Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

How to turn the tide: the policy implications emergent from comparing a ‘post-vernacular FLP’ to a ‘pro-Gaelic FLP’


This paper compares the sociolinguistic trajectory of a ‘latent’ speaker mother to that of a ‘new’ speaker mother. Drawing on Shandler (TDR 48(1):19–43, 2004), it introduces the term ‘post-vernacular FLP’ as a means to conceptualise the latent speaker mother’s emblematic use of Gaelic with her child as a ‘seed’ from which language revitalisation can be cultivated, rather than a terminus. The paper discusses how the latent speaker mother’s current ideological landscape in many ways encapsulates the tepidity of the older generation’s ideologies. This contrasts to the new speaker mother, who has undergone the ideological transformation necessary to take an activist stance towards the language and implement a ‘pro-Gaelic’ FLP. The paper then considers the linguistic confidence barrier as described by both mothers, particularly in terms of using child-directed speech in Gaelic, and shows how the new speaker mother overcame this particular barrier. The paper concludes by discussing the policy implications of this analysis, and poses the crucial question: what specific on-the-ground measures can be taken to transform post-vernacular FLPs to pro-Gaelic FLPs?

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. 1.

    Both speakers were given code names.

  2. 2.

    Jenny can also be considered a ‘heritage speaker’ as per Armstrong’s (2013) definition of a heritage speaker as someone who has a direct familial connection to the language and who often had a level of exposure (albeit minimal) to the language in the home, but then undertook formal opportunities to learn and use the language. The choice to use ‘new’ speaker here is because we feel it better encapsulates the difference between the two speakers, especially since Jenny grew up in Glasgow and her Gaelic-speaking family members are from the Isle of Skye, not Lewis (see Smith-Christmas, 2018 a discussion of the importance of ‘place’ and new speakers of Gaelic).

  3. 3.

    Lewis is the largest (both in terms of population and landmass) as well as the northernmost of these islands.

  4. 4.

    Population approximately 6000.

  5. 5.

    The word ‘unit’ is used here because with a few exceptions, GME exists only as ‘units’ within wider English-medium schools.

  6. 6.

    The other reason was the fact that the family was living in Switzerland at the time.

  7. 7.

    Jenny’s husband has been learning Gaelic and can participate to some extent in Jenny’s pro-Gaelic FLP.

  8. 8.

    Shonagh’s husband was raised in Stornoway in an English-speaking household and Shonagh characterises her husband as ‘easy-oasy’ (i.e. he does not care either way) about whether their son acquires any Gaelic.


  1. Altman, C., Burstein Feldman, Z., Yitzhaki, D., Armon Lotem, S., & Walters, J. (2014). Family language policies, reported language use and proficiency in Russian—Hebrew bilingual children in Israel. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development,35(3), 216–234.

  2. Armstrong, T. C. (2013). “Why won’t you speak to me in Gaelic?” Authenticity, integration, and the heritage language learning project. Journal of Language, Identity & Education,12(5), 340–356.

  3. Armstrong, T. C. (2014). Naturalism and ideological work: How is family language policy renegotiated as both parents and children learn a threatened minority language? International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism,17(5), 570–585.

  4. Basham, C., & Fathman, A. K. (2008). The latent speaker: Attaining adult fluency in an endangered language. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism,11(5), 577–597.

  5. Birnie, I. (2018). Gaelic language use in public domains. In M. MacLeod & C. Smith-Christmas (Eds.), Gaelic in contemporary Scotland: The sociolinguistics of an endangered language. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

  6. Canagarajah, S. (2008). Language shift and the family: Questions from the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora. Journal of Sociolinguistics,12(2), 143–176.

  7. Catedral, L., & Djuraeva, M. (2018). Language ideologies and (im)moral images of personhood in multilingual family language planning. Language Policy,17(4), 501–522.

  8. Costa, J. (2015). New speakers, new language: On being a legitimate speaker of a minority language in Provence. International Journal of the Sociology of Language,2015(231), 127–145.

  9. Ciriza, M. P. (2019). Towards a parental muda for new Basque speakers: Assessing emotional factors and language ideologies. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 23, 367–385.

  10. Curdt-Christiansen, X. L. (2009). Invisible and visible language planning: ideological factors in the family language policy of Chinese immigrant families in Quebec. Language Policy,8(4), 351–375.

  11. Dauenhauer, N. M., & Dauenhauer, R. (1998). Technical, emotional, and ideological issues in reversing language shift: Examples from southeast Alaska. In L. A. Grenoble & L. J. Whaley (Eds.), Endangered languages: Current issues and future prospects. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  12. Dorian, N. C. (1998). Western language ideologies and small-language prospects. In L. A. Grenoble & L. J. Whaley (Eds.), Endangered languages: Current issues and future prospects (pp. 3–21). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  13. Dörnyei, Z. (2010). The psychology of the language learner: Individual differences in second language acquisition. London: Routledge.

  14. Dunmore, S. (2014). Bilingual life after school? Language use, ideology, and attitudes among Gaelic-medium educated adults. Unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of Edinburgh.

  15. Dunmore, S. (2017). Immersion education outcomes and the Gaelic community: identities and language ideologies among Gaelic medium-educated adults in Scotland. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development,38(8), 726–741.

  16. Dunmore, S. (2018). When school is over and done with: Linguistic practices and sociodemographic profiles of Gaelic-medium educated adults. In C. Smith-Christmas & M. MacLeod (Eds.), Gaelic in contemporary Scotland: The revitalisation of an endangered language (pp. 62–78). Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

  17. Fogle, L. W. (2012). Second language socialization and learner agency. Adoptive family talk. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

  18. Fogle, L. W., & King, K. A. (2013). Child agency and language policy in transnational families. Issues in Applied Linguistics,19, 1–25.

  19. Gafaranga, J. (2011). Transition space medium repair: Language shift talked into being. Journal of Pragmatics,43(1), 118–135.

  20. Hornberger, N. H. (2015). Selecting appropriate research methods in LPP research: Methodological rich points. In F. M. Hult & D. C. Johnson (Eds.), Research methods in language policy and planning (pp. 9–20). Oxford: Wiley.

  21. Hornsby, M. (2017). Finding an ideological niche for new speakers in a minoritised language community. Language, Culture and Curriculum,30(1), 91–104.

  22. Hult, F. (2017). Nexus analysis as scalar ethnography for educational linguistics. In M. Martin-Jones & D. Martin (Eds.), Researching multilingualism: Critical and ethnographic perspectives (pp. 89–104). London: Routledge.

  23. Jaffe, A. M. (2015). Defining the new speaker: Theoretical perspectives and learner trajectories. International Journal of the Sociology of Language,2015(231), 21–44.

  24. King, K., & Fogle, L. (2006). Bilingual parenting as good parenting: Parents’ perspectives on family language policy for additive bilingualism. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism,9(6), 695–712.

  25. King, K. A., Fogle, L., & Logan-Terry, A. (2008). Family language policy. Language and Linguistics Compass,2(5), 907–922.

  26. King, K. A., & Lanza, E. (2017). Ideology, agency, and imagination in multilingual families: An introduction. International Journal of Bilingualism. https://doi.org/10.1177/1367006916684907.

  27. Kirsch, C. (2012). Ideologies, struggles and contradictions: An account of mothers raising their children bilingually in Luxembourgish and English in Great Britain. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism,15(1), 95–112.

  28. Lanza, E. (1997). Language mixing in infant bilingualism: A sociolinguistic perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  29. Lanza, E. (2018). Multilingualism across the lifespan: The family as a space for language learning, and practices and policies. In R. Mesthrie & D. Bradley (Eds.), The dynamics of language (pp. 257–263). Cape Town: UCT Press.

  30. Mac an Tàilleir, I., Rothach, G., & Armstrong, T. C. (2010). Barail agus comas cànain [Language abilities and attitudes]. Inverness: Bòrd na Gàidhlig.

  31. MacKinnon, K. (1974). The Lion’s tongue: The original and continuing language of the Scottish people. Inverness: Club Leabhar.

  32. MacKinnon, K. (1991). Gaelic: A past and future prospect. Edinburgh: Saltire Society.

  33. McLeod, W. (2001). Gaelic in the New Scotland: Politics, rhetoric and public discourse. Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe,2001, 1–33.

  34. McLeod, W., & O’Rourke, B. (2015). “New speakers” of Gaelic: Perceptions of linguistic authenticity and appropriateness. Applied Linguistics Review,6(2), 151–172.

  35. Munro, G., Taylor, I., & Armstrong, T. (2011). The State of Gaelic in Shawbost. Teangue, Isle of Skye. Retrieved from http://www.gaidhlig.org.uk/ThestateofGaelicinShawbost.pdf

  36. Nandi, A. (2016). Language policies on the ground: Parental language management in urban Galician homes. Unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Heriot-Watt University.

  37. National Records of Scotland (NROS). 2013. “Statistical BulletinRelease 2A”. Retrieved from http://www.scotlandscensus.gov.uk/documents/censusresults/release2a/StatsBulletin2A.pdf

  38. Ó hIfearnáin, T. (2013). Family language policy, first language Irish speaker attitudes and community-based response to language shift. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development,34(4), 348–365.

  39. O’Hanlon, F., McLeod, W., & Patterson, L. (2010). Gaelic-medium education in Scotland: Choice and attainment at the primary and early secondary school stages. Inverness: Bòrd na Gàidhlig.

  40. O’Rourke, B., & Ramallo, F. (2015). Neofalantes as an active minority: Understanding language practices and motivations for change amongst new speakers of Galician. International Journal for the Sociology of Language,231, 147–165.

  41. Piller, I. (2001). Who, if anyone, is a native speaker? Anglistik. Mitteilungen Des Verbandes Deustsher Anglisten,12(2), 109–121.

  42. Piller, I., & Gerber, L. (2018). Family language policy between the bilingual advantage and the monolingual mindset. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism. https://doi.org/10.1080/13670050.2018.1503227.

  43. Pujolar, J., & Puigdevall, M. (2015). Linguistic mudes: how to become a new speaker in Catalonia. International Journal of the Sociology of Language,2015(231), 167–187.

  44. Sallabank, J. (2013). Attitudes to endangered languages: Identities and policies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  45. Schiffman, Harold. (1996). Linguistic culture and language policy. New York, NY: Routledge.

  46. Schwartz, M. (2008). Exploring the relationship between family language policy and heritage language knowledge among second generation Russian-Jewish immigrants in Israel. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development,29(5), 400–418.

  47. Scollon, R., & Scollon, S. W. (2007). Nexus analysis: Refocusing ethnography on action. Journal of Sociolinguistics,11(5), 608–625.

  48. Shandler, J. (2004). Postvernacular Yiddish: Language as a performance art. TDR: The Drama Review,48(1), 19–43.

  49. Shohamy, E. (2006). Language policy: Hidden agendas and new approaches. London: Routledge.

  50. Silverstein, M. (1979). Language structure and linguistic ideology. In R. Clyne, W. Hanks, & C. Hofbauer (Eds.), The elements: A parasession on linguistic units and levels (pp. 193–247). Chicago: Chicago Linguistics Society.

  51. Smith-Christmas, C. (2016). Family language policy: Maintaining an endangered language in the home. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

  52. Smith-Christmas, C. (2018). Land, language and migration: World war II evacuees as new speakers of scottish Gaelic. In C. Smith-Christmas, N. P. O. Murchadha, M. Hornsby, & M. Moriarty (Eds.), New speakers of minority languages: Linguistic ideologies and practices. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

  53. Smith-Christmas, C., & Armstrong, T. C. (2014). Complementary reversing language shift strategies in education: the importance of adult heritage learners of threatened minority languages. Current Issues in Language Planning,15(3), 312–326.

  54. Smith-Christmas, C., Bergroth, M., & Bezcioğlu Göktolga, I. (2019). A kind of success story: Family language policy in three different sociopolitical contexts. International Multilingual Research Journal,13(2), 88–101.

  55. Spolsky, B. (2004). Language policy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  56. Spolsky, B. (2012). Family language policy—The critical domain. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development,33(1), 3–11.

  57. Stockdale, A., MacGregor, B., & Munro, G. (2003). Migration, Gaelic-medium education and language use. Isle of Skye: Sabhal Mòr Ostaig.

  58. Western Isles Language Plan Project (WILPP). (2005). Stornoway. Retrieved from http://www.linguae-celticae.org/dateien/planaire1.pdf

  59. Will, V. K. A. (2012). Why Kenny can’t can: The language socialization experiences of Gaelic-medium educated children in Scotland. Unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of Michigan.

  60. Withers, C. W. (1988). Gaelic Scotland: The transformation of a culture region. London: Routledge.

Download references


This research that forms the basis of this article was made possible by the Irish Research Council [Grant Number GOIPD/2016/644]. The research was also supported by Soillse. The writing of this article was also supported by a fellowship with the Smithsonian Centre for Folklife and Cultural Heritage under the ‘Sustaining Minoritized Languages in Europe’ (‘SMiLE’ initiative). We would also like to thank our anonymous reviewers and James Costa for reading an earlier draft of this article. Any mistakes are of course our own.

Author information

Correspondence to Cassie Smith-Christmas.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Smith-Christmas, C., NicLeòid, S.L. How to turn the tide: the policy implications emergent from comparing a ‘post-vernacular FLP’ to a ‘pro-Gaelic FLP’. Lang Policy (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10993-019-09541-0

Download citation


  • Family language policy
  • Post-vernacular
  • New speakers
  • Latent speakers
  • Scottish Gaelic