In this article, the authors build on empirical data from the ongoing longitudinal research project Signs of language (2008 – 2018) to examine how multilingual children in a primary school setting use metalinguistic resources linked to several written languages. Grounded in social semiotics and drawing on newer social perspectives on metalanguage, the authors focus on a researcher-generated activity designed to invite the children to reflect on language and literacy. In two particular interactions, they explore how the children “engage with the meta” by navigating between different languages and sign systems, and how their use of metalinguistic resources in a referential sense is inextricably linked to a dialogically formed and performative negotiation of social identity and social relations. Thus, adopting a metalanguaging perspective, this article demonstrates how metalinguistic statements about language are closely interwoven with an ongoing production and negotiation of the communicative situation.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Bias, Identities and Diversities in Education
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)22-39
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • children and youth
  • languages


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