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Narrative Summaries

This section presents a summary of the narratives of all four informants, focusing on the major themes and points of discussion from the interviews.

Ml - A Diasporic, Multilingual Identity

M1 is a twenty-two-year-old male who has had a multilingual upbringing, having been exposed to Estonian, Latvian and Swedish in his immediate family, Swedish and Estonian (at different periods) in the surrounding society and Finnish from some members of his extended family. M1 stated that his parents in his opinion had ‘no intellectual interest [in] languages; they’re simply bilingual’. He stated that it seemed to him that the family’s language policy was not something had that been greatly planned but that his parents felt it was ‘a good idea’ and something worth doing.

As a child, Ml did not intellectualise his and his family’s multilingualism; it was simply, in his words, ‘just the way things were’. He remembered being fascinated watching code-switching in operation at the dinner table (especially at gatherings of his extended family) and stated that he does not remember there being any rules around language use in his childhood.

Ml told the present authors that while his parents knew each other’s languages to a certain extent, Swedish was their shared language. This ‘one parent, one language’ strategy with the societal language of Swedish as the language of interparent communication created a well-balanced linguistic environment that provided the children with input/exposure to all three languages. Furthermore, despite each parent speaking his or her native language to the children, the other parent could follow the conversation and not feel excluded (see Okita 2002 and Doyle 2013 on parental feelings of exclusion).

He reported that his identity is very much rooted in him being a multilingual member of two diasporic communities - Swedish-Estonians and Swedish-Latvians. He stated that he feels that it is the particular Swedish-diasporic varieties of the Estonian and Latvian languages (rather than the ‘home’ varieties of the languages) that he feels closest to. Ml rejects the exact mapping of language onto identity, a point he says that non-multilinguals have difficulty understanding.

Ml is thankful to his parents for raising him with both languages in Stockholm and feels that the transmission of the languages is intimately intertwined with the narrative of the Baltic refugees. Later, when he studied Estonian history at school, in particular nationalism and language nationalism, as well as linguistics at university, he was able to further reflect upon his childhood, his family, and his being a multilingual. In his words, of all the things he has been given he can hardly think of anything more ‘valuable’ than the opportunity to grow up multilingually, which has afforded him ‘the opportunity to think about who [he is] in such a different way’.

He has received formal education in both Swedish (primary level) and Estonian (both primary and secondary levels), but not Latvian; with this in mind, Ml remarked that Latvian is very much a ‘personal’ language for him, while Swedish and Estonian are more ‘functional’ and academic in comparison. Estonian is his primary language for interacting with his brother, at university and in society; Swedish he uses as a ‘secret code’ with other Swedish-speakers.

He moved with his family to Tallinn at the age of 13. His Finnish-born mother was eager to relocate to Estonia, especially since Estonia was independent and then a new member state of the EU. Though living in Estonia, M1 and his brother speak to their younger sister in Latvian. This decision was made by the brothers themselves as a way to maintain Latvian in the family, therefore being an example of children’s input (agency) in the shaping of a family’s language policy and demonstrating sociolinguistic awareness and a keen interest in linguistic heritage.

M1 stated that the exact combination of languages that would feature in any future family of his would be dependent on where he would reside and what languages his partner would speak. However, he also stated that children should be allowed freedom over what language(s) they choose to speak at home and that parents should not decide to transmit a particular language or languages for ill-thought- out or superficial reasons.

 
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