilingual identities as a resource to negotiate national and/or cultural identities.
Overall, this thesis sheds light on the complexities of identity negotiation and development in heterogeneous communities where community members have multiple heritage languages. As this research is the first to present non-traditional language school and family configurations in the New Zealand context, it will hopefully enrich the understanding of the dynamics of heritage language education and identity negotiation in such superdiverse settings.