“No, no Maama! Say ‘Shaatir ya Ouledee Shaatir’!” Children’s agency in language use and socialisation

Said, Fatma Faisal Saad and Zhu, Hua. 2019. “No, no Maama! Say ‘Shaatir ya Ouledee Shaatir’!” Children’s agency in language use and socialisation. International Journal of Bilingualism, 23(3), pp. 771-785. ISSN 1367-0069 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Aims and objectives: This paper investigates how children in multilingual and transnational families mobilise their multiple and developing linguistic repertoires creatively to assert their agency in language use and socialisation, and why these acts of agency are conducive to successful maintenance of the so-called “home”, “community” or “minority” language.

Methodology: Close, qualitative analysis of mealtime multiparty conversations is carried out to examine children’s agency in language use and socialisation.

Data and analysis: Twelve hours of mealtime conversations within one Arabic and English speaking multilingual family in the UK were recorded over a period of eight months. The excerpts selected for analysis in this paper illustrate how agency is enacted in interaction.

Findings: The data analyses of the family’s language practices reveal both their flexible language policy and the importance the family attaches to Arabic. The children in this family are fully aware of the language preferences of their parents and are capable of manipulating that knowledge and asserting their agency through their linguistic choices to achieve their interactional goals.

Originality: This paper explores how Arabic is maintained as a minority language by second and third generations of Arabic-speaking immigrants in the UK through close analysis of conversations.

Significance: The findings contribute to the current discussions of family language policy and maintenance by demonstrating children’s agentive and creative roles in language use and socialisation. Three factors are identified as the reason for the successful language learning, use and maintenance of Arabic: firstly, a family language policy that has a positive multilingual outlook; secondly, family relationship dynamics that connect and bond family members; and thirdly, the children’s highly developed ability to understand their parents’ language preferences.

Item Type:


Identification Number (DOI):



Family language policy, agency, bilingual-Arabic speakers, multilingualism, language socialisation, transnational families

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

English and Comparative Literature


9 February 2017Published Online
1 June 2019Published

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

06 Feb 2019 16:44

Last Modified:

14 Apr 2021 11:25

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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