Grandparents as custodians of Arabic as a heritage language in the United Kingdom


  • Fatma F. S. Said Zayed University Author



multigeneration families, Arabic, English, Family Language Policy, grandparenting, heritage language, United Kingdom


The phenomenon of three-generation households is typical in many homes across the world, though perhaps less so in North America and Western Europe. When multigeneration families share the same physical space and take part in the same activities, the dynamics of parenting, eating, how time is spent and allocated, and relationships differ from families in which only parents and their children live together. One of the main (relevant) differences is that in these multilingual families there is easy access to the learning of heritage languages and socialisation into and through them. As the article will demonstrate shortly, such ease is also accompanied by relational and relationship challenges which bear on the heritage language learning process. The article describes the language transmission efforts of three Arabic-speaking families in the United Kingdom to teach and use Arabic with their children at home. Data was collected in the form of audio-recorded interactions, family background forms and parental interviews. Interview data was analysed thematically, and interactional data was analysed from the perspective of interactional sociolinguistics. The data reveals that, in addition to parents, grandparents uniquely enhance not only the learning of Arabic but also the experience of learning it. Children have a direct opportunity to learn Arabic and its various, often rare, dialects with help from their monolingual grandparents. Relationship dynamics between parents, their own parents, their parents-in-law, and their own children appear to shape and be shaped by the explicit and implicit language beliefs and practices of family members. Grandparents seem to also contribute to children’s emotional socialisation and their future beliefs of Arabic as an authentic means by which to express emotion. This is the first study to highlight the role grandparents play in the FLP of Arabic as a heritage language.

Author Biography

  • Fatma F. S. Said, Zayed University

    Fatma F.S. Said is Assistant Professor in Applied Linguistics at Zayed University, United Arab Emirates. Her research is centred in sociolinguistics and applied linguistics and primarily focuses on the bilingualism of Arabic-English speaking children and their families. The interdisciplinary issues of identity, agency, language development, language maintenance, language socialisation, and family language policy inform her work. Additionally, she has an interest in how current research methodologies can be enhanced to support multilingual data collection, management, and analysis.


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How to Cite

Said, F. F. S. (2024). Grandparents as custodians of Arabic as a heritage language in the United Kingdom. Sociolinguistic Studies, 18(1-2), 107-132.