Language attitudes and ideologies in Malta : a mixed-methods study

Vella, Lara Ann and Sebba, Mark and Michel, Marije (2018) Language attitudes and ideologies in Malta : a mixed-methods study. PhD thesis, Lancaster University.

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Malta’s rich history of foreign conquerors together with its small landmass, has fostered an enduring history of bilingualism (in Maltese and English) on a societal level. In light of the value and status assigned to these two languages, this study sets out to investigate parents’ and their children’s language attitudes and ideologies towards Maltese and English, by using qualitative and quantitative research methods. In the qualitative study, semi-structured interviews were carried out in 11 families, with parents and children (age range 8 to 15). The data show that all participants link use of Maltese and/or English to economic, social, cultural and/or linguistic capital (Bourdieu, 1991). At times, use of language can lead to exclusion because the participants’ language use does not match what is expected of them in a particular habitus (Bourdieu, 1977). Ideologies related to social class, to language use and locality, and nationalistic feelings can also be traced in most interviews. At times, parents’ and children’s language use do not match, as different forms of capital are valued by these family members. The participants’ metalinguistic talk revealed links between their identity and language use (Davies & Harré, 1990; Bucholtz & Hall, 2003; Pavlenko & Blackledge, 2003) when they negotiate the use of Maltese and English in their daily interactions, and position themselves and others on the basis of language use. In the quantitative study, questionnaires were distributed to parents (N= 202) and children (N=357), coming from three school sectors (state, church and independent schools) in different geographical areas of the island (Northern, Northern Harbour, Southern Harbour, South Eastern and Western). Four age groups were targeted: adults, 14- to 15-year-olds, 11- to 12-year-olds and 8- to 9-year-olds. The self-reports of language use illustrate that Maltese is the prevalent language used in the home domain. The association between age, locality, mother’s employment and school sector, respectively, was significant with language used with mother. Nine constructs emerged from the exploratory factor analysis of the language attitude questionnaire. Moreover, the multiple regression analyses revealed that language spoken to mother and at school are the most influential predictor variables across all language attitude constructs. The data also showed that school sector and age group have a significant effect on most language attitude constructs. The older groups (adults and 14- to 15-year-olds) showed more positive attitudes to Maltese than the younger ones (11- to 12-year-olds and 8- to 9-yearolds), who demonstrated more positive attitudes to English. Significant differences were also found in language attitudes based on the three school sectors, with children attending state schools showing more favourable attitudes to the Maltese language constructs, those attending independent schools being more positive to the English language ones, and those attending church schools exhibiting a blend of attitudes to both languages. This study contributes to the theoretical debates on how speakers position themselves and others in their metalinguistic reflections (Davies & Harré, 1990). The findings make an important contribution to the area, by highlighting the role of the languages spoken at home, particularly by the mother, in the development of language attitudes. The study also makes a unique contribution in showing how qualitative and quantitative paradigms can complement each other to provide a more holistic insight into the association between language use and language ideologies in Malta.

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Thesis (PhD)
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01 Feb 2019 14:30
Last Modified:
21 Jul 2024 01:20