Linguistics and English Language

Bilingualism reading group

Speaker: Alice Fiorentino (University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne)

Title: Parental strategies and (bi)lingual development in transnational adoption

Abstract: Transnational adoptive children represent an under-explored group of bilinguals which may often be misrepresented as monolingual. Linguists have rather described adopted children instead as a particular kind of subtractive bilingual as they simultaneously display a very quick arrested language development of their first language and a much faster pattern of language learning than other sequential bilinguals. Harmonious (bi)lingual development, i.e., "the experience of well-being in a language contact situation involving young children and their families" (de Houwer, 2015), is very important in transnational adoptees just as much as in bilingual settings. However, so far not many studies have addressed the subject thoroughly, especially where school-aged adopted children are concerned, and adoptive parents often lack linguistic understanding to help their children to deal with their multiple identities.

As part of the European project MIME-Mobility and inclusion in multilingual Europe, the 4-year doctoral research project focused on the negotiation of the language context which takes place between family members immediately after the placement of the adopted child, especially the linguistic strategies employed to establish communication during the first moments of life together. Based on a collection of 13 hours of semi-structured interviews with 10 Italian adoptive families and 29 hours of direct observation of 3 Italian families, the research shows how initial family communication uses a range of multilingual modes to adapt to the child's needs. According to the results, even when they can't proficiently speak the child's language of origin, adoptive parents tend to exhibit comprehension of the language, and express themselves in their own mother-tongue with occasionally code-switching. This communicative approach results in an asymmetric dual-lingual manner of communication, referred to here as intercomprehension, relying on the mutual intelligibility between cognate languages, and which seems to emerge as a suitable strategy to manage the transition towards the mutual use of Italian as the family language.

There is little information on how transnational adoptive children experience the sudden transition to the new environment, but our data confirm that their ability to express feelings of resistance, frustration or dissociation often can orient parents' approach to language socialization. Based on evidence from our research project, this presentation proposes a discussion on the following questions:

a. Is the severe attrition of the first language in adopted children inevitable or should adoptive parents intervene to prevent it? and why?

b. Which are the potential correlations between parental strategies, children language development and well-being in transnational adoption?

c. Which possible short-term strategies are available for adoptive parents in order to soften linguistic and cultural transition of their children as well as long-term strategies to maintain heritage culture and language?


Please contact Lihua Xia or Martha Robinson to find out specific dates for this semester and/or to be added on the mailing list.

Lihua Xia

Martha Robinson


Oct 16 2018 -

Bilingualism reading group

2018-10-16: Parental strategies and (bi)lingual development in transnational adoption

Room 3.11, Dugald Stewart Building, 3 Charles Street, Edinburgh, EH8 9AD