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Keywords:

  • Language shift;
  • family;
  • Tamil;
  • Sri Lanka;
  • diaspora;
  • bilingualism

Fishman's Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale (GIDS) emphasizes the family in maintaining the heritage languages of immigrant communities. This study uses interview data from Sri Lankan Tamil communities in the U.S.A., U.K., and Canada to explain how families account for the rapid loss of Tamil in the diaspora. It shows how the positive valuation of English since British colonization, the need to make up for past deprivations because of caste, religious, and gender inequality, the pressure for migrants to join the social mainstream, and the need to resolve intergenerational tensions influence the family to forego language maintenance goals. The findings encourage us to situate the family in macro-social institutions, power, and history in order to understand the prospects for language maintenance. The article provides an inside view of the Sri Lankan Tamil migrant families to explain how they resolve the tensions of valuing cultural identity and yet disregarding heritage language proficiency.