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FLP and homescapes: Employing walking tour methodology in researching children’s and parents’ perspectives


Yin Yu

Georg-August-University of Göttingen, DE
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Children’s view of family language practices and their agency therein is regarded as important in the study of family language policy (FLP). This work extends the notion of the linguistic landscape to the private family domain and uses the innovative methodological approach of “homescape walking tour” to engage young children (6 to 7-years-old) in the data generation process. During the walking tours, children in Chinese-German families guided the researcher through their homes, taking pictures of objects containing “languages” and sharing their lived experiences with these resources. In a further step, parents were invited to share their opinions about their FLP and the objects photographed by their children.

More than 120 pictures gathered from the walking tours and transcribed interviews were analyzed in order to comprehend the multimodal linguistic practices of the families and the individual experiences family members create with such practices and resources. The results show that the application of the concept of homescape with its discursive constructions from both “user” (the children) and “designer” (the parents) perspectives can powerfully open up spaces for the co-construction of the family spaces. The homescapes are represented both as opportunities for language learning and as identity presentation. While parents tend to emphasize the intention behind the design of the homescapes and their wishes for their children to learn languages, children concentrate on their way of using different linguistic resources and playful activities.

How to Cite: Yu, Y. (2022). FLP and homescapes: Employing walking tour methodology in researching children’s and parents’ perspectives. Journal of Home Language Research, 5(1), 6. DOI:
  Published on 30 Nov 2022
 Accepted on 31 Oct 2022            Submitted on 17 Jan 2022


Situated at the intersection of Family Language Policy (FLP) and Linguistic Landscape (LL) studies, this article uses the innovative methodological approach of “homescape walking tour” to engage young children in the data generation process, thus acknowledging child agency and empowering the children in the research process. FLP is concerned with language ideologies, language practices, and language management in the family context, in light of political, economic, cultural, and linguistical influences (King et al., 2008; Spolsky, 2004). For the present study, an extended notion of LL (Landry & Bourhis, 1997), “homescape,” is adopted, together with the discursive constructions of its inhabitants (children and parents). In line with Shohamy (2015), who argued that the LL can be referred to as “a powerful mechanism for creating de facto language policy and also to protest, object, and negotiate it” (p. 156), this paper proposes to regard the LL in the private home domain as a manifestation and negotiation of FLP.

In the study of FLP, besides the traditional research methods such as interviews and ethnographical observation, scholars have recently also tried out creative methods such as language portraits (Busch, 2015; Wilson, 2020) and Lego-building (Purkarthofer, 2021). Based on the successful experience of using the walking tour methodology to study the LL of cities (Garvin, 2010), schools (Szabó & Troyer, 2017), and homes (Tran et al., 2019), this paper uses the walking tour methodology to document the material environment of the families and to show the individual experiences families create with such resources. The combination of walking, photographing, and talking effectively involved children in telling stories about artifacts and activities related to languages. Interviews with parents about their FLP based on the homescape pictures provide us with a conceptive perspective on the linguistic environment in the home. This paper aims to answer the following research questions:

  1. Do children and parents experience homescapes as a manifestation of FLP and literacy learning resources? If so, how?
  2. How do children’s and parents’ perspectives on homescapes and family language practices differ?

Family language policy and child agency

FLP was initially defined by King et al. (2008) as “explicit and overt planning in relation to language use within the home among family members, and [providing] an integrated overview of research on how languages are managed, learned, and negotiated within families” (p. 907). More recently, scholars including, among others, Curdt-Christiansen (2009, 2013), also highlighted the importance of implicit family language planning for the study of FLP, including language and literacy practices. Based on Spolsky’s (2004) model of language policy, Fogle and King (2013) described three aspects of family language policy: family language ideologies (how family members think about language), language practices (what they do with language), and language management (what they try to do to language). As families are situated in a macro society, FLP is constantly influenced by the broader socio-cultural, socio-economic, socio-political, and socio-linguistic environment. Individual families’ perceptions of social structures, public education, and language policies greatly impact their family language policies at home (Curdt-Christiansen, 2009).

While earlier research in FLP focused on parental perspectives, agency, and decision-making, more recent work includes the child’s agency as well as their experience with FLP in multilingual families (Smith-Christmas, 2020). Not only do children exercise agency through discursive construction (Obojska & Purkarthofer, 2018), creative and resistant language use in interaction, and metalinguistic commentary (Fogle & King, 2013; Gafaranga, 2010; Kheirkhah, 2016), but they also influence FLP through their growing linguistic competence and agency in the language of the target society (Revis, 2019). Additionally, more family types, family languages, and diverse contexts can be observed in FLP research (Lanza & Lomeu Gomes, 2020).

The term “child agency,” as applied in a number of FLP studies, can be traced back to a definition of agency as “the socioculturally mediated capacity to act” (Ahearn, 2001, p. 118). One of the first studies on the crucial role of children in shaping family language use is Gafaranga’s (2010) conversational analysis of the Kinyarwanda-speaking Rwandan community in Belgium. Gafaranga (2010) observed how children resist the use of Kinyarwanda by their caregivers by using so-called “medium requests” (p. 241). Fogle and King (2013) analyzed talk between family members in transnational families and found that children can implicitly or explicitly challenge and reshape family members’ language choices by asking meta-linguistic questions, negotiating and resisting family language choices. Based on ethnographical work with Ethiopian and Colombian refugee families in New Zealand, Revis (2019) discussed children’s active role in shaping the family’s linguistic practices. Children in these families socialized their parents linguistically and socio-culturally into their country of settlement, and in some situations, they took on the role of English language teachers.

Child agency is particularly relevant for the present article, as children not only contribute to the construction of the family language environment, but they also have agency in interpreting the homescapes. In this study, children’s perspectives were approached through child-friendly activities, during which the children spoke with the researcher independent of parental intervention.

Homescape, an expanded notion of the linguistic landscape

The study of the LL is regarded as an important approach to study the language policy of a given space, however, there is still no study which has analyzed FLP using a LL approach. The LL was first introduced by Landry and Bourhis (1997) as “the language of public road signs, advertising billboards, street names, place names, commercial shop signs, and public signs on government buildings” (p. 25). According to Landry and Bourhis (1997), in addition to the strong symbolic function of the LL in promoting or limiting group identity, it also fulfills an informative function because both regular actors on site and visitors can orient themselves by the visible elements of the LL in a certain space. Based on this definition, scholars expanded the notion of the LL by including not only the static signs displayed in public spaces but also moving signs (Sebba, 2010; Cenoz & Gorter, 2008) and multimodal components including sounds, movements, music, smells, graffiti, clothes, food, buildings, and history (Shohamy, 2015). More recently, LL researchers have also started to pay attention to semi-public domains including schools and kindergartens (Brown, 2012; Pesch et al., 2021) and private spaces such as a homescape (Boivin, 2020), a shared residence (Tran et al., 2019), and micro-landscapes (Juffermans, 2019).

When looking at the LL of a “home,” we need to take its unique nature into consideration. Tucker (1994) regarded the “home” as an expression of a person’s subjectivity in the world, and where people feel comfortable and able to express their unique self or “selfness.” Different from the LL of public spaces which often contain constraints of rules and regulations, Boivin (2020) highlighted that the homescape is a safe, private, individual space. With diverse examples from three transnational families, she demonstrated how the intimate and personal homescape, through multisensory discourse resources, provides these families with agency in their identity-framing.

Transnational families maintain ties to their home country virtually through “souvenirs, textures, foods, colours, scent, and sounds” (Hannam et al., 2006, p. 10) as well as through “embodied gestures, routine practices, social habits, and small daily rituals” (Molz, 2008, p. 333). In the present research, the homescape is supposed to cover the house or apartment the families live in, necessarily including ties to other places. Not only objects that fulfill different purposes in the family daily life, but also related spatial and linguistic practices are considered as important components of the homescape.

While the LL in most cases refers to the adult perspective, there is still little evidence on how children experience or interpret a LL and whether it can be a useful resource for children. In a study with Canadian school students, Dagenais et al. (2009) showed that the potential availability of linguistic resources does not necessarily mean that students are aware of them, so the researchers are not in a position to know how young learners will respond to the available linguistic elements. In a more recent LL study, Roos and Nicholas (2019) engaged German pupils aged eight to eleven (3rd to 5th grade) in taking photos of signs with English and interpreting them verbally. The results showed that these primary school children could find highly diverse language examples in the world around them and were remarkably sophisticated in their analysis of the linguistic, social and cultural aspects of what they found. Instead of only relying on the researcher’s and parents’ adult perspective, the present article contributes to the study of children’s agency in interpreting the LL and FLP by providing empirical evidence of the discursive constructions of linguistic signs in the homescape.

The walking tour methodology and its application in the family domain

The walking tour methodology, combining talking and moving through spaces during interviews, has been regarded as an effective way to explore the perceptions of multiple components including linguistic signages in a given space. Its benefits have been discussed in studies across disciplines, among others in sociology and linguistics (Anderson, 2004; Garvin, 2010). Anderson (2004), for example, claimed that the dynamic co-constructions and interactions between researchers and participants during a walking tour “generate a collage of collaborative knowledge” (p. 254).

One of the early studies involving the walking tour method is the study of Kusenbach (2003), who accompanied her participants on their “natural” everyday trips through local places and found that the “go-along” research tool helped to uncover aspects that otherwise tend to remain hidden to researchers. Anderson (2004) involved environmental activists in “talking whilst walking” activities to study the relationship between people, place, and time. The walking tour has also been combined with multisensory elements such as sound, smell, and other forms of signs. For example, Hall et al. (2008) engaged respondents in “soundwalking” and Xiao et al. (2020) analyzed how people make sense of their emotions triggered by smells in real-life context through walk along interviews. According to Brown and Durrheim (2009) the form of “mobile interviewing” can also serve as a powerful tool to research subtle social facts, such as prejudice, segregation, etc.

Garvin (2010) proposed to regard the LL not only as a text of actual situated language use but also as a tool that functions as a stimulus text during walking tour interviews. She showed that the walking tours opened spaces for the participants to talk about their interpretation of the public signages in a multilingual city and brought up a variety of topics related to culture, ethnicity, and social discourses. The application of walking tours in LL studies is further developed by researchers, among others Szabó (2015) and Szabó and Troyer (2017), who used the “tourist guide technique” to explore “schoolscapes.” Through walking tours in state and private schools, respectively, Szabó (2015) gathered photographs of signages in school buildings and recorded teachers’ statements on the scenes and policies of their schools. Both the material environments and the meta-discourses of the teachers contributed to the understanding of different “schoolscapes.” Szabó and Troyer (2017) studied a Hungarian school with a similar approach and argued that the engagement of “inhabitants” (p. 307) of LL not only has the potential to provide emic perspectives and narratives but also to transform the LL due to the dynamic interaction between researchers and participants.

Regarding home as a multi-layered place which contains different physical places, where different social and linguistic activities take place, Tran et al. (2019) were among the first authors who applied the walking tour methodology to the private home domain. In their study, the residents of a shared apartment in Melbourne took two walks through their home and commented on the linguistic elements in the bathroom of the apartment. Examining the discursive constructions of the residents, it became clear how the linguistic resources of a certain space could be experienced differently. In line with Pennycook and Otsuji (2015), this article argues that the understanding of the LL needs to take into account the experiences of individuals in order to construct a full picture of the LL.

Multiple perspectives on the family spaces

In understanding the construction of family spaces and identifying how the perspectives of different target groups, in this case, the parents and the children, relate to each other, Lefebvre’s (2006) triadic understanding of space is applied as a framework. According to Lefebvre, social space is not naturally given but socially produced, jointly and simultaneously, by the three dimensions the perceived space, the conceived space, and the lived space.

The perceived space stands for the social practices that take place within spaces and establish a certain continuity and thus, social cohesion. In the present research, this dimension includes all forms of linguistic artifacts and activities that can be found in different communicative contexts in the families. Inferences about spatial practices can be drawn indirectly from children’s and parents’ representations of the practices. The conceived space stands for planned space, which contains orders or rules that determine the possibilities of space on a conceptual level. In family spaces, parents have more power in designing their family language environment and setting rules with respect to language use. In the present work, this dimension became accessible mainly through interviews with parents. The lived space is described by Lefebvre (1991) as a space “directly lived through its associated images and symbols, and hence the space of ‘inhabitants’ and ‘users’” (p. 39). In the present study, this dimension cannot only be found in children’s views, in which rules and intentions of their parents are also integrated, but also in the parents’ views, when the adults reflect on their experienced use of the spaces.


The data described in this paper was collected between October 2020 and March 2021 for a study at the University of Göttingen. Adopting a convenience sampling approach, I chose families living in lower Saxony in Germany, where standard German is spoken. Inclusion criteria for the participants were families with at least one Chinese-speaking parent and with children in their first year in primary school. The families (Table 1) were recruited through my friendship with the parents (Family B), introduction through friends (Family A and Family D), and through a Chinese heritage language course in Göttingen (Family C), in which I taught as a volunteer.

Table 1

Demographic information of the participating families.



A Hannover Anja1 (girl, 7) Mother: ChineseFather: German Both Bachelor Over 10 years

B Göttingen Lulu (girl, 6)Lele (boy, 3)2 Both Chinese Both Doctorate 9 years

C Göttingen Richard (boy, 6)Caro (girl, 6) Both Chinese Both Doctorate Over 10 years

D Hannover Xing (girl, 6) Both Chinese Both Bachelor 4 years

Parents gave informed written consent for their children to participate in this research project and for the publication of the anonymized results. The meetings with the children were in person at their home, except for the online meeting with Anja, the child from family A, because of the Covid-19 pandemic situation. Activities including language portraits (Busch, 2015), homescape walking tours, and drawings were carried out with all of the children. The conversations during various activities were always recorded with a recording device, usually a mobile phone, which was also used to take photographs during walking tours. After each visit, a memory log with field notes was taken. After the activities with the children, their parents were invited to an interview on another day, during which the collected pictures, as well as their ideas about FLP, were discussed. The interviews with parents and the discussions with children during and after the walking tours were transcribed for the data analysis (see 6.2.).

While interacting with the children, I introduced myself as a “family friend,” “elder sister” and a “student” to create a more relaxed atmosphere and to learn from them as much as possible. Before the activities, I told them I was interested in how they use different languages in their homes. Then I invited them to participate in a “game” designed for my study, the walking tours. Keeping in mind the limited concentration time of children at this age, I encouraged them to take breaks or to do other activities whenever they wanted to.

Walking tours with children

The designed walking tours consisted of three rounds. In the first round, the children were asked to take the role of “tour guides” by guiding the researcher through their home and presenting it as they would like. The first round was a meaningful activity both for the children and the researcher as “the stranger in the home.” On the one hand, it prepared the children for the photographing activity in the second round, on the other hand, it gave the researcher an overview of the entire premises and made it clear which rooms were accessible to the researcher as a guest.

In the second round, the children were put in the role of “language detectives” who “collect data by taking photos” (Sayer, 2010, p. 152). The children were asked to search for objects containing linguistic elements and to photograph them with a mobile phone or tablet provided by the researcher. The researcher accompanied the children, assisted them in taking photos and discussed their choices at the same time. It was important for the researcher not to influence children’s decisions. In this round, homescape photographs were collected and the pictures were briefly commented on for the first time by the children.

In the last round, further objects were photographed, which the researcher assumed as relevant for language and literacy activities in the family. With the researcher taking photos, the aim of this round was to create new perspectives in the subsequent conversations with the family members and to gain a more comprehensive overview of the family’s linguistic environment. After the walking tours, the children and the researcher looked through the photos together. The children explained the photographs they had taken and the activities related to the photographed artifacts. The researcher motivated the children to talk, while the children decided which photographs to skip and which to introduce in more detail.

In practice, positioning the children as “tour guides” for their home worked well as an incentive for the walking tour. The first-round introduction lasted between two and six minutes and was followed by a brief introduction of the photographing activities. Children then excitedly went on their search for linguistic elements in their home with the tablet or the mobile phone. The second-round tour lasted between 11 and 30 minutes. Children photographed objects with linguistic elements in different languages, although sometimes they commented that they could not read the scripts on the objects.

Photographs gathered throughout the walking tours

In preparation for the analysis, duplicate images were sorted out. Those pictures with important content but which had poor picture quality were replaced by re-takes by the parents or the researcher. A total of 101 pictures taken by the children in the second-round walking tour and 22 pictures taken by the researcher during the last round were available for analysis. In a first step, all photographs were categorized according to the location of the photographed items, the languages shown on the pictures and the producers of the items. Table 2 provides an overview of the photographed items.

Table 2

The locations, languages, and producers of the photographed items.


• Entrance area
• Kitchen
• Bathroom
• Living room
• Children’sbedroom
• Parents’ bedroom
• Storage room
• Other
• German
• Chinese
• English
• Japanese
• More than one language
• Parents
• Children
• External producers
• Schools

Children’s focus during the photo-taking process (the second-round walking tour) was primarily the scripts they found in their home, while in the data analysis, I was not only concerned with the languages on the photographed items, but also family members’ experiences and practices related to the photographed items.

The recorded interviews with children and parents from all families were transcribed and repeatedly listened to identify the connections between the photographed items and family language practices. By moving back and forth between the pictures and the verbal data, with particular attention to those pieces related to language (learning) activities and their functions in the homescape, I created six more encompassing categories (Figure 1, stage 2) out of the 13 original ones (Figure 1, stage 1). The numbers of photographed items of each category are presented in Table 3. While some items can be classified into a certain category, some belong to more than one category.

The process of systematizing categories into themes
Figure 1 

The process of systematizing categories into themes.

Table 3

Number of photographed items.


Products unrelated to learning 44 1 45

Books 16 8 24

Products related to language use and learning 14 3 17

School related objects 13 1 14

Wall posters/pictures 12 7 19

Self-produced scripts 9 7 16

In total 101 22 123

Out of the six categories in stage 2 (Figure 1), only objects related to family language practices were selected for further analysis. In this process, I mainly concentrated on the categories “products related to language use and learning,” “self-produced scripts,” “books,” and “wall posters and pictures,” because these were often represented by family members in relation to language practices, experiences, and beliefs. As a result of a semi-thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006) of the pictures together with the verbal data, three main themes emerged (Figure 1, stage 3): multimodal linguistic resources related to leisure activities, multilingual books, and wall posters and pictures collected in the family spaces. All products related to language use and learning and some of the self-produced scripts by children and parents were included into the theme of “multimodal linguistic resources related to leisure activities.”

Discursive constructions of the homescapes

In the following, selected examples for each theme will be presented. While the pictures in Figures 2, 3 and 4 were selected to present the diverse forms of each theme, the examples with both pictures and experts, mainly from family A and family B, aim to reflect how highly relevant linguistic activities in the families were constructed in the representations of children and adults. Once presented in the following subsections, these themes do not remain objects anymore, but the focus lies on their related practices. Particular attention was paid to the ways homescapes were experienced by children and conceived by parents.

Children’s book in bilingual families: Martina in Chinese. Children’s book in bilingual families: Germany books borrowed from the libraries
Figure 2 

Multilingual Books.

Chinese classic texts in bilingual families: Qian Zi Wen (Thousand-Character Classic). Chinese classic texts in bilingual families: San Zi Jing Three-Character Classic)
Figure 3 

Wall posters and pictures.

Parents-children handcrafts in bilingual families: Qi-Xi poster. Parents-children handcrafts in bilingual families: Birthday card for father
Figure 4 

Multimodal learning resources.

Bilingual book reading: one parent one language (OPOL) policy in literacy practices

The examples discussed in 7.1 and 7.2 are from Anja, the child of the Chinese-German Family A. Anja’s mother, Mrs. Li, came to Germany for her university studies and settled down in Hannover. In terms of language practices in the family, Mrs. Li reported the use of Chinese between Anja and her, and the use of German in her German-speaking husband’s presence for the sake of better communication.

During my online visit, a one parent one language (OPOL) policy among family members could be observed: Anja used Chinese with her mother, while she switched to German when speaking to her father. As I requested Anja to take pictures of objects with linguistic elements during the walking tour, Anja first asked her father’s permission, switching from Chinese to German, and then switched back to Chinese, asking her mother the same question. After that, she continued the conversation with me in Chinese. While talking to Anja, although I explicitly encouraged code-switching and did it myself, she kept speaking Chinese to me and hardly used German words.

As discussed in other FLP studies, the OPOL policy is an often-used strategy to promote children’s bilingualism or multilingualism (Lanza, 2007). The OPOL policy is not only observable in the recorded talks in the present family, but also in family members’ representations of their literacy activities. Following are some examples of books Anja (Figure 2a–2d) and other children (Figure 2e–2g) showed me during our talks.

In multiple situations, Anja explicitly positioned herself as a capable reader of Chinese books, such as the book sets of “Martina” (Figure 2a) and “Peppa Pig” (Figure 2c). When asked about her favorite books on the bookshelf, Anja mentioned Chinese classic books and gave the example of the book “Di Zi Gui” (Figure 2d). She also voluntarily showed her reading skills in Chinese by reading out the content on one page of the book. The following excerpts were recorded, when Anja (A) was showing me (Y) around her home during our video call.

In Excerpt 1, Anja described her agency in reading Chinese books, at the same time, her mother was described by her as the “policymaker,” who is responsible for organizing and supporting the reading activities in Chinese. In Excerpt 2, when asked if she had already read the books in German (line 5), Anja stated that she was still not able to read German by herself and explained that her father often reads story books to her in the evening. Anja’s associations of Chinese books with her mother and German books with her father indicate the family’s OPOL policy in terms of literacy practices.

Excerpt 1

Reading Chinese books.

[showing the book stack “Martina”] zhè yītào wǒ kàn dào yībàn, [pointing to another stack of Chinese books] zhèxiē wǒ méi kàn, [pointing back to “Martina”] zhèxiē wǒ kàn le. [showing the book stack “Martina”] I’m halfway through this set, [pointing to another stack of Chinese books] these I haven’t read, [pointing back to “Martina”] these I have read.

Y6 Nǐ xǐhuān kàn ma? Do you like reading them?

WǒYĪZHÍ xiǎng kàn, ránhòu māmāhái méi dāyìng wǒ, yīnwèi tāshuōyào xiān fùxí hǎo wǒyǐqián dúguò de [zhōngwén shū]. I ALWAYS wanted to read them. But Mum hasn’t allowed me so far, because she says she first wants me to review those [Chinese books] that I’ve read before.

Excerpt 2

Reading German books.

Nǐ hái xiǎng kàn ma? Hái yǒu bié de shū, hái yǒu déyǔ de bié de shū. [point to the Chinese characters on the rice wine bottle] zhè shì zhōngwén. Do you want to see more? There are other books, other books in German. [points to the Chinese characters on the rice wine bottle] These here are in Chinese.

Zhèxiē déyǔ de shū nǐ yě dōu kànguò le ma? Have you also read all these German books?

Ń wǒ hái méi kàn ne, bàba gěi wǒ jiǎng de. Hm I haven’t read [all of them], Papa reads to me.

9Y Bàba huì gěi nǐ jiǎng gùshì ma? So, Papa reads you stories?

Huì de, yīnwèi wǒ bù huì déyǔ, tā huì gěi, JĪNGCHÁNG, gěi wǒ dú gùshì shū, wǎnshàng de shíhòu bǐrú shuō. Yes, because I don’t know German, he reads to me, OFTEN, reads to me story books, in the evening, for example.

Ó nà nǐ xǐhuān bàba yòng déyǔ gěi nǐ jiǎng gùshì ma? Oh, do you like when Papa reads stories to you in German?

Xǐhuān, HěN xǐhuān, TÈBIÉ HǍOWÁN, érqiě, jiǎng de shì shénme, nàgè, luómǎ de gùshì, yǐqián shénme de, yǐqián de shēnghuó. I like it, VERY much, VERY INTERESTING, and he reads some, that, the stories of Rome, something previous, previous lives.

In both excerpts (Excerpt 1, line 7; Excerpt 2, line 15), we can recognize Anja’s positive attitudes towards literacy activities in both Chinese and German. However, her perceptions of her literacy skills in both languages are rather different: on the one hand, she described Chinese as her mother tongue (“mǔyǔ” in Chinese) on several occasions during the interview and emphasized her ability to read Chinese books; on the other hand, she described her ability to read German books as limited.

Anja’s self-presentation can be better understood when we consider Mrs. Li’s statements that it was the family’s responsibility to teach Chinese literacy and the school’s responsibility to teach German literacy. Mrs. Li reported to have started reading Chinese books to Anja from the age of 2.5 years and that Anja has been doing an online Chinese course during the pandemic. Anja did not start to read in German until she started school about two months prior to the walking tour, which would explain the difference in literacy skills observed. As stated by FLP scholars, among others Riches and Curdt-Christiansen (2010), parents who attach high value to their children’s multilingualism actively sought internal as well as external linguistic resources, such as purchasing literacy materials in different languages, hiring teachers and attending language classes. The design of the family language environment with rich literacy resources and activities, including joint book reading, has been regarded as conducive to enhance children’s bilingualism and emotional development (de la Piedra, 2011; Schwartz, 2020).

Chinese calligraphy on the walls: literacy or identity

The wall pictures gathered in the homescapes can be seen as a manifestation of family language ideologies and practices. Together with their discursive constructions, the wall posters provide an important insight into the parental management of the visible family spaces. In the following, some posters and pictures in the families will be presented and two classical texts on the kitchen wall of family A will be discussed as examples.

During the walking tour, through the camera of Anja, the presence of numerous ancient paintings and Chinese calligraphy was strongly noticeable. The calligraphies in Figure 3a and Figure 3b, Anja’s first two photoshoots from the second-round walking tour, are positioned in highly visible spaces, namely on the kitchen wall.

In Figure 3a there are several objects to see, including the “Thousand-Character Classic,” which runs throughout the image. The poem, originating from the 6th century, consists of 1000 different Chinese characters, with each verse consisting of four characters. In Figure 3b we can see the last paragraph of the Chinese classical teaching poem “Three- Character Classic” in the vertical lines with the title “三字经” (San Zi Jing) at the top. The poem has 1,200 characters in total and three characters in each verse. It is said to originate in the 13th century. Both texts are considered teaching poems for school and pre-school children in China, as they serve not only as an introduction to Chinese characters but also to traditional cultural knowledge.

The kitchen is usually regarded as a space where family members spend time preparing food and eating. The design of the kitchen in Family A’s home with educational poems on the wall indicates the intention of the homescape designer to visibly emphasize the Chinese language. In the following excerpts, we learn how the calligraphies are related to the family’s language practices and how these are differently represented by the mother (Excerpt 3) and by the child (Excerpt 4).

Excerpt 3

Chinese calligraphies from Anja’s mother’s perspective: “It is my own identification with family culture.”

“Sānzìjīng” shì wǒ tèyì mǎi de zhè zhǒng dàzì de, yīnwèi tā bìjìng bùzài zhōngguó de huánjìng, rúguǒ nǐ xiǎng ang nǐ de hái zǐ gēn zhōngguó de xiǎo háizi yīyàng dehuà, nǐ jǐnliàng qù dǎzào tā de dì yī zhuóyǎn kōngjiān yěshì gēn zhōngguó yīyàng de, dàochù dōu shì zhè zhǒng zhōngguó zì shénme de – Ránhòu sānzìjīng wǒ tiē shàng de shíhòu shì zài méi zài tiē zhīqián shì tā nàgè shíhòu hái bù shí zì de, ránhòu wǒ tiē shàng liǎo dàng rán shì hěn xiǎng cùjìn tā, jiùshì duì shìzì yǒu suǒ tuīdòng de – dànshì tā yě bù zě me kàn, zhìshǎo jiùshì shuō zài wǒ kàn lái tā bù zě me kàn. I purposely bought the “San Zi Jing” with big characters. Because it’s not a Chinese environment after all and if you want your child to be like children in China, you try to build a visible environment that is the same as in China, everywhere are Chinese characters like this – When I put up the “San Zi Jing,” she didn’t know [Chinese] characters yet, and I put it up, I surely wanted to promote her literacy learning – But she rarely reads it, at least from my point of view rarely.

Dànshì nǐ juédé tā rúguǒ bù kàn yěshì méiyǒu guānxì de, duì ma? But you think it’s no problem, if she doesn’t read it [that often]?

Tā bù kàn yě méiyǒu guānxì, wǒ juédétā kàn wǒ juédé tā bù kàn yě méiyǒu shé me guānxì, běnshēn shì wǒ ZÌJǏ duìyú zhème yī zhǒng JIĀTÍNG WÉNHUÀ de yī zhǒng rèntóng, tā kàn yǔ bù kàn wǒ bù nénggòu qù kòngzhì hé zuǒyòu de, dànshì wǒ zuòwéi tā de mǔqīn duì zhè zhǒng jiātíng wénhuà de xuànrǎn hái yǒu yīgè dìngwèi dehuà, zhè shì wǒ yào zuò de shìqíng. It doesn’t matter if she doesn’t, I think it doesn’t matter. It is my OWN identification with FAMILY CULTURE. Whether she reads is not something I can control and influence. But I, as her mother, position and render the family culture, that is what I do.

Excerpt 4

Chinese calligraphies from Anja’s perspective: “Maybe it will bless me.”

Dì yī zhāng shì “sānzìjīng,” tā kěnéng bùshì zhème qīngchǔ, dànshì nǐ néng kànjiàn zhè shì “sānzìjīng,” “yǒu wéi zhě, yì ruòshì – jiè zhī zāi, yí miǎnlì, zhè yīduàn” [pause] Nǐ shuō nǐ shuō. The first one is “San Zi Jing,” maybe it’s not so clear, but you can see that it is “San Zi Jing,” “You Wei Zhe Yi Ruo Shi – Jie Zhi Zai Yi Mian Li” this paragraph [pause] You speak first.

Ó zhè yīduàn [pause] Zhège nǐ shì yǐjīng bèi chūlái le shì ma? Oh, this paragraph [pause] you can already recite it by heart?

8A Duì, wǒ yǐjīng bèi chūlái le. Yes, I already know it by heart.

Zhège shì nǐ shénme shíhòu bèi chūlái de? When did you learn it?

Wǒ xiǎo de shíhòu wǒ jiù huìbèi, érqiě wǒ wǔ suì hái yǒu sì suì de shíhòu wǒ jiù huì bèi le, yīnwèi wǒ (inaudible), ránhòu wǒ yě dúguò hěnduō cì, “sānzìjīng.” When I was little, I could already do it. When I was five or four, I could already recite it by heart. Because I (inaudible) and I read it many times, “San Zi Jing.”

16Y Sānzìjīng shì tiē zài nǎlǐ de? Where is “San Zi Jing?”

Tiē zài chúfáng chīfàn de nàgèqiáng shàng. It’s put on of the wall of the kitchen, where we eat.

Ó wèishéme chúfáng huì tiē yīgè “sānzìjīng” ne? Oh, why is “San Zi Jing” on the wall of the kitchen?

Wǒ juédé, wǒ yě bù zhīdào, wǒjuédé kěnéng shì tā huì zhùfú wǒ ba. I think, I don’t know, I think maybe it will bless me.

23Y A hǎo de. Oh ok.

24A Wǒ yě bù zhīdào. I don’t know either.

In her discursive construction (Excerpt 3: lines 1–15), Mrs. Li expressed her wish for her daughter to speak Chinese at native level despite the family’s geographical location in Germany. In order to maintain a micro-Chinese environment in the family and to increase the literacy input of her child, one measure she took was to decorate the family spaces with as many Chinese elements as possible. The design of the family environment with rich literacy resources has been regarded as an important management method by scholars such as Curdt-Christiansen and Huang (2020). In line with Cenoz and Gorter (2008), I argue the homescape can be regarded as a potential source of acquisition of linguistic competence.

The strong symbolic function of the LL that serves to promote or limit group identity (Landry & Bourhis, 1997) was also reflected in Mrs. Li’s words. In addition to the intention of literacy learning, she highlighted her agency in positioning and rendering the family culture. She not only expressed her affiliation with the Chinese language and culture, but also constructed the classic Chinese works as an expression of a “family culture” and “family identity.” While Mrs. Li emphasized her agency in designing the homescape, in the following Excerpt 4, Anja provides us with a bottom-up (Hornberger & Johnson, 2011) perspective compared to her mother’s top-down planning.

During the walking tour activity, Anja introduced her first homescape photoshoot by mentioning the title “San Zi Jing” and reciting the whole paragraph in Figure 3b fluently. Her choice of “San Zi Jing” as the first photoshoot indicates the relevance of the text for her. Besides the content of the calligraphy, Anja also shortly narrated her experience with the text and represented the text as a part of her linguistic repertoire from the age of four or five (lines 11–15). At this point, Anja emphasized her agency in literacy activities including reading and memorizing the poem by using the word “I.” Similar to the examples shown in the study of Obojska and Purkarthofer (2018), Anja’s account constructs the learning process as her own action instead of her parents’ strategies directed at language learning.

In line 21, Anja showed uncertainty when describing the reason for the existence of the poem on the kitchen wall. She presented the picture as something positive, which could “bless” her. Also here, her parents’ role in positioning the posters was not mentioned. Based on Anja’s discursive contractions, it became clear that the calligraphy is not solely experienced as a house decoration but a familiar literacy text with significance for literacy practices.

Recognizing her daughter’s agency in whether to use the texts as literacy resources or not, Mrs. Li reported a rare use of the wall poster by Anja (Excerpt 3, lines 13–15 and lines 21–23). Differently, Anja stated to have read “San Zi Jing” many times (Excerpt 4, line 14). In this case, Anja actively constructed her own agency in making use of the literacy resources in the homescape, independently of her parents and their views. The difference between Mrs. Li’s perceived practices by her daughter and Anja’s perception of her own practices highlights the complexities of family language practices and individuals’ experiences with the homescape. The conceived space by parents and the lived space by children shed light on different forms of agency within the family’s literacy environment. In line with Pennycook and Otsuji (2015), I argue that the understanding of homescape needs to take into account family members’ perspectives.

Combining learning with leisure: self-made handcrafts as an example

In all visited families, objects for leisure activities with a learning function were common to find, for example, board games, digital resources (e.g. films, songs, digital stories, etc.) and self-produced drawings and writings. In interviews, children often associated these types of resources with leisure activities, while parents mostly presented these artifacts as learning mediums. The following examples were gathered in the families by children and the researcher.

Multimedia resources have been regarded as popular tools by parents in promoting their children’s multilingual literacy development (Eisenchlas et al., 2016; Little, 2019). By using the term “multimodal literacy resources,” I aim to include not only the multiple media of the language resources, but also the multiple authorships in the production process of literacy resources. In this section, jointly produced handcrafts by children and parents in family B will be presented as an example.3

In family B, self-made posters and handcrafts have a strong noticeable presence in different places. While some are random works of the children, some can be regarded as products of designed learning activities by the parents. The two pieces of work shown in Figure 4a and 4b, for example, originated from joint parent-child activities.

In the self-made Qi-Xi poster (Figure 4a), we see five Chinese characters “七夕节快乐” (Qi-Xi Jie Kuai Le, happy Qi-Xi Festival) and one scene from an ancient Chinese legend “Que Qiao Xiang Hui” (Meeting at the Magpie Bridge). The legend is the origin of Qi-Xi Festival and tells the annual reunion of a couple.

When introducing this poster, Lulu concentrated on her contribution to creating the poster with her mother. She explained “I cut the big circles,” and, “I wrote Qi-Xi Jie Kuai Le.”4 When asked whether she knew about the Qi-Xi Festival, Lulu showed uncertainty. She remembered some fragments of a video her mother had shown to her, which comprises the female figure on the poster: “Hm, it seemed there was a human in the heaven, maybe it was a fairy, heaven, later then, in the end, the weaver seemed to also become a fairy.”5 While in Lulu’s representation the poster was associated with activities such as cutting the paper, writing the characters, and watching the video, her mother, Mrs. Zhang, emphasized her intention of learning behind the joint activity in the interview. When seeing the photo of the poster, Mrs. Zhang (Z) explained:

In Excerpt 5, instead of mentioning the writings and the picture content on the poster, Mrs. Zhang described her intention behind the activity as “learning a bit of Chinese traditional culture and Chinese characters.” According to her, activities of this type do not take place with much intention, however their benefits for learning are considered essential. From Mrs. Zhang’s statements, we learn about her positive attitude towards the learning of Chinese language and culture. Furthermore, the management measures she took to promote language learning could be identified: combining fun and multimodal resources with literacy learning. While the learning aspect was emphasized by the mother, this did not occur in the representations of the child. Instead, Lulu focused on her own participation in the creation process and the multimodal resources she had access to, for example the image and the scripts that show in the poster and the video.

Excerpt 5

Making handcrafts together: A combination of learning and having fun.

Zhèxiē dehuà wǒ gēn Lulu píngshí dǎfā shíjiān zuò de shǒugōng, ránhòu shùnbiàn kěyǐ xué yīdiǎn zhōngguó de chuántǒng wénhuà, ránhòu hái yǒu hànzì shénme de duì ba, ránhòu zhǔyào jiùshì yù jiào yú lè, ránhòu yě bùshì hěn kèyì. These are handcrafts I and Lulu usually have done to pass the time and, by the way, to learn a bit about traditional Chinese culture and also Chinese characters, right? Well, mainly a combination of learning and having fun, and not with much intention.

Through the discursive construction of one self-made poster, it became clear that the emergence of homescape elements does not only involve top-down and bottom-up processes, but that both parents and children play an important role in shaping their homescapes. The drawings, scripts and handcrafts produced by the children (or together with their parents) and other literacy-related multimodal resources, such as toys, games and DVDs, selected and brought home by the children, make the creatorship of the homescape more diverse.

Discussion and conclusion

Although the design of the home language environment has attracted scholarly attention in FLP studies, few to date have investigated the home through a LL lens with the perspectives of both children and parents (Melo-Pfeifer, 2022). Similarly, prior LL studies have overlooked the family domain. One of the main contributions of this study is that it provides empirical evidence with a view to combining these two research fields methodologically and theoretically.

Homescapes and FLP

Going beyond the definition of the LL by Landry and Bourhis (1997), the concept of homescape in the present research takes into account not only the display of languages, but also culturally charged objects that fulfill different purposes in the families’ daily life and related spatial and linguistic practices. Applying the homescape walking tour methodology with a group of children in the first grade, this study gathered photographs of the families’ material environment, including multilingual scripts, printed or produced by family members, on books, posters, diverse products and mediums. The walking tours together with the homescape photographs successfully triggered conversations about parents’ and children’s opinions about their multiple perceptions and uses of literacy resources. This study shows that homescape can be studied as a text of actual situated language and that it can also function as a stimulus text during interviews with family members (see also Garvin, 2010).

The present research identifies a close relationship between the homescapes and the FLP of the studied families. My argument is that similar to the LL of public spaces, which has the potential both to “reflect and to (re)produce language ideology” (Hult, 2018, p. 7), homescape can on the one hand be regarded as the product of the FLP, on the other hand, it functions as the material environment for family language policy and language practices.

Homescape, together with parents’ representations, provides valuable insights into family language policies and indicates the symbolic roles of each language within the family environment. For example, family A puts up Chinese classic texts on the wall to promote Chinese literacy and a kind of “family culture.” Family D hangs up a “der die das” note on the refrigerator to remind the child of the right use of German articles and to show the family’s “German comes first” strategy. From the positioning of certain languages in striking spaces in the home, it can be recognized which languages are emphasized with intention and which are not.

Parents’ perspective

As noted at the outset of the paper, this article aims to study the ways children and parents experience and relate to homescapes and family language practices. One of the major findings of this study is: when comparing children’s and parents’ perspectives, we can recognize that while some of the children’s representations mirrored and reproduced the parents’ conceptions, in other cases their ways of framing differed from one another. Some homescape elements were regarded as highly relevant for language learning by parents, however, children concentrated on their personal experiences and the playful multimodal activities instead of the learning function.

In their representations of the homescape, i.e. the conceived space containing expectations and rules for the FLP, parents revealed their attitudes and expectations in relation to the language practices at home. The management strategies they take included the design of the family physical environment with books, wall posters and linguistic texts, the organization of parent-child activities such as reading and handcrafting, as well as the use of multimedia linguistic resources such as story players and CDs/DVDs.

Surrounding children with authentic language resources at home gives children meaningful contexts to learn and use the languages and doing child-parent multiliteracy activities makes the resources more comprehensible for children (Grieshaber et al., 2011). Based on their beliefs and goals in relation to their children’s language development, parents design the homescape with literacy and cultural resources accordingly. The construction of the homescape can be noted as “a kind of policymaking by practice” (Hult, 2018, p. 7), and thus as a part of the families’ language policy.

While expressing their wish to foster their children’s heritage language learning and the family culture, parents reported to follow a rather flexible FLP in terms of literacy practices and recognize children’s agency in using the resources.

Children’s perspective and child agency

Within studies of home linguistic landscapes and multilingualism, little is known about how children act as autonomous learners at home and how they make use of their language speaker agency (Melo-Pfeifer, 2022). The present research puts children in the position of co-ethnographer who decide which objects to photograph and to introduce during the activities. In children’s discursive construction, they presented themselves as (in)capable reader/user of certain languages, constructed their agency in using certain resources independently and producing homescape elements. They also showed their agency in interpreting homescape resources and the intentions behind them.

In children’s representations, the lived space, children narrated their lived experiences with the literacy resources available to them and reported a wide range of literacy activities at home, for example, reading books with parents (children from four families), watching children’s films borrowed from the library (Xing, family D), listening to songs or stories with CDs or Apps (Lulu, family B and Anja, family A), playing board games and crafting with parents (children from four families). Children showed their awareness of the multiple resources in the homescape. These practices were seldom lived as learning but leisure activities by children.

While the parents emphasized the educational potential of the homescape, children in this study represented the homescape (including the soundscape) as part of their language repertoire and daily life. This finding shares some similarities with Kirsch’s (2006) conclusion that children do not always distinguish between language learning and language use, but that they consider language learning more as a social process.

Besides children’s agency in interpreting and using the homescape, they are also active in constructing the homescape. As shown in the examples above, the displayed languages and objects in the homescape cannot be solely regarded as the results of parents’ selection and production. The children are also, to some extent, involved in the emerging process of the homescape.

Homescape and family identity

Homescape can be regarded as a safe, private, individual space where transnational families have their own agency to express their unique selves and frame their identity through multisensory discourse resources (Boivin, 2020). The families in the present study demonstrate their family identity and maintain ties to the (parents’) heritage culture not only through food, textiles, books, songs, films, and other multimodal resources, but also through practices, during which meanings and knowledge about the heritage culture are transmitted between generations. As argued by Boivin (2020), “what is presented in the homescape could play a role in families’ and children’s future identity framing” (p. 20). Through the design of the homescape, parents, on the one hand, emphasize their own orientation toward certain languages and cultures, on the other hand, intend to reproduce certain values in the family.

For further studies, more multisensory elements in the homescape could be explored such as sound, smell, and other sensory signs. While the present study puts its focus on the walking tour method with young children to study the FLP, further studies can apply this method to parents. Based on the experience with a small group of participants, this methodology is applied in an ongoing longitudinal research project with more families to study the dynamic character of the homescape in relation to factors such as the language socialization of the children through schooling and changing family circumstances.

Transcription key for original text

“text” quoted or read text

TEXT word spoken with emphasis

[text] clarifying text not spoken by informants

(inaudible) utterance that cannot be clearly heard

text – utterance that is cut off


1All names in this article are pseudonyms. 

2Lele is not a participant in this study. 

3Anja presented me with this story player during our talk. Anja’s mother retook this picture. 

4“Wǒ jiǎn de dà yuánquān,” and “qīxì jié kuàilè dū shì wǒ xiě de.” 

5“Hǎoxiàng tiānshàng yǒuyīgèrén, hǎoxiàng shì shénxiān, tiānshàng, ránhòu dào shíhòu, zuìhòu zhīnǚ hǎoxiàng yě biàn chéngle yī gè shénxiān.” 


I am very grateful to the participating families who shared their experiences with me and made my study possible. I want to thank Professor Andrea Bogner (University of Göttingen) and Professor Judith Purkarthofer (University of Duisburg-Essen) for supervising this research project. The International Chinese Education project of ELEC (Center for Language Education and Cooperation of China) also supported this article.

Competing Interests

The author has no competing interests to declare.


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