Language playfulness of contextual navigators: Young refugees’ language strategies for inclusion in the Netherlands

Monique Wilma Diana Pozzo

Research output: PhD ThesisPhD-Thesis - Research and graduation internal

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This dissertation explores how young refugees (ages 12–23) develop and adapt their language strategies during their participation and integration trajectories from their stay in Dutch asylum seekers centres through living in Dutch society for several years. The language strategies – (Dutch) language learning, language choices, and multilingual (co-)creations – of young refugees in the Netherlands have so far remained unexamined, even though integration studies with migrants have revealed a “doubleness” of Dutch language learning (Eijberts and Ghorashi, 2017) that creates experiences of inclusion and exclusion. This doubleness is the language component of what previous researchers have described as an “integration paradox” (e.g. Buijs et al., 2016). Despite the findings of these studies, Dutch integration policy over the last two decades has been putting increasing importance on Dutch language learning for participation and integration in Dutch society and for building connections with Dutch natives (Eijberts and Ghorashi, 2017). And the growing number of Dutch government-commissioned (mostly quantitative) integration studies in recent years have focused merely on specific outcomes of the current integration policy by mostly using quantitative data. Therefore, they provide limited insights into participants’ own experiences with integration and how it intersects with the knowledge and practice of languages. Despite the greatly increased numbers of young refugees in the country in recent years, none of these studies have asked for their perspectives on if and how learning the Dutch language has actually helped them integrate with Dutch natives and Dutch society. The relevance of exploring the under-researched language strategies of young refugees in particular has been shown by sociolinguistic studies’ growing attention on young migrants’ creativity in performing “brokerage” activities for their parents, who often do not know the society’s dominant language (e.g. Weisskirch and Alatorre, 2002; Love and Burial, 2007; Villanueva and Buriel, 2010; AKam and Lazarevic, 2014; Pablo, Rivas, Lengeling and Crawford, 2015), and in conducting their own multilingual practices (Blommaert, 2014; Rampton, 1995/2017; Simpson, 2017; Creese and Blackledge, 2018) in diversified contexts. Therefore, this dissertation focuses on the following central research question: How do young asylum seekers and refugees develop and adapt their language strategies to engage with paradoxes they encounter along their participation and integration trajectories in the Netherlands? The findings show that despite the paradoxes and constraints the young people have encountered in each phase of their trajectories, as inventive and creative language players and contextual navigators, they have developed and adapted their (alternative) language strategies to create more positive identities than those generally ascribed to them in the Dutch dominant discourse. In addition, they have used those strategies to contribute in meaningful ways to their surroundings and to the society – contrary to their normalized negative images as threatening, unqualified and unmotivated language learners and integrators in the dominant discourse. Through their (alternative) language strategies, the young people have also broken away from the series of paradoxes they have encountered along their trajectories. These new insights into the under-researched language strategies of young refugees in the Netherlands correspond with and contribute to the insights offered by the literature on the brokerage and multilingual practices of young migrants. Furthermore, the findings expose that their language playfulness is a potential “tool for conviviality” (Illich, 1973) in the increasingly super-diverse society. As specific brokerage acts, the young refugees’ language playfulness and innovative co-creations enhance conviviality as a mode of togetherness for people living in a societal context where integration connotes one-directional adaptation. It is hoped for that these findings, and the inclusive research approach developed in this dissertation, will bring academics, policy makers, and young refugees closer together.  
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
  • Ghorashi, H, Supervisor
  • Evers, S.J.T.M., Co-supervisor
  • de Graaff, NA, Co-supervisor
Award date24 May 2022
Place of Publications.l.
Publication statusPublished - 24 May 2022


  • young refugees
  • language
  • language strategies
  • multilingualism
  • participation
  • integration
  • inclusion


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