In his numerous publications, Finex Ndhlovu has critically examined the relationship between language and issues of multilingualism, identity formation, migration, politics, and policy/planning. At the heart of his recent work, Prof. Ndhlovu is concerned with the complex interplay of social and political factors that make up the sociolinguistics of migration, and how to reshape heritage language planning and policy to better align with the needs of immigrant communities.
Prof. Ndhlovu impresses upon us the need to understand where someone comes from in order to understand who they are, stating “you can’t say you know me if you don’t know the people that I live with.” This notion perfectly captures the spirit of his recently developed Language Nesting Model (Ndlovu, 2014). As Prof. Ndhlovu shows, the model provides a more holistic profile of the unique language-based needs of immigrant communities than has previously existed.
A recurring theme throughout his talk is a call to challenge the “commonsense” assumptions about how we conceptualize heritage languages. While language planning and policy typically assumes a direct relationship between ethnicity and language, this assumption is often contradicted by the linguistic realities of immigrants, whose language choices are largely influenced by complex migratory patterns and exposure to a wealth of linguistic diversity. Prof. Ndlovu’s research is centralized around two overarching questions: What are the actual multilingual practices of people on the move, and how do specific migration paths influence their linguistic experiences?
In building the Language Nesting Model, Prof. Ndhlovu conducted an in-depth ethnographic study of speakers from East, Central, and West Africa who were residing in Australia. Interviews comprised of people offering personal stories about their migration experiences. Prof. Ndhlovu finds that his participants often speak a HL that is not their native one. In fact, several individuals report speaking pigeons and creoles (new languages having emerged through extended contact between different languages) in their interviews. Pigeons and Creoles receive little to no government support due to their subordinated social status. Prof. Ndhlovu argues it is precisely these languages that serve to bridge relationships and create new and vital social networks. These narratives demonstrate the severe need for governments to provide institutional support for such languages.
Prof. Ndhlovu proposes the Language Nesting Model to account for these and other crucial findings that surfaced through his ethnographic research. The model leverages commonalities across the language experiences of African immigrants to paint a picture of rich linguistic diversity. Central to his model are the diverse language codes and varieties a HL speaker can deploy as linguistic resources. These include varieties of English, discoursal and cultural practices, African cross-border languages, small ethnic languages, and refugee “journey” languages, which are those languages picked up while in transit. The model achieves its goal of breaking down our common-sense assumptions about HLs by showing that the linguistic repertoires of transient populations must be better understood. Prof. Ndhlovu closes his talk by arguing that language policy and planning cannot address the needs of immigrant communities unless it shifts its focus to considering the lived experiences and linguistic realities of people on the move, which show much more nuance than what census data alone is capable of revealing.
Matthew Glenn Stuck