Minority language development in early childhood: a study of siblings acquiring Bosnian and English in Ireland
Keywords:Multilingualism, Early Childhood, Minority Languages
This paper considers issues faced by multilingual families in supporting their children’s acquisition of minority home languages. These include the challenges posed by majority language dominance in society and education, limited opportunities for minority language input and interaction, and possible differences in the language acquisition experience of siblings (De Houwer, 2007; Barron-Hauwaert, 2011; Bridges and Hoff, 2014). The paper reports on a comparative case study which investigated the early childhood language development of two siblings acquiring Bosnian and English in Ireland. Based on audio and video recordings of the children in the home environment, it focuses on the acquisition of the minority language, Bosnian, by the eldest and youngest of three sisters. Following a previous study (Finnegan-Ćatibušić, 2006), it compares the children's linguistic development in the minority language and how this may be influenced by discourse patterns in family interaction (Döpke, 1992; Genessee, 2002; 2008). The children's development of biliteracy (Cummins, 2012) and community efforts to promote minority language maintenance are also discussed. Multilingualism is considered from an ecological perspective (Van Lier, 2004; Creese and Blackledge, 2010), exploring steps that families can take to create linguistic environments which support minority language development. This research is set in the context of an increasingly multilingual Ireland, in which migrant languages have been acknowledged as a ‘resource’ by the Department of Education and Skills (DES, 2017). The study shows that children’s multilingual development often occurs outside formal education, in family and community settings. Its findings indicate that, within the education system, there is a need for greater recognition of multilingualism from the early years and for the promotion of multilingual approaches to education (Kirwan, 2013; Ćatibušić and Little, 2014; Cummins, 2015).