Strategies for language maintenance in transnational adoption: which role for the parents?

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Fiorentino, Alice

This paper investigates adoptive parents’ representations of their children’s birth-language and language negotiation which takes place during early stages of transnational adoption. By drawing on the interview discourse of 20 Italian transnational adoptive parents, in the first part we will focus on the reasons that led parents to use the child’s language with him/her and with orphanage staff during the first contacts in the country of origin. In the second part, the parents reported that they relied both on productive and receptive acquired linguistic knowledge to negotiate linguistic contexts with the child. Language negotiation has been described by the parents as involving the practice of intercomprehension, a plurilingual communicative strategy, which allows participants to speak their first language, while exhibiting receptive competences in the language of the other. Eventually, in the third part, we will describe how the mothers and the fathers rationalized the children’s linguistic transition from their first language to the parents’ language and, finally, we will explore the parents’ discourse around language shift. Examining parents’ perceptions of the role that language plays in the experience of adopting contributes to understanding the negotiation which takes place over the topic of language maintenance in specific contexts where parents and children have divergent linguistic repertoires.

transnational adoption, adoptive parents, language negotiation, language maintenance, intercomprehension
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