Family talk in transition: bilingual practices in authentic WhatsApp family chats

Thematic Section: Bilingual family communication in the digital flux

multilingualism, digitally mediated communication, family, speech communities, research protocols

Tiina Räisä, Department of Language and Communication Studies, University of Jyväskylä
Åsa Palviainen, Department of Language and Communication Studies, University of Jyväskylä
Family talk is in transition. Research within family language policy and family multilingualism has only recently begun to pay attention to the use of various digital media for maintaining relationships and for language learning and transmission (cf. Lexander and Androutsopoulos, 2019; Palviainen & Kedra, 2020). The Covid-19 crisis appears to have intensified the platformization of communication (van Dijck 2013, 2017; Couldry and Hepp, 2017); media, family and the home – and work, school and leisure time – have become integrated, and borders between the physical and virtual spaces have become blurred. These changed conditions have led to a need for more knowledge about the language practices family members adopt when digitally connected; they also require new ways of methodological thinking, for example about how to collect data without the physical presence of the ethnographic researcher.
The data in this presentation was collected during the Covid-19 lockdown in Finland in the spring of 2020 as part of the research project WhatsInApp. Five bilingual families shared twelve lengthy authentic WhatsApp family chats. The chats were multimodal (photos, clips, texts etc.) and contained interactions between parents and children, mainly in Swedish and Finnish. We will demonstrate how parents and children employed the application with a particular focus on their use of linguistic and multimodal resources to negotiate their bilingual skills and identities. Our results show that language choice patterns from oral face-to-face communication (such as, for example OPOL) to a great extent persist in the digitally mediated communication but that the emotional sides of doing family is intensified. We conclude that the Covid-19 crisis has intensified the mediatization of the family institution, and the fact that families are constantly connected transforms the conditions for and the qualities of bilingual family talk.