Plurilingual practices in the margins of educational encounters: a learners' school diary

Jet van Dam van Isselt

University of Amsterdam (UvA), ACLC, Netherlands, The


Plurilingual practices in the margins of educational encounters:

a learners’ school diary.

Research findings in educational settings are often presented as characteristic for multilingual communities or culturally mixed learner populations, while the implied norm – the (non)occurrence of the same phenomena in linguistically and culturally more homogeneous communities – is left unexplored. The data I will discuss to illustrate this point are taken from a two volume school diary (518 pages) that was co-authored in real time by two teenage girls over the course of four years in the 1970s. The diary data shows that spontaneous instances of code switching and language mixing not unlike those reported in e.g. Rampton (1995) occur on a regular basis in a setting that, by traditional sociolinguistic criteria, would be classified as monolingual. The authors, our informants, frequently use and mix (or report the use of) words, phrases and sentences from all of the languages in the school curriculum, especially in verbal play and power contests with teachers or rival peer groups. Ritual formulaic phrases taught in the language classroom come alive as authentic speech acts in jocular peer abuse in school corridors and playgrounds. These plurilingual practices in the margins of educational encounters suggest that learners assemble a polyphonic self (Sidorkin 1999) by incorporating in their private linguistic repertoire elements of all the codes they are exposed to in this so-called monolingual, formal institutional context. These extraordinary insiders’ data suggest that distinctions between naturalistic and formal environments (as those between monolingual and multilingual settings) may have to be re-assessed as gradient along a continuum rather than categorical. I will discuss to what extent sociolinguistic identity is the outcome of discursive practices, emergent and complex rather than a priori given (O’Driscoll 2001). In my analyses of the relevant journal entries I will zoom in on the discourse contexts and interactional roles associated with code switches and mixed-code utterances in multiparty situations – and their implications for further research.

O’Driscoll, J. (2001). A face model of language choice. Multilingua, 20(3), 245-268.

Rampton, B. (1995). Crossing: Language and ethnicity among adolescents. London, Longman.

Sidorkin, A. (1999). Beyond discourse: Education, the self and dialogue. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press.

Session: Paper session: Code-switching 4
Friday, April 4, 2008, 10:30-12:00
room: 12