What’s in the family app?

Making sense of digitally mediated communication within multilingual families


  • Åsa Palviainen University of Jyväskylä
  • Joanna Kędra University of Jyväskylä




Digitally mediated communication, family multilingualism, WhatsApp


Communication within contemporary families is increasingly and to a significant
extent mediated through technological devices and digital applications.
Although the everyday reality of many multilingual families is permeated by technology, research on their digital and language practices has been scant. This article argues for the need for eclectic approaches that draw upon theories, practices, and findings from research on transnational families and migration, digitally mediated family communication, parental mediation, multilingualism online, and family multilingualism and language transmission. Two empirical case studies are presented on multilingual family constellations in Finland in which the instant messaging application WhatsApp was used to create space to sustain transnational family relationships, to negotiate about agency, to create cultural identity and group membership, as well as to practise and develop literacy. Whereas previous research has focused on digital practices in families, on multilingual practices on internet platforms, or on language transmission processes in families, we argue that future research should focus more on the digital multilingual family and explore the role of languages as embedded in digital media activities and interwoven in everyday family life.

Author Biographies

  • Åsa Palviainen, University of Jyväskylä

    Åsa Palviainen is Professor of Swedish in the Department of Language and Communication Studies at the University of Jyväskylä (Finland). Her research interests include bi- and multilingualism, family language policy, child language development, technology-mediated language practices, and mediated discourse analysis. She has more than seventy scientific publications to her name and has been the leader of several externally funded projects. She is currently the PI of the four-year research project “What’s in the app? Digitally-mediated communication within contemporary multilingual families across time and space (WhatsInApp),” financed by the Academy of Finland (2018–2022).

  • Joanna Kędra, University of Jyväskylä

    Joanna Kędra works in the Department of Language and Communication Studies,
    University of Jyväskylä (Finland). Joanna’s research interest is in visual culture studies, visual literacy education, photography and visual research methods. Currently, as a Postdoctoral Researcher in the project “What’s in the app? Digitally-mediated communication within contemporary multilingual families across time and space,” she is researching digitally mediated communication practices of Polish-speaking transnational families in Finland. Joanna is a Vice-Chair of the Visual Cultures Section of the European Communication Research and Education Association (ECREA), and Chair of the International Presence Committee for the International Visual Literacy Association (IVLA).


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How to Cite

Palviainen, Åsa, & Kędra, J. (2020). What’s in the family app? : Making sense of digitally mediated communication within multilingual families. Journal of Multilingual Theories and Practices, 1(1), 89-111. https://doi.org/10.1558/jmtp.15363