Family Language Policies and Immigrant Language Maintenance : Lithuanian in Sweden

Abstract: This dissertation investigates family language policies of Lithuanian families in Sweden and strives to shed some light on the maintenance of Lithuanian as a heritage language. The aims of the study are to understand how Lithuanian families in Sweden construct, negotiate and implement their family language policies, and to identify challenges regarding the maintenance of Lithuanian which Lithuanian families in Sweden encounter.Applying an ethnographic sociolinguistic approach, the study analyses data that was collected over a time span of three years (2016-2019), including observations, interviews and recordings of ten participating families. Despite a supportive language policy in Sweden which encourages the use and development of heritage languages, the analysis shows that families make not solely including but also excluding experiences regarding the status of their heritage language in Sweden.Most parents are aware of their children’s limited access to Lithuanian which motivates different language management strategies: They try to establish and maintain Lithuanian language practices in their families, and they try to support their children’s Lithuanian language development, correcting their children’s Lithuanian language use. The analysis shows that explicit management of children’s language practices is more successful than implicit language management, as children often do not understand implicit language management. Furthermore, not only parents manage language practices, but children can take the role of a language manager and influence the family language policy, either in supportive or counteracting ways.Parents do also rely on additional Lithuanian language activities to support their children’s Lithuanian language development and to foster their Lithuanian language practices. Lithuanian social networks are, however, seldomly capitalised, as some children rather speak the majority language with peers, and contacts are not maintained outside of the activities. Parents reveal thus context based beliefs regarding their ability to manage their children’s language practices.Finally, the study illustrates how aspects of family language policies contribute to either harmonious or frustrative and conflictive development of the Lithuanian heritage language within the family. It exemplifies some challenges which families face and underlines the need to foster children’s identification with their heritage language, to include them in decision-making processes, and to resolve language-related problems jointly.

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