Update (22.03.2023): The Open Peer Review for this submission has been completed. Based on the Open Peer Review, the article has been approved for publication in the Journal for Media Linguistics and is available at: https://doi.org/10.21248/jfml.2019.14.
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This submission is a contribution to the special issue „Public, private, and anonymous mobile media practices“.
Smartphone-Based Language Practices among Refugees: Mediational Repertoires in Two Families
von Olga Artamonova & Jannis Androutsopoulos
Based on an ethnographic pilot study carried out in a refugee residence in Hamburg in 2017/18, this paper explores the relationship between smartphone usage and multilingual repertoires among refugee families from Syria and Afghanistan who arrived in Germany since 2015. The paper draws on the notion of ‘mediational repertoires’, which pulls together the sociolinguistic concepts of linguistic repertoire and mediational means in order to theorize the interdependence of language and media choices in contemporary digital communication. Previous research suggests that digital media use is very important to forced migrants/refugees, who rely almost exclusively on smartphones for information management and networking, but the interplay of digital media with linguistic choices has hardly been addressed so far.
The collected data includes nine semi-directed interviews, ethnographic field notes, and video demonstrations of smartphone usage by some of the informants. In the interviews, the informants report on their media and language choices for various purposes and to various types of addressees. The analysis focuses on a comparison of the mediational repertoires in two families, originating in Syria and Afghanistan. We explore the relevance of various factors, such as literacy, type of social contact, and purpose of digital media use, to the informants’ linguistic choices from their repertoire.
The findings suggest that both families rely on a wide range on languages and smartphone applications in their everyday life at the residence. Unlike other migrant groups, recent refugees are strongly dependent on Internet access to stay in touch with members of their transnational communities and to gain orientation in the new country. In both families, mediational repertoires differ by generation. While parents mainly maintain contact to interlocutors in their country of origin and tend to select on language and software per contact, teenagers explore a broader variety of languages and software apps and create new social contacts in Germany.
The paper also discusses sources and strategies for smartphone-based language-learning. Refugee networks, both Hamburg-based and digital ones, are instrumental in sharing information about language-learning opportunities online, e.g. smartphone apps, YouTube channels, and Facebook pages that cater to learners of German with Arabic or Pashto as a first language. Since many asylum seekers do not have (full) access to official language and integration courses, self-created online spaces for language learning are their only resource. The paper concludes that media literacy and Internet access are highly relevant to the process of social integration, including language learning, among refugees.