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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton January 17, 2019

Imagination as a key factor in LMLS in transnational families

  • Li Wei EMAIL logo and Zhu Hua


This article argues that imagination plays a key role in whether and how members of transnational families individually and collectively maintain or relinquish their heritage languages and adopt other languages as part of their multilingual repertoires. Imagination is defined here as the vision of where and what one might be or become at some future point in time. We base our argument on linguistic ethnography over two decades with transnational families of Chinese ethnic origin in the UK. Families that seem to have kept their heritage languages and families that have given them up were invited to talk about where, what and how they would see themselves in ten years’ time, and a selection of them are subsequently interviewed and observed after the ten-year period. Their responses are analysed in terms of their constructed experiences, environments and visions of the future; their perceptions and imaginations of different places and cultures; key moments in re-evaluation, or re-imagining, that led to major behavioural changes; and self-evaluation of their imaginations. Particular attention is given to the dynamics of differences and tensions between the imaginations of individuals of the same families, as well as changes to the imaginations over time. Theoretical and methodological implications of studying imagination as a key factor for language maintenance and language shift, and for bilingualism research generally, are discussed.


We are extremely grateful for the series of research grants that have enabled us to continue our research over the years. They include ESRC R000 23 5869, ESRC R000 23 2956, ESRC R000 22 1074, awarded to Li Wei, and AHRC 119481 (Diaspora, migration and identity programme) awarded to Zhu Hua. We thank the very many people from the Chinese community and other sectors of society for their contributions to the projects. We also thank Jenifer Ho, Sherman Lee and Chao-jung Wu who helped with data collection and transcription. Portions of this article have been presented at various conferences and seminars including the 2015 American Association of Applied Linguistics conference in Toronto. We are especially grateful to the two anonymous reviewers and Christina Higgins who provided us with detailed, very constructive comments which helped to improve the quality of the article significantly.


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Published Online: 2019-01-17
Published in Print: 2019-01-26

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