Multilingual family practices: an interactional study

Research output: Contribution in Book/Catalog/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)


Many voices in contemporary sociolinguistics profess an understanding of multilingualism as a set of (social) language practices that make up a speaker’s language repertoires, rather than as a combination of separate languages seen as bounded entities. Such an interpretation of multilingualism, however, is hard to maintain from a language policy point of view, which typically, perhaps all too easily, assumes a macro-perspective. So even if policy makers include words such as “variety” and “multilingualisation” in their discourse, in practice policies evolve around top-down categories such as Nederlandstalig (‘Dutch-speaking’) and Franstalig (‘French-speaking’), which tend to eschew (and erase) the complexity and fluidity of microlinguistic contexts. In multilingual Brussels (Belgium), for instance, these categorisations, as well as the category anderstalig (‘other-speaking’), and combinations of all three, are frequently used. In this Chapter, I will look into some of the language practices of parents from different (linguistic) backgrounds in Brussels. Spoken data were collected from two parent-pairs with children enrolled in Dutch-medium education in Brussels, specifically focusing on the interactions between two of these parents, in this case the fathers, and their respective children. The data consist of audio recordings made by these parents during some of their daily routines, e.g. taking the children to school or extracurricular activities, or picking them up. The findings illustrate how these parents deploy and activate their various linguistic resources in day-to-day interactions, pointing to a variety and complexity of multilingual practices that may be ill served by the top-down classifications of “named languages” commonly used.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationUrban multilingualism in the European Union
Subtitle of host publicationBridging the gap between language policies and language practices
EditorsGiuditta Caliendo, Rudi Janssens, Stef Slembrouck, Piet Van Avermaet
Place of PublicationBerlin, Boston
PublisherMouton de Gruyter
Number of pages24
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-5015-0320-7
ISBN (Print)978-1-5015-0320-7
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019

Publication series

NameContributions to the Sociology of Language
PublisherDe Gruyter Mouton
ISSN (Print)1861-0676

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  • Projects


    • 1 Oral presentation

    The multilingual family repertoires of transnational families: an interactional study

    Luk Van Mensel (Speaker)

    21 Mar 2017

    Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation

    Student Theses

    Language labels, language practices: a multiple case study of parents with children enrolled in Dutch-medium education in Brussels

    Author: Van Mensel, L., 24 Jan 2014

    Supervisor: Mettewie, L. (Supervisor), Leijnse, E. (President), Darquennes, J. (Jury), Helot, C. (External person) (Jury), Lamarre, P. (External person) (Jury) & Janssens, R. (External person) (Jury)

    Student thesis: Doc typesDoctor of Languages, Letters and Translation


    Cite this

    Van Mensel, L. (2019). Multilingual family practices: an interactional study. In G. Caliendo, R. Janssens, S. Slembrouck, & P. Van Avermaet (Eds.), Urban multilingualism in the European Union: Bridging the gap between language policies and language practices (pp. 141-164). (Contributions to the Sociology of Language; Vol. 110). Mouton de Gruyter.