When "posh" and "slang" collide: issues of language and gender among non-elite British Asian undergraduates

Preece, Sian

University of Westminster, United Kingdom


see uploaded paper for abstract with reference list

In this paper, I explore ways in which young British Asian undergraduate students from nonelite family backgrounds manage talk on academic language and literacy practices at the micro level of an academic writing classroom, established to improve the prospects of

students from non-elite backgrounds in a higher education institution in London. The studentsare primarily from South Asian families who have settled in London (Preece, 2006). They are also multilingual in that their language repertoires embrace English and one of the community languages common in urban areas of Britain. However, similarly to their school-aged counterparts discussed in other research (Harris, 2006, Leung et al., 1997, Rampton, 2005, 2006), these students greatest expertise is in the local English vernacular, which they frequently refer to as “slang”, rather than the community languages of their elders. I discuss how these students perform gender as they talk about language and literacy practices favoured by the peer group, home and academic community, viewed as ‘communities of practice’ (Lave and Wenger, 1991). The students consistently characterise learning academic English as talking and acting “posh” and as “other” to their performances of youthful, culturally hybrid British lads and ladettes (Jackson, 2006, Whelehan, 2000). Despite recognising the potential advantages of improving expertise in academic English, the students frequently give the impression of walking a tightrope in which they must balance peer-group practices with those of the academic community. I argue that developing expertise in the language and literacy practices of the academic community is not simply a matter of acquiring skills but a more complex and subtle process involving acts of identity, in which interactions in the classroom are shaped and influenced by the macro, in this case the practices of the institution and the discursive subject positions (Weedon, 1997) that the students need to negotiate as young British Asian men and women.

Session: Paper session
Gender 2 (Identity)
Thursday, April 3, 2008, 13:45-15:15
room: 16