Building expectations: Imagining family language policy and heteroglossic social spaces

Journal article by Judith Purkarthofer in International Journal of Bilingualism, 2017.

International Journal of Bilingualism front page


Aims and objectives/purpose/research questions:

The article examines the language expectations of three couples with different language backgrounds – each expecting their first child. The study addresses three related questions: In what ways are linguistic resources imagined by the future parents? What social spaces and relations do they envision themselves and their child moving in, and how is this relevant for their family language policy?


Situated within an ethnographic framework, speaker-centred qualitative methods (language portraits, biographic narratives) are combined with the analysis of multimodal tasks to analyse the parents’ construction of spaces of interaction, drawing on Lefebvre’s triadic concept of the production of space.

Data and analysis:

Co-constructed narratives of the three couples were elicited; starting with individual language biographies, the couples then constructed their family’s future in the form of visual representations of the spaces that they are about to inhabit. Recordings and pictures of the constructions were analysed jointly to understand how parents assign relevancy to their language resources, social spaces and family language policies.


The analysis shows how the parents construct the child as a multilingual self in her/his own right, subject to a biography that will develop, and who is influenced but not controlled by the parents. The multimodal data provide a window into the negotiation of language policy between the future parents.


The innovative character of this paper comes from its combination of speaker-centred biographical methods with the interactive construction of three-dimensional future family spaces. Methodologically, this contribution renders theories of the construction of social space relevant for research on family language policy and practices.


While the study deals with the very specific situation of approaching parenthood, the findings, together with its original methodology and analytical framework, shed light on the construction of family language policy as an on-going process, starting before birth.

Access the article on the homepage of International Journal of Bilingualism.

Published Aug. 4, 2017 2:14 PM - Last modified Feb. 7, 2020 9:49 AM