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UBC Theses and Dissertations

From language learners to bilingual providers : second language socialization of bilingual mothers in South Korea Sohn, Bong-gi


In the context of unprecedented globalization and migration flows, South Korea, known for promoting the modern nation-state’s ‘one-nation, one-language’ ideology, has undergone recalibration of its national identity and language ideologies. Since the mid-2000s, the South Korean government has developed a dual contradictory bilingual framework—assimilative Korean as a Second Language and celebratory multilingual development—particularly for damunhwa (multicultural) families consisting of international marriages between Korean men and foreign women and their children. Despite the government’s enthusiastic development of language policy, little is known of the grounds on which this bilingual initiative was established and how it is practiced in families. Adopting an approach that Bronson and Watson-Gegeo (2008) have called “language socialization as topic,” this qualitative study employed a document analysis and interviews to investigate the representational practices of foreign mothers across their lifespan in South Korea. I first address how the national-level language policy guides the regulation of foreign mothers’ four linear life trajectories: marriage, migration, childbirth and education, and home economics. Findings from the policy analysis represent the government’s (1) emphasis on damunhwa mothers’ exclusive use of Korean, (2) selective recommendation of heritage/foreign language for nationalistic purposes, and (3) discouragement of heritage language use in damunhwa families. They also demonstrate the government’s lack of concern with the roles of Korean fathers in family language socialization. The four damunhwa mothers in this study—from Japan, China, Vietnam, and Kyrgyzstan—presented their survival stories on learning to become dedicated mothers who are expected to use Korean with their children. Their narratives also demonstrate how the linguistic hierarchy is exacerbated and how they are demoralized in their bilingual workplaces. The mothers’ stated promotion of heritage languages often serves instrumental purposes rather than fostering bilingual and bicultural identities. These findings explain how damunhwa mothers have become the heart of linguistic nationalism in globalized times for South Korea, where the government has failed to recognize the fundamental importance of the situated nature of multilingual socialization of families. Through illuminating what has been neglected by policy makers, this dissertation calls for more equitable and gender-sensitive approaches to bilingual education in transnational and translingual times.

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