Parental school choice and the interplay between language, ethnicity and socio-economic background

Luk Van Mensel

Université de Namur, Belgium


Over the past decades, the officially bilingual (French-Dutch) city of Brussels has turned into a multicultural and multilingual society in which the majority language (i.e. French) is unable to dominate all linguistic domains. Different languages are used in different circumstances and the traditional definition of a French-speaking majority versus a Dutch-speaking minority is by now an untenable one. Furthermore, recent survey research (Janssens, 2001) confirms the general feeling among the majority of citizens who, regardless of their linguistic background, witness the increasing influence of both English and Dutch.

The process of redefining linguistic borders and, more specifically, the apparent revaluation of the Dutch linguistic capital on the Brussels linguistic market has led many non-Dutch-speaking parents to cross the linguistic border and send their children to Dutch-speaking schools. Given the specific organization of the educational system in Brussels, this is one of the most common ways to raise children as bilinguals. Results from previous survey research (Van Mensel, 2007) suggest that the motivation(s) to attend school in Dutch may differ considerably between French-speaking families and other language groups (mostly ethnic minorities). However, the distinction between both groups is not always a clear cut one as both ethnicity and socio-economic background seem to affect parental motivation(s) and (school) language choice in varied ways.

In an attempt to gain further insight into the interplay between these different factors and its effect on school (and therefore language) choice, a follow-up study was carried out with a small number of parents from various backgrounds. Using the findings from our previous survey as a starting point, we conducted semi-structured interviews and discussed among other things group membership and linguistic identity. This paper sheds greater light on the redefinition of linguistic borders in Brussels and how we might observe this phenomenon on a micro-level.

Session: Paper session
Age 2 / Identity
Saturday, April 5, 2008, 13:45-15:15
room: 04