Lost in transition? Celtic language revitalization in Scotland and Wales: the primary to secondary school stage
O'Hanlon, Fiona Malcolm
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The development of education through the medium of Celtic languages (here specifically Welsh and Scottish Gaelic) is often placed within a language planning framework in which Celtic-medium education is viewed as a means of sustaining a threatened language in the context of levels of intergenerational transmission which are insufficient to maintain speaker numbers. The primary to secondary school stage is a critical juncture from such a perspective, as language revitalization requires the language competencies, patterns of Celtic language use and positive attitudes towards the Celtic language fostered at the primary school stage to be maintained and developed at the secondary school stage. However, the secondary school stage has often been associated with a reduction in the uptake and availability of Celticmedium education and with a decline both in Celtic language use and in positive attitudes towards the language. Such a policy and research context raises two sets of research questions, the first relating to choice of medium of instruction of education, and the second to aspects of pupil language relevant to language planning and maintenance: (1)Research Questions: Choice What factors influence parental decisions for Celtic-medium education at the primary school level? What factors influence Celtic-medium pupil decisions regarding language of education for the first year of secondary school? Do the responses and patterns of response regarding choice differ between (i) the primary and secondary school stages and/or (ii) the Scottish and Welsh contexts? (2)Research Questions: Language Planning What are Celtic-medium pupils’ patterns of (a) language use (b) perceptions of their linguistic ability (c) identification with the Celtic language and (d) perceptions of the usefulness of the Celtic language for their future at the primary and early secondary school stages? Do the responses and patterns of response differ between the Scottish and Welsh contexts at the primary school stage? Do the responses and patterns of response shift between the primary and secondary school stages in either the Scottish or the Welsh contexts? This thesis presents the results of a longitudinal study of 28 Gaelic-medium and 57 Welsh-medium final year primary and first year secondary pupils, their parents and teachers, conducted in 2007-2008. English-medium pupils from dual stream schools were also incorporated, primarily as a control group for the experiences of their Celtic-medium counterparts (17 English-medium Scotland and 34 English-medium Wales pupils, their parents and teachers). The research questions are investigated using multiple research methods in a longitudinal design. Pupils took part in semi-structured interviews in the final year of primary school and in the first year of secondary school concerning their experience of learning a Celtic language, the reasons for their decisions regarding the medium of instruction of secondary school subjects, their identification with their Celtic language and their perceptions of its usefulness. At each of these two school stages, pupils also completed standardized questionnaires (which yielded statistical data) on their language use and their perceived language competence in their Celtic language and in English. The pupil interviews were supplemented by interviews with their teachers at primary and secondary school, and with their parents at the primary school stage; thus a total of 383 interviews were conducted. Comparison was made not only longitudinally but also between the Gaelic and Welsh groups and, where relevant, between each of them and their English-medium counterparts. The results are discussed in relation to contextual factors (for example national and local authority policies, the linguistic demographics of Scotland and Wales and the level of Celtic-language institutionalization in the two countries), in relation to previous research on choice, language use, language ability and language attitudes in the Scottish and Welsh contexts, and in relation to theories of language maintenance.
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