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Language Policy, Language Practices and Language Shift in Tabriz

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posted on 08.12.2021, 11:06 by Mirvahedi, Seyed Hadi

This thesis examines how Azeri, a minority language with the largest number of speakers in Iran, is marginalized by de facto monolingual language policies of the state favoring Farsi, the only official language, over Azeri in the three selected domains. The research provides insights into how family language policies, i.e. attitudes, ideologies and practices in the home, are influenced by macro policies of multilingual nation-states, leading to language maintenance/shift among minority groups.  The investigation adopted and integrated a number of complementary theoretical frameworks and paradigms. An ecology of language paradigm (Haugen, 1972; Hornberger & Hult, 2008; Mühlhäusler, 1996) was used to situate the research within a broader sociopolitical, historical and economic context. The ethnolinguistic vitality model (Giles, Bourhis, & Taylor, 1977), and language policy and planning (LPP) frameworks proposed by Shohamy (2006) and Lo Bianco (2005, 2008c, 2012a; 2013) were utilized to explore the complex interaction between macro level LPP activities and micro level attitudes and practices. The integrated model demonstrates how language policies implemented within state-run domains and institutions produce particular Discourses. The proposed framework further illustrates how such Discourses may influence people at the grass roots level which in turn could lead to language maintenance/shift in different communities and groups.  The data base for the study comprised two phases: the first phase involved ethnographic observations of the public sphere (linguistic landscape data), language use in the home (three case studies), and the local channel for Azeris (media data), interviews with fifty children, and authorities of ten kindergartens and preschools. A focus-group interview was also conducted in this phase to assist with designing an attitude questionnaire which was administered in the second phase to 150 parents of young children.  The empirical data suggests that family language policies among Azeris in Tabriz are constantly and increasingly influenced by monolingual policies of the state. The institutionalization and legitimization of Farsi through de facto LPP activities has resulted in formation of uncommitted, if not negative, attitudes among Azeri parents regarding their ethnic language. The analysis shows how a Farsi-only education system cajoles kindergarten principals into favoring Farsi over Azeri, leading them to suggest that parents and children speak Farsi in the home to ease their integration into the education system.  The linguistic landscape data demonstrates the absence of Azeri both in top-down governmental and private individual signage indicating its low status compared to Farsi and English, the two prevalent languages in public signage in Tabriz. Exploring the broadcasting media suggests Azeris' inclination towards Farsi, and then in a second place, Turkish channels. As a result, having attracted only one percent of Azeri audience, the only available channel provided by the government for Azeris, Sahand TV, provides arguably no institutional support for Azeri. The findings suggest that although family members may be viewed as free agents to choose a particular language to speak in the home, in reality such choices are highly constrained by the ecology surrounding the home which is shaped by LPP decisions and activities.  Overall, this thesis sheds light on the complex nature of language policy and planning in multilingual nation-states, and how they impact on language maintenance/shift processes among minority groups, whilst also illuminating how language ecologies are manipulated by nation-states to achieve particular non-linguistic goals.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Applied Linguistics

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970120 Expanding Knowledge in Languages, Communication and Culture

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies


Holmes, Janet; Marra, Meredith