Doctoral studies

Doctoral thesis studied transnational Estonian family language policy

Colm James Doyle from the School of Humanities at Tallinn University defended the doctoral thesis on the language policies of bilingual and multilingual transnational families resident in Tallinn, wherein one parent is Estonian and the other parent is from a country other than Estonia.


Doyle explains that family language policies can be understood as the combination of the language ideology and beliefs of family members, their language use, and their management of language – the efforts made to control the language use of others in the family.

The author investigated the language policies of 19 families from a variety of language backgrounds, with a focus placed on the reflections and experiences of adolescents and young adults, and foreign fathers. The principal finding of Doyle’s research is that the transmission and maintenance of the participant families’ non-societal language were facilitated by a language policy that valorised the non-societal language and ensured consistent input in it, while at the same time did not burden the children with excessive parental expectations and demands.

Complimenting the family’s own language policy, the surrounding sociolinguistic environment was also found to play a role in supporting the non-societal language. 'For example a supportive same language and culture community for the non-Estonian parent, or a sociolinguistic context where the non-Estonian language held prestige and was supported by the education system or served by attractive media and online social media,’ Doyle explains.

The research found both the Estonian language and the non-Estonian language, and bilingualism more generally, to be valorised in the families, by both the parents and the older children, and the family language policy to be co-constructed by all members, rather than simply being dictated by parents to their children.

The results of Doyle’s thesis also suggest that Estonia as a sociolinguistic place is fertile ground for the transmission of larger non-Estonian languages that command prestige within Estonia and globally. ‘It can be suggested that it was this marriage of (family language) policy and (sociolinguistic) place that proved critical to the transmission and maintenance of the non-societal languages,’ Doyle adds.

Doyle’s work is one of only a handful of pieces of research on the language policies of transnational families in Estonia to have been published to date.

From the School of Humanities at Tallinn University, Colm James Doyle’s dissertation is titled ‘Policy and place: the language policies of transnational Estonian families in Tallinn’. The public defence took place on June 9. 

The supervisor is Professor Anna Verschik of Tallinn University. The opponents are Professor Meilutė Ramonienė from the University of Vilnius and Associate Professor Lyn Wright from the University of Memphis. The doctoral thesis is available from Tallinn University Digital Library ETERA.