Language, Place and Identity: exploring children’s linguistic and cognitive development in heritage and community languages


Languages are central concerns for Scotland and beyond. Languages are particularly important in the current migration crisis, ever-increasing globalisation, and for personal identity, social culture and heritage. Recent cognitive science research demonstrates the advantages of early multilingualism on capacity for language use and cognitive skills. Yet some aspects of this research are inconclusive or inconsistent because associated factors supporting or undermining the benefits of multilingualism are hardly explored – such as family and community attitudes, socio-economic background, and the valuing (or not) of community and heritage languages. We will bring the potential of social sciences’ concepts and methodology to debates about the benefits of multilingualism, as ideally suited to unlock the puzzle of these inconsistent results by exploring such explanatory factors.

Aims & Objectives

This research aims to explore children’s experiences of and perspectives on multilingualism, across the domains of family, community and school, in four key research questions:

  1. In what ways do experiences and perspectives differ by the language and the familial, community and services’ support, promotion and valuing of the language?
  2. In what ways do languages and multilingualism support or detract from personal, familial and community identities and heritage?
  3. What promotes or detracts from children wanting to be multilingual and developing their language skills, in family, community and school contexts?
  4. Are children’s family, community and school experiences and perceptions good predictors of children’s linguistic and cognitive performance in the heritage language?

It has two further objectives providing support for a future research programme.

  1. To build conceptual tools around multilingualism, heritage and identities.
  2. To explore the necessary content and methods for larger-scale research studies that can test their applicability more widely.


From January to December 2018.


This project has received funding from the Carnegie Trust with Carnegie Collaborative Research Grants.

Project partners

  1. Bilingualism Matters at the University of Edinburgh
  2. Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, University of the Highlands and Islands
  3. Centre for Research on Families and Relationships (CRFR) at the University of Edinburgh
  4. Centre for Remote and Rural Studies, Inverness College – University of the Highlands and Islands


Contact Tracey Hughes, Researcher, for further information: