February 9, 2022

Why Do Heritage Languages Matter?

Sadie Ryan | Anna Durkacz, 63 | John McDiarmid, 40

Podcast episode / audio essayWhy do heritage languages matter?, 2021N/A

I’m a linguist who does research with young migrants living in Scotland. The young people I speak to often tell me about pressures to abandon their heritage languages. They tell me about being laughed at for speaking Mandarin. They tell me that there’s no point speaking Tigrinya, because English is the language they need to succeed. I’ve overheard a teacher telling a pupil that ‘it’s very rude to speak a language that people don’t understand’. But heritage languages matter. They provide links between generations, preserve family ties, carry emotions, and connect us to our roots. This audio piece is about the importance of heritage languages to people living in diaspora. It’s communicated through the story of my family’s migration from Poland to Scotland, and my mum’s relationship with the Polish language. I want Scotland to be a place that celebrates its linguistic diversity, and supports multilingual communities. Key to developing this support is understanding that there are reasons for speaking a heritage language that go far beyond the practical. For my mum, and for others like her, speaking Polish is an integral part of who she is. Telling her to speak only English would be denying her access to herself.