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School Language Profiles: Valorizing Linguistic Resources in Heteroglossic Situations in South Africa


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Although South Africa is committed to a policy of linguistic diversity, the language-in-education policy is still plagued by the racialization of language issues under apartheid and, more recently, by new challenges posed by internal African migration. Drawing on the experience of a school in the Western Cape Province, this paper explores the role of language profiles in a speaker-centered approach to school language policy. Attention is paid to the ways in which the attribution of learners to clear-cut linguistic categories – in this case English and Afrikaans – and their ‘monolingualization’ within the process of literacy learning are at odds with both their everyday experiences of language and their linguistic aspirations. Using biographic and topological multimodal approaches with 13- to 15-year-old students at the school, it makes a contribution to the growing corpus of research that foregrounds the learner perspective and emphasizes emotional dimensions of literacy and language learning.
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Language and Education
Vol. 24, No. 4, July 2010, 283–294
School language profiles: valorizing linguistic resources
in heteroglossic situations in South Africa
Brigitta Busch
Department of Linguistics, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria
(Received 4 February 2010; final version received 4 February 2010)
Although South Africa is committed to a policy of linguistic diversity, the language-in-
education policy is still plagued by the racialization of language issues under apartheid
and, more recently, by new challenges posed by internal African migration. Drawing on
the experience of a school in the Western Cape Province, this paper explores the role of
language profiles in a speaker-centered approach to school language policy. Attention is
paid to the ways in which the attribution of learners to clear-cut linguistic categories –
in this case English and Afrikaans – and their ‘monolingualization’ within the process
of literacy learning are at odds with both their everyday experiences of language and
their linguistic aspirations. Using biographic and topological multimodal approaches
with 13- to 15-year-old students at the school, it makes a contribution to the growing
corpus of research that foregrounds the learner perspective and emphasizes emotional
dimensions of literacy and language learning.
Keywords: South Africa; heteroglossia; language policy; language profiles
Introduction: a learner centered approach to school language policy
The recognition of some 11 official languages in the 1993 South African Constitution has
attracted considerable attention. However, progress in transfor ming the principles embedded
in the Constitution into a coherent language-in-education policy has been slow. Drawing on
the experience of a school in the Western Cape Province that has attempted to draft a school
language policy using a learner-centered approach, this paper will provide insights into the
complex language repertoires of a group of children in a Cape Town school. It will explore
the ways in which monolingually oriented language ideologies and ascriptions of distinct
social/linguistic identities can fuel tensions and conflict within a school community. More
specifically, it will show how school language profiles can be used to highlight linguistic
hierarchies and suggest possible ways forward.
A learner-centered school language policy acknowledges and valorizes the resources
and aspirations that the school community – learners, teachers and parents – bring with
them. It refuses to reduce the heteroglossia of individual speakers either to monolingualism
or to a dichotomy between ‘mother tongue’ and ‘target language’. The awareness of diversity
not only in the sense of a multitude of separate and bounded language communities but
also within a community, within a network of communication or within a given situation
relies on the concept of heteroglossia, i.e. the multilinguality, the multivoicedness and
the multidiscursivity of society, developed by Bakhtin (1981). Such an approach views
multilingualism in terms of situated practices and not as abstract and absolute competences.
ISSN 0950-0782 print / ISSN 1747-7581 online
"2010 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/09500781003678712
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284 B. Busch
The idea of a perfect mastery of two or more languages is dismissed in favor of the notion
of multilingual competencies organized around activities, situations and topics. In this
view, linguistic practice differing from the normalized standard, such as language crossing
(Rampton 2005), or the appropriation of elements across language boundaries, is understood
as resource rather than as deficiency.
This paper explores the role which a biographic approach1to language profiles can
play in the development of a school language policy, highlighting how individual actors
experience the broader social context for their language practices, their ambitions and
desires. Although this approach relies on individual narratives, it is not primarily interested
in the uniqueness of a particular life story but rather in the social dimensions of the language
practices and ideologies that it exposes. The value ascribed to particular language practices
cannot be understood in isolation from the people who employ them or the larger networks
and social relationships in which they are engaged. We understand repertoire not as static
but as a bundle of linguistic dispositions subject to transformation or modification over
time. Similar to Bourdieu’s (1986) notion of habitus, the notion of ‘dispositions’ refers, on
the one hand, to knowledge of language varieties, registers and pragmatics and, on the other
hand, to the emotions (Pavlenko 2007) and desires (Kramsch 2006) linked to linguistic
The paper examines the assumptions underlying a learner-centered approach to school
language policy. Against the background of the post-apartheid language-in-education pol-
icy, it introduces the linguistic situation of the community in which Riverside School
is based, explaining why it was decided to experiment with dual-medium English and
Afrikaans classes as a means of addressing growing tensions between the separate English
and Afrikaans streams. Next, it describes a specific intervention in the form of a workshop
with students, discussions and interviews with teachers and an analysis of the linguistic
landscape of the school. Finally, the implications for policy implementation of making
linguistic diversity more visible are considered.
Language-in-education policy in South Africa
Language-in-education policy in the apartheid era in South Africa reflected a divide-and-
rule strategy, which stipulated that each ‘ethnic’ group was to be taught in its own language.
English and Afrikaans enjoyed equal status, although a de facto affirmative action policy
was implemented in favor of Afrikaans-speaking whites (Alexander and Heugh 1999, 19).
Language policy also played a role in the struggle against apartheid: the 1976 Soweto
uprising was triggered by protests against attempts to establish Afrikaans as the main
language of education by school students classified as black or colored. In post-apartheid
South Africa, in contrast, language is seen as an important element in nation-building
and language policy; its aim is to make linguistic diversity visible. The 1993 Constitution
recognizes 11 official languages (Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, siSwati, Tshivenda, Xitsonga,
Afrikaans, English, isiNdebele, isiXhosa and isiZulu). The raising of the status of the
nine African languages was thus designed to reverse the effects of decades of language
Constitutional recognition of language rights, however, has yet to be translated into a
coherent language-in-education policy (Pl¨
uddemann et al. 2004; Braam 2004, 9). Since the
1990s, Afrikaans has been seen mostly as the language of the oppressor, and English has
been preferred in all public domains. Despite this, Afrikaans has remained the first language
and the main language of communication among large sections of the formerly classified
colored population in the rural areas of the Western Cape. Two basic tendencies have been
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Language and Education 285
observed in Western Cape schools: the decision of isiXhosa-speaking families to send
their children to previously English and Afrikaans mainstream schools and the growing
interest in English as the medium of instruction. These developments have occurred at the
expense of learners’ home languages, with the consequence that Afrikaans and isiXhosa
have become marginalized, even in those areas where English is used rarely or not at all
by families or in daily communication. The failure to exploit children’s first languages in
learning and teaching is seen as one of the main reasons for underachievement and high
dropout rates (Alexander 2000).
Constructing and deconstructing languages as categories
Riverside School2is located in the Cape Flats, a mixed working- and lower-middle-class
area to the southeast of the central business district of Cape Town, where those able to
find employment work mainly in nearby factories, orchards and vegetable gardens. Under
apartheid, the Cape Flats was reserved for so-called coloreds, i.e. those classified as neither
white nor black. Although most residents understand both Afrikaans and English, language
is clearly a marker of social class. On one side of the river which runs through the area,
lower-income residents speaking mostly Afrikaans are housed in blocks of flats. On the
other side, their slightly more affluent neighbors live in rows of small houses; most of
them originally spoke Afrikaans but have shifted to English later in life. While Afrikaans
remains the most commonly spoken language in the Western Cape, English is considered
the language of social mobility.
Until 1990, Afrikaans had been the sole language of instruction at Riverside. Ever
since the introduction of English-medium classes, the demand for English has grown
steadily. The school has two separate parallel streams from grades one to seven, one taught
through the medium of Afrikaans, the other through English. Even parents whose children
grow up only with Afrikaans increasingly insist on enrolling their children in the English
stream (Braam 2004, 22). Differences in the socioeconomic status, attitudes toward literacy
and the school enrollment policy all aggravate the cleavages between the two language
streams. These differences are also mirrored in exam results, with a higher failure rate
in the Afrikaans than in the English stream (Braam 2004, 34). Teachers reportedly move
successful Afrikaans-speaking learners from the Afrikaans classes to the English stream
because they are performing well.
In 2004, the school started to develop a language policy, monitored by the Project for the
Study of Alternative Education in South Africa (PRAESA), an independent research and
development unit attached to the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Cape Town.
Toward the end of the 2005 school year, the situation had escalated to the point where
playground fights and the exchange of insults between the two streams were commonplace.
To counter these problems, dual-medium classes were introduced on a trial basis in grades
five to seven. Given the patterns of language use in the area, it could safely be assumed that
nearly all learners had at least a passive competence in the other language.
Dividing the children into two language streams (roughly) according to their home
languages means that they find themselves assigned to stable and clear-cut categories
linked to ideological constructions of social, ethnic or racial belongings. Althusser (1970)
talks in terms of the ideological construction of ‘the subject’ within and through the state
apparatuses, and the internalization and recognition of the ‘Self’ as the structured ‘Other’.
‘Interpellating’, or recognizing individuals as subjects with respect to an (imaginary) center,
always entails elements of misrecognition. In our case, the ideological center is formed by
a reified notion of language, by a mutually exclusive pure English or pure Afrikaans. At
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286 B. Busch
Riverside, children are addressed either as ‘Afrikaans speakers’ or as ‘English speakers’,
categories preestablished, for instance, by census, education and school language policies,
before they have conceived of themselves as such.
To conceive of language as split into bounded units is the product of an ideological
process (Blommaert 2006, 515) which reduces the complexity of heteroglossic life worlds.
The school language profiles aim at deconstructing the preconceived dichotomies – in
our case symbolically represented by Afrikaans or English – taking into consideration the
linguistic dispositions of the learners, which comprise not only different varieties but also
pragmatic knowledge, as well as desires and imaginations linked to language learning.
Thus, the language profile approach as developed in this paper understands and addresses
the learners as multilinguals.
Language portraits – multimodal biographic accounts
Three months after the start of the dual-medium program, we decided to organize a bilin-
gual workshop with 13- to 15-year-old students in order to explore their linguistic practices
and language attitudes. Students were asked to complete a language portrait by coloring in
a body silhouette, using different colors to represent different elements of their linguistic
dispositions. The drawings were used to elicit narratives on language practices. Learners
also responded to a questionnaire which, together with the portraits and narratives, estab-
lished a kind of personal language profile that addressed not only current language learning
and language use but also plans and aspirations for the future. The data collected in this
way was supplemented by group discussions with teachers and an analysis of the linguistic
landscape of the school described below. We turn first, however, to the language portraits.
Our multimodal approach develops the idea of language portraits originally employed
in language awareness exercises (Krumm and Jenkins 2001); we draw on a growing body of
work in social and cultural sciences that emphasizes the relevance of visual representations
in meaning-making processes in almost all domains of social life. The change in mode
of representation from the written or spoken word to the visual helps to shift the focus of
attention (Busch 2006). Processes that influence language use tend to operate unconsciously
and cannot easily be verbalized. The switch in mode of representation from word to image
helps to deconstruct internalized categories, to reflect upon embodied practices and to
generate narratives that are less bound to genre expecatations. While the logic of the word
is characterized by a time-bound linear sequence, visual representation is characterized by
space and simultaneity and requires attention to the ways in which the various components
of the picture relate to each other. Language portraits thus foreground the current situation
rather than emphasizing the path which has led to it.
The language portrait of Elaine (see Figure 1) is similar to a range of other portraits
drawn by her classmates. Her home languages are Afrikaans and English. Up to the start
of the 2006 school year, she had attended the English stream. Interpreting her drawing,
she reports speaking mainly English to her parents and siblings and Afrikaans to her
grandparents and some friends. While she thinks that English is her stronger language,
she claims Afrikaans to be her favorite language. In her language portrait, the brown color
representing Afrikaans fills the body. She comments, ‘[Brown] becaues it is a very nies
color and i love it and i am broun. Becaues God made me broun and i am bles of it’. Her
proud identification with Afrikaans and her interweaving of language and identity stand in
marked contrast to how she views English. In her portrait, English is located in her arms
and hands, because she sees this language as the tools she needs, in particular ‘to write my
assignments’. Elaine maps IsiZulu, brought into the family by her stepfather, onto the legs:
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Language and Education 287
Figure 1. Elaine’s language portrait.
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she feels that knowledge of an additional South African language will be useful in helping
her find a job. Her headspace (on the portrait) is taken up by ‘Bee-Bee’, the language of
rap music.
The ways in which the languages relate to each other and to the different body parts
and colors vary considerably from student to student. The silhouette possibly reinforces the
use of body metaphors in structuring narratives about linguistic practices and facilitates the
expression of emotions linked to language.
None of the drawings produced in workshops were monochrome, depicting monolin-
gualism; even those with only two colors are the exception rather than the rule. People
define for themselves which aspects of language use deserve a color of their own. In many
cases, the varieties portrayed are low status, marginalized or nonstandard, but emotionally
important means of expression closely linked with students’ linguistic identity. Needless to
say, language portraits allow speakers to attach positive value to these varieties. Often the
same variety was represented in different colors, relating to different functions, e.g. English
as a lingua franca and English for leisure time activities like music and film. Varieties with
high emotional value are often represented in bright colors, such as red and yellow; those
that only play a marginal role at the moment of the drawing tended to be depicted in pale
shades; and those with negative connotations were frequently represented in the ‘noncolor’
gray. While no universal meaning can be attached to a particular hue, color nonetheless
becomes a signifier, a bearer of meaning, in a particular situation and in association with
its cultural history (Kress and van Leeuwen 2001, 59).
Afrikaans or English: monolingualization through literacy learning
Language choice in responses to a bilingual questionnaire also offered interesting insights.
Twenty-one children chose to respond to this questionnaire in English, and 14 opted for
Afrikaans, but many mixed the two languages. Language choice corresponded roughly,
but not in all cases, to the division of the learners into the English and the Afrikaans
classes before the two streams were merged. The responses demonstrated that one cannot
simply divide the learners into Afrikaans speakers, English speakers and Afrikaans–English
bilinguals. Most children report using both languages with different generations of their
family and with their friends: Lizelle, for instance, said that she spoke mainly Afrikaans
with her friends and Afrikaans and English with her elders and her brothers and sisters; Kim
reported that she uses Afrikaans, English and sign language with her friends and Afrikaans
at home with family members.
Children were asked which language they mostly thought in when in class. While
we interpret their responses as an indication of their preferences rather than their actual
linguistic practices, there were some interesting apparent peculiarities. From the 21 English
responses to this question, three claimed to think in English and Afrikaans and three
expressed a preference for Afrikaans only. In a similar way, among those who responded in
Afrikaans, four claimed that they thought in both Afrikaans and English, and one in English
only. This paradox highlights the problems associated with classifying students according
to their ‘home languages’ or language streams.
Although the presence of English in the urban public space is overwhelming, it is
important to bear in mind that this does not reflect language preferences in daily life.
The 2001 census disclosed English to be only the third language after isiXhosa in the
Western Cape, where Afrikaans is the first language of most respondents. English cannot
be considered as a widespread lingua franca either. As the Pan South African Language
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Language and Education 289
Board survey (2000, cited in Deumert 2008, 73) shows, ‘more than 40% of the people in
South Africa often do not, or seldom, understand what is being communicated in English’.
Children had only positive things to say about English – in itself no surprise, given the
high status and prestige enjoyed by English in the wider society. Reflections include the
English is the langu that I like most because it is a nice langu. It is esy to lerne and also fun to
English is my best, my friends are mostly English.
Om det is hull taal praat dan kan ek die vir staan.
[When they speak their language I can understand it.]
I would like to no English well so that I can camunicate well.
The fear expressed by the Riverside School management that learners from the former
English stream would experience Afrikaans as the language of learning and teaching as
an additional and unnecessary burden proved unfounded. On the contrary, the language
profiles confirmed that for many children who had formerly attended the English stream,
Afrikaans was the main home language, as teachers in the dual-medium classes had long
suspected. Only one girl who said she spoke Hindi within the family expressed a negative
attitude toward Afrikaans: ‘Im not interested in knowin it but I have to’. The importance of
Afrikaans was usually related to the immediate environment:
Ek hou van Afrikaans ondat meeste kinders in die omgewing Afrikaans is. Ek dink dis beter
vir my om dit te praat. Ek kan ok ander tale prat.
[I like Afrikaans because most of the children in the area are Afrikaans. I think it’s better for
me to speak it. I can also speak other languages.]
Surprisingly, among those who responded in English, several indicated that Afrikaans
was important for finding a job; one also noted, ‘Chines is cool, Afrikaans is also cool’.
The children’s positive attitudes came as a surprise to teachers who seem to have
internalized the double stigmatization attached to Afrikaans. On the one hand, the standard
variety is seen as the ‘language of the oppressor’ used to reinforce the racist agenda of
the white establishment. On the other hand, Afrikaans, as spoken in parts of Cape Town,
is generally stigmatized as ‘kombuis (kitchen) Afrikaans or die slang (the slang), i.e. not
a language but an informal disreputable mixture of terms’ (Stone 2002, 385). Kaaps, the
variety associated with the non-white working class, is still to a large extent ignored,
although it figures in some literary texts and in music (Kriel 2008). It was certainly the case
that some of the Riverside teachers expressed negative views, such as: ‘Most of the children
come out of the [Flats] – out of a certain area where the spoken language is more a slang –
there’s not the correct Afrikaans’. A type of reappropriation, however, appears to be taking
place in which Afrikaans – or at least certain varieties of Afrikaans – is being freed from
its negative image as the language of the oppressor and defined as an African language
(Wicomb 2001, 167–8). It was also the case that Riverside students expressed more positive
attitudes, as in the comment already quoted in which Afrikaans was associated with being
brown and proud.
Of the 35 language profiles from the dual-medium class, only two learners regarded
themselves as monolingual: one in Afrikaans, the other in English. The others viewed them-
selves as bilingual at the very least. Practically all learners felt comfortable in both languages
in oral communication (understanding and speaking). Not so for written communication
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290 B. Busch
(reading and writing), however. At the start of the year, most children in the English stream
experienced considerable difficulties in reading Afrikaans, while those in the Afrikaans
stream struggled with complex texts in English. One of the teachers confirmed:
The problem is that a lot of them can’t, man, a lot of the English children can’t read Afrikaans,
but they understand it if you speaking it to them, and same with the Afrikaans children – they
can’t read English . . . ja, a lot of them can’t read the other language.
The school compels parents and children to choose only one language for teaching
and learning. Because in many cases this will be the language of higher status – namely
English – children find themselves in a diglossic situation: one language is limited to oral
communication within the circle of family and friends, while another becomes the sole
language for use in ‘higher’ domains, i.e. those linked to print. Learning to read and write
is more than a mere technical skill. For students in the English stream, there is hardly
any exposure to the standard variety of Afrikaans associated with writing. This serves to
strengthen the assumption that English is, per se, the language of education and often goes
hand in hand with the devaluing of Afrikaans and the stereotyping of its speakers. The high
prestige of English leads parents to enroll their children in the English stream even if they
have only limited contact with English at home. One of the Riverside teachers explains how
problematic this can be:
Then I’ve got from the English [stream] children who I just speak Afrikaans with because the
Afrikaans is their home language. So this one girl in front said, now, yesterday, juffrou ek wil
nie meer in die Engelse klas wees [Teacher, I do not want to go to the English class ever again,
you know].
School thus functions as an ‘engine’ that reduces the linguistic complexity of students’
everyday lives and monolingualizes heteroglossic speakers by making them literate in a
language which is often, in Derrida’s words, ‘the language of the other’ (1996, 47).
The monolingual habitus of the multilingual school produces learners who are not
necessarily recognized as legitimate speakers of the language they learn for the purposes
of literacy. Educational discourse constructs and institutionalizes categories describing
children as learners of English as a second language or nonnative speakers; they are thus
defined in terms of a quality they lack. There is an obvious danger that students will begin
to perceive themselves as double semilinguals who have failed to ‘master’ any of their
languages ‘properly’.
Languages of imagination and desire
Almost half of the children in class mention isiXhosa and/or another African language
(isiZulu or Setswana) as playing a role in their lives, because they are present within the
family (e.g. stepfather, brother-in-law), within the community or because they aspire to
learn an African language:
Ek wou graag Xhosa meer leer ken omdat is iemand Xhosa praat dan verstan ek ook. En om
‘n werk te kry.
[I would really like to learn more Xhosa, because when someone speaks Xhosa, I will under-
stand. And to get work.]
Xhosa almal praat dit by ons huis en ek kan det nie praat nie.
[Everyone in our house speaks Xhosa and I cannot speak it.]
Im going to need to get a job one day.
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Language and Education 291
Immigration from the rural Eastern Cape has increased the importance of isiXhosa in
the Cape Town metropolitan area where, according to the 2001 census, it is the second
most commonly spoken language after Afrikaans. The strong interest in African languages,
however, came as a surprise to the school authorities. Linking African languages with
increasing opportunities in the labor market thus indicates that African languages have
gained considerably in prestige among this generation. Taking into consideration these
developments, it is obvious that isiXhosa should play a role in the language policy in this
school, perhaps in the form of a second additional language.
Another language that was also mentioned by almost half the children was Arabic. This
is less surprising, as many of them encounter Arabic through the mosque and in greetings.
But the interest in Arabic goes also beyond reciting and listening to the Qur’an. Statements
such as ‘Arabic, it’s cool’ or ‘I want to learn Arabic to make my life a success’ indicate its
high prestige, sometimes linked with positive attitudes toward Dubai and the Emirates.
French is mentioned by eight children as a language they would like to know. This
choice can probably be explained by the increasing number of people from Francophone
Central and West African countries that have settled in the area. Chinese is mentioned by
five children, possibly because of the considerable number of Chinese shops in the area
selling toys, clothes and other affordable ‘goodies’ at accessible prices. One of the girls
indicated in her language portrait that she speaks sign language with her brother; four other
students already know some signs and claim that they would like to learn more. Linguistic
encounters with the media are also evident in the children’s biographical accounts, from the
Spanish of the popular telenovelas (‘I love the way they speak there slang’) to the language
of text messages and Bee-Bee, the language of rap music. Students linked their attraction
to given languages with aspirations to travel or to particular lifestyles, or simply to the
promise of a better life.
Finally, a number of languages in the portraits play a role as family languages: ‘Hindi
is my faverite. Its culture and languages touches my heart’. Others figure as heritage
languages and as the focus of desire and imagination: ‘German because im german, my
momy is a German my all uncles and pa. I am going to germany [sic] when I am 17
years old with my family’. The figure of the (lost) heritage language that is mentioned in
several of the children’s language biographies under the label of German, Scottish [sic] or
Dutch corresponds to the topos that Derrida (1996, 118) describes as the invention of a
first language or rather an antecedent of the first language. The interest in these languages
cannot be explained simply as a ‘back to the roots’ phenomenon, but is rather a desire for
a third space (Bhabha 2005) beyond ethnonational categories. Applied to language, this
concept designates a space beyond languages as distinct and separated systems serving as
markers for ascribed unambiguous belongings.
Local language regimes: a topological approach
The learners’ language experiences are not the only source of data for a school language
profile. The resources and attitudes of other members of the school community – parents
and staff – are also important. The teachers’ linguistic repertoires and practices went well
beyond the competence acquired through formal language learning and teacher training.
These neglected resources have a potentially important role in the everyday life of the
school. Interviews with Riverside teachers revealed that – although all had been employed
to teach either in the Afrikaans or in the English stream – many felt confident to work in dual-
medium classrooms. While older teachers were often ambivalent about the use of vernacular
Afrikaans, younger teachers tended to consider it a valuable resource. Further, some teachers
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were competent in ‘foreign’ languages, such as French, an asset of considerable interest in
working with the growing numbers of students from a migrant background.
To explore the local language regime in and around the school, the biographic approach
described above was complemented by a topological approach also based on multimodal
data (Busch 2009). Understanding school as a nexus of practice (Scollon and Scollon 2004)
makes it possible to examine how linguistic dispositions are enacted in an institutional
setting. The ethnographic description of the school as a spatial entity can make apparent
linguistic hierarchies and power relations, as well as competing and subversive practices.
Involving students in taking photographs of the linguistic landscape (Shohamy and Gorter
2009), including both official notices and posters and also graffiti and writing on walls and
desks, can be an interesting language awareness activity. Similarly, observation of linguistic
practices encompassed communication during break times, with the parents and with the
school authorities, as well as teaching and learning. The exploration of the local language
regime questions tacit routines and can be the beginning of the negotiation of a school
language policy understood as an ongoing process.
The Riverside analysis confirmed the predominant status of English in the current South
African school system. The school administration was completely anglicized: English was
the preferred language in matters such as correspondence with the Department of Education,
drafting lesson plans for the attention of curriculum advisors, writing reports and answering
telephone calls. Even in the Afrikaans stream, the authoritative discourse of timetables,
inventories and school rules was presented only in English. In the bilingual Afrikaans–
English stream, most of the new and colorful posters related to actual learning areas were in
English; the few in Afrikaans were mainly homemade. Examining the inventory of books
in the school library and the stock of teaching and learning material showed that the present
language hierarchy was superimposed on a previous one enforced by the apartheid regime
in which pure, ‘suiwer’ Afrikaans and English figured as the languages of the (white) ruling
class. Materials from the apartheid period with their overtly racializing discourse were still
in use in some of the classrooms.
Discussion and conclusions
The merging of the Afrikaans and English streams had initially been more an emergency
measure to counteract the growing polarization between learners. However, the language
biography workshop with the learners, the group discussion and interviews with teachers
and the exploration of the linguistic practices and environment which made linguistic
hierarchies visible all contributed to raising understanding and awareness of the dual-
medium approach. It opened up debates on how dual-medium teaching practice can be
implemented in a structured and conscious way and on the possibility of introducing
isiXhosa as an additional subject in the school curriculum. Teachers’ observations suggested
that communication among learners during leisure time had significantly increased within
six months of the merger:
It was amazing to see how, by June, they were already interacting with each other, making
jokes with each other, socializing so nicely – and that whole barrier of language, it wasn’t there
any more. The other good thing is you’ll find now that they’ll try and talk to each other in their
What was especially striking in the example of the Cape Town school was that learners
who enter school with multilingual repertoires and desires corresponding to their heteroglos-
sic life worlds are within the education system reduced to an either–or monolingualism – in
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Language and Education 293
the case discussed above, either to English or to Afrikaans. Learners are identified as mother
tongue speakers of either the one or the other language. Failing to recognize the learners as
multilingual subjects and to valorize their linguistic dispositions in a comprehensive way,
this identification is per se a misidentification and leads to a reduction of complexity. In the
context of the South African education system, the mismatch between their heteroglossic
environments and the monolingualizing school practices is reinforced by the tendency of
parents to enroll their children in English-medium schools and streams. Literacy learning
through the language of the other, becoming literate in a standard language which is not
considered as theirs, defines learners as deficient according to a norm which is by defi-
nition an unattainable ideal. Internalizing ascriptions that draw attention to what learners
lack inevitably has negative implications for students’ self-concept. However, the damage
inflicted by categorization according to the ascribed mother tongues can – as the experience
of Riverside shows – be reversed when these categories are deconstructed.
This speaker-centered approach to school language policy understands school as a
location, as a nexus of practice, where heteroglossic practices intersect. These practices
comprise, in the Bakhtinian sense, a plurality of individual voices expressing personal
experiences and desires, the diversity of codes, languages and registers present in the lo-
cal environment and finally a copresence of competing discourses on language and, more
particularly, on language in education. A speaker-centered school language policy aims at
acknowledging, making visible and valorizing the heteroglossic resources present within
the school community; at developing strategies which guarantee comprehension and mutual
understanding; and at enabling learners to make themselves heard. The valorizing of the
heteroglossic practices has the effect of raising understanding and awareness of the dual-
medium approach and points to ways in which the principles of linguistic equality laid out
in the South African constitution can be implemented at the level of school and classroom.
1. The multimodal biographic approach presented here is being further developed at the research
group ‘Spracherleben’ at the University of Vienna. See
2. This paper is based on data deriving from a study of bilingual education in South Africa,
coordinated by PRAESA (University of Cape Town). I wish to thank the PRAESA staff –
especially Daryl Braam, with whom I jointly gathered the data on which this paper is based. The
names of the school and the learners have been changed.
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... Considering, on the one hand, the importance of language biographies, especially the use of creative tools, such as language portraits with young children, for exploring multilingualism in the field of sociolinguistics in school contexts ref. [16] and, on the other hand, the rather limited research in the field, particularly in Greece, the present study aimed to explore 10 migrant children's attitudes towards their multilingualism through language portraits and semi-structured interviews. Simultaneously, according to the research, Greece adopts a monolingual policy and, thus, refugee/migrant student's linguistic and cultural funds remain 'invisible' in Greek state schools, as teachers mainly focus on the development of their L2 skills ref. [22]. In this way, the study aspires to contribute to relevant research and provide insights both for teachers and policymakers into student multilingual realities and practices in order to help them draw on the students' funds of knowledge ref. [5], apply multilingual education refs. ...
... All these visual options signified students' diverse identities, experiences, and practices that highlighted, at the same time, their need to negotiate their multiple linguistic repertoires by making choices between the languages, prioritizing them, ranking them, or giving priority to Greek as an L2 without, however, abandoning their L1. Consequently, it can be concluded that, though children seemed to perceive multilingualism as a qualification or skill ref [19], they treated their linguistic repertoires as parallel monolingualisms to meet the monolingual demands of the Greek school and society ref. [22] as well as, simultaneously, maintain their L1s, which is supported by pertinent studies refs. [12,13,19]. ...
... Overall, the study aspires to contribute to relevant research, which is rather limited, and provide insights both for educators into transforming the invisibility of student multilingualism into an obvious advantage for the whole class, especially in Greek state schools where student multilingualism remains invisible ref. [22], and policy makers to include multilingual education refs. [6,7] and culturally sustaining pedagogies ref. [8]. ...
Full-text available
The increasing linguistic and cultural diversity in contemporary societies inevitably affects the field of education by challenging teachers to cope with the coexistence of different languages in the classroom. The present research was intended to investigate migrant children’s attitudes towards languages through language portraits in order to help educators obtain insights into student multilingual repertoires and experiences. To this end, by adopting a qualitative approach, the study used linguistic portraits and semi-structured interviews to collect the data. The participants of the study were 10 primary school children whose ages ranged from 8 to 12 with a migrant background who have been living in Greece, particularly on the island of Crete. Using the method of content analysis, the findings of the study indicated that migrant children made specific color choices based on flags, emotions, and world experience, and they put colors on parts of the body according to their functions, which signified students’ multilingual identities and experiences. Moreover, the findings highlighted multilingual students’ need to negotiate their multiple linguistic repertoires, make choices between the languages, prioritize them, rank them, or give priority to the second language, Greek, without, however, abandoning their first languages. The present study aspires to contribute to the relevant research and draws implications for the implementation of multilingual education and culturally sustaining pedagogies.
... With the social turn in SLA and since Norton published the groundbreaking work concerning language learning and identity (Norton, 2000;Peirce, 1995), researchers in SLA have been contributing a lot to this issue (e.g., Besser & Chik, 2014;Bui, 2020;Busch, 2010Busch, , 2012Dressler, 2014;Peng & Patterson, 2022;Sung, 2021aSung, , 2022aSung, , 2022bSung, , 2022cTeng, 2019), both theoretically and methodologically. Their methods, findings, and limitations have also inspired the current study. ...
... Through multimodal analysis, the study summarised the three elements of these children's linguistic identity as ‗expertise' (knowledge), ‗affiliation' (attachment), and ‗inheritance' (family connection). Busch (2010Busch ( , 2012 extended the use of LPS and applied it to both children and adults. Furthermore, adopting the method of photo-elicitation, an exploratory study conducted with English-learning pupils in Hong Kong examined their language narratives as L2 speakers and contributed both theoretically and methodologically to the field of linguistic identity (Besser & Chik, 2014). ...
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The internationalisation of higher education witnesses the increasing student mobility across borders and the emergence of more and more EMI universities worldwide, which may simultaneously offer opportunities to and pose challenges on cross-border students’ language experiences and identities. The intra-state cross-border context of mainland Chinese students pursuing higher education in Hong Kong is a unique one, given the close ties between the two sides and Hong Kong’s multilingual ecology. However, not enough attention seems to have been given to these students’ linguistic experiences, especially in terms of how their linguistic identities evolve across time and space.Therefore, this case study aims to delve into the linguistic identity trajectory of a mainland Chinese undergraduate studying in Hong Kong, with specific emphasis on how and why her linguistic self-identifications might be multiple, dynamic, contesting and contextually situated. Purposefully selecting the participant, the study adopts Photo-Elicitation Interviews to elicit her narratives from visual materials. Her detailed and unique language use stories exhibit a conversion from contradictory and competing multiple linguistic identities to a core and relatively stable multilingual identity. Moreover, by identifying the contributing factors, this study argues that individuals’ linguistic identities reside in an organic system of language ideology, power relation and community, with the complex interplay between factors contributing to the constant evolution of linguistic identities.
... Generating a language portrait, as a pictorial-linguistic form of text production (Busch 2018), is a manual activity (Purkarthofer 2017) that involves colouring a blank silhouette of a human body using multi-coloured pens to graphically visualise one's linguistic repertoire, language history, language attitude, language practices, linguistic experiences, linguistic disposition, and so on (Busch 2010). Similarly, the bodymapping method has been described as 'an embodied way of knowing and storying the self ' (De Jager et al. (2016: 52). ...
... In the first session, both parents and children participated in the body-mapping task and postmapping narration. Drawing on recommendations given by Busch (2018) and adapting her techniques (Busch 2010(Busch , 2012, I provided A4-sized blank body silhouettes for the participants and asked them to visually describe their linguistic repertoire, multilingual experiences at home and outside, and any language-related views and perspectives they had towards language(s). I suggested that they should think about language holistically and try to incorporate every instance of language-related experience and views in their portrait, regardless of how proficient they thought they were in each language. ...
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Existing family language policy (FLP) scholarship has been criticised for insufficiently addressing children’s voices and perspectives on their multilingual experiences, as well as lacking representation and heterogeneity in terms of studies involving multilingual families from diverse family types, languages, and contexts outside the experiences of Western middle-class bilingual families. Against this backdrop, this paper examines the multilingual familial experiences of three Ethiopian and Eritrean migrant families in Sweden by paying particular attention to children’s agency and caregiver-children dynamics in FLP making. The study draws on multimodal biographic data obtained from children and parents through language portrait methods of body and space mapping activities, post-mapping narration, and semi-structured interviews. The data are analysed in light of Smith-Christmas’s (2020) framework, which views child agency in FLP at the intersection of compliance regime, linguistic competence, linguistic norms, and power dynamics. The findings reveal that the process of FLP making is characterised as a process that is (1) filled with language choice dilemmas triggered by competing linguistic demands, (2) in part shaped by the family constellation via power dynamics between family members, and (3) mediated by family members’ varied linguistic proficiencies in majority and minority languages. Additionally, children’s agency about which language they choose to use impacts the language practices of the home, as they tend to establish their own linguistic norms within the home by overrunning the negotiated language policy set by caregivers.
... However, LPS and DB can also be employed in other contexts such as secondary schools and universities, especially in multilingual classes where different levels of linguistic competence can be found. In LPS tasks, respondents are given a body silhouette (see fig. 1) and are asked to paint it, choosing different colors and body part for each language they want to mention (Busch 2010). They can be adopted also at a policy level: in the Autonomous multilingual Province of Bo-zen\Bolzano in South Tyrol, LPS is an accredited part of the European Portfolio of languages. ...
Conference Paper
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This paper describes a project aimed at creating a new resource family of multilingual and multimodal resources centered around the concept of “Linguistics of self”, that is personal re-flections on the role of languages in shaping one’s identity. Language portrait silhouettes, drawing bilingualism, and linguistic autobiographies are different types of resources that share this common feature. We describe the resources and the criteria for their metadata annotation, focusing in particular on linguistic autobiographies, where the writer explicitly reflects on the relationship between him/herself and language. These genres are fruitfully used in different educational settings, and research has shown that they help to uncover the social, affective, and psychological dimensions of language learning. The potential of a multilingual and mul-timodal collection is discussed starting from data collected in Italy and Norway.
... Multilingual project-based learning and multilingual language awareness projects have been taken up across a variety of international contexts, including but not limited to Europe (Hélot et al., 2018) and Canada (Cummins & Early, 2011;Galante, 2020;Lau & Van Viegen, 2020;Payant & Maatouk, 2022), as a way of affirming students' identities and literacy expertise. Language portraits, a multimodal autobiographic method to explore students' perception of their language experiences and language repertoires (Busch, 2006(Busch, , 2010Jasor, et al., 2022;Krumm & Jenkins, 2001;Prasad, 2014;Soares et al., 2020), are an example of a powerful multilingual and multimodal approach to help children represent their diverse linguistic identities. Implementing multilingual multiliteracies projects in classrooms provides ways for students to understand others' linguistic and cultural practices and raise their multilingual language awareness. ...
Full-text available
Language separation policies in two-way bilingual education (TWBE) reflect ideologies of double monolingualism (Heller, 1995) and ignore the sociolinguistic realities of bi/multilingual students (García & Lin, 2017). This case study investigates the design and implementation of collaborative multilingual identity text projects (Prasad, 2018) in a Spanish-English two-way immersion (TWI) school. Identity text pedagogies (Cummins & Early, 2011) that engage bilingual students in creating dual-language multimodal texts have been taken up across a wide variety of contexts. Few studies in the United States, however, have examined how TWI teachers can use multiliteracies pedagogy (New London Group, 1996) with a critical multilingual language awareness (CMLA) focus to move beyond the frame of Spanish-English through the creation of collaborative multilingual and multimodal class books. A thematic analysis of classroom data from our case study demonstrates that implementing critical multilingual multiliteracies projects fostered students’ CMLA while building positive bi/multilingual identities, leveraged students’ linguistic repertoires beyond the language of instruction, and encouraged linguistic risk-taking. This empirical study highlights the possibilities for adopting a collaborative, critical, and creative multilingual multiliteracies approach in TWI settings.
... Conversely and sometimes simultaneously this research also highlights the agency afforded by integrating students' linguistic repertoires in the classroom (Kerfoot & Bello-Nonjengele, 2016;Rymes, 2011;Snell, 2013). Besides the more ethnographically inspired work, there has also been an increased focus on more narrative phenomenological approaches (See Bristowe, Oostendorp & Anthonissen, 2014;Oostendorp 2022;Busch, 2010). Busch (2017) states that phenomenological approaches give insight into the experiencing subject. ...
This paper reports on the linguistic repertoires and language ideologies of a small group of Business Studies teachers at a high school in Cape Town, South Africa. Using language portraits and focus group interviews to collect data, we found through a thematic analysis that teachers talked about their own repertoires as performative, playful, and innovative. By contrast, the repertoires of their students are not described in the same manner. Instead, the teachers either erase big parts of their students’ linguistic repertoires or see “accents” and African languages as deficient. African languages are seen as not suitable to use as a language of teaching and learning and is constructed as hampering rather than facilitating educational progress. We use the notion of chronotope to explain how the school as an institution shapes the different narratives evoked around repertoires. Finally, we discuss the implications of our findings for teacher pedagogy.
Linguistic repertoire is regarded as one of the foundational concepts of sociolinguistics but despite its prominence during the early years of the discipline, it is commonly believed that for decades scant theoretical development on repertoire occurred. This situation is seen to change in the early 2000s when several (Northern) researchers increasingly advocated that linguistic repertoire could be more productive to theorize contemporary communicative practices than language. In this paper, I aim to foreground the South/North entanglements in the coinage and development of linguistic repertoire and present erased, forgotten, or obscured parts of the linguistic repertoire story. I show how Southern thinkers, both linguists and non-linguists came up with precursors to the way in which repertoires are currently conceptualized. By presenting this obscured narrative from the South, I want to offer critical questions about the trajectories of concepts and the kind of knowledge that gets excluded by the sidelining of Southern thinking.
Set against larger processes of reconciliation and peace building taking place at the end of one of the longest civil wars in recent times, this paper examines the nexus between teacher education and postwar reconciliation in Sri Lanka. Drawing on data generated from an ethnographic case study carried out in three teacher preparation programmes, including a programme located in war affected Northern Sri Lanka, the paper aims to better understand the impact reconciliations initiatives in education. It aims to do so by examining the often overlooked experiences of teachers who are being prepared to teach in schools that have emerged out of war. The insights of teachers are critical as the impact of any reconciliation initiative lies in the preparedness of teachers to be active agents of change. The paper argues for the need for transformative approaches teacher education that recognizes the centrality of teachers as change agents.
Nexus Analysis presents an exciting theory by two of the leading names in discourse analysis and provides a practical guide to its application. The authors argue that discourse analysis can itself be a form of social action. If the discourse analyst is part of the nexus of practice under study, then the analysis can itself transform that nexus of practice. Focussing on their own involvement with and analysis of pioneering communication technologies in Alaska they identify moments of social importance in order to examine the links between social practice, culture and technology. Media are identified not only as means of expressing change but also as catalysts for change itself, with the power to transform the socio-cultural landscape. In this intellectually exciting yet accessible book, Ron Scollon and Suzie Wong Scollon present a working example of their theory in action and provide a personal snapshot of a key moment in the history of communication technology, as the Internet transformed Alaskan life. © 2004 Ron Scollon and Suzie Wong Scollon. All rights reserved.