‘Real Turks’, ‘Pure Berbers’ and ‘Half Arabs’: Identity Scaling in a Dutch Multicultural Primary Classroom

Massimiliano Spotti

Tilburg University, The Netherlands

WS153: Constructing Multilingual Europe? Micro and Macro Perspectives

This paper presents the micro dynamics of identity ascription and subscription among immigrant minority pupils in a primary multicultural school classroom in the Netherlands. Two generalizable findings emerging from these pupils’ discourse seem to shed light on synchronic variation and sabotage in their strategies of identity construction through the management of their cultural and linguistic belongings. The variation is reconstructed through these pupils self-reported “polyphonic language repertoires” (Hinnenkamp, 2003) where they show investment maneuvers in specific language varieties that score high on the language market. The sabotage, instead, is present in the way in which these pupils try to escape from the moral accountability (cf. Lave & Wenger 1991; Jaspers 2005:17) that, in macro educational discourses, characterizes their condition of immigrant minority pupils.

Moving away from notions of maintenance and shift (cf. Harris 2003), the reconstructed processes of identity variation and sabotage suggest three things. First, a distinction should be drawn between foreign pupils who are learners of Dutch as a second language and those immigrant minority pupils who, instead, are multilingual and multicultural stockbrokers busy managing polyphonous cultural and linguistic belongings. Second, these pupils’ cultural and linguistic management goes beyond the classroom alone. It is, in fact, employed across the centres and the peripheries of those layered communities of practice that these pupils’ inhabit. Last, that the notion of scales (cf. Blommaert, 2006:3), so far used for the explanation of sociolinguistic phenomena may also be extended to unravel identity construction in culturally and linguistically heterogeneous environments.


Blommaert, J. (2006). Sociolinguistic scales. Working Papers in Urban Language & Literacies, 37, 1-13.

Harris, R. (2003). Language and new ethnicities – Multilingual youth and diaspora. Working Papers in Urban Language & Literacies, 22, 1-8.

Hinnenkamp, V. (2003). Mixed language varieties of migrant adolescents and the discourse of hibridity. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 24(1), 12-41.

Jaspers, J. (2005). Tegenwerken, belachelijk doen: Talige sabotage van Marokkaanse jongens op een Antwerpse middelbare school. VUB Press: Brussel.

Lave, J. & E. Wenger (1991). Situated learning. Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Session: Workshop (part 1)
Constructing Multilingual Europe? Micro and Macro Perspectives
Friday, April 4, 2008, 10:30-12:00
room: 18