Imagination as a key factor in LMLS in transnational families

Li Wei*, Zhu Hua

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)73-107
Number of pages35
JournalInternational Journal of the Sociology of Language
Issue number255
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jan 2019


  • Chinese
  • family
  • imagination
  • inter-generational
  • language maintenance and language shift

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


Dive into the research topics of 'Imagination as a key factor in LMLS in transnational families'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this