From family language practices to
family language policies:
Children as socializing agents
Linköping Studies in Arts and Science No. 676
Department of Thematic Studies – Child Studies
Linköping University, Sweden
Linköping Studies in Arts and Science ☻No. 676
At the Faculty of Arts and Science at Linköping University, research and doctoral
studies are carried out within broad problem areas. Research is organized in inter-
disciplinary research environments and doctoral studies mainly in graduate
schools. Jointly, they publish the series Linköping Studies in Arts and Science.
This thesis comes from the Department of Thematic Studies – Child Studies.
Department of Thematic Studies – Child Studies
SE-581 83 Linköping
From family language practices to family language policies:
Children as socializing agents
© Mina Kheirkhah, 2016
Department of Thematic Studies – Child Studies
Cover page photo is taken by Ghazaleh Rajabzadeh
Printed in Sweden by LiU-Tryck, Linköping, Sweden, 2016
INTRODUCTION .................................................................................................. 5
The thesis ......................................................................................................... 7
Aims of the study ............................................................................................. 7
THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK.......................................................................... 9
Language socialization and family language policy approach ........................ 9
Research on language policy ......................................................................... 10
Practiced language policy in educational settings ......................................... 11
Studies on family bilingualism and language policy ..................................... 12
Research on language ideologies and parents’ language planning ............... 14
Affective and relational factors in family bilingualism ................................. 15
Monolingual development in bilingual families ........................................... 16
Research on language practices and parents’ strategies in bilingual
families .......................................................................................................... 18
Family activities and interactions: Mealtime as a context for the study of
family language practices and bilingualism .................................................. 20
Children’s role in shaping family language practices ................................... 20
Siblings and family language practices ......................................................... 23
METHODOLOGICAL FRAMEWORK.............................................................. 25
Data collection ............................................................................................... 25
Contact with families ............................................................................... 25
Interviews ................................................................................................ 26
Observations ............................................................................................ 27
Video recordings ..................................................................................... 27
Participants .................................................................................................... 28
Family #1 ................................................................................................. 29
Family #2 ................................................................................................. 29
Family #3 ................................................................................................. 30
Family #4 ................................................................................................. 30
Family #5 ................................................................................................. 31
Data selection and analyses ........................................................................... 32
Processing and analyzing the data .......................................................... 32
Translation .............................................................................................. 33
Transcription key ..................................................................................... 33
Methodological considerations ...................................................................... 34
The role of the researcher .............................................................................. 35
Ethical considerations .................................................................................... 37
CONCLUSIONS .................................................................................................. 38
Findings ......................................................................................................... 38
Implications for future research ..................................................................... 42
SUMMARIES OF STUDIES ............................................................................... 44
Study 1: Language maintenance in a multilingual family: Informal heritage
language lessons in parent-child interactions ................................................ 44
Study 2: Language choice negotiations in parent-child interaction: family
language policy as a collaborative achievement ........................................... 46
Study 3: Siblings as language socialization agents in bilingual families ...... 48
REFERENCES ..................................................................................................... 50
STUDY I ............................................................................................................... 59
STUDY II ............................................................................................................. 89
STUDY III ...........................................................................................................113
Four and a half years ago, I started this rewarding, productive, life-changing jour-
ney. Many things have happened; many things have changed; many people have
come and gone, all of whom have left a souvenir for me on my way. This journey
has been filled with moments when I felt lonely and powerless for moving forward.
Many people have generously helped me through those moments and shed the light
of hope to the darkness I was struggling with.
To begin with, I would like to thank Bengt Sandin, Asta Cekaite, Karin Zetterqvist
Nelson for giving me the opportunity of doing a PhD at Child Studies. Special
thanks goes to my supervisor, Asta Cekaite who continually assisted me during the
whole time. Without her guidance and persistent help, this thesis would have been
impossible. I would also like to thank Helena Bani-Shoraka, my co-supervisor for
her encouragement and comments on drafts of the thesis. In addition, a thank you
to Karin Zetterqvist Nelson, head of the department of Child Studies, who was
supportive during my more difficult time and offered her time when I needed to
I am grateful for the PhD group I ended up in, Elin Låby, Mirjam Hagström, Sofia
Littmark and Jonathan Josefsson. They were an encouragement for pushing
through the courses during the first year as well as during the whole time. All the
dinners, coffee breaks and chats gave me energy to continue.
I am wholeheartedly thankful to all the five families who participated in this thesis.
They generously opened up their homes to me and made this thesis possible. Their
trust and hospitality is really appreciated. I also thank the Iranian union SAM, who
welcomed me to their annual meeting and the dinner which provided the oppor-
tunity of gaining access to some participants of the study.
I would also like to thank Maziar Yazdan Panah who shared his Kurdish language
knowledge with me and helped through the transcription and translation of the
I warmly thank all my colleagues at Child Studies who read and commented on
my earlier drafts at different seminars. My sincere thanks goes to Nigel Musk who
previously introduced me to the field of interactional studies. His comments on my
text at my mid seminar and final seminar have been integral to my work. In addi-
tion, I appreciate the comments and discussions with Ann-Carita Evaldsson, Fran-
cis Hult and Leena Huss at my final seminar.
The cooperation with the project ‘Language Policy at Preschools and Families’
provided me with valuable insights. Here I should mention Polly Björk Wilén,
Sally Boyd, Leena Huss, Ann-Carita Evaldsson, Asta Cekaite, Cajsa Ottesjö, and
Tünde Puskas. I would also extend my thanks to all those who commented on my
material during SIS (samtals- och interaktionsseminariet) seminars. Thank you
Jakob Cromdal, Asta Cekaite, Leelo Keevallik and Matias Broth for organizing
Thank you Eva Danielsson, Camilla Junström Hammar, Carin Ennergård, Ian
Dickson and Ann-Charlotte Strand for your help in administrative and technical
Thanks to the editors of the edited volume ‘Downscaling cultures’, Jaspal Singh,
Argyro Kantara and Dorottya Cserző for the invitation to write a chapter in their
book (Study II) and commenting on the study. Special thanks are addressed to Jas-
pal for inviting me to the conference in Cardiff, stimulating discussions and help-
ing me through practical issues during the last month.
Thanks to all of those whose presence has supported me in different ways. Thank
you Ali Reza Majlesi for the encouragement, Siamak Noroozy for interesting dis-
cussions and helping with getting in contact with some of the families, Mehek
Muftee, Shayan and all other friends for your support whether it being casual and
scientific chats, dinners, coffee breaks, laughs, or technical help. Your support
gave me happiness and made the stressful periods bearable. Finally, I extend my
love and thanks to my parents for believing in me and with their patience and tol-
erating the separation made this journey possible.
I dedicate this thesis to all multilingual children and families. I hope this would
contribute positively to their everyday lives and language development opportuni-
Stockholm, March 2016
As a result of globalization, for many, intercultural communication, is the norm
(Canagarajah, 2013) and multilingual encounters start already in the family (Wei,
2012: 1). However, despite the increased interest in raising children bi/multilin-
gually in immigration contexts (Gafaranga, 2010), even when parents require the
child to speak in a specific way/language, children usually become passive bilin-
guals or dominant in the societal language (Gafaranga, 2010; Luykx, 2005; Tuom-
inen, 1999). Therefore, raising children bi/multilingually and maintaining familial
language(s) are parallel concerns of increasing numbers of families. Because ac-
cess to the heritage language in immigration contexts is usually limited to the im-
mediate family members, family interactions as the child’s first and main site for
encounters with the heritage language, provide a rich context for the study of lan-
guage maintenance and shift. Observations of family language practices employ-
ing a micro perspective provide a particular analytical focus on the study of family
language use and the practices through which/ in which language maintenance and
shift are being shaped.
One might consider Sweden to be a monolingual country, however, in practice
it is a multilingual country (Boyd, 1985, p. 3; Hult, 2004). The main language is
Swedish and there are five official minority languages: Finnish, Yiddish, Meänki-
eli, Romani and Sami. There are 150 different languages taught in the Swedish
schools during ‘home language’ classes1 (Skolverket2, academic year 2014/15).
Bi/multilingualism is thus a significant characteristic of Swedish society. More
than 23% (225,497 people) of school-age children in Sweden have a mother tongue
other than Swedish, and many of them start learning Swedish at pre-school
(Skolverket, academic year 2014/15).
More than 28% of the current population in Sweden has a foreign background3
or has one foreign-born parent; this amounts to 2,802,519 people (SCB4, 2014).
1 Home language (hemspråk) classes are offered by school to students who have at least one parent who
has a native language other than Swedish. Attending these classes is voluntarily.
2 The Swedish National Agency for Education
3 People with a foreign background are defined as those who are foreign-born or who were born in Swe-
den but have two foreign-born parents
4 Statistiska centralbyrån (Statistics Sweden)
There are a considerable number of people with an Iranian background in Swe-
den5: 101194 (SCB, 2014). Persian, the official language of Iran, constitutes the
fourth largest minority language taught at ‘home language’ classes in Swedish
schools (SCB, 2014). The number of students who have Persian as their heritage
language and therefore qualify to attend these classes is 10,849 (SCB, 2014). Stud-
ying the language practices of families with Persian as their home language in
Sweden can elucidate the processes through which family members practice, main-
tain, or shift a rather widespread ‘minority’ language.
Iranians are a heterogeneous group with regard to class, ethnicity, and lan-
guage (Moinian, 2007, p. 120). Different languages are spoken in Iran, including
Persian, Gilaki, Azerbaijani, Kurdish, and Balochi. Two political events at the end
of the 1970s and beginning of the 1980s forced many Iranians to immigrate to
Western countries (Namei, 2012, p. 107): the revolution in 1979 and the Iran-Iraq
war from 1980 to 1988. After the revolution in 1979, about 2 million Iranians im-
migrated to other countries (Moianian, 2007, p. 120) including Sweden. The num-
ber of Iranians in Sweden increased constantly throughout the 1980s. The largest
wave of immigration of Iranians to Sweden was between 1986 and 1990 (Wik-
ström, 2007, p. 80).
During recent years, fewer Iranians have immigrated to Sweden, and the num-
ber of Iranian immigrants coming to Sweden annually has decreased to 1,500 in-
dividuals (SCB 2010b). Nonetheless, due to the number of children born in Iranian
families, the total number of people with an Iranian background has increased
(Namei, 2012, p. 109). However, the increased number of people with an Iranian
background does not seem to have helped in promoting heritage language mainte-
nance in this group (Namei, 2012, p. 120).
In Sweden, most children attend early educational institutions, and children
with parents born outside Sweden come in contact with the societal language at an
early age, as they start attending pre-school when they are 2-3 years old. The her-
itage language(s) is thus primarily used in family interactions, and for the second
generation in family contexts – the children – developing bilingualism and main-
taining the heritage language is more demanding. However, family interactions,
which are the children’s first and main contact with the heritage language(s), have
been given little attention in the research.
The present thesis combines the insights gained from family language policy stud-
ies (Fogle, 2013; King et al., 2008; Spolsky, 2004; 2012) and language socializa-
tion studies (Goodwin, 1996; Ochs, 1996) within the larger field of interactional
sociolinguistics. Using detailed analyses of families’ spontaneous everyday inter-
actions, it aims to shed light on the role of family language practices in the pro-
cesses of developing children’s bilingualism and heritage language maintenance
The thesis explores family interactions in Iranian immigrant families in Swe-
den. The families have Persian, and in one case Kurdish, as their heritage lan-
guages. Each of the families has two pre/school-age children who were born in
Sweden. In such families, parents have no knowledge of Swedish language upon
their arrival to Sweden and they begin learning by attending SFI (Swedish for im-
migrants) classes afterwards. Children start attending Swedish educational settings
from approximately the age of two. The present thesis investigates the language
socialization processes and language policies in these families.
Thus far, studies of family language policy, language maintenance and shift
have largely focused on societal factors, the school’s influence, the language poli-
cies of states, parental views and attitudes toward bi/multilingualism and parental
strategies for children’s language use. Children’s language practices and their role
as socializing agents in familial interactions and family language policy shaping
have received less attention (but see Luykx, 2005; and Paugh, 2005). The present
thesis aims to contribute to a deeper understanding of family bilingualism by in-
vestigating family language practices, language policies and socialization with a
particular focus on children’s participation and language choices in family inter-
actions. By analyzing data collected through interviews, observations, and video-
recordings of everyday family interactions, the study examines family language
practices and policies as they are constituted, negotiated and established in parent-
child, and sibling encounters in Iranian families in Sweden.
Aims of the study
The thesis combines insights gained from family language policy studies (Fogle,
2013; King et al, 2008; Spolsky, 2004; 2012) and language socialization studies
(Ochs, 1996) within the larger field of interactional sociolinguistics. It aims to shed
light on the intergenerational context of family bi/multilingualism within the
broader processes of heritage language maintenance and shift. Moreover, the thesis
furthers the study of families’ language practices and children’s role in the shaping
of family language policy by using detailed analyses of families’ recurrent inter-
Insofar as language use in situ provides an interactional site for language (in-
cluding heritage language) learning and the development of bilingualism – a de-
tailed analysis of recurrent language practices between family members, including
parent-child multiparty and sibling interactions, i.e., everyday language interac-
tions of family members – would seem to be useful in deepening our understanding
of the processual aspects of language maintenance or loss. Relatively little work
on family bi-/multilingualism and family language policies, however, has exam-
ined in detail the interactional practices through which parents’ and children’s
goals and expectations regarding bi-/multilingualism are instantiated as concrete
efforts to shape language use and learning outcomes.
Combining approaches to family language policy (King et al, 2008; Spolsky,
2004) with a language socialization approach (Goodwin, 1996; Ochs, 1996), the
thesis examines family interactions in five bi/multilingual Iranian families in Swe-
den. By analyzing families’ spontaneous everyday language use, the thesis aims to
explore family – parents’ and children’s – language practices and the ways they
contribute to the construction, negotiation and instantiation of family language pol-
icies. The role of children’s affective stances and that of family members’ social
relations are taken into account.
The foci of the thesis emerge from viewing and analyzing video-recordings of
families’ everyday interactions, interviews and observations gathered during two
phases of fieldwork (encompassing approximately a one-year period). Considering
children’s active role in family interactions, the three empirical studies aim to ex-
plore parents’ heritage language maintenance practices and children’s responses to
these practices. In addition, the studies aim to examine siblings’ contribution to
familial language practices. The studies direct attention to the way family language
policies are negotiated and shaped among family members in everyday interac-
tions. More specifically, the three empirical studies in the thesis explore the fol-
• How are parental language policies focused on heritage language mainte-
nance negotiated and instantiated in parent-child interactions?
• How does the child’s resistant agency contribute to parental language prac-
tices and the development of family language policies over time?
• How do siblings’ language practices and language choices, in the process of
language socialization, contribute to shaping the family language ecology
This chapter offers a theoretical background to the field of family language policy.
By reviewing the previous research and examining related concepts, the chapter
situates the study within the field of family language policy and language sociali-
Language socialization and family language
The thesis combines a language socialization approach (Ochs, 1996) with a theo-
retical framework that views family language policies as socially constructed, and
as including overt and implicit beliefs and norms that are manifested in and that
influence mundane language practices (Shohamy, 2006) on the level of family in-
teraction. According to the language socialization paradigm (Duranti, Ochs &
Schieffelin, 2012), children, through participation in a broad range of language
practices, are socialized into and acquire the social values and expectations asso-
ciated with different linguistic codes. However, socialization is not a static top-
down process of intergenerational transmission of knowledge: rather, as recently
emphasized by this research paradigm, it is dynamic and dialectic (Cekaite, 2012;
Duranti et al., 2012; Goodwin, 2006). Children themselves are active agents in
forming and negotiating the language policy around them, and their willing partic-
ipation in adult-initiated practices cannot be assumed (Luykx, 2005). Members of
the community – multilingual/monolingual speakers and as family members: par-
ents, children, siblings – use shared, linguistic and embodied, resources to index
and negotiate dynamic, heterogeneous, linguistic and social identities, as well as
social relations (Cekaite, 2012; De Fina, 2012; Ochs, 1996). Language acquisition
and social and cultural socialization are interrelated and they begin the moment
someone enters a social community (Ochs, 1996, p. 407). This socialization pro-
cess, together with language acquisition, constitutes language socialization (Ochs,
1996, p. 407). In other words, language socialization is the process through which
children and novices are socialized through language to use language appropriately
and meaningfully (Schieffelin & Ochs, 1986).
Therefore, language socialization as an approach (under the inclusive um-
brella of interactional sociolinguistics; see e.g., Bucholtz & Hall, 2008; Lanza,
1997/2004) can provide a fruitful perspective from which to explore how children
are immersed and participate in the language ecology of bilingual families in im-
migration contexts. Using the principle of indexicality, the language socialization
approach embraces macro factors (societal structures, ideologies) as well as the
micro level of everyday practices and provides a methodological approach – inter-
action analysis – to analyzing language practices (Ochs, 1996).
Language socialization, or intergenerational language transmission in family
settings, is a complex, multi-directional, and nuanced process (Fishman, 1991). In
immigration contexts, language maintenance or loss can start in the context of fam-
ily interactions (Fishman, 1970; Lanza, 1997/2004; Li Wei, 2012, p. 1). With mi-
gration to a new country, family members from different generations tend to adopt
different attitudes toward languages. Members of immigrant minority families usu-
ally have access to different language environments and they have different lan-
guage experiences from these contexts. For instance, parents usually come to the
new country and are exposed to the societal language in their adult years, whereas
children have access to the societal language by attending educational settings as
early as age of two. Immigrant family members have various experiences of mul-
tiple languages, discourses, social domains, and geographical spaces, and bring
those together into the everyday life of the family (see Canagarajah, 2008; Pie-
tikainen, 2010, p. 82). The first generation of immigrants tends to maintain their
heritage language, while the second generation moves toward a language shift to
the language of the society (De Fina, 2012; Fishman, 1970; Straszer, 2011). Fam-
ilies thereby provide a unique intergenerational context for the study of heritage
language maintenance or shift (De Fina, 2012; Li Wei, 1994; 2012, p. 1).
In that the field of minority language maintenance and loss regards the family
as the driving force in “children’s language socialization within the context of both
minority and majority languages” (Schwartz, 2010, p. 173), examination of how
families deal with minority-majority languages in their daily life requires paying
attention to their everyday language practices. Investigation of family interactions,
language choice, language maintenance or shift, which also reflect the impact of
social environment in an immigration setting, can provide insights into the lan-
guage-related aims and goals and the language practices of immigrant families
(Spolsky, 2012, p. 6). The present interest in intergenerational communication, and
language decisions, behavior and maintenance in immigrant families falls within
the scope of research on family language policy (FLP) (Tannenbaum, 2012). In-
spired by the general field of language policy research and a range of earlier ap-
proaches to children’s bilingualism, the present study identifies and examines mul-
tiple factors – language management, ideologies, and practices – that affect fami-
lies’ development of bi/multilingualism or language shift.
Research on language policy
According to the most recent conceptualization, language policy involves the in-
tersection of multiple layers, such as language ideologies, management and prac-
tices (Shohamy, 2006). The use of a certain language (or forms or varieties of lan-
guages) in a certain context can be regimented and controlled by language policies.
On a macro level, language policy involves “a political decision and a deliberate
attempt to change/influence/affect the various aspects of language practices and
the status of one or more languages in a given society” (Curdt-Christiansen, 2009,
p. 352) and it can be articulated, for instance, in official state documents, that es-
tablish a country’s official language (Spolsky, 2004, p. 11). Language ideologies
are conceptualized as “the values and statuses” assigned to particular languages or
language varieties; for instance, a high value may be assigned to the national, re-
gional, or heritage language (Spolsky, 2008, p. 4). Language ideologies are usually
considered to be the underlying forces in language management and practices
(King, 2000, p. 169; King et al., 2008). There is usually more than one ideology in
a community (Spolsky, 2004), and the conflicts between ideologies are therefore
the focus of language policy studies (King et al., 2008, p. 911). Various ideologies,
such as linguistic purity or foreignness, can be exploited and invoked in overt and
covert ways in an effort to influence language management and practices. Lan-
guage management is viewed as the explicit effort to modify and manipulate oth-
ers’ language practices and beliefs (Curdt-Christiansen, 2009; Spolsky, 2008, p.
4). In a state context, language management involves the act of assigning a national
language or a language of education (Spolsky, 2004, p. 8). The ‘top-down’, overt
formulations and implementation of macro-level (state or educational) language
policies have been in focus in much of the language policy research and studies of
the language policies of state or institutional – educational and workplace – set-
tings (King et al., 2008; Spolsky, 2012).
Language practices, i.e., observable language behaviors and language choices
occurring in, for instance, social interaction, provide a context for language use
and language learning (Spolsky, 2008) and are influenced by a group’s or an indi-
vidual’s (language) ideologies (Shohamy, 2006, p. xv). They can be managed and
controlled implicitly and explicitly through a range of actions. In that, language
management efforts (at least to some extent) are articulated and instantiated
through language practices, and provide certain language input or strategies (Ren
& Hu, 2013), language practices can be viewed as partially overlapping with lan-
guage management efforts (e.g., language choice, corrections) (King et al., 2008,
p. 911). Spolsky (2007, p. 4) suggests that speakers infer implicit rules regarding
the appropriate language use in a certain context, and it is in this way particular
language practices can influence speakers’ further language use. A better under-
standing of how language policy works can therefore be achieved by investigating
what varieties and patterns of language use are established in the context of partic-
ular language ideologies and management efforts (Bonacina, 2010; 2012; Sho-
hamy, 2006, p. xv;). In order to understand the interaction between micro and
macro social domains and the way they influence each other, ‘bottom-up’ forces
need to be studied to the same extent as ‘top-down’ forces (Spolsky, 2012, p. 3).
Practiced language policy in educational set-
In recent years, language policy researchers have directed their attention to the
‘bottom-up’ forces (e.g., Bonacina, 2010; Papageorgiou, 2009), arguing and
demonstrating that language policies are practiced and negotiated in interactions
in all social domains, even when there is no explicit law requiring such policies
(Curdt-Christiansen, 2009; King et al., 2008; Shohamy, 2006; Spolsky, 2012).
Bonacina (2012, p. 216) foregrounds a “practiced language policy” approach that
emphasizes actual language practices. She defines practiced language policy as
“implicit and deducible rules of language choice from which speakers draw upon
in an interaction” (Bonacina, 2012, p. 218), suggesting that “language policy can
be interactionally constructed in practice” (Bonacina, 2012, p. 217). In order to
investigate the implicit rules manifested in language use, detailed and systematic
analysis of social interaction (e.g., the Conversation Analytical approach) can be
Such an interactional approach is adopted in Bonacina’s (2010; 2012) studies
of language introduction classrooms for newly-arrived immigrant children in
France. She shows that, rather than complying with the explicit (what Bonacina
calls, ‘declared’) French monolingual language policy, the students also used other
(their heritage) languages, thus creating and orienting to a different practiced lan-
guage policy in their language use in the classroom (Bonacina, 2012, p. 221). Sim-
ilarly, Amir and Musk (2013; 2014) have examined micro-level language policy-
in-process or language policing, that is, “the normative, situated enforcement of a
target-language-only policy” in an English as a foreign language classroom in
Sweden (Amir & Musk, 2013, p. 1). Their research shows that language policing
involved an explicit enactment of English as the only appropriate language for
classroom use. When Swedish was used, some students or the teacher switched to
English, thus (re)establishing the normatively prescribed language policy. Lan-
guage policing in interaction included reminders, warnings, and sanctions. Stu-
dents initiated language policing when other students or the teacher were not fol-
lowing the English-only rule of the classroom. The students initiated corrective
acts (e.g., requesting that they ‘speak English’ or explicitly commented ‘you said
a Swedish word’).
Studies on family bilingualism and language
As an emerging research field, studies on family language policy (FLP) are inter-
disciplinary and firmly grounded in prior research on family bilingualism. They
combine insights from research using sociolinguistic, anthropological, and lan-
guage socialization approaches, which study child language acquisition, early sec-
ond language learning and socialization, as well as children’s bilingualism (Boyd,
1985; Caldas, 2006; Curdt-Christiansen, 2009; De Houwer, 2009; Döpke, 1992;
Gafaranga, 2010; Huss, 1991; King & Fogle, 2006; 2013; Lanza, 1997/2004;
Straszer, 2011). Research on family bilingualism has largely focused on the roles
of parental discourse strategies, input and linguistic environment in developing
balanced bilingualism in Western middle-class families. Current approaches to
FLP are interested in understanding how and why families maintain and develop
various languages, primarily paying attention to heritage and generally, minority,
language maintenance (Curdt-Christiansen, 2013). They have broadened the per-
spective by including various types of families from a variety of socioeconomic
backgrounds, e.g., non-middle class (Hill & Hill, 1986), binational families (Ogier-
man, 2013), families with adopted children (Fogle, 2012), and families with an
endangered language background (Patrick et al., 2013).
In general, FLP research seeks to understand why some children grow up to
be bilinguals and some monolinguals, and how this is related to the ways in which
parents promote or discourage children’s use of a particular (usually heritage) lan-
guage (Curdt-Christiansen, 2013). Thereby, FLP research focuses on parents’ ef-
forts to “preserve heritage language by modifying their children’s language devel-
opment” (Spolsky, 2012, p. 7). Similar to the general field of language policy re-
search, the FLP approach embraces multiple factors – language management, ide-
ologies and practices – and conceptualizes family as a micro social institution that
is in interaction with the macro society and other societal institutions (Canagarajah,
2008, p. 170; Curdt-Christiansen, 2013). The sociolinguistic ecology within and
outside the family as well as parents’ beliefs regarding language strategies influ-
ence language management efforts and the home language choice (Spolsky, 2009,
A significant focus of the FLP studies is family language ideologies, i.e. be-
liefs about language and language use. Language ideologies can foreground the
importance of maintaining the heritage language(s), and emphasize the need to
control and even forbid the use of the societal language at home or, on the contrary,
allow bilingual practices (e.g., the use of societal and heritage languages). Lan-
guage ideologies are conceptualized as the driving force in family language man-
agement (practical efforts to modify language use) (Curdt-Christiansen, 2009;
2013; King et al., 2008). Language management is defined as parental/caregivers’
attempts to provide children with linguistic resources in order to enhance their lan-
guage learning. Such attempts may involve travels to the country of origin, enrol-
ling children in home language classes, visiting heritage language speakers (e.g.,
relatives) and, importantly, using the target language in interactions with children
(Spolsky, 2004, p. 8).
Spolsky (2009, p. 24) suggests that controlling the home language environ-
ment, selecting children’s peers, allowing or forbidding TV and computers are ex-
amples of explicit language management strategies. Such decisive control of the
language environment is argued to be effective in children’s language socialization
in that it aims to determine the language(s) the child should use in the family (Spol-
sky, 2009, p. 17). In situations where a family member dislikes the language use
of another member, s/he might initiate organized language management by, for
instance, consciously discouraging specific language use patterns or by giving ex-
plicit instructions (Spolsky, 2009, p. 16). Such conceptualizations of language
management strongly foreground parents’ authority and control by planning and
actively shaping children’s activities and language use, and are less focused on
children’s own perspectives and actions.
Language practice in families involves the varieties and patterns of language
use that are established in the context of particular language ideologies. A more
detailed description of language practices is presented in the section ‘Research on
language practices and parents’ language strategies in bilingual families’.
Research on language ideologies and parents’
A significant part of the research on family language policies has argued for and
highlighted the importance of language ideologies and their impact on parental
language planning/language management efforts. Parental consistency in follow-
ing through with language policy, it is argued, builds the ground for promoting
children’s bilingual development and lack of attention to language planning can
lead to language shift (Spolsky, 2009). This motivates researchers in the FLP field
to focus on families’, and primarily parents’, language ideologies and to study the
relationship between ideologies and family language policies, including the ways
in which language ideologies affect families’ language management. Interviews or
questionnaires are usually used to gain insights into parental perspectives.
Parents’ experiences of migration and language learning, societal and educa-
tional ideologies have been shown to have a significant impact on their decisions
and the shaping of their attempts to promote children’s bilingualism (Caldas, 2012;
Curdt-Christiansen, 2013; King & Fogle, 2006; Piller, 2001). The effect of public
discourses about the benefits and drawbacks of bilingualism on parents’ decisions
and language planning has, for instance, been examined in a study of English-
speaking mothers living in Germany (Piller, 2001). The mothers’ self-reports and
interviews showed that parents who planned to raise their children bilingually (pre-
serving the heritage language) were familiar with the popularized research on bi-
lingualism. They were also informed by media depictions of the positive and ‘nor-
mal’ aspects of being bilingual (in contrast to the previously negative view of bi-
Parents’ own – multilingual – language experiences have been shown to have
an impact on families’ language approach and management. As demonstrated by
Kirsch (2012) in an interview-based study of Luxembourgish mothers in the US
(examining parents’ language beliefs, expectations regarding children’s language
skills, personal experiences of language use, and transmission strategies), mothers
had positive attitudes toward bilingualism because of their own multilingual expe-
riences and competencies, formed by the language environment of Luxembourg.
They wished for their children to acquire similar multilingual skills (Kirsch, 2012,
p. 108). Their planning of language management involved strategies for using Lux-
embourgish and dealing with children’s language mixing (use of two languages in
the same interactional context).
Parental language ideologies are also influenced by professional advice (sug-
gesting, e.g., the use of target language books and training) and advice from family
members (King et. al., 2008, p. 913). Parents’ beliefs and decisions are also af-
fected by public discourses that stretch beyond language ideologies and deal with
the positive or negative effects of bi-/multilingualism. For instance, King and
Fogle (2006), in their study of family bilingualism, show that cultural notions con-
cerning what is regarded as a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ parent affected parents’ views and
plans for children’s (linguistic) upbringing. Some communities may consider rais-
ing children bilingually to be bad parenting and others may consider it good par-
enting (King & Fogle, 2006, p. 697). Parents in the study considered bilingualism
as an advantage and also a benefit for maintaining the cultural background and
promoting economic opportunities (King & Fogle, 2006, p. 700). They viewed
themselves as good parents who offered their children the ‘gift’ of bilingual op-
Language management in families is also motivated by parents’ expectations
about their children’s language and literacy development (Curdt-Christiansen,
2013). As a language management resource, parents can enroll children in educa-
tional institutions that promote certain languages, provided such institutions are
available where they live. Such decisions can be made on the basis of the parents’
assessments of their children’s language development (directing their choices of
monolingual vs. bilingual preschool education) and their notions of what consti-
tutes good conditions for children’s language acquisition (e.g., learning the societal
language in immigration contexts, Schwartz & Moin, 2012).
Thus, as the FLP approach argues, language ideologies play a significant role
in language policy and language acquisition. However, heritage language devel-
opment is not an easy process, although minority-language parents may be willing
to maintain their heritage language in the family (King & Fogle, 2006, p. 696).
Thus, as demonstrated by several studies, it is highly probable that children will
become dominant in the societal language (King & Fogle, 2006; Tuominen, 1999),
and even in OPOL (one-parent, one-language) families where each parent uses his
or her language with the child (Döpke, 1992), children most often become passive
bilinguals (Döpke, 1992; Yamamoto, 2001). Parental language decisions alone are
not sufficient to achieve the development of children’s bilingualism (Kirsch,
2012). Other significant factors involve parental consistency in implementing par-
ticular policies, children’s age, and support from the societal and educational con-
text (Döpke, 1998; Lanza, 1997/2004). For instance, as demonstrated by Piller
(2006) in her study of bilingual English-German couples, interviews with mothers
and data from discussions of online forums regarding bilingual upbringing of their
children, all parents planned to raise their children bilingually. However, these
goals were not achieved in each case and some children became dominant in the
societal language despite parents’ explicit planning. Therefore, how various com-
ponents – ideologies, management and practices – interact with each other (King
et al., 2008; Schwartz, 2010, p. 186) and how the interactional locus of language
learning – language practices – is shaped and organized require more empirical
attention (King et al., 2008, p. 917; Ren & Hu, 2013).
Affective and relational factors in family bilin-
Whereas a considerable number of studies have been devoted to and have outlined
and foregrounded language ideologies as important factors affecting parents’ de-
cisions, few studies thus far have considered the emotional and relational factors
informing FLP decisions (but see Pavlenko, 2004; Smolicz, 1992; Tannenbaum,
2012). These studies have directed attention to the sociocultural and emotional
perspectives informing and articulated in parental views about bilingualism and
the values parents ascribe to different languages (Curdt-Christiansen, 2009; 2013;
King et al., 2008). Tannenbaum (2012) reviews studies on FLP and argues that the
findings indicate that choices about family languages may be emotionally moti-
vated. Parents may choose to maintain heritage language and aim to achieve chil-
dren’s bilingualism in order to create strong family ties and contribute to the emo-
tionally positive social relations between different generations of family members.
Such a view aligns with Pavlenko’s (2004) conceptualization that heritage lan-
guage/first language has particularly important emotional values for its speakers
and that it serves as an appropriate medium for conveying intimate emotions and
rich affective repertoires. Heritage language maintenance is therefore suggested to
be significant for promoting family ties and close parent-child relations (Tannen-
baum, 2012). Familial language tends to be viewed as a close medium for repre-
senting one’s cultural identity: it is associated with positive emotions, stories,
laughter and intimacy in social life (Guardado, 2008).
The importance of positive emotions in families can influence family practices
and language choices in various ways. In order to show their positive affective
alignment with parents, children may adapt to parents’ language requirements.
They may also move toward the societal language. Especially older children, who
experience peer influence in, for instance, majority language educational settings,
may be motivated to use and feel more closely related to the societal language
(Caldas, 2006). Moreover, parental ideologies to raise their children bilingually,
while at the same time bonding with them emotionally and accommodating their
language choice, may cause tensions in families (Fogle, 2012). If children show
resistance to the heritage language, the adults may accommodate to these choices
by using the societal language or parallel discourse (i.e., when children use the
societal language and parents use their heritage language, Gafaranga, 2010). As
demonstrated by Fogle (2012), in an interview study with English-speaking par-
ents, adults accommodated to adoptive Russian-speaking children’s choices, re-
fraining from attempts to enforce children’s use of the parental language and, by
doing this, they acted against their own language ideologies (Fogle, 2012, p. 169).
Language maintenance in immigrant/bi-/multilingual families is thus a complex
and emotionally charged matter.
Monolingual development in bilingual families
Maintaining heritage language(s) may be one of the multiple language issues fam-
ilies deal with. The language ideologies in play may involve the dominant mono-
lingual organization of society that requires, which family members (children)
learn and use the official language in, for instance, educational institutions. Fami-
lies need to interact with the society in the societal language for career and school
opportunities (Tuominen, 1999, p. 60). Factors that contribute to children’s mon-
olingual development, have been shown to be dependent on the dominant status of
societal languages in various societal arenas. The use of an official language is
usually privileged by the national constitution and national policies are rarely
(fully) supportive of minority languages (Spolsky, 2004, p. 12). As a result of the
socioeconomic factors (such as career and educational aspirations) and the mono-
lingual norm dominating many societies, immigrant/minority families may aim to
promote the development and use of the societal language and provide children
with access to the majority language social media and peers, as well as allow use
of the societal language in sibling and/or parent-child interactions.
As demonstrated in a sociolinguistic interview study of language maintenance
and shift in Iranian families (first and second generation immigrants, 88 Iranian
adults and 100 children) in Sweden (Namei, 2012), children were being socialized
to use Swedish in the society (at school and with peers) and even at home, mostly
via the media and also through interactions with their mothers, who used more
Swedish with their children than the fathers did. Namei suggests that sociopsycho-
logical reasons, i.e. individual motivations for specific language behavior (e.g. be-
ing more involved in children’s schooling), were more influential than psycholog-
ical reasons (e.g., positive feelings about the home country and heritage language)
in the process of language shift in families (Namei, 2012, p. 213) and that they
contributed to children’s use and preference for Swedish.
Moreover, the shape of language management efforts is multifaceted and mul-
tidirectional, rather than a straightforward intergenerational transmission of
knowledge. As demonstrated by Tuominen (1999) in an interview study with 25
multilingual parents in the US, parents’ positive attitudes toward their children’s
multilingualism did not always lead to successful language transmission: most par-
ents reported that they used the majority language, English, or a mix of their home
language and English in interactions with their children. Children challenged par-
ents’ rule to use the heritage language by using English in the home, and by pro-
testing enrollment in home-language schools. “Children usually decided the home
language in the families” although parents had indicated language rules according
to which the children were to use the heritage language (Tuominen, 1999, p. 68).
However, in a few families where the language rules were quite strict, the children
did develop bilingual skills.
Children’s and young people’s transition to the societal language (language of
the educational settings and the peer group) is also demonstrated in Boyd’s (1985)
large-scale sociolinguistic study on the language use patterns of young people (14
to 16 year-olds) in immigrant families from different backgrounds in Sweden.
Swedish was children’s dominant language, used in interaction with peers and sib-
lings, whereas the minority language was used with parents and adults. The study
has also identified different levels of children’s bilingual skills, documenting that
children with parents from the same minority language background, who usually
lived in areas with many minority language speakers and/or planned to return to
their country of origin, were more active bilinguals (Boyd, 1985: 150).
Yet another aspect of the multifaceted features of language management is
highlighted by Kopeliovich (2010) in a study of a Russian family with 8 children
(1.5 - 21 years) in Israel. The study shows that whereas the parents’ language man-
agement was oriented toward the maintenance of Russian in family interactions,
the parents’ (mothers’) explicit and straightforward language maintenance efforts
were resisted and ignored by children and that language maintenance efforts were
entangled in open negotiations in interaction with children. The contrast between
the parents’ language ideologies and the actual language practices is highlighted,
suggesting that language practice is not a direct result of language management
and that language maintenance is not the product of language ideologies, but rather
that it is a process that is realized on the level of practice.
Research on language practices and parents’
strategies in bilingual families
Thus far, few empirical studies taking an FLP approach have investigated family
language practices in detail (Ren & Hu, 2013). Attention to interactions at the lan-
guage practice level characterizes studies informed by a language socialization ap-
proach (e.g., Fogle, 2012; Luykx, 2005). Ethnographic observations of family in-
teractions may, it is argued, illuminate both explicit and implicit language policies
and practices (Schwartz, 2010, p. 187) and may, together with interview data and
the analysis of wider societal ideologies and structures, provide opportunities to
investigate the interaction between the multiple layers affecting family bilingual-
ism. While family language policy may initially be explicit and have a particular
shape and goals, it is also subject to negotiations and change (Fogle & King, 2013;
Practice-level studies (from early on) have been interested in exploring how
children develop bilingual skills by participating in parent-child interactions (Dö-
pke, 1992; Huss, 1991; Lanza, 1997/2004) and what interactional strategies par-
ents use with young children to enhance bilingual development. For instance, Dö-
pke’s (1992) interactional study of language the use of OPOL English-German
families in Australia investigated the features that were different in the interac-
tional environment of the children who gained an active command of German and
those who only passively understood it. Factors that contributed to the develop-
ment of bilingualism included the character of parental language input, parents’
consistency and insistence on children’s use of the appropriate language and the
teaching of formal aspects of the languages. Overall, the study shows that English,
the societal language, was the dominant language for all children. Children’s use
of English in interactions with their German-speaking parent was not strictly crit-
icized and children’s degree of bilingualism and parental child centeredness (when
parents focused on meaning making with the child rather than on controlling the
child’s language choice) were related (Döpke, 1992, p. 177). It has been shown
that children who were met with strategies of insistence, such as requests for trans-
lation, acquired active command of the minority language, in this case German
(Döpke, 1992, p. 191).
Similarly, Lanza (1997/2004) examined English-Norwegian families’ lan-
guage practices and young (2-year-old) children’s development of bilingualism by
analyzing parents’ language strategies regarding children’s language mixing. The
analysis of mother-child interactions describes various types of interactional strat-
egies and their impact on children’s language choice: for instance, mothers tried to
construct an ‘English-only’ mode of interaction and establish a monolingual lan-
guage context by replying to children’s Norwegian utterances in English. They
also used explicit practices to correct the child’s language choice. It is through such
explicit practices that they succeeded in enforcing the child’s responses in English:
The more the minority parent proposes a monolingual context, the more likely it
is that the language will be maintained.
In a recent study of how parents’ language strategies impact on (2- to 3- year-
old) children’s bilingualism, Mishina-Mori (2011) examined the impact of paren-
tal language input on children’s language choice and parental discourse strategies
for children’s language mixing. The study shows that parental language choice
patterns alone did not result into the child’s use of the parental language. Parents’
language use together with discourse strategies for children’s mixing affected chil-
dren’s language choices (Mishina-Mori, 2011, p. 3131). A longitudinal analysis of
parent-child language negotiation strategies showed that children were socialized
using different interaction patterns and that children whose inappropriate language
choice was explicitly corrected tended to use the minority language more actively.
Studies of the OPOL language strategies in Swedish-Finish families with
young children in Sweden (Huss, 1991) and in Finland (Palviainen & Boyd, 2013)
have pointed out various aspects of how these strategies are implemented in dif-
ferent participant constellations and contexts. Huss (1991) studied the develop-
ment of children’s bilingualism in Swedish-Finnish families in Sweden. The study
explored young (2- to 4-year-old) children’s language choice in interaction with
each parent, and examined the relation between children’s home language envi-
ronment (Swedish or Finish) and their language choice and language mixing. The
study shows that parents’ strategies involved: pretending non-understanding
and/or asking for translation, parental translation, and no reaction or code-switch-
ing to child’s language choice (Huss, 1991, pp. 120-122, see Döpke, 1988 and
Lanza, 1997/ 2004). Children were engaged in more language mixing in interac-
tions with their Finnish parent, and Finnish parents showed more permissive reac-
tions to language mixing than Swedish parents did. Parents’ permissive responses
motivated the child to participate in the interaction and did not generate negative
feelings toward the minority language, which was usually the child’s weaker lan-
In a study of multilingual (Finish-Swedish) families in Finland, Palviainen and
Boyd (2013) examined the OPOL language policy, demonstrating that it was an
outcome of explicit and overt language planning as well as less overt decisions and
unplanned practices. Whereas parents reported that they had explicitly decided on
a Swedish daycare for children, the adoption of OPOL had occurred and developed
naturally and unconsciously. The flexibility of family language policies is also in-
dicated by parental reports indicating that their language use and strategies had
changed over time depending on where they lived, the language proficiency of
family members and the language environment at work.
In all, studies focusing on how bi-/multilingual families’ language strategies
shape young (approximately 1- to 4-year-old) children’s bilingual development
have shown that the quantity and quality of exposure to the heritage language, i.e,
the character of social interactional practices in adult-child interactions, is crucial
for children’s language development. Simultaneously, they point to some interac-
tionally emerging dilemmas that are related to parental aims to promote children’s
bilingualism (e.g., Döpke, 1992; Lanza, 1997/2004; Venables et al., 2014). Par-
ents’ attempts to promote their language in everyday family interactions by using
lexical modeling, requests for translation (Döpke, 1992), or in other ways directing
and constraining children’s language choice may hinder the conversational flow
and interrupt the interaction, thereby affecting the social ambience of the family
Family activities and interactions: Mealtime as a
context for the study of family language prac-
tices and bilingualism
As demonstrated above, recurrent interactional practices are a crucial locus for
shaping family bilingualism. One of the intergenerational and multiparty spaces
for families’ use of, for instance, heritage language is joint mealtimes and dinner
talk. For most middle-class families, gathering around the dinner table is a daily
routine and a moment when all members of the family sit together and share their
experiences of the day, emotions, family norms and values. Hence, family
mealtimes are multiparty intergenerational interactional sites that play an im-
portant role in language socialization (Blum-Kulka, 2002, p. 85; see also Fasulo,
Liberati, & Pontecorvo, 2002) and language maintenance (Blum-Kulka, 1997, Pit-
ton, 2013, p. 510). Parents socialize children into social and “local cultural prac-
tices regulating conversation, such as the choice of topics, rules of turn taking,
modes of storytelling, rules of politeness, and choice of language” (Blum-Kulka,
2002, p. 86). Dinner conversations are therefore rich contexts for the study of bi-
lingual interaction, and in these conversations, children listen to and interact with
their parents and sibling(s) who, in bilingual families, may have different language
use patterns and make different language choices (Fogle, 2012).
In addition to family dinner talk, children’s interactions with siblings and
peers (e.g., play, home-work and others) constitute recurrent and extensive com-
municative sites where family language practices and language policy and goals
are implemented and negotiated and, at times, resisted.
Children’s role in shaping family language prac-
In the current social and anthropological perspectives, children are viewed as ac-
tive members of communities (Corsaro, 2005; Goodwin, 1990). Whereas children
have been considered the objects of socialization into the languages and cultures
of older members of the community (Luykx, 2005, p. 1407), language socialization
studies consider children to be agents who act in the processes of their own social-
ization and who themselves socialize parents and other members into particular
language practices (Duranti, Ochs & Schieffelin, 2012; Fogle & King, 2013; Gafa-
ranga, 2010; Kyratzis, 2004; Luykx, 2005). The language socialization perspective
that focuses on peer interaction argues that children, in their peer cultures, create
and recreate their own “socially organized world of meaning” (Goodwin, 1990, p.
13). However, in much of the research on FLP and family bi-/multilingualism, “the
incorporation of the children’s perspectives in the parental data” (Schwartz; 2010,
p. 186) is rather scarce and until now relatively few studies have collected data
from both parents and children.
Children’s peer groups, especially in educational settings, provide a site for
negotiations and exploitations of multiple languages, and children in peer groups
articulate various orientations toward different language varieties, (societal) mon-
olingualism, and the bilingualism of families (Blum-Kulka & Snow, 2004; Kyrat-
zis, 2004). Children, as demonstrated by Kyratzis (2010), can use bilingual prac-
tices (e.g. code-switching between the heritage language, Spanish, and English,
the language of school) in organizing their local peer group’s social order and chal-
lenge the hierarchical positioning of Spanish and English. In bilingual Swedish-
English children’s play, multiple languages can be used to negotiate access to play
activities (Cromdal, 2001; 2004). Evaldsson and Cekaite (2010) examined peer
interactions in monolingual Swedish educational settings and showed how minor-
ity language children engaged in corrective practices that targeted others’ faulty
Swedish, thereby co-constructing the prevalent societal monolingual ideology (see
also Cekaite & Björk-Willén, 2013). Moreover, Evaldsson (2005) shows that chil-
dren oriented to the hierarchical value of majority language by resisting others’
criticism of their Swedish language skills and the categorization as not fully com-
petent in Swedish.
According to a dynamic view on children’s agency, there is no given causal
relation between parental language ideologies and planning and actual language
practices. Although parents may encourage and demand the use of a certain lan-
guage(s), families’ language use patterns may not be what parents’ explicit policies
aim for. Children can reject parents’ efforts and the family can become a site for
conflictual understandings of what constitutes family members’ appropriate lan-
guage choices (Spolsky, 2008, p. 18). As demonstrated by several ethnographic
language socialization studies, children’s peer talk and peer culture can constitute
a major factor in family language maintenance or shift (Gafaranga, 2010; Kulick,
1997). In a study of children’s language practices in Dominica, Paugh (2005)
shows that, despite parents’ demands that children use English (the language of
school), the increased time for out-of school peer play created possibilities for chil-
dren to use Patwa (heritage language) for entertaining play purposes. The study
suggests that children’s peer play can contribute to at least partial maintenance of
Yet another factor that concerns children’s role in the shaping of family lan-
guage practices and family language socialization is the way the official language
of the school gains importance in children’s interactions (e.g., Canagarajah, 2008;
Fogle & King, 2013; Luykx, 2003). In immigration contexts, children usually have
extensive access to the societal language by spending a great deal of time in edu-
cational institutions and with their peers, and in this way they can inadvertently
pressure parents to learn and use the majority language as well (Luykx, 2005).
Children can redefine the usual age-based parent-child asymmetrical positions of
power and status that characterize traditional language socialization processes and
the socialization of younger, usually less experienced and skilled members into the
cultures and languages of the older ones (Luykx, 2005, p. 1408). As demonstrated
in a study on language socialization among family members in a bilingual (Ay-
mara-Spanish) town in Bolivia (Luykx, 2003), the official language of the school,
Spanish, also had an impact on children’s language choice, and although adults
were bilinguals of Spanish and Aymara, the children were adopting Spanish mon-
olingualism. Children’s language socialization was thus not a one-way process.
Rather, children were as much agents as they were objects of socialization pro-
cesses: parents used Aymara with elements from Spanish and, in their play, chil-
dren, by imitating adult roles and adult speech style, i.e., mixing and switching,
also appropriated the communicative mode of language mixing and switching.
Children’s peer group influences are also demonstrated in Yamamoto’s (2001)
study of English-Japanese families living in Japan. Children were influenced by
the language of the society and moved toward “passive bilingualism if not total
monolingualism” (Yamamoto, 2001, p. 127). Although they knew and used both
Japanese and English, they showed negative reactions when parents spoke to them
in English in the presence of their Japanese friends although they used large num-
ber of mixed utterances (Yamamoto, 2001, p. 74).
Fogle (2012) broadened the perspective of the study of family bilingualism by
directing attention to transnational adoptive families (US American parents with
children from Russia), parental language planning and practices emerging in mul-
tiparty family interactions. Children influenced family language practices by initi-
ating metalinguistic questions about the target language, negotiating and resisting
language choice by, for instance, showing reluctance to use English in multiparty
parent-child conversations, thereby achieving parents’ accommodation to these
strategies. As argued by Fogle, such acts were multilayered: they constituted part
of children’s construction of language identities as well as their social identities as
members of transnational families.
By resisting the use of parents’ languages, (e.g., by using the majority lan-
guage and/or refusing and criticizing heritage/minority (or parental) language use),
children can implicitly or explicitly negotiate and reshape family members’ lan-
guage choices (Fogle & King, 2013, p. 2). Child-initiated interactional practices
that demonstrate their lack of competence in the heritage language (e.g., ‘medium
requests’) can influence language choices in families’ everyday interactions (Gafa-
ranga, 2010). Gafaranga (2010), in his study of Rwandan (Kinyarwanda-speaking)
community in Belgium, shows that children used “medium requests”, in their pre-
ferred language (French) asking for translations of Kinyarwanda-speaking adults’
talk. Adults not only translated particular items to French, but also shifted to
French as the medium for the rest of the interaction (Gafaranga, 2010, p. 264).
Gafaranga highlights the importance of children’s agency, arguing that through
such interactional practices, family members “talked language shift into being”
(Gafaranga, 2010, p. 266) in that families adopted French as the main medium of
Thus, as demonstrated by studies that attend to the practice level, there may
be a considerable “gap between the parents’ role as language teachers who are
expected to insist on minority language use … and the reality within authentic
families” (Schwartz, 2010, p. 185). Children’s language practices therefore consti-
tute a crucial area for examining how parental language polices are implemented
or transformed in social interaction (Fogle & King, 2013, p. 2).
Siblings and family language practices
Family language socialization processes involve more than parents: siblings and
extended family members (grandparents) participate in various kinds of social in-
teractions. However, what characterizes sibling talk, how family language policies
are implemented in sibling interaction, and subsequently how sibling talk influ-
ences family language practices are questions that have been rather under-re-
searched (Baker, 1995, p. 63). Thus far, detailed studies investigating the actual
language use between siblings at home are limited in number, and there are few
“clear indications regarding actual language interactions between siblings at
home” (Schwartz, 2010, p. 174).
The importance of sibling interactions has been revealed by a growing, but
still small, number of studies representing various approaches. For instance, sib-
lings can have constraining effects on minority language learning and as a result
contribute to language shift. Rindstedt and Aronsson’s (2002) language socializa-
tion study of intergenerational language practices in a Quichua-Spanish commu-
nity showed that sibling play is a significant site for home language transmission.
Siblings’ language choices during caretaking and play, and in adult-child interac-
tions (children’s interactions with grandparents and parents) revealed the process
of language shift underway. Because the older siblings spoke predominantly Span-
ish to the younger ones (with some Quichua insertions), the considerable amount
of time siblings spent together contributed to the shift of their language from the
minority language to Spanish. This development contradicted parents’ goals and
expectations concerning their children’s bilingualism.
Siblings can also facilitate each other’s minority and societal language learn-
ing and thereby influence families’ language environment. Barron-Hauwaert
(2011) reports her findings from an online survey about siblings’ influence on fam-
ily language policies and practices. The responses of parents from 105 families
with two or more children showed that parental language strategies were flexible
in that parents modified their strategies according to children’s preferences. Over
time, they adapted to children’s language choice by stopping or starting to use
specific languages, or mixing various languages. Moreover, sibling interactions
were beneficial for minority and societal language learning: older siblings who had
a broader vocabulary in both languages could teach and act as language models for
younger siblings. Parents also reported that older siblings, who used the minority
language, shared various interests with younger siblings and spent time together,
contributed to the maintenance of the minority language.
Yet another area where siblings can benefit from each other’s language skills
is that of majority and minority language literacy. As demonstrated in Obied’s
(2009) study of Portuguese-English siblings in Portugal, siblings influenced the
family language environment especially when they reached adolescence and pa-
rental influence decreased. Siblings played a positive role in the development of
bilingualism: the older sibling could act as a mediator of English and Portuguese
and support the younger sibling’s biliteracy by helping with reading and writing in
both languages. On the whole, siblings’ language preferences influenced the fam-
ily language balance and siblings’ bilingualism. Age was also a significant factor
in that language shift to the majority language could occur as children grew older.
Several studies have similarly pointed out the importance of children’s age
and that siblings exert a crucial influence on each other’s language use and on
family language practices, particularly when they reach adolescence. Some studies
have indicated that not only the age, but also the number of siblings may affect
family language policies and practices. Whereas parents may have control over the
language use of a first-born child, family language dynamics can change with the
arrival of a sibling. For instance, Caldas (2006) documented his three children’s
bilingual and biliterate upbringing in English-speaking Louisiana and French-
speaking Québec. The parents changed their OPOL policy (initially used with the
first-born child) and used only French because of the increasing majority language
(English) impact on the child. They also strengthened the enforcement of this strat-
egy upon the arrival of younger siblings (who all adopted the majority language in
their interactions) by, among other means, not allowing the children to watch Eng-
lish language TV at home. In all, the study highlights the influence of society,
peers, and siblings, and shows that the parents lost their power to control their
children’s language use when the children had more contact with the societal lan-
guage and when they reached adolescence.
Although several studies have pointed to the importance of children’s age for
their language use, there has been little discussion of how children’s age figures in
as a feature that can impact on children’s and families’ language practices. Owning
to their participation in various social and linguistic domains, children’s age, re-
lated social and language experiences, social relations, identity work and changing
aspirations over time (from early childhood to adolescents) constitute some of the
factors affecting the social worlds and linguistic ecologies of bi-/multilingual fam-
ilies. Whereas younger children can more easily adhere to and comply with par-
ents’ requests to use a particular language, older children may exhibit more pow-
erful resistance. Parental strategies and ideologies as well as children’s language
practices and preferences may change over time (Barron-Hauwaert, 2011; see also
Huss, 1991). Thus, how family language policies, management and practices are
dealt with when children resist and refuse parental goals constitutes a relevant issue
for further exploration.
This study draws on video recordings of everyday family interactions, ethno-
graphic observations, and semi-structured interviews in five families with an Ira-
nian background in Sweden. In this chapter, I present the data collection proce-
dures, participants and methods of analysis.
The data for this study consist of video recordings of everyday family interactions
(family mealtimes and sibling talk), observations, and interviews with the parents
and the children. Five bi/multilingual Iranian families, each of which had two
school-age children who were born in Sweden, participated in the study. The study
adopted a longitudinal perspective. The data for each family were collected during
two data collection phases separated by approximately a one-year interval. On av-
erage, two hours of video-recordings were made at the home of each family during
each phase (except for one family that withdrew their participation after the first
phase). In total, 20 hours of video recordings (family mealtimes and siblings’ ac-
tivities) were made for all families.
Contact with families
The study design was planned to include five Iranian families living in Sweden. In
order to gain access to families who met the criteria of the research project, I tested
many approaches. I contacted several teachers of Persian language at ‘home lan-
guage classes’ and asked them if they had students with siblings who were in the
age range of relevance for the study. Some parents informed the teacher about their
willingness to participate in the study if the data collection was conducted at
school. I also informed my acquaintances about the project and asked them to in-
troduce me to families who met the criteria for the study. Additionally, I posted an
announcement on a Facebook page for Iranians living in Sweden. There, I ex-
plained the purpose of the project. The announcement resulted in a discussion,
comments and messages among users of the page. Many of the comments were
not related to the project and I decided to remove the announcement. I also con-
tacted an association for Iranians living in Sweden and presented the project at one
of their annual meetings. The director of a Persian radio channel broadcasted in
Sweden, who was present at the meeting, suggested that I broadcast an interview
and introduce the project on this radio channel. I also provided my contact infor-
mation for potential participants among the audience.
In total, approximately 20 families, residing in different cities in Sweden, ex-
pressed their willingness to participate and I contacted them via email or telephone.
I introduced the research project, explained the ethical considerations and an-
swered their questions about the study and about me as the researcher. Gaining
access to people’s private lives was extremely demanding and took about one year.
I introduced myself and assured them that I would treat their personal information
and video-recordings in accordance with the relevant ethical guidelines (see Ham-
mersley & Atkinson, 2007, p. 65). I experienced that my gender was significant in
gaining access to the families, because mothers were mainly responsible for deci-
sion-making in the households. Often families refrained from participating when
they found out that the study included video recordings. They said, for instance,
that for political reasons they did not want to be filmed, or the family did not eat
dinner together, or they were very busy, or simply they did not like video record-
ing, or that they would call me back later (though they did not contact me again).
Approximately 10 families, however, agreed to participate and accepted the
video recordings. We arranged a time when I would visit them at their homes.
Some of the visits, however, were cancelled at the last minute for unexpected rea-
sons, such as children being sick, travelling, and disagreement among family mem-
bers regarding their participation. In the end, five families agreed to take part in
As mentioned above, the study adopted a longitudinal perspective. The data for
each family were collected during two data collection phases separated by approx-
imately a one-year interval. During the first visit with each family at each data
collection period, I conducted a semi-structured interview with the parents and
with older children. The interviews generated insights into matters concerning the
family’s ethnic background, family members’ ages, jobs, leisure activities, chil-
dren’s schooling, language attitudes, family language policies, children’s level of
proficiency in different languages, and family’s contact with relatives and Swedish
I conducted the interviews in Persian, as it was the language shared by the
families and me. Some children, however, occasionally replied in Swedish. The
welcoming attitude of the families contributed to the informal atmosphere of the
interviews. The questions posed were open-ended and the participants explained
and shared their experiences regarding a certain matter to the degree they wished
to do. The parents were eager to tell me their stories and at times asked for confir-
mation or suggestions regarding language policies.
Depending on the situation, I took notes on a laptop computer, notepad, or
mobile phone. I experienced that using smaller objects such as a notepad or a mo-
bile phone for note taking helped to preserve the informal atmosphere of the family
much better than a computer did. The computer created a barrier between the par-
ticipants and me, as it decreased eye contact and created an official setting. There-
fore, during most of the interviews, I used a notepad and a note-taking application
on my mobile phone.
In the process of analyzing the interview data as well as video-recordings,
when I needed more elaboration, I contacted the families on the phone. I combined
the purpose of calling with an occasional greeting and/or special occasions such as
birthdays, New Year, Easter and similar occasions.
Observations were carried out mainly during two visits to the families during each
data collection phase. The first visit took place when I conducted a semi-structured
interview and left the camera with the families. The second visit was when the
families had completed the video recording and I picked up the camera.
Usually the first visit with each family took about 2-3 hours. After I conducted
the interview and video recorded the family dinner (in most families), a friendly
chat continued over a cup of tea. By that time, the families were more acquainted
with me and engaged in their routine activities ranging from watching TV, helping
children with their homework, playing games, to brushing teeth and preparing chil-
dren for bed. Meanwhile, I observed and at times took notes about their activities
and their language choice along with any interesting language-related phenomena.
The second observation took place when I visited the families to collect the
camera. This was from one week to several months after the first visit. The families
welcomed me into their homes and offered dinner or tea depending on the time of
the day. I spent several hours with them and they talked about their experiences of
video recording, the children’s cooperation, while observing the family routines
and the children’s interactions. The same procedures were followed during the sec-
ond phase of data collection.
After I became acquainted with the families during the first visit, a friendly
relationship was built, especially with Family 1 and 2. I was invited to several of
their family events such as birthday parties, dinners, and a New Year’s celebration.
They provided additional occasions for observations of the families’ everyday in-
The choice of documenting and analyzing family mealtimes as the main familial
activity in focus draws on the understanding of family dinners as a multiparty in-
teractional context that provides an opportunity for parents and children to come
together and engage in joint activity during a temporal, spatial and social moment
(Ochs et al., 1989, p. 238). In the present thesis, family mealtimes are considered
to be shared speech events and pragmatic contexts for children’s socialization and
social relations (Blum-Kulka, 1997, p. 12; Quay, 2008, pp. 8-9).
The study also considers sibling talk to be a language socialization site in mul-
tilingual families. Siblings change the dynamics of the family language (Baker,
1995; Caldas, 2012) in multiple ways: they promote exposure to different lan-
guages, and their language may be different from the language used in parent-child
interactions (Barron-Hauwaert, 2011; Yamamoto, 2001). The recordings for the
thesis include siblings’ activities, such as when they are engaged in play situations,
cleaning their rooms, painting, baking, eating, studying, planning holidays, and
The recordings were made with one digital camera that captured high quality
images (with a wide angel) and sound. During the first visit with each family, I
instructed the parents and in some cases children about how to use the camera.
After my presentation of my research project and the particular focus of interest
(that included documentation of mealtime activities), most of the families invited
me to join their dinner and were willing to start the first mealtime video recording
right away. Therefore, the first video recording at four families was made when I
Afterwards, I installed the camera on a tripod facing the dinner table and left
it there to be controlled by the parents. This gave the parents a certain degree of
autonomy as to which mealtimes they wanted to record and when to start and stop
the recording (see Fasulo, Liberati, & Pontecorvo, 2002, p. 210; Heath, Hindmarsh
& Luff, 2010, p. 44). The families had as much time as they needed to record
approximately 5 mealtimes and 2 sibling play activities. In order to record sibling
play, the camera was set up on a tripod facing the children by either the parents or
in some cases by the children (on one occasion by me). The siblings were engaged
in uninstructed play and other activities ranging from painting, doing puzzles, bak-
ing, cleaning their rooms, etc.
As mentioned above, five families consisting of Iranian parents and two Sweden-
born children participated in the project. The parents in these families had moved
to Sweden as adults and had lived in Sweden for 10-20 years. After their arrival to
Sweden, they attended SFI (Swedish for immigrants) classes and learned to read
and write in Swedish. They have studied at university or taken part in courses and
educational programs preparing them for various occupations suitable for the Swe-
dish labor market. In their daily work, they used Swedish as a medium of interac-
tion. All children were enrolled in Swedish educational settings (pre-school and
school). Most of them started Swedish preschool at around two years of age. Ac-
cording to the parents, preschool was the first time the children spent considerable
time in a Swedish language context.
In families with younger children (Family 1 & 5), in stressful situations, the
parents usually switched from Persian, their main language of interaction with their
children, to Swedish. Parents reported that because the children were in more in-
tensive contact with Swedish because they attended regular Swedish preschools on
daily basis, they had better command of the majority language and more quickly
understood the parent’s directives in Swedish.
In the following, I will shortly describe the families. The information about
each family is compiled by using interview material, observations and video-re-
cordings. All names of participants in the study are pseudonyms.
First family consisted of a mother in her late 30-ies6, a father in his late 30-ies, a
6-year-old son Pouyan and a 3-year-old daughter Kiana. The parents were recently
divorced and the children were mostly staying with their mother. The data collec-
tion was conducted when the children were staying with their mother. The son has
been taking part in ‘home language’7 classes since he was three years old and the
daughter has attended the classes since she was four.
According to the mothers’ accounts in interactions with children, she spoke
Persian at home and Swedish outside the family, i.e., at preschool, the playground,
supermarket, etc. In stressful situations and when stricter disciplining was needed,
such as when the family was getting ready for preschool in the morning, brushing
teeth and getting ready for bed, she switched to Swedish. The mother explained
that in situations when quick directives and explanations were needed, using Swe-
dish was easier. She thought that Swedish was the children’s first language and the
children used and heard it during a larger part of the day at preschool, and with
their friends who came over to their home. Regardless of the context, at home or
in the community, the children used Swedish with the mother and with each other.
The mother did not use strict strategies to make the children speak Persian.
The father’s sister and some Persian-speaking friends lived close to the family.
The children spoke Swedish with them. The family traveled to Iran regularly. Ac-
cording to the mother, the children spoke Swedish during the first few days but
after a while they used Persian while in Iran. Even after coming back to Sweden,
they spoke Persian at home, preschool and school for a few days until they shifted
back to their usual language pattern of using Swedish most of the time.
This family consisted of a mother, father, two daughters, and a dog. The mother
was in her early 40-ies and a native Persian speaker from Iran with (passive) com-
prehension skill of Kurdish. Father was in his early 50-ies and bilingual in Kurdish
and Persian. He was from the bilingual Persian-/Kurdish-speaking part of Iran,
where the language of school is Persian and families speak Kurdish at home. The
older daughter, Sara, was 12 years old and the younger daughter, Mona, was 7
years old. The children never attended the ‘home language’ classes offered by the
school. They decided not to attend these classes and the parents did not resist. The
6 The ages at the time when the data collection began.
7 hemspråk: language classes offered by the school for students who have a language other than Swedish
children thought that they already knew Persian and Kurdish and they did not need
to attend language classes.
The parents spoke Persian with each other and they adopted the OPOL policy:
the father spoke Kurdish to the children and the mother Persian. During the first
data collection period, the children replied and addressed each parent in their re-
spective language. During the second data collection, this pattern changed and
Mona used mostly Swedish at home. The sibling language was Swedish. The par-
ents said that Swedish was the children’s language and they built a closer relation
to each other in Swedish. According to the mother, the parents used some language
strategies to resist children’s use of Swedish in parent-child conversations. How-
ever, they sometimes gave the children opportunities to speak in the way they
wanted, and during the second data collection period, the parents allowed Mona’s
use of Swedish.
The family was in contact with a large community of Kurdish speakers. In
addition, the father’s brother and sister lived in Sweden and they got together reg-
ularly. Sara and Mona spoke Swedish to the children and Kurdish to the adults.
For political reasons, the children had never traveled to Iran.
This family included a father in his late 40-ies and a mother in her late 30-ies who
had Persian as their main language. They had two daughters, Elena 12 and Meneli
8. The children have been attending ‘home language’ classes since first grade at
primary school. The parents used both Persian and Swedish in their daily commu-
nication with children. The children used Swedish with each other and with their
parents. According to the interviews, the parents thought that their children heard
and used Swedish most of the day and that they were more comfortable using Swe-
dish, therefore, they did not coerce the children into speaking Persian. According
to the interviews and observations, the children considered Persian to be the lan-
guage of adults and laughed when they were asked to speak Persian. However, the
children did speak Persian to those who did not speak/understand Swedish.
The family had Persian-speaking relatives and friends living in Sweden, some
in the same city. The children spoke Swedish to adults and children in these other
families. The family traveled to Iran almost every other year and stayed for several
weeks. During their stay, the children used Persian with their relatives and occa-
sionally used Swedish with the parents and in sibling interactions.
The father in this family was in his late 40-ies and the mother was in her early 40-
ies. They had a 17-year-old son Maz, and an 8-year-old daughter Pegah. The chil-
dren have attended ‘home language’ classes once a week since they were in the
first grade of primary school but they both thought that the lessons were boring,
difficult and unnecessary. The parents spoke Persian to each other and to the chil-
dren, but they sometimes also used Swedish words in their talk. The sibling lan-
guage was Swedish, though in multiparty family interactions, the children used
both Swedish and Persian. The mother thought that the children used Swedish most
of the day at school, and they therefore were more comfortable using Swedish. For
this reason, she did not force them to speak Persian. As the children said in the
interviews, they considered Persian to be the language of adults and thought that
using Persian in conversations with adults was a way to be respectful to them.
The family had relatives in other cities in Sweden and Persian-speaking
friends and neighbors with whom the family had close relationship. The children
used Persian with adults in those families and Swedish with their children. The
family traveled to Iran every couple of years. During these visits, the children
spoke Persian to everybody. The mother thought that traveling to Iran gave the
children good opportunities to practice Persian.
The father in this family was in his 40-ies and mother was in her 30-ies. They had
a 4-year-old daughter Katrin and a 3-year-old son David. The children attended
the same Swedish daycare. They had not started attending ‘home language’ classes
yet, but the parents provided them with Persian books and cartoons.
The parents spoke Persian among themselves and used both Persian and Swe-
dish with the children. However, according to the mother and examples from
video-recordings, in serious and stressful situations where the children were in-
volved, such as rushing to the car to go to pre-school, or reminding the children
that they had to hurry up, they switched to Swedish. Children mostly used Swedish
in interaction with their parents and in sibling talk, though they occasionally used
Some of the family’s relatives had moved to Sweden at the time of the second
data collection period. According to the interviews, after some weeks, the children
started using Persian with them and sometimes used Persian in conversations with
their parents and in sibling talk. The family traveled to Iran almost once a year.
The parents reported that, during the first days of their stay in Iran with their rela-
tives, the children spoke Swedish but after some days they used Persian. By the
end of their visit, the children usually became more acquainted with the language
environment. Even after returning to Sweden, they spoke Persian with parents,
sibling and peers. After a few days, they returned to their usual language pattern
and predominantly used Swedish.
Data selection and analyses
Processing and analyzing the data
I transferred my interview and observation notes to my computer where I sorted
data from each family into a separate file. I began the description of each data set
with information regarding the setting, the participants, and the data format (e.g.,
interview or observation) (see the procedures for attribute coding, Saldaña, 2009,
p. 55). I then read the notes and highlighted the parts related to language choice,
language attitudes and language practices for future reference. The data generated
at this stage provided background information about the families. During the in-
terviews, the family members usually told about their language expectations and
preferences, as well as their language strategies. I noted these as language prefer-
ences, dislikes, language strategies and as I delved into the previous research, I
categorized them under the headings ‘language ideologies’ and ‘language manage-
ment strategies’ and used them as supporting arguments for further analyses (see
Saldaña, 2009, p. 41).
The video recording files were transformed to formats compatible with differ-
ent video player programs. Repeated viewings of video recordings allowed me to
prepare a catalog containing notes about the participants, their activities, language
choices, and other language-related phenomena (e.g., language repair and instruc-
tion). The catalog notes also included the time at which the phenomena occured
on the video recording file.
Further viewings of the logged activities and phenomena on the video record-
ing files allowed me to make more detailed notes about the ongoing interaction
(Saldaña, 2009, p. 44 cf. Walsh et al., 2007). A general language use pattern was
observed in the families: the parents used mainly the heritage languages and the
children used predominantly Swedish. I became interested in episodes where this
pattern was not followed, i.e. when the children used the heritage languages or
when the parents used Swedish. The language use pattern and the language envi-
ronment in Family #2 was different from other families in that the family was tri-
lingual and the children predominantly used the heritage languages – Persian and
Kurdish – in interactions with parents. Therefore, a considerable part of this thesis
is concentrated on studying the language practices of this family.
I transcribed the episodes where the children used Persian in interactions with
parents and their siblings, or when language choice and family language policies
were discussed among family members, including their beginning and some
minutes after, in the original language(s) (Persian, Swedish, and Kurdish). I added
more specific details (e.g. pauses, gestures, overlaps) and modified the transcripts
as my focus on the phenomena developed. Alongside this, I studied previous re-
search in the area of the categorized episodes. I noticed a gap in the previous re-
search, namely, the scarcity of studies on parent interactions with older children
with a focus on language policies and the participants’ language choice patterns.
Therefore, I transcribed in detail the episodes that included parent-child interaction
focusing in particular on the children’s language choices and parental responses,
as well as the children’s use of Persian and Kurdish.
The video-recorded data enabled multimodal analyses of the interactions, es-
pecially because I, the researcher was absent during most of the video-recording
sessions. Multimodal utterances consist of linguistic structures, talk, prosody, ges-
tures, posture and the structure of the environment (Goodwin & Goodwin, 2004,
p. 227; Goodwin, 2006). The video captured information on talk as well as the
setting of the activity, the comings and goings of the participants, their affective
stances, displayed by nonverbal components, for example, gaze, body gestures,
and posture. In the study, for instance, affective stances were displayed through
talk and body gestures. Expressing negative emotions, the child turned her back to
the parents, looked down at the table, and rolled her eyes. Without access to video-
recordings, these gestures would have been transcribed as the child’s ‘pause’.
Readings of the transcripts from the families’ interactions showed that the
children’s use of Swedish in Family #2, in contrast to interactions in other families
(Family 1, 3, 4, 5), was a matter for parental language instructions and negotia-
tions. These instructional sequences are analyzed in Study I.
Video recordings from the second phase of data collection in this family were
transcribed and compared with transcripts from the first phase of the study. The
longitudinal data collection allowed further analyses of the video recordings (made
by this family) for possible changes in language patterns and language policies.
The results of the analysis of the family members’ language negotiations are de-
scribed in Study II.
Repeated viewings of the video recordings from all of the families showed a
common language pattern in sibling talk: the sibling language was primarily in
Swedish. The episodes in which siblings were engaged in dyadic interaction were
transcribed and analyzed in Study III.
The original transcripts from Persian and Kurdish were translated to English by
the author. The translation of the Kurdish transcripts was done with the help of a
native Kurdish speaker. In order to make the data more comprehensible for non-
speakers of the above-mentioned languages, a separate line of word-by-word trans-
lation was prepared when more elaboration was needed.
(.5) pauses in tenths of a second
(.) micropause, i.e., shorter than (.2)
= latching between utterances
[ overlapping talk
- denotes cut-off
: prolonged syllable
. denotes falling terminal intonation
? denotes rising terminal intonation
, denotes continuing intonation
>what< quicker than surrounding talk
<what> slower than surrounding talk
˚what˚ quieter than surrounding talk
WHAT relatively high amplitude
what denotes emphatic stress
(( )) further comments of the transcriber
vet inte talk in Swedish
afᴂrin talk in Persian
lowbia talk in Kurdish
hi talk in English (Study III)
okay beans translation to English from Swedish, Persian or Kurdish
The present thesis combines a family language policy approach (King et al., 2008;
Spolsky, 2004) and language socialization (Goodwin, 1996; Ochs, 1996), as part
of an interactional sociolinguistics approach to human interaction and sense-mak-
ing (Schiffrin, 1994). FLP research combines the study of child language acquisi-
tion, early second language learning and bilingualism with the study of language
policy (Curdt-Christiansen, 2009; King & Fogle, 2006). Interactional sociolinguis-
tics views language and culture as mutually constitutive, i.e. language, culture and
society are in a “reflexive relationship with the self, the other, and the self-other
relationship” (Schiffrin, 1994, p. 134). Interactional sociolinguistics has its roots
in anthropology, sociology, and linguistics (Schiffrin, 1994, p. 97). In the present
thesis, it contributes analytically to the study of situated meaning. Utterances are
viewed as indexical of activities, roles and identities that are performed and nego-
tiated by the participants and “interactively and socially embedded” in the context
(Schiffrin, 1994, pp. 131-134; Ochs, 1996).
Language socialization is defined as the processes through which children and
novices become socialized through language to use language as meaningful social
actions (Ochs 1996; Schieffelin & Ochs, 1986). Study of language socialization is
the study of the relationships between language, culture and learning (Ochs &
Schieffelin, 2008; Watson-Gegeo & Bronson, 2013, p. 112). It focuses on the “so-
cially and culturally organized interactions” involving novices and more experi-
enced members of the community (Ochs, 2000, p. 230).
The present thesis combines multiple methodologies and interdisciplinary ap-
proaches to address complex research questions that would have been difficult to
study using a single approach (see Klein, 1996). In the thesis, the FLP approach
enables the study of intergenerational communication, language decisions and
maintenance in immigrant families (Tannenbaum, 2012). However, because the
focus of this approach is mainly parental language ideologies and strategies to pro-
mote children’s heritage language use (Curdt-Christiansen, 2013), it was important
to include other approaches when studying families’ language practices. There-
fore, analytical methods from interactional sociolinguistics were employed to ex-
amine family interactions on a turn-by-turn basis (including verbal and nonverbal
actions). The procedure used to capture the interactional data was video recordings
of spontaneous family interactions.
The present study is informed by the ways in which the language socialization
approach focuses on an activity-based locus of socialization, i.e. on recurrent ac-
tivities such as storytelling, eating, playing, routinely undertaken in, e.g., families
and other social institutions (Ochs, 1988, p. 226; Ochs, 2000, p. 230). Drawing
from this understanding, the present thesis examines family mealtimes because
they are such routinized activities, bounded in time and space, and repeated with
specific participants on a daily basis (Blum-Kulka, 1997, p. 8).
Transcription conventions are informed by detailed interaction analysis (con-
versation analysis), the aim being to study the details of family interactions along
with nonverbal behavior. Observations of the families and video-recordings ena-
bled insights into some of the families’ mundane interactional practices and lan-
guage use (Patton, 2002).
The role of the researcher
Studying humans and human interaction, using any social methodology (e.g. the
presence of the researcher, the researcher’s notebook, tape recorder, question-
naire), affects the situation (Duranti, 1997, p. 117). However, it is not only through
research that we affect others: being and acting as a member of a society entails
the ability to affect it. It is not possible to avoid our effect on the context we ob-
serve, however, we should be aware that there are different forms and degrees of
influence (Duranti, 1997, p. 118). One can consider how the context changes when,
for example, a camera is brought in. In the data for the present thesis, the partici-
pants were engaged in their everyday life while in the presence of the camera.
They, for instance, discussed their activities of the day, argued with each other,
and showed their emotions. The camera could have influenced the context and the
setting. For instance, the participants might have avoided saying or doing particu-
lar things in front of the camera.
During data collection, I aimed to take a more passive role (Duranti, 1997)
and tried to be less intrusive on the ongoing interaction. I explained to the families
that I was not there to evaluate their proficiency in Swedish, Persian or any other
languages. Even though I participated in some family dinners and activities at the
time of data collection, I tried to avoid making judgements or giving feedback on
family members’ language use and behavior. I followed their lead in the activities
and did not criticize or praise their level of language proficiency. However, they
might have regarded me as an expert or a critic of their actions (see Hammersley
& Atkinson, 2007, p. 64). My language background as a Persian speaker could
have influenced the language dynamics while I was present during the data collec-
tion. I used Persian with the parents and children. On some occasions, I experi-
enced that, using Swedish, I could better include the children in the conversation
during the interviews. Therefore, I used some Swedish with them. At times, I ob-
served that the parents would ask their children to speak Persian to me, although
the children mostly spoke Swedish at home. They may have thought their chil-
dren’s mastery of Persian was a significant part of their being good parents. There
are several such examples in the video-recordings as well, and I did not use those
episodes for analytical purposes. I have observed that the overall language use is
different from these few occasions. In addition, after these explicit requests, the
children usually did not immediately produce extended utterances in Persian, but
said a few words after a while, and some children ignored the request and used
Swedish. Besides, my language and cultural background knowledge helped me
through the transcription and translation processes.
The influence I may have had on the family interactions may have lessened
when I left the field and left the camera for the families to control (see Heath,
Hindmarsh & Luff, 2010, p. 44). Having installed the camera on a tripod made the
presence of the camera less visible after some days (as reported by the families).
The families kept the cameras from one week to several months. The families
themselves decided when to start a recording, how much to record and when to
stop the recording. The parents would stop the video recording when, for instance,
children started crying, a guest came over, or children were touching the camera
and would not listen to the parents’ directives to come back to the table. In a few
cases, the children were engaged in obvious camera-related behaviors (Duranti,
1997, p. 118), such as waving to the camera and looking through the lens. I expe-
rienced that when I explained to the families that they could control the video cam-
era themselves, they became more eager to participate as it gave them the auton-
omy to choose which occasions to record and they had the benefit of stopping the
recording whenever they wished to. I also explained to them that they could access
the video recording files and delete parts or the whole session, if they wanted to.
The fact that the families were in charge of making the recordings made the
data collection process longer. I gave them as much time as they needed and waited
for them to get back to me. My absence during the video recordings did not allow
me to get more information about the surroundings, the off-camera setting, and the
activities leading to the video-recorded part. However, because the main focus was
on family mealtimes and because the families usually recorded the whole mealtime
session, from setting the table to leaving the table, this might not have affected the
data negatively. The siblings’ activities, however, were recorded less carefully.
The present study follows the Swedish Research Council’s ethical guidelines for
data collection and processing (www.codex.vr.se). I contacted the parents and in-
troduced the department where the research was conducted and the research pro-
ject itself. I presented myself as a PhD student at the department of Child Studies,
Linköping University. I explained my research interest as being in the area of lan-
guage socialization in bilingual families.
The parents received consent letters in Swedish (they also received an oral
explanation in Persian) and were given time to read and discuss this information
with me. I also asked the children whether they agreed to participate in the video
recordings. The consent letter contained information concerning the study, the
family members’ participation and the purpose of data collection. The letter clari-
fied the ethical considerations, such as: the participants have the right to stop their
participation any time during the study; the participants’ identity (names and ad-
dresses) will be anonymized; the collected material (videos, pictures and info) will
be used for research purposes only and will not be made available over the Internet
and to anyone outside the research project. During the second data collection pe-
riod, I presented the same information to the parents and children and the parents
received consent letters containing same information as the letters from the first
data collection, in Swedish.
The current thesis has explored the language socialization and language practices
of bi/multilingual families in recurrent activities, i.e. family mealtimes and sibling
interactions. The study has examined family members’ contribution to the shaping
of family language practices and policies in their everyday interactions. In the fol-
lowing, the key findings and the limitations of the study as well as possible con-
siderations for future research are discussed.
The thesis was informed by family language policy and language socialization ap-
proaches, which were combined to investigate how families’ daily language prac-
tices were organized and shaped. It examined language socialization patterns in
five bi/multilingual Iranian families. The data consisted of video-recordings of
family interaction, interviews and observations. The families represented a range
of views on children’s bilingualism and maintenance of the heritage language, and
the language practices of the families demonstrated similarities and differences.
All parents actively used their heritage language(s), Persian and Kurdish in family
interactions. However, most of the parents also mixed Swedish in interactions with
children (except Family 2). The children, too, showed different language use pat-
terns in these families. Longitudinal examination of some of the data has revealed
certain differences in family language practices over time (e.g., Study II).
As demonstrated in the thesis, family language practices provided a continu-
ous locus for the enactment and negotiation of family language policies. Study I
illustrates the dynamic character of parents’ efforts to enhance heritage language
maintenance through family interactions. The OPOL strategies were used in par-
ent-child interactions. In addition, the parents, by demanding the children’s use of
the heritage languages (Persian and Kurdish) in adult-child interactions, aimed to
create a rich environment for the children’s multilingualism. A recurrent practice
dealing with the focus child’s language mixing (the use of Swedish, the societal
language in a heritage language interactional context) involved parents’ requests
for translation into the heritage language (e.g., what is x called?) and their displays
of non-understanding (I didn’t understand what you said.). Through these se-
quences, the parents constrained the focus child’s language choice, requesting her
to use the heritage language and enforced a monolingual interactional context. In
addition, parental requests for translation worked as informal language lessons,
through which the child’s gaps in lexical knowledge of the heritage language were
attended to. However, as demonstrated, such heritage language maintenance ef-
forts affected the ongoing interaction and influenced the social ambience: parents
interrupted the child’s conversational contributions and diverted the focus of inter-
action. They centered on the child’s ‘faulty’ language use and threatened the social
ambience of the interaction. The child interpreted these sequences as initiations of
language instruction and recurrently resisted and refused to participate, stating, for
instance, that she did not know the heritage language(s). She also showed negative
embodied affective stances (for instance, used angry, irritated tone or turned her
back to the parents). The child’s negative displays of affect influenced the parents’
language practices and management efforts in that the parents usually terminated
their language instructions (Study I).
As demonstrated, these parental strategies were multidirectional in terms of
how heritage language policy was instantiated and re-negotiated in parent-child
interactions. At times, parents succeeded in constraining the child’s language
choice and enforcing the ‘only heritage language’ policy. These findings corrobo-
rate the results of sociolinguistic studies that examined young children’s bilingual
development (Döpke, 1992; Lanza, 1997/2004), and that demonstrated the rele-
vance and efficiency of parents’ strategies deployed to constrain the child’s lan-
guage choice. The present study highlights the social valence of such informal her-
itage language lessons, namely the notion that these sequences were potentially
threatening to the social ambience of the family interactions. Parents positioned
themselves as experts who had the authority to examine the child’s language; sim-
ultaneously, they positioned the child as less competent in those languages.
The thesis also shows that family language practices and the ways in which
family language policy is instantiated through various language management at-
tempts are amenable to change over time. Parents may need to modify and change
their heritage language maintenance attempts owing to the child’s resistant agency
in relation to family language policy (Study II). As demonstrated in Study II (based
on data collected a year later, during the second phase of the study), the focus child
resisted the parents’ expectations that the children use the heritage languages with
them. As time went by, the child predominantly used Swedish in her interaction
with parents. This resistance contributed to modifications in other family mem-
bers’ – parents’ and the sibling’s – language practices. They explicitly requested
that the child use the heritage language(s) and reminded the child of the social
advantages of developing competences in those languages. However, such se-
quences recurrently resulted in the child’s resistance and refusals, and the parents
(like in Study I) terminated these practices. In response to the child’s refusals, the
parents redefined their language requirements and demands and prioritized the so-
cial ambience and positive parent-child relations (thus conforming to the societal
cultural child-centeredness of adult-child relations). They reconfigured the family
language practices by using a so-called parallel discourse with the child.
Parallel discourse (which characterized the other families participating in the
studies) provided the child with heritage language input, contributing to heritage
language maintenance in family interactions. The character of the child’s re-
sistance is of interest here: although she refused to adhere to parental language
choices, she did not insist on generating a monolingual Swedish interactional con-
text and participated in the interactional parallel discourse. Thus, as demonstrated
by the case study of the multilingual family and its language management and lan-
guage practices over time, parents, in response to a child’s resistant agency, may
need to tone down and modify their language practices as the child grows older.
Over time, the child’s ability to assert resistant agency may increase, and in a mu-
tual relational process, parents may ratify the child’s increasing resistance.
The thesis has also examined families that have adopted different ways of im-
plementing their aspirations to develop and achieve children’s bi-/multilingualism
(Study III, Families 1; 3-5). These families used a parallel mode of interaction,
with parents predominantly using the heritage language and the children using
Swedish. The parents did not employ constraining language strategies in order to
enforce a monolingual heritage language context with the children. As articulated
in the interviews (Study III), the parents modified their language practices and
choices in relation to the children’s language competences and preferences by
switching to Swedish in stressful situations (e.g., when getting ready for school).
They explained that using Swedish makes their conversation flow more smoothly
Yet another significant factor related to children’s agency examined in the
thesis concerns the role of siblings. Study III explored siblings’ interactions and
their contribution to shaping each other’s language practices and the families’ lan-
guage policies. Swedish was the language of all siblings in all of the families. Par-
ents’ child-orientedness was significant in taking into account and accepting the
siblings’ orientations to Swedish as their shared language (e.g., Family 2). Inter-
estingly, in family multiparty interactions with parents present (i.e., parallel mode
of interaction), siblings were engaged in some heritage language use (e.g., in cases
when a heritage language problem occurred). Older siblings in particular targeted
different aspects of the other’s language use by correcting the younger sibling’s
language use and choices, requesting and providing language instructions, and
commenting on and reminding about the family language policies. Through these
language practices, the siblings influenced each other’s language practices.
Sibling discourse and their attention to various – heritage, Swedish, and Eng-
lish – languages in the so-called language-related episodes reveal an interesting
and significant feature of the goals of immigrant family language policy, i.e., its
multiple goals, one of which is heritage language maintenance. All families
showed their orientations toward supporting the children’s development of the so-
cietal, school language. As demonstrated in siblings’ language-focused episodes,
the siblings engaged in instructional sequences, and the older siblings adopted and
were positioned in the role of language experts in different languages, the heritage
language(s), the societal language and English. For instance, the older siblings
asked younger siblings to demonstrate their knowledge in different languages and
corrected or modeled their incorrect language use (Study III).
Such instructional sequences can be seen to support the younger siblings in
developing their skills in both the societal language and the heritage languages, at
the same time providing the older siblings with opportunities to rehearse and prac-
tice their already known knowledge. Therefore, these sequences can be viewed as
‘double-opportunity spaces’ for both siblings (Blum-Kulka & Snow, 2004). As
demonstrated in Study III, siblings in immigrant families can act as language so-
cialization agents in various ways: through instructional sequences regarding the
heritage language(s), siblings can contribute to language maintenance. On the
other hand, as demonstrated in all of the families, the siblings primarily use the
societal language, Swedish, together, thereby potentially contributing to the shift
away from the family’s heritage language. In other words, in families, siblings play
a significant role in shaping the family language practices because their interac-
tions usually increase the amount of exposure to the societal language (Barron-
Hauwaert, 2011; King & Fogle, 2006; Yamamoto, 2001).
By closely examining immigrant families’ language practices, the present the-
sis has aimed to generate knowledge about the under-researched area of FLP and
heritage language maintenance. The thesis broadens the view of FLP research that
focuses on parental language ideologies as the driving force behind parental lan-
guage management and decisions regarding their own and their children’s lan-
guage practices (King & Fogle, 2006; King et al., 2008; Piller, 2001); it also con-
siders other factors involved, such as children’s and siblings’ role in shaping fam-
ily language practices. By widening the scope of investigation to include analyses
of family language practices as concrete implementations and management of
overtly articulated FLP goals, the thesis contributes to approaches to family bilin-
gualism (see Curdt-Christiansen, 2009; 2013; King et al., 2008; Spolsky, 2004).
Whereas parental perspectives are considered to be influential in shaping chil-
dren’s heritage language development, the present thesis shows some of the diffi-
culties that parents might face in the mundane situations of family life. As demon-
strated, most children predominantly used Swedish in family interactions, although
the parents used the heritage language(s) with them and also employed explicit
language management efforts (providing children with books and TV programs,
traveling to the country of origin, having relatives staying with them for an ex-
tended period of time, and having the children attend home language classes). The
children’s predominant orientation to and use of the societal language, Swedish, is
in line with research findings reporting that children often become dominant in the
societal language, despite parents’ plans to raise them bilingually (e.g., Piller,
The present thesis has documented some of the parental strategies used to im-
plement a heritage language policy by enforcing and constraining the children’s
heritage language use (Study I-II). As demonstrated, such strategies at times re-
sulted in the child’s uptake of and alignment with parental language choice and
language policy. However, they also led to explicit and implicit language negotia-
tions, and the children’s growing resistance contributed to changes in parents’ lan-
In conversations, the parents used a ‘move on’ strategy: instead of interrupting
the interaction, they opted for not criticizing the child’s language choice. These
findings are in line with results from few studies on family bilingualism (Gafa-
ranga, 2010; Kopeliovich, 2010), showing how changes in children’s language
practices contribute to parents’ modifications of their language policies (Caldas,
2006; Kopeliovich, 2010). Analysis of family language practices can thus provide
knowledge about why explicit language maintenance efforts do not necessarily re-
sult in children’s use of the heritage language.
As demonstrated, parents’ language ideologies and language strategies are
only some of the influential factors in children’s language development and shap-
ing of family language policies. The present study reveals some features charac-
terizing the processes through which children participate in shaping family lan-
guage practices, where they act not only as recipients of socialization but also as
As discussed above, FLP studies have primarily focused on the role of parental
language ideologies and policies and the factors that influence them. Such studies
have mainly considered parents’ explicit, covert, “declared language strategies”
(Bonacina, 2010, what parents said their policies were), experiences and expecta-
tions by predominantly using questionnaires and interviews with parents (e.g.,
Kirsch, 2012; Tuominen, 1999; Yamamoto, 2011). The present thesis explored not
only the parents’ language ideologies and expectations, but by examining everyday
family interactions, it has emphasized families’ and children’s language practices.
It is shown that parents were also engaged in implicit negotiations when they, for
instance, used the heritage language in response to their children’s use of the soci-
etal language. Therefore, explicit parental policies constituted only one of the fac-
tors influencing family language practices. The study suggests that a broad range
of factors and practices – including so-called explicit (overt) and implicit (covert)
methods of enhancing the children’s heritage language use – deserve analytical
Implications for future research
The studies were conducted in a particular context and the results may not be gen-
eralizable to other settings. Sweden provides children and immigrant families with
circumstances that are supportive of their multilingual development. Such circum-
stances include: the accessibility of ‘home language’ classes for children with lan-
guage backgrounds other than Swedish, children starting early childhood educa-
tion in the majority language at an early age, recurrent contact with English
through formal school education and public media, and, for adults, the opportunity
to attend Swedish language classes for immigrants (SFI). This means that immi-
grant families are in active contact with different languages soon after their arrival
to Sweden. Thus, one might not be able to generalize the results of this study to
more monolingual contexts.
One can also consider the characteristics and possible limitations of the data
collection and the study design. The limited number of families participating in the
study does not allow direct application of the results to other families from, for
instance, different socioeconomic backgrounds. The families, including both par-
ents in this study, were well-educated and had access to all of the welfare facilities,
including work-places in Swedish-speaking environments, that other middle-class
families in Sweden had. However, the limited number of families facilitated con-
ducting an extensive, in-depth analysis of their language practices. As Agar notes,
“better to understand their relationship in a few cases than to misunderstand three
of them in a population of five hundred” (Agar, 1980, p. 123).
The sensitivity of the specific group (Iranians) who had immigrated to Swe-
den, mostly for political reasons, resulted in difficulties in finding families that
were willing to participate in the study. The criteria for choosing specific families
were therefore primarily limited to the number and age of the children (families
with two school-aged children, which covers a broad age range in Sweden: 2-18
years). Other factors, including parents’ ages and education level, were not deci-
sive in the selection of families. The broad age range of the children could have
provided an opportunity for examining the ways in which children’s age might
influence family language ecology. Although the implications of children’s age
were not the main research question, the study suggests that older children are
more prone to using the majority language. This observation is in line with the
findings of previous studies showing the importance of children’s age for family
language practices, especially as the children get older (e.g., Caldas, 2006; Obied,
2009). Parents may insist that (especially young) children comply with parental
enforcement of preferred language policies (Kopeliovitch, 2010; Schwartz, 2010,
p. 183). Children may refuse to comply with or negotiate parents’ language choices
(Barron-Hauwaert, 2004; Fogle & King, 2013, p. 2; Shohamy, 2006). As discussed
earlier, due to children’s resistance, parental control actions intended to enforce
particular language choice in the home environment can be exhausting and chal-
lenge parental plans and aspirations (Study II).
The thesis used video-recordings of family interactions, and ethnographic ob-
servational data were more limited in scope. Richer ethnographic data and longer
observation periods could have provided more detailed knowledge regarding, for
instance, the external factors in family members’ preferred language(s) and their
contacts with speakers of different languages. In addition, an extended longitudinal
study could have provided knowledge about the development of family language
practices over time. Such limitations regarding the design of the study can be con-
sidered in preparing further studies of family bilingualism. In conclusion, the pre-
sent study shows the relevance of combining multiple methodological perspectives
and approaches in the study of heritage language maintenance or shift in family
Summaries of Studies
SUMMARIES OF STUDIES
Study 1: Language maintenance in a multilin-
gual family: Informal heritage language lessons
in parent-child interactions
Mina Kheirkhah & Asta Cekaite. 2015. Multilingua 34(3), 319–346
Maintenance of the heritage language is a constant concern for families raising
children bi-/multilingually in communities where their language is a minority lan-
guage. Sociolinguistic research has highlighted the strong tendencies toward lan-
guage shift in the second generation of immigrants (Li Wei 1994; Luykx 2005, p.
1408; Touminen 1999). The family, like many domains of social life, constitutes
a complex, intergenerational context for negotiating language policies and expec-
tations regarding language use (Li Wei 1994; 2012). Understanding the processes
of language maintenance/shift can be enriched by an examination of face-to-face
social life and family interactions in their own right (Fishman 1991, p. 4).
The present study combines the language socialization approach (Ochs, 1996)
with the theoretical framework that views family language policies as socially con-
structed. Here, socialization is conceptualized not as a static top-down process of
intergenerational transmission of knowledge, but rather as dynamic and dialectic
(Cekaite 2012; Duranti et al. 2012). Accordingly, children themselves contribute
to the process of forming the language policy around them, and their willing par-
ticipation in adult-initiated practices cannot be assumed (Paugh 2005; Rindstedt
and Aronsson 2002).
Study I explores the language practices of a Persian-Kurdish family in Sweden
– practices through which heritage language maintenance and a OPOL policy are
realized. Parents’ request for translation in response to the focus child’s language
mixing (primarily, use of Swedish lexical items), as well as the child’s uptake,
language choice, compliant and noncompliant responses are examined.
The parents used routinized questions (“What is x called?”) and announce-
ments that articulated their alleged incomprehension of the lexical trouble source
(“I didn’t understand what you said”). Their utterances were interpreted by the
child as requests for translation: What is x called in the language (Persian or Kurd-
ish) we’re speaking now?
The study demonstrates that through such practices, the parents invoked and
negotiated a monolingual, heritage language context (Lanza, 1997/2004) and dis-
played their identities as competent speakers of the heritage language. The child
Summaries of Studies
was simultaneously positioned as insufficiently competent in either Kurdish or
Persian. The child recurrently produced the translation; however, rather frequently,
she did not immediately engage in the requested action. The non-forthcoming re-
sponses entailed the child’s accounts that topicalized her lack of heritage language
knowledge. The child displayed negative affective stances, demonstrating her re-
sistance and unwillingness to contribute to the requests for translation.
Parental requests for translation were instrumental in their efforts to continu-
ously expand the child’s communicative repertoires in heritage languages and, in
this way, contribute to the child’s heritage language development. Simultaneously,
the analyses show that these interactional practices suspended the ongoing conver-
sational activity and shifted the focus from interactional concerns and meaning-
making to language choice and language form.
Summaries of Studies
Study 2: Language choice negotiations in par-
ent-child interaction: family language policy as a
Mina Kheirkhah (in press) In J.N. Singh, A. Kantara, & D. Cserző (Eds.),
Downscaling Culture: Revisiting Intercultural Communication. Newcastle: Cam-
Family language practices operate at a local, micro scale in interaction with socie-
tal policies at a global, macro scale. In other words, family language policies are
influenced by wider social, political, and cultural contexts (Caldas, 2012; Curdt-
Christiansen, 2013; Palviainen & Boyd, 2013). Parental language policies are not
static or unidirectional (Caldas, 2012), and they may be subject to negotiations
among family members (Barron-Hauwaert, 2004; Fogle & King, 2013; Shohamy
By adopting a dynamic perspective on family language policy and language
practices, this case study examines the development of language practices and pol-
icies in a trilingual family over the course of one year. Particular focus was put on
parental language maintenance practices that targeted the focus child’s resistance
to parental policy, according to which the children should use heritage languages
in the family on an OPOL basis. The study also explored the target child’s re-
sponses to these practices.
The study shows that the focus child, who predominantly used heritage lan-
guages with the parents a year before (during the first data collection of the present
study), resisted the use of heritage languages with the parents later on. The parents
employed implicit language negotiations such as a move-on practice (Lanza,
1997/2004), where they used their heritage languages while allowing the child to
use Swedish. The parents and the older sister also engaged in explicit language
maintenance practices in relation to the child’s resistant behavior. One of the ex-
plicit practices was the family’s metalinguistic talk regarding their language ideo-
logies. Such talk topicalized the family’s language expectations and the advantages
of trilingualism and targeted the child’s resistant behavior in relation to the family
The explicit practices focused on the language form rather than the content
matter, thus interrupting the flow of the interaction. These practices required the
child to switch to the heritage language, and highlighted the social and relational
advantages of developing competences in heritage languages, thus evoking a
higher scale of normativity. Such interactional upscaling, however, was only rarely
successful, recurrently resulting in the child’s resistance and refusals to use the
heritage languages. In response, the parents terminated the language constraining
Summaries of Studies
These parental discourse strategies can have an impact on the child’s compre-
hension of a specific language by providing more input in the heritage languages,
thus serving as a resource for language maintenance, yet they do not guarantee that
the child will use the heritage language.
In all, the study shows that children’s resistant language behavior can occasion
implicit or explicit negotiations over the language choice of the family members
(see also Fogle & King, 2013, p. 2). The study thus supports the view that family
language policy is a collaborative, ‘polycentric’ (Blommaert, 2010) achievement
made by family members.
Summaries of Studies
Study 3: Siblings as language socialization
agents in bilingual families
Mina Kheirkhah & Asta Cekaite (submitted to the International Multilingual Re-
In immigration contexts, heritage language maintenance efforts are primarily lo-
cated in, and sometimes limited to interactions between family members (Fishman,
1991, p. 4; Gafaranga, 2011). Sociolinguistic and anthropological studies show
that children’s peer groups constitute a major influence in shaping children’s lan-
guage use (Goodwin & Kyratzis, 2011; Paugh, 2005). However, relatively few
studies have considered siblings’ influence on the language practices of immigrant
families (Baker, 2007, p. 55; Barron-Hauwaert, 2011, p. 2). The few studies on
siblings in contexts of bilingualism suggest that siblings may experience different
language environments: the first-born child has more opportunity to use the herit-
age language in one-to-one interactions with parents (Barron-Hauwaert, 2011;
King & Mackay, 2007). In this sense, it is suggested by previous research that the
second child comes into a family with an established language policy, and the
child’s active role in shaping family language policies cannot be neglected.
The present study examines siblings’ contributions to the language practices
and language environment of Iranian immigrant families residing in Sweden. In
line with the families’ complex language socialization goals, comprising the chil-
dren’s development of heritage and societal languages, the study examines lan-
guage practices in which siblings participate. More specifically, the study exam-
ines children’s language use, their orientations to various language choices in fam-
ily interactions and their orientations to language knowledge.
The siblings, as demonstrated in the study, participated in a range of language-
related episodes targeting various aspects of the other sibling’s language use (her-
itage languages, societal language and English). Interactions involving siblings
were characterized by the give-and-take of everyday life, i.e., social alignments
(criticism and support), and handling knowledge asymmetries (including informal
teaching and learning).
Siblings requested each other’s help, translated or corrected each other’s lan-
guage use and choices. In many language-related situations, the older sibling took
on and was ascribed the role of the language expert in relation to a variety of lan-
guages: Swedish, Persian, and English. The older siblings questioned the younger
siblings’ knowledge, asked them to demonstrate their language skills, corrected or
modeled their incorrect language use. Siblings engaged in discussions about lan-
guage competences, ‘proper’ language knowledge and bi-/multilingualism. Inter-
actions about language-related matters provided support for the, usually younger,
siblings practicing and developing their skills/competencies (in the school/societal
language and, at times, in the heritage language). A common feature was that the
younger siblings largely accepted and acknowledged the older siblings’ language
expertise and did not question the older siblings’ self-ascribed right to evaluate
their language skills. The older siblings readily took on the role of the expert and
the more knowledgeable one.
Summaries of Studies
Siblings used Swedish with each other and even when they focused on a spe-
cific aspect of the heritage language, these sequences were embedded in and pro-
duced in Swedish. Such teaching episodes can be seen as ‘double-opportunity
spaces’ for both siblings (Blum-Kulka et al., 2004). The study shows that the sib-
lings’ language choices affected family interactions, and the siblings’ interactions
in Swedish could be seen as contributing to a generational language shift.
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