Children's agency in parent-child discourses: A study of family language policy in a Ndebele heritage language family

  • Busani Maseko North West University


This study investigated how children assert agency in parent–child interactions. The inquiry was conducted through a linguistic ethnography of the Ndlovu family, an indigenous Ndebele heritage language family living in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. The study shows how Suku and Thabo, the two children in the focal family influenced family language policy through contradictory practices by Suku and conformist practices by Thabo. The researcher conducted interviews with the parents of the focal family to establish their language ideologies and family language policy preferences. Parent–child conversations were recorded during eight visits to the focal family by the researcher. Analysis of the recorded conversations reveal how Suku, the older girl child in the family, participated in resistant agency by her preference for English-centred practices in parent-child interactions, defying her parents’ explicitly articulated pro-Ndebele family language policy. Thabo, the younger child, asserted conformist agency by participating in and reciprocating his parents’ Ndebele-centred practices. These practices by the children are attempts to enact their agency in family language policy, sometimes resulting in parents revising their original dispositions towards the use of the heritage Ndebele language at home. As a result, the parents did not take visible language management steps to correct their children’s choices. The study concludes that children’s contradictory practices are not innocent but instead, reproduce their language experiences in extra-familial spaces. Therefore, their agency is a combination of familial and extra-familial language ideologies and practices.

Author Biography

Busani Maseko, North West University
Post-doctoral Research Fellow