In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Children as Language Brokers

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Inception of CLB Studies
  • Development of CLB Studies
  • CLB and Academic Performance
  • Cognitive and Sociolinguistic Outcomes of CLB
  • CLB and Parent-Child Relationship
  • Psychological Outcomes of CLB
  • CLB and Intersections of Race, Class, and Gender

Childhood Studies Children as Language Brokers
Rachele Antonini
  • LAST REVIEWED: 07 October 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 April 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0217


Child language brokering (CLB) is a widespread practice of linguistic and cultural mediation or brokering that is generally performed by the children of immigrant and minority groups and that takes place in all those domains that pertain to these families’ social and daily life. It is a very young topic of interest; hence the body of research and literature available on CLB is still limited and highly fragmented and discipline-based, and attempts at bringing together researchers with different disciplinary and methodological perspectives are quite recent. Nonetheless, the increased interest in this topic of study has contributed to make it a fully fledged and freestanding area of study. Until the mid-1970s, the study of CLB was never the primary research question, and any observation on its existence was considered a byproduct of research focusing on other topics and issues. In the 1980s, articles and essays describing this practice started appearing in a variety of journals and volumes from a wide array of disciplinary perspectives. In the mid-1990s, research on CLB gained momentum and shifted to other aspects and issues of CLB, namely, the who, what, and where of CLB and its positive and negative effects on the language brokers’ education, identity construction, and psychological well-being. These include parentification and adultification issues that emerge when children assume the role of the decision-maker in the family and that may have a significant impact on family relationships, the children’s acculturation and learning process, and their attitudes toward their native and/or second language and culture. The study of CLB in Europe was introduced in the late 1990s and was initially almost exclusively UK-based. Since the end of the 1990s, it has developed in other European countries too, by focusing on the communities that represent the largest migrant groups present in each country, like for instance Moroccan communities in Spain, North African and Italian immigrants in Germany, and a variety of immigrant groups in Italy. CLB is now a topic of research in, inter alia, anthropology, bi- and multilingualism studies, educational studies, interpreting and translation studies, sociolinguistics, and psychology.

General Overviews

Tse 1996 is the first review of the literature on CLB. It was followed by Morales and Hanson 2005, a bibliography that recorded the scarcity of studies on this topic, which were still limited to articles in journals and were not present in monographs or edited collections. Harris 2008 provides an in-depth chronological account of CLB within the framework of the study of natural translation. Orellana 2009 represents a compelling and exhaustive portrait of the work performed by immigrant children as language and culture brokers. Antonini 2010 is a collection of essays representing perspectives on CLB by scholars from different disciplines. Antonini, et al. 2017 provides an overview of nonprofessional interpreting and translation studies with a section devoted to the theoretical framework of CLB and a description of the impact and practice of CLB in institutional contexts. Weisskirch 2017 offers an innovative insight into the policy, practice, and theory of CLB from different perspectives and disciplines. Orellana 2010 provides a reflection on potential prospects of research in the field.

  • Antonini, Rachele, ed. Special Issue: Child Language Brokering: Trends and Patterns in Current Research. mediAzioni 10 (2010).

    This is the first edited volume exclusively devoted to CLB. It represents the first attempt at providing both a theoretical and data-oriented framework of current research on CLB in various countries, and through the lenses of various disciplinary and methodological perspectives. It contains contributions from scholars who, with their seminal work on natural translation and CLB, have contributed to initiating and consolidating this field of research within their own disciplines.

  • Antonini, Rachele, Chiara Bucaria, Letizia Cirillo, Linda Rossato, and Ira Torresi, eds. Non-professional Interpreting and Translation: State of the Art and Future of an Emerging Field of Research. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 2017.

    This volume focuses on nonprofessional interpreting and translation and contains a section devoted to studies on CLB that represents an outlook on how researchers with different disciplinary backgrounds can help bring this topic of research forward with the implementation of innovative methodological and interpretative tools.

  • Harris, Brian. “An Annotated Chronological Bibliography of a Century of Natural Translation Studies 1908–2008.” Valladolid, Spain: Universidad de Valladolid, 2008.

    This is a key reference work and a valuable starting point to understanding the establishment and development of CLB studies. It is a detailed chronological review of the literature on the natural translator and the first work to acknowledge the fact that, in a short period of time, CLB studies have come of age.

  • Morales, Alejandro, and William E. Hanson. “Language Brokering: An Integrative Review of the Literature.” Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences 27.4 (2005): 471–503.

    DOI: 10.1177/0739986305281333

    This bibliographic review represents a fundamental reference work for students and researchers of CLB. It provides a description of the main peer-reviewed articles published until 2005 with a specific focus on the methodological approaches employed and succinct summaries of the main objectives and results.

  • Orellana, F. Marjorie. Translating Childhoods: Immigrant Youth, Language, and Culture. New Brunswick, NJ, and London: Rutgers University Press, 2009.

    This is the very first monograph on CLB. Drawing from her extensive research on immigrant communities, Orellana provides the most detailed and comprehensive description of the invisible yet impactful contribution that child language brokers make by performing as language and culture mediators.

  • Orellana, F. Marjorie. “From Here to There: On the Process of an Ethnography of Language Brokering.” In Special Issue: Child Language Brokering: Trends and Patterns in Current Research. Edited by Rachele Antonini. mediAzioni 10 (2010): 47–67.

    This thought-provoking overview identifies the directions that have been pursued in research since the 1980s and the framings that have driven research on CLB. Orellana centers her overview on the questions that could still be asked and the issues that have not yet been investigated. She also reasons on how the study of CLB could be built upon and connected to others, in order to expand and deepen our understanding of this practice and its effects.

  • Tse, Lucy. “Who Decides? The Effects of Language Brokering on Home-School Communication.” Journal of Educational Issues of Language Minority Students 16 (1996): 225–234.

    This article is the first review of the literature on language brokering by one of the most cited scholars in CLB studies. It includes twelve studies/articles with a specific focus on language brokering within the context of home-school communication and the effects of CLB on the language brokers and their parents within this specific domain.

  • Weisskirch, Robert S., ed. Language Brokering in Immigrant Families: Theories and Contexts. London and New York: Routledge, 2017.

    The contributions included in this edited volume offer an overview of the theory and the existing literature on CLB from the perspective of different disciplines, and focus on the advantages and disadvantages of this practice as well as a description of the factors that may influence language brokers.

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