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Adolescents’ Language Choice in Child-Parent Interactions:
The Role of Family Linguistic Context
By
Maria Medvedeva

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Abstract. This paper examines the relationship between family linguistic context and
adolescents’ language choice in child-parent interactions in immigrant families. It focuses on the
effect of adolescent language proficiency and language preference, and parental language
proficiency and language choice with children. Using data from face-to-face parental interviews

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and a self-administered survey of adolescents from the second wave (1995) of the Children of
Immigrants Longitudinal Study, the current study found that the adolescents’ choice of English

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in child-parent interactions was associated with their lower proficiency in their ethnic language,
their mother’s higher proficiency in English and the adolescents’ preference for English. The
effect of the father’s English language proficiency was weak. Neither adolescents’ proficiency in
English nor parental choice of English in child-parent interactions had a statistically significant
effect on adolescents’ use of English with their parents. Because the analysis also found that
family climate had no significant effect on the probability that adolescents would speak English

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to their parents, the author concluded that the use of English in child-parent interactions reflected
the family’s ways of overcoming the discrepancy between adolescent and parental linguistic
repertoires rather than indicated social and emotional estrangement between children of
immigrants and their foreign-born parents.

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