Designing opportunities to support pre-service teachers in noticing and understanding how to position students competently: A critical overview of supporting literature

Volume 2(1)



Learning to notice interactions that can lead to opportunities to position students as competent learners is a crucial aspect of current educational reforms and can impact students’ ability to learn and affect their dispositions towards mathematics (Ball, 1993; Boaler & Selling, 2017; Kazemi & Hintz, 2014; Lampert, 2003). Primary school mathematics classes built on reform models are proven to support student achievement and cultivate more positive associations with mathematics (Boaler, 1998; Boaler & Greeno, 2000; Boaler & Selling, 2017; Cribbs & Linder, 2013). However, in teacher education programs, pre-service teachers often have limited opportunities to focus on specific theories linked to authentic examples of practice (Grossman & McDonald, 2008; Grossman et al., 2009). This article critically reviews selected pieces from two bodies of literature that suggest guiding principles for designing environments to help pre-service teachers learn to notice how to position students competently. The guiding principles identified in the review establish a need for more research on teacher noticing of interactions relating to positioning students competently.


Apprendre à remarquer des interactions qui peuvent mener à des opportunités pour positionner les élèves en tant qu’apprenants compétents est un aspect critique des pédagogies actuelles, pouvant avoir un impact sur leur capacité à apprendre et affecter leur disposition envers les mathématiques (Ball, 1993; Boaler et Selling, 2017; Kazemi et Hintz, 2014; Lampert, 2003). Les cours de mathématiques au primaire basés sur des modèles cohérents avec les réformes actuelles ont démontré qu’ils appuient la réussite des élèves et cultivent plus d’associations positives avec les mathématiques (Boaler, 1998; Boaler et Greeno, 2000; Boaler et Selling, 2017; Cribbs et Linder, 2013). Toutefois, au fil de leur formation, les enseignants n’ont souvent qu’un nombre limité d’occasions de se concentrer sur des théories spécifiques liées à des exemples de pratiques authentiques (Grossman et McDonald, 2008; Grossman et al., 2009). Cet article propose une recension critique des écrits choisis parmi deux corpus de littérature qui mettent en avant des principes pour concevoir des environnements qui aident les enseignants en formation à apprendre à observer comment positionner des élèves en tant qu’apprenants compétents. Les principes identifiés dans cette recension mettent en évidence l’importance de poursuivre la recherche sur l’enseignant observant les interactions liées au positionnement des élèves de façon compétente.

Keywords: Teacher noticing, positioning students competently, pre-service teacher learning, mathematics education, video representations.


In North America, current educational reforms advocate for learning environments that are student centered, where students actively participate in authoring their learning (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 2000, 2014; Québec Ministère de L’Éducation, 2001; van Es, Cashen, Barnhart, & Auger, 2017). New models for teaching put forth by reform initiatives encourage teachers to use various teacher moves, orchestrate whole class discussions, position students competently, and foster deeper understandings by exploring alternative solutions (van Es et al., 2017). This is an important consideration, especially for mathematics teachers, since it is easy to fall back on traditional methods, such as relying on textbooks and teaching to the exam (Lampert & Ball, 1990). Currently, two main types of mathematics classrooms persist (Boaler, 1998; Boaler & Selling, 2017). First, there are those where teachers create an engaging environment that invites students to discuss mathematics, by using an array of methods to solve mathematical tasks. In this context, teachers value students’ ideas and collaborate with them to co-construct knowledge (Ball, 1993; Boaler & Selling, 2017; van Es et al., 2017). This form of teaching positions students as competent learners in the sense that students are taught to value all contributions and work alongside one another and the teacher to reach consensus (Kazemi & Hintz, 2014; van Es et al., 2017).

Alternatively, there are classes where students are seated individually. They are taught from the textbook and discussions often take place to correct solved problems using a standard method (Boaler, 1998; Boaler & Selling, 2017). In this environment, it is difficult to position students as competent learners due to limited opportunities. Further, in this context, teachers often focus discussions on right answers (e.g., also known as IRE – initiation response evaluation), which can discredit and sideline alternative ideas that are important in supporting deep understandings of mathematical concepts (O’Connor & Michaels, 1993; O’Connor & Michaels, 1996). Students generally perform better and relate more positively with mathematics in classes that use the former approach compared to the latter (Boaler, 1998; Boaler & Selling, 2017). Boaler and Selling (2017) conducted an investigation on how students are positioned in either of the class models. They found that students who experience traditional teaching viewed mathematics as irrelevant to their life experiences. In contrast, students in classes based on reform models, not only went on to identify more positively with mathematics, but also had greater successes “in their work and lives” (p. 98).

Positioning students competently is a teacher practice that is important for supporting students in reform classes (Kazemi & Hintz, 2014). Positioning students as competent learners requires that teachers respect students’ contributions and acknowledge their competence in acquiring and transmitting knowledge (Franke, Kazemi, & Battey, 2007). A teacher might have a strong foundation in mathematics, but some students may not come to appreciate and enjoy mathematics or believe in their own competence if they are not positioned competently. This can negatively impact their disposition towards, and achievement in mathematics (Kazemi & Hintz, 2014). Accordingly, positioning students competently is a key for success as it can support diverse learners’ achievements in mathematics. However, this reform-based practice is relatively new. Often, pre-service teachers have deep-rooted notions of teaching built on the traditional education they received during their own primary and secondary school (Lampert & Ball, 1990; van Es et al., 2017).

Considering that pre-service teachers’ understanding is grounded in traditional models of mathematics education, it is crucial for them to develop noticing skills early on. Noticing how teachers position students competently, as well as noticing interactions that serve as opportunities to do so is a crucial first step in understanding the practice itself. Noticing generally refers to a teacher zooming in on specific aspects of a learning environment to make sense of those moments (Sherin, Jacobs, & Philipp, 2011). Goleman (1985) stated that,”[t]he range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice” (p. 24). If pre-service teachers do not develop their ability to notice interactions that can be mobilized to position students competently, this can negatively impact students’ dispositions. Noticing entails that pre-service teachers can “attend to noteworthy features of instruction, to reason about what is observed in meaningful ways, and to decide how to respond” (van Es et al., 2017, p. 167). This can support pre-service teachers in developing their professional vision. Professional vision refers to “socially organized ways of seeing and understanding events that are answerable to the distinctive interests of a particular social group” (Goodwin, 1994, p. 606). Such shared ways of knowing are a crucial first step to support pre-service teachers in developing a common language that can support them in accessing their knowledge repertoires (Grossman & McDonald, 2008; Santagata, Zannoni, & Stigler, 2007).

Learning to notice is often situated in video representations of practice (McDuffie et al., 2014; Santagata, 2011; Santagata & Angelici, 2010; Santagata et al., 2007; Seago, 2003; Seidel, Blomberg, & Renkl, 2013; Star & Strickland, 2008), meaning that by watching videos of either their own or others’ teaching, pre-service teachers are supported in furthering their practice. Videos offer a detached view of the classroom, where pre-service teachers can focus on what is important without needing to teach and manage classroom events. This allows them to focus on significant aspects of the interaction and the environment and understand them better. In this paper, I critically review the literature on how pre-service teachers notice through video representations to deepen their understanding of positioning students competently.

Past research studies have focused either on positioning students competently or noticing. In this article, I aim to bridge these two frameworks to understand how ideas brought forward through the noticing literature inform the creation of a learning environment to deepen pre-service teachers’ understanding of positioning students competently. More specifically, I discuss the guiding principles for designing environments that help pre-service teachers learn to notice how to position students competently. This will include a review of key articles from the noticing literature and from what I consider “ambitious instruction literature.” The latter includes articles that explore a form of teaching that incorporates positioning students competently, as it prioritizes student ideas and uses a variety of approaches meant to challenge and actively engage students (van Es et al., 2017). Considering how teaching environments can affect students’ dispositions towards, and achievement in mathematics, it is essential that pre-service teachers gain deep understandings of practices they may not experience in their fieldwork or subsequent teaching career. Learning to teach principles or notice important interactions is not an easy task, thus it is important to consider new approaches for optimizing pre-service teacher learning. Acknowledging these challenges, I aim to shed light on principles that can be used to support pre-service teachers in positioning students as sense makers. I posit that supporting pre-service teachers to notice through video-analysis can support a more in-depth understanding of when and how to position students competently.


Positioning Students Competently

Positioning students as competent learners requires that teachers respect students’ contributions and acknowledge their competence in acquiring and transmitting knowledge (Franke et al., 2007). Acknowledging students as competent calls on teachers to attend to student thinking and use teaching moves that encourage student contributions. Drawing from Davies and Harré (1990), teachers would actively choose to use utterances and speech acts that position students to feel competent. The aim is to create an environment where students take up this position and feel validated and assert confidence in their mathematical ability moving forward. For this review, I define positioning students competently as “a means to value all contributions by acknowledging them and using teaching moves to provide students with opportunities to make sense and author mathematical ideas.”

At the heart of this practice is the view that all student responses should be valued regardless of their mathematical correctness (Kazemi & Hintz, 2014). For instance, Ball (1993) drew attention to a moment when a student named Sean expressed that six was both an even an odd number. Despite the incorrect claim, she decided not to correct the student. Instead, inspired by the student’s error, she referred to “Sean numbers” (p. 387). Students experimented with this idea and tried to make sense of it. In the end, students’ exams revealed that despite having an experimental and mathematically incorrect notion, they were still able to reason logically about even and odd numbers. Ultimately, Ball (1993) used Sean’s response as a means of exploring the mathematical concept more deeply, and without discrediting Sean, she was able to position him competently. Lampert (2003) similarly shared her experience with a student named Richard who provided a mathematically incorrect answer. Rather than correcting or dismissing it, she wrote it on the board and used it as an opportunity to show students the value of using manipulatives to solve problems. Similarly, O’Connor and Michaels (1996) explored the usefulness of revoicing, and how it could be used to position students competently regardless of whether their response was correct or not. This is because revoicing allowed the teacher to restate or reformulate a student’s contribution, providing students with an opportunity to agree or disagree with the teacher’s alternative formulation. Revoicing can help label student ideas as valid, including those from more reluctant students (O’Connor & Michaels, 1996).

I consider positioning students competently to be a teaching practice, while the tactics the teacher employs in class to effectively position students are moves. Similar to van Es, Tunney, Goldsmith, and Seago (2014), I make this distinction to highlight the fact that a variety of moves can be used to implement any practice, while there is not one correct way to do so. For example, revoicing is a move where the teacher restates or reformulates a students’ response to support their learning. Through this, students’ responses are either validated or students are given the opportunity to reconsider and articulate their understanding (O’Connor & Michaels, 1996). When considering the aforementioned articles in relation to other pieces that discuss teacher moves, the ideas used to position students competently can be described as: (a) representing student ideas on the board, but not limited to this medium (Aki & Chana, 2017), (b) highlighting student responses (van Es et al., 2014), (c) pressing on student thinking (van Es et al., 2014), and (d) revoicing (Kazemi & Hintz, 2014; O’Connor & Michaels, 1996). Representing student ideas is when the teacher uses a different medium (i.e., the board, manipulatives, number lines, etc.) to explore a mathematical idea with students. This move provides students with a new lens to consider when solving mathematical tasks (Aki & Chana, 2017). Similarly, highlighting involves the teacher bringing attention to student ideas and is often used to praise or validate student thinking (van Es et al., 2014). Pressing on student thinking calls on the teacher to ask students to explain or expand on their understandings—this move is usually used as a question that prompts students to justify or explain their thinking (van Es et al., 2014).

Learning is Situated

As suggested by Lampert, Beasley, Ghousseini, Kazemi and Franke (2010), learning does not take place in a vacuum; rather it takes place in various contexts and is influenced by various contextual features (Peressini, Borko, Romagnano, Knuth, & Willis, 2004). Pre-service teachers, therefore, need to participate in specially designed activities that can promote their growth and cultivate their understandings of mathematical ideas and teaching techniques. Although the situatedness of teacher learning can occur outside the classroom, such environments need to include resources (i.e., student work, teaching video footage, lesson plans, etc.) that can yield practical understandings (Putnam & Borko, 2000). Relating to this, an approximation of practice occurs when a pre-service teacher engages in a practice that would take place in a classroom. Approximations can vary in their proximity to authentic practice. For instance, reviewing artifacts in a university classroom is less proximal compared to lesson enactments within a classroom setting (Grossman et al., 2009).

However, each approximation has its tradeoffs. Artifacts of student work can reveal a great deal about student thinking, while enactments can refine pre-service teachers’ ability to act in the moment with teacher moves. Unlike other approximations, videos can uniquely support pre-service teachers in noticing specific teaching practices and moves despite being considered less proximal. Related to this, a situated perspective posits that learning is extended or distributed across the learner, other individuals, and artifacts (Greeno, 1998; Putnam & Borko, 2000). Learning occurs in activity, where individuals interact with a variety of stimuli to forge understandings (Greeno, 1998; 2006). Such an emphasis directs researchers to consider the various levels in the environment that simultaneously impacts their learning. These levels are governed by representations, which refer to socially distributed “signs and aspects of situations” that are mediated and interpreted by those engaged in an activity (Greeno, 2006, p. 86). As such a complex environment affects learning, for generalizability, it is important to examine each component (Greeno, 2006). These perspectives informed how I conceptualize each of the following design principles that can be used to create an environment that cultivates more in-depth understandings of how and when to position students competently.


Designing an environment that can support pre-service teachers to notice and deepen their understanding of positioning students competently is no easy feat. In what follows, I present four guiding principles from the literature that facilitate the creation of such an environment (Table 1 below). Each principle is accompanied by a list of relevant literature. Articles are then grouped together. Literature from both noticing and ambitious instruction are included, with a focus on noticing. Within the noticing sections in the table, articles are sorted into either a section titled “converging” or “section specific.” This simply indicates which articles are used with other principles (i.e., converging) and which only support one principle (i.e., section specific).

Design Principles Supporting Noticing and Ambitious Instruction Literature
1 Using video to support noticing Noticing Converging (i.e., literature that re-emerges in subsequent principles): Barnhart & van Es, 2015; Borko, Jacobs, Eiteljorg, & Pittman, 2008; Grossman, 2009, McDuffie et al., 2014; Rosaen, Lundeberg, Cooper, Fritzen, & Terpstra, 2008; Santagata, 2011; Santagata & Angelici, 2010; Santagata et al., 2007; Seago, 2003; Star & Strickland, 2008; Van Es & Sherin, 2002)

Section specific (i.e., literature that is explicitly discussed in a single principles): Seidel et al., 2013

Ambitious Instruction Aki & Chana, 2017; Kazemi & Hintz, 2014; O’Connor & Michaels, 1996; van Es et al., 2014
2 Noticing with purpose Noticing Converging: Borko et al. 2008; Horn, Garner, Kane, & Brasel, 2017; McDuffie et al. 2014; Santagata 2011; Santagata & Angelici, 2010; Santagata & Guarino, 2011; Santagata et al., 2007; Star & Strickland, 2008; Van Es & Sherin, 2002

Section specific: Borko, Koellner, Jacobs, & Seago, 2011; Kersting, Givvin, Sotelo, & Stigler, 2010; Santagata & Yeh, 2014; Star, Lynch, & Perova, 2011; van Es & Sherin, 2006

Ambitious Instruction Ball, 1993, Kazemi & Hintz, 2014; Lampert, 2003; O’Connor & Michaels, 1996
3 Envisioning new ways of proceeding to deepen understandings Noticing Converging: Horn, Garner, Kane, & Brasel, 2017; Santagata & Angelici, 2010; Santagata & Guarino, 2011
Ambitious Instruction Franke et al., 2007; Kazemi & Hintz, 2014
4 Decomposition of practice to support noticing Noticing Converging: Grossman et al., 2009

Section specific: Goodwin, 1994

Ambitious Instruction Aki & Chana, 2017; Ball (1993); Franke et al., 2007; Kazemi & Hintz, 2014; Lampert, 2003; O’Connor & Michaels, 1996; van Es et al., 2014

(Note: Although foundational to this section, these pieces are not explicitly mentioned, as positioning students competently is discussed generally)

Table 1: Design Principles and Supporting Literature

[link to larger version]

Using Video to Support Noticing

Representations of practice refer to any medium (e.g., video, lesson enactments, transcripts from classroom interactions, artifacts from classrooms: student work and lesson plans) used in teacher education that to some degree reflect elements existing in the teaching profession, which can in turn support pre-service teachers to gain new understandings about teaching (Grossman et al., 2009). Grossman (2009) explained that the nature of the representation directly affects which aspects of teaching are visible to pre-service teachers. Video for instance can support the noticing of ongoing interactions, teacher moves, and routines that take place in an authentic setting (Grossman et al., 2009). Further, video is commonly discussed in noticing literature as it has proven to improve teachers’ ability to notice and reflect on teaching and their practice.

Within the noticing literature, video analysis has been deemed an approach that can support pre-service teachers in learning to notice (McDuffie et al., 2014; Santagata, 2011; Santagata & Angelici, 2010; Santagata et al., 2007; Seago, 2003; Seidel, Blomberg, & Renkl, 2013; Star & Strickland, 2008). Such analysis consists of watching clips of either your own teaching or that of others to support the ability to notice. Through this activity, teachers can deepen their understandings of key ideas related to education and teaching.

Video has many benefits for supporting pre-service teachers in learning to notice. First, video can be used to hone in on specific moments of interaction (e.g., Barnhart & van Es, 2015; Rosaen, Lundeberg, Cooper, Fritzen, & Terpstra, 2008; Van Es & Sherin, 2002; Boroko, Jacobs, Eiteljorg, & Pittman, 2008; Santagata, 2007). Such a focus directs pre-service teachers’ attention away from student behaviour and instead towards instruction (Rosaen et al., 2008). Since video can be reviewed and stopped by the viewer as many times as needed for certain moments to be focused upon (van Es & Sherin, 2002), this provides pre-service teachers with opportunities to reflect more deeply than possible during a live observation (Santagata, 2007). Second, video is a way for pre-service teachers to ground their claims in specific evidence (Borko et al., 2008; Santagata & Guarino, 2011; van Es & Sherin, 2002), as pre-service teachers will substantiate their claims with excerpts from the footage they review. This can in turn foster a “systematic analysis of teaching” (Barnhart & van Es, 2015, p. 85). Third, video has been shown to support pre-service teachers in bridging knowledge learned in their teacher education program to authentic contexts displayed through video clips (Santagata et al., 2007). This highlights the fact that theories or teaching practices in teacher education programs are often taught in isolation and, as a result, pre-service teachers may not fully grasp what it means to put theory into practice. Therefore, by accompanying theory with video representations of authentic teaching contexts, pre-service teachers can gain deeper understandings and better prepare themselves for teaching students.

Noticing interactions, although achieved through video, would be considered an approximation of practice, as this is something teachers do when teaching and facilitating discussions (McDuffie et al., 2014). Since this noticing will only take place through video representations, it should be noted that although the authenticity of this task will be present, the ways in which it reflects opportunities that would exist in non-simulated environments vary, thus affecting its level of authenticity. For example, while video clips will support pre-service teachers in noticing interactions, their viewing and understandings will be partially constrained as they are disconnected from the teacher’s planning and the various environmental and social features that have been built through daily classes and ongoing interactions (Grossman et al., 2009).

Such constraints are important, but do not affect the usefulness of video in supporting pre-service teachers in deepening their understandings of how and when students can be positioned competently. Positioning students competently is a very specific practice that may or may not become apparent to pre-service teachers when undergoing field work. Video can mediate this, as the selected clips relate specifically to positioning students competently and can showcase teaching moves relating to this practice (e.g., moves discussed in: Aki & Chana, 2017; Kazemi & Hintz, 2014; O’Connor & Michaels, 1996; van Es et al., 2014). Pre-service teachers’ learning would be situated in this activity (i.e., video analysis), as they can then review this practice and the associated teaching moves to cultivate deeper understanding.

Noticing with Purpose

For video to effectively support pre-service teachers’ learning to notice, it must be viewed with a purpose (Santagata & Angelici, 2010; Santagata et al., 2007; Star & Strickland, 2008; Van Es & Sherin, 2002). Having a viewing focus calls on pre-service teachers to take an “interpretive stance,” which involves noticing with the intent of understanding various influential factors that affect classroom interactions and student understandings, rather than simply passing judgment (van Es & Sherin, 2002, p. 575). This stance ultimately affects how pre-service teachers interpret their reflections (van Es & Sherin, 2002). Through the review of literature, the following supports were identified and can be used to create a learning environment that guides pre-service teachers in noticing with purpose.

Video clips accompanied by transcripts can create an ideal learning environment for pre-service teachers, as transcripts have been shown to support more in-depth understandings (Borko, Koellner, Jacobs, & Seago, 2011; Kersting, Givvin, Sotelo, & Stigler, 2010; Santagata & Yeh, 2014; van Es & Sherin, 2002). As stated by van Es and Sherin (2002), often those who view video may recall variations of actual events and thus not base their claims on evidence. To avoid this and focus viewing, pre-service teachers should be prompted to substantiate all their claims with evidence, and video transcripts will support them in doing so.

Within the literature on video noticing, several studies have used frameworks comprised of various questions to guide pre-service teachers in noticing and developing more in-depth analyses of classroom events (McDuffie et al., 2014; Santagata & Angelici, 2010; Santagata & Guarino, 2011). Frameworks are considered a tool that can further support pre-service teachers in maintaining focus when viewing video. In current literature on supporting pre-service teachers to notice through video, Santagata (2011), Santagata and Angelici (2010), and McDuffie et al. (2014) have developed frameworks that could support pre-service teachers in noticing and reflecting more deeply. These frameworks have been proven successful, and held many merits as they have been found to: (a) focus on pre-service teacher learning (McDuffie et al., 2014; Santagata & Angelici, 2010; Star, Lynch, & Perova, 2011), (b) support pre-service teachers to notice “at higher levels” (McDuffie et al., 2014, p. 267; Santagata et al., 2007) and (c) provide pre-service teachers with more guidance and scaffolding which in turn supports them to focus on what is important (Star & Strickland, 2008).

The facilitator’s role has been alluded to in several articles (Borko et al., 2008; Horn, Garner, Kane, & Brasel, 2017; van Es & Sherin, 2006). For example, Borko et al. (2008) emphasized the active role of the facilitator in focusing viewing and supporting teachers in reaching their goals. To do this, facilitators can ask specific questions to orient teachers towards their task and guide discussion (van Es & Sherin, 2006). Borko et al. (2008) showed that facilitators can also direct conversations in ways that encourage teachers to develop “a more critical stance” (p. 433). Further, facilitators can bring attention to the underlying tenets for video noticing: (a) discerning what is important in classroom discussions; (b) understanding how these important “classroom interactions” connect to “broader” ideas in mathematics (p. 573); (c) taking into consideration contextual features to make sense of classroom interactions (van Es & Sherin, 2002).

Although noticing with purpose has proven successful, there remains limited knowledge on how teachers can be supported in the noticing and learning of positioning students competently. However, the literature on positioning students competently suggests the specific interactions that facilitators, frameworks, and video clip transcripts may focus on. These include a focus on: (a) student thinking rather than what a student does wrong, and (b) how teachers articulate student ideas and ask questions (Ball, 1993; Kazemi & Hintz, 2014; Lampert, 2003; O’Connor & Michaels, 1996).

Envisioning New Ways of Proceeding to Deepen Understandings

Scholars have found that envisioning and proposing new ways of proceeding contributes significantly to a pre-service teacher’s effectiveness (Santagata & Angelici, 2010; Santagata & Guarino, 2011). A study conducted by Horn et al. (2017) highlights how the most productive teacher meetings that supported more in-depth learning included dialogue around future practices, in which teachers “(re)imagine” their actions (p. 43). The authors argue that in such moments it is important for teachers to connect theory to practice. Taking this into consideration, frameworks that encourage pre-service teachers to make such reflections can support more focused understandings. By learning to notice specific teaching moments, pre-service teachers can make connections to more general theoretical principles.

Relating to positioning students competently, through such reflections, it is hoped that pre-service teachers can delve deeper into what it means to position students as competent learners. In that, they will need to consider the theoretical principles in positioning students competently, which include: (a) supporting students in authoring their learning, (b) respecting students’ ideas to support their confidence, and (c) encouraging students as sense makers (Franke et al., 2007; Kazemi & Hintz, 2014). Further, frameworks that guide pre-service teachers to envision alternatives are crucial, as by doing this they will need to carefully assess how and why their selected teaching strategies best position the student considering the various contextual features at play (e.g., content knowledge to be learned, comments made, their expressed understanding of content knowledge).

Decomposition of Practice to Support Noticing

As stated earlier, video can be a useful tool in supporting pre-service teachers’ learning to notice teacher moves that position students competently. In addition to representation and approximation, video analysis can also serve as a decomposition of practice (Grossman et al., 2009), which can support pre-service teachers in developing a professional vision. These three terms refer to providing novices (e.g., pre-service teachers) with opportunities to engage in practices that resemble those found in a professional setting (Grossman et al., 2009).

Parsing practice into its constituent parts is key in supporting pre-service teacher understandings and is what Grossman et al. (2009) referred to as a decomposition of practice. Examples of this include teaching pre-service teachers a specific practice or how to create a lesson plan. Through this parsing, individual practices can be taught to pre-service teachers with more ease and as with representations of practice, it can also support pre-service teachers in focusing on what is important in a lesson. Ultimately, it can foster more in-depth understandings, as pre-service teachers are given the opportunity to master one aspect of teaching more thoroughly than possible when viewing teaching as a whole. Building from Grossman et al., (2009) and Goodwin (1994), it is thus important to describe individual practices to pre-service teachers and subsequently provide them with opportunities to identify each in practice or in representations of practice. Decomposition of practice can support pre-service teachers in learning to notice and “interpret what is observed” (Grossman et al., 2009, p. 2069). This consideration is vital, as through a tailored framework and facilitator guidance, pre-service teachers will be supported to notice specific interactions that relate to positioning students as competent learners.

Coding and highlighting (Goodwin, 1994) are practices that can help pre-service teachers make sense of decompositions (Goodwin, 1994; Grossman et al., 2009). Coding refers to describing classifications, while highlighting entails bringing attention to what is salient (Goodwin, 1994). When considering frameworks tailored to the idea of positioning students competently, frameworks that include definitions connected to teacher moves that support pre-service teachers in positioning students can be considered coding. Alternatively, to highlight, frameworks can include prompts for pre-service teachers to identify and reflect on specific instances/interactions that relate to positioning students as competent learners. Through such frameworks, pre-service teachers will break down the video representation to notice significant moments and through this deepen their understanding of how to position students competently.


The literature on noticing and ambitious practice can shed light on ways to support pre-service teachers in understanding how and when to position students competently. Building on previous principles, video coupled with transcripts, a framework, and facilitator guidance, will assist pre-service teachers in fostering their professional vision as they will have opportunities to learn what it means to position students as competent learners. When used simultaneously, each support can be considered a deliberate practice, in which pre-service teachers pursue one activity in isolation repeatedly to better understand a specific practice (Ericsson, Krampe, & Tesch-Römer, 1993; Grossman & McDonald, 2008).

Considering how critical it is to implement reform education ideals, a greater emphasis should be placed on teaching models that target specific practices to support more in-depth understandings. There is a clear need for more empirical research that explores the potential learning outcomes such a focus and approach can yield. Positioning theory, although discussed in mathematics literature, has often been used to understand and classify classroom interactions. However, more work is needed in studying how teacher moves can position students (Herbel-Eisenmann, Wagner, Johnson, Suh, & Figueras, 2015). This is imperative, as the positions students assume (e.g., competent) in class are largely affected by the way they were initially positioned by the teacher (Davies & Harré, 1990; Harré, Moghaddam, Cairnie, Rothbart, & Sabat, 2009). The guiding principles identified in this review will hopefully encourage more research to be done on noticing and positioning students competently. To date, many mathematics classes are still taught using traditional styles of instruction. Considering that pre-service teachers often identify with this model, they are more prone to perpetuate it once in the field. Research that details the conditions needed to support pre-service teachers in positioning students can tremendously impact how teacher educators design opportunities for learning in their courses. Mathematics education is crucial for primary students’ future academic success (Stokke, 2015). Likewise, igniting in students a love for the topic and cultivating positive dispositions is tremendously important in supporting future achievement and sustained interest in mathematics (Boaler & Selling, 2017).


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A case for policy analysis in minority language discourse: A critical literature review

Volume 2(1): 2018

TAYLOR FLOYD ELLIS, University of Manitoba


This literature review focuses on two main research areas regarding Indigenous language revitalization in educational contexts. The first area concerns itself with identifying a useful metaphor for linguistic diversity to ground the theoretical framing of this project. Two models that are considered are language-as-resource (resource) proposed by Ruíz (1984) and language ecology by Hornberger (2002). The language-as-resource model is problematized as it simply flips the deficit model of language diversity and substitutes an asset model. In contrast, Hornberger’s (2002) ecological model, which relies on health and relationships, has been considered the preferred model of those examined. One other framework examined is English-Plus multilingualism as a threat to linguistic diversity. Additionally, this review analyzes three areas of the world, which have had different experiences with significant language reforms in the past four decades: Aotearoa/New Zealand, countries of the Andean plateau in Latin America, and Nunavut in Canada circa 2008, during the time of major reforms in the territory. Examples from each of these locations illustrate the challenges that are unique to each region, but also highlight problems with the language-as-resource model as a whole. This review also examines the lack of policy analysis within second language discourse involving Indigenous populations.


La présente recension de la littérature porte sur deux principaux domaines de recherche liés à la revitalisation des langues autochtones en milieux pédagogiques. Le premier est l’identification d’une métaphore utile pour la diversité linguistique afin d’étayer le cadre théorique du projet. Les deux modèles examinés sont celui de la langue comme ressource, proposé par Ruíz (1984), et celui de l’écologie de la langue, de Hornberger (2002). Le modèle de la langue comme ressource est problématique, car il ne fait que renverser le modèle déficitaire de la diversité de la langue et y substituer un modèle axé sur les atouts. Le modèle écologique de Hornberger (2002), qui repose sur la santé et les relations, se révèle par conséquent préférable. Un autre cadre envisagé est celui du multilinguisme « English Plus » en tant que menace pour la diversité linguistique. La recension examine par ailleurs les expériences diverses de trois régions du monde qui ont connu des réformes linguistiques considérables durant les quatre dernières décennies. Ces régions sont Aotearoa – la Nouvelle-Zélande –, les pays des Andes et le Nunavut, au Canada, durant une période de changements majeurs sur le territoire vers 2008. Des exemples illustrent les défis propres à chaque région tout en soulignant les problèmes fondamentaux du modèle de la langue comme ressource. La recension aborde enfin le manque d’analyse des politiques au sein du discours sur la langue seconde relativement aux populations autochtones.

Keywords: Indigenous, language-as-resource, language ecology, minority language.


This review has considered a selection of literature involving language revitalization in Indigenous educational contexts from around the world. In particular, this review intends to identify a useful theoretical metaphor for linguistic diversity, which can be employed for the benefit of minority language communities. This literature review also includes a discussion of the limits to decolonization that English-Plus multilingualism (Klapwijk & Van der Walt, 2016) presents with a consideration of Bourdieu’s (1986) cultural capital paradigm, and with consideration of a critical race theory perspective from Yosso (2005).

There is already a significant body of literature relating to Indigenous experiences enacting and mobilizing education systems to protect and revitalize their respective languages. The following literature review will focus on the experience in Aotearoa/New Zealand trying to revitalize Te Reo (Maori language), the experiences of Andean Quechua language speakers, primarily in Ecuador, Bolivia, and Peru, and Inuit language reforms in Nunavut, Canada. The example of Aotearoa/New Zealand has been referred to as the “gold standard” for language revitalization among Indigenous communities. However, contradictory evidence exists, which states that depending on the language ideologies in the schools, there can be profound differences in outcomes for students and language speakers coming out of the schools (Doerr, 2009; Harrison, 1998; Hill, 2011, 2016). This paper will also examine the experience of language reformers in the Andean, Quechua (Indigenous language most often spoken among Andean natives) speaking communities of Latin America (Hornberger, 2002; King & Haboud, 2002; Rindstedt & Aronsson, 2002; Valdiviezo, 2009). This segment of the literature review will centre on discourses of utility and social cohesion, which are discussed at length in the selected sources. The literature review will also consider the experiences with bilingual education in Nunavut, Canada (Aylward, 2009; Cancel, 2009; Laugrand & Oosten, 2009; Tulloch et al., 2009, 2016).

Additionally, two models for discussing multilingualism: language-as-resource (de Jong et al., 2016) and language ecology (Hornberger, 2002) will be examined in regard to their social implications for minority language speakers. The problematic nature of language-as-resource will also be discussed. It is the contention of this paper that this literature contains a major gap in its considerations of policy, which is mostly treated as a passive superstructure under which individual actors choose to participate, or not. The purpose of the following literature review is to emphasize the creation and implementation of policy as an important factor in the choices that individual actors make, regardless of their decision to participate.

English-Plus: Multilingualism and Capital

For minoritized language communities, as many Indigenous language-speaking communities are, it is often difficult to gain recognition of one’s own language. Until recently, the “one nation, one language” policy was frequently practised and justified as a way of uniting the often multicultural society of a nation under a single linguistic regime for the sake of expediency. This orientation has been described by de Jong et al. (2016), in reference to Ruíz (1984), as the language-as-problem orientation. This characterization of multilingual communities as a barrier to national unification is characteristic of policies in the United States. This orientation has predictable effects for minority language speaking communities, especially those who are monolingual and unable to speak the dominant language—they are often ostracized or systematically marginalized by the dominant group. Under an officially (bi)multilingual regime, this open hostility takes a more subtle and nuanced form. English-Plus multilingualism is, arguably, one of those forms.

Using the model of cultural capital described by Bourdieu (1986), Yosso (2005) expanded this category to include linguistic capital, described as “the intellectual and social skills attained through communication experiences in more than one language and/or style” (p. 78). This linguistic capital contributes to a community’s “cultural wealth,” Yosso (2005) argued, and makes individuals belonging to such a community more resilient in the face of challenges posed by an outside, dominant group. In particular, Yosso (2005) has been critical of the way that Bourdieu’s (1986) model has been used in order to claim that certain groups lack capital, which perpetuates the myth of a white middle-class norm. Minoritized communities that are measured by comparisons to such white middle-class standards, therefore, end up further privileging these standards. A problem, which Yosso (2005) seemed to underestimate, is the willingness of the state to misappropriate economic capital away from servicing minoritized communities, thus undermining the ability of these communities to resist the superior force of the state. English-Plus multilingualism, and its predecessor approaches to dominate linguistic minority communities, has had the effect of limiting the cultural wealth of linguistically diverse communities by cutting off the financial imperative to learn one’s own home language.

By returning to Bourdieu’s (1986) description of cultural and social capital in relation to economic capital, one can see the particularly pernicious way that English-Plus multilingualism undermines minoritized language communities. English-Plus’ disguise of progress towards a more linguistically diverse future masks the systemic underfunding and marginalization of certain groups from the systems of power in the dominant community. The policy change has the effect of promoting the dominant language through neglect of home language instruction, rather than demonstrating outward hostility towards it. This subtle move potentially provides an even greater challenge to marginalized communities, as people from the majority community are less likely to recognize that they continue to benefit from the hoarding of social, cultural, and economic capital without the ethical baggage that comes from open aggression. Bourdieu’s (1986) concept of capital conversion is of particular use here. This idea describes the many ways that an individual can, through appropriate investment, convert between social, cultural, and economic capital. The idea being that each form of capital can be exchanged for a certain amount of another capital. Bourdieu (1986) made clear, though, that “economic capital is at the root of all other forms of capital” (p. 24) as it is representative of the exchange value between the other forms of capital. Therefore, by neglecting financial obligations to promote official multilingualism, English-Plus systems can systematically deny the marginalized language communities among them the ability to convert their cultural wealth into a more useful form in the resistance of hegemony.

English-Plus multilingualism, as defined above, represents a serious threat to multilingual efforts to decolonize language communities, and poses a serious ethical challenge for English as a Second and Foreign Language educators. The problem is most apparent in places with apparent multilingual recognition of minoritized languages, where “very little instruction takes place in home languages” (Klapwijk & Van der Walt, 2016, p. 67). Where this instruction does take place is often relegated to marginalized spheres of the education system (i.e., early childhood or adult education). The more advanced, or privileged, subjects and programmes (i.e., secondary and tertiary education) are far less likely to have instruction in the home language of the minoritized language community. Additional barriers to home language instruction include a lack of learning materials and often a lack of qualified teachers whose language is the home language of the students (Klapwijk & Van der Walt, 2016). These factors are evident in Te Reo speaking communities in Aotearoa/New Zealand, the Quechua speaking communities of the Andean plateau, and Inuktut speaking communities in Nunavut.

Ecological Framework vs. Language-as-Resource Model

Before exploring specific examples of experiences with bilingual education from around the world, this review will begin by exploring certain theoretical metaphors for multilingual ideologies. The first of these metaphors is the concept of language-as-resource, which has been proposed as a logical extension of the language-as-problem and language-as-right discourses developed and articulated by Ruíz (1984). The main feature of the language-as-resource orientation is that linguistic diversity is an asset to nations, which should “be managed, developed and conserved” (de Jong et al., 2016, p. 201). This is opposed to the language-as-problem (problem) orientation, which situates “the speaking of languages other than the dominant language as a deficit to be overcome if individuals are to be economically, politically successful and socially integrated into mainstream society” (de Jong, et al., 2016, p. 201). The third orientation, language-as-right, is based on the more legal notion of protecting language minorities from discrimination based on language (“weak” form) or as a basic human right to be enforced in the wider discourse of autonomy and self-determination (“strong” form) (de Jong, et al., 2016, p. 201). Canada would be situated in between language-as-right and language-as-resource, with regard to its various language policies.

De Jong et al. (2016) outlined some of the obvious objections to language-as-problem (problem) and language-as-right (right) orientations. Mainly, that problem narratives consider linguistic diversity as a deficit to be overcome and right narratives rely heavily on legal coercion and do not often focus on resolving the underlying biases in society. These orientations should not, however, be considered as stages that countries progress through as they develop economically or politically, while moving from language-as-problem towards language-as-resource. The United States, for instance, is considered an exemplary language-as-problem state, whereas, Pakistan is described as having moved between all three ideologies at different points in their recent history (De Jong et al., 2016). Of these three orientations, however, De Jong et al. (2016) argued that the language-as-resource orientation has become very popular among developed and developing countries with significant minority language communities. These traditionally marginalized communities are now starting to be regarded as potential under-mobilized economic actors. The language of resource intends to mobilize these communities to greater fulfill their economic potential.

In all of the places considered for analysis, there is a heavy emphasis towards economic, political, and social cohesion at the root of language policy reform. These are, it will be argued, symptoms of the language-as-resource orientation. The resource orientation’s implicit emphasis on resource extraction, as justification for linguistic diversity, has been implemented in varied ways, as it speaks to the economic interests of the dominant community. Underlying these assumptions, though, is the need for the colonized to conform to the dominant language of the wider national community in order to participate in the hegemonic economic order. This ideological orientation is severely limited in this way. The argument made by De Jong et al. (2016) is that, by comparison to problem and right orientations, resource frameworks are more progressive and usually result in greater social mobilization of the dominant group to the aid of minority language communities, as the dominant group comes to see language diversity not in terms of economic burden, but of opportunity. Ultimately, however, the minoritized communities are viewed as a resource to be mined/exploited for labour or for their natural resources, which perpetuates the problematic orientation towards colonial attitudes, especially in relation to Indigenous peoples.

A second theoretical orientation explored in reading about education in multilingual settings was an ecological model proposed by Hornberger (2002). This model relies on the language-as-resource paradigm, but this conception is explicitly against assimilationism and in favour of “diversity and emancipation” (Hornberger, 2002, p. 29). This is reminiscent of interest convergence (Milner, 2008), where racial minorities were put in the position of seeking opportunities where their interests overlapped with those of the dominant group in order to mobilize political will towards progress. This ecological model can be best described as employing the metaphor of species health and biodiversity when considering languages. According to Hornberger (2002), “languages, like living species, evolve, grow, change, live, and die in relation to other languages and also in relation to their environment”, and “[languages] may [also] be endangered” (p. 33). The way that the language-as-resource orientation emphasizes economic utility of minority language communities, something to be mined and exploited, can be seen through comparison with Hornberger (2002), who mobilized endangerment as a theme to make the case that “the ecology movement is about not only studying and describing those potential losses, but also counteracting them” (p. 33). In this way, the ecological metaphor takes the language-as-resource orientation and mobilizes it to the benefit of minority communities, rather than for the economic wellbeing of a detached nation-state.

This model is particularly important in multilingual settings, not unlike many Indigenous communities today. The species metaphor is used to convey a sense of health rather than establishing hierarchies; for instance, the metaphor is greatly concerned with the linguistic environment. These, according to Hornberger (2002), are the “sociopolitical, economic, and cultural” features of the broader community (p. 36). The features are evident in the attitudes and ideologies of the dominant community, thus explaining the “interest convergence” comparison made above. Historically, and currently, there exists a discourse of power associated with language. Linguistic power has become particularly salient in the era of globalization as this has meant the subordination of minority languages for “world languages” in multilingual communities (Hornberger, 2002, p. 32). The status of language discourse in the early 2000s shown here by Hornberger (2002) remains largely the same today. Hornberger (2002) “concluded that unless the wider societal context could be geared toward valuing Quechua on a par with Spanish, ‘policy failure’ was inevitable” (p. 40). Given the relative value of the dominant language, in terms of economic mobility and opportunity, favours monolingualism, the impetus in the language-as-resource orientation will be for the minority language to be taught only as a means of teaching the dominant language (King & Haboud, 2002). As a theme, this will recur repeatedly in the examples explored below.

Aotearoa/New Zealand

The story of Aotearoa/New Zealand’s Te Reo education begins in the 1970s, which saw the “Maori assert control over their depleted language, cultural, and material resources” (Hill, 2011, p. 720). These assertions of control over resources culminated “in 1984, [when] New Zealand’s national Department of Education granted permission to a primary school in Huntly in the Waikato region to establish Maori language immersion programs” (Harrison, 1998, p. 297). This program was extremely successful and by “1994, more than 13,000 Maori children were enrolled in 819 Kohanga Reo programs” (Harrison, 1998, p. 301). During the time of Harrison’s (1998) publishing, these programs were considered a success. In 1994, when the research had been conducted, these schools were only recently offering full Maori instruction in secondary school. Students in the school had higher retention rates and an 80% success rate on national examinations (besides English), which was higher than the national average for Maori youth.

These positive outcomes persisted until the end of the 1990s, when it became apparent that the system was only slowing Maori language shift. By 2010, the rate of Maori who could hold a conversation in Te Reo was only 24%, a slight decrease from the 1970s, when it had been at 26% (Hill, 2011). The success of students in Maori bilingual primary schools is questionable, since many have unsuccessfully transitioned into English secondary or tertiary education. This is the case even though “[m]ost Maori-medium students speak English as their first language” (Hill, 2011, p. 720). Hill (2011, 2016) considered the language ideologies of teachers in these schools with reference to English language instruction; this is because English language programs are still dominant in secondary or tertiary education and many students are transitioning out of bilingual programs, but tend to struggle with this transition. This is an example of the language-as-resource model. In this case, the Maori language is not a value in and of itself, rather it is a means to encourage greater participation among minority language speakers in the dominant economic system of the larger society. Although, school policy in this context may be drastically different from that of Nunavut and the Andean Plateau, these examples nevertheless demonstrate that consideration of multilingualism as an asset, without a proportionate economic opportunity associated with minority language proficiency, will struggle greatly to abate a serious language shift, like that of the Maori communities in Aotearoa/New Zealand.

Contrary to the above examples of the deficit mindset, Doerr (2009) situated a series of ethnographic observations in a school operating an English-mainstream and Maori-immersion program in parallel, one where laughing at failures by mainstream teachers, who cannot or refuse to learn how to pronounce words in Te Reo correctly, is argued to be a form of counter-hegemonic resistance. In this setting, the two programs, mainstream and Te Reo immersion, come together for their final two years of high school. Mainstream teachers were assigned to teach mixed mainstream and immersion classes and were observed attempting and failing to pronounce the names of students, who responded by giggling and mocking the teacher. No attempts were made by the teacher to correct herself. Interestingly, the students who had felt disrespected by the teacher’s lack of care in pronouncing their names had been characterized by the English-medium teachers in the school collectively as being disrespectful and intimidating, an act that was framed by Doerr (2009) as a narrative of “countering pedagogy.” This term was defined as being “focuse[d] on. . .the nuts and bolts of carrying out emancipatory actions” (pp. 140-141). In this case, the act of laughing was perceived by the researcher as a counter-hegemonic form of resistance whereby the teachers were situated in the ideology of the colonizer whose power was threatened and then began to perceive themselves as the victims of a reversed oppression. This “countering pedagogy” will become an additional theoretical framework from which to consider the behaviour of people operating within a counterintuitive/oppressive policy framework. This framework will be useful when considering Inuit classroom participation as there remains a serious, and worsening shortage of Inuit teachers in Nunavut. It is, therefore, important to be aware of the ways that students are capable of subverting oppressive acts by their Qallunaat (white southern) teachers. Exploring these ways to consider the behaviour of minority language communities in dominant educational structures will hopefully produce more fruitful ethnographic observations.

Quechua Language Communities in Latin America

Since the early 1970s and late 1980s, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru have adopted similar policy changes as those described earlier. These examples will clearly highlight the problems implied in the language-as-resource model, so they will be of theoretical value, as well. First, the work of King and Haboud (2002) will be considered, which analyzed the attitudes of Ecuadorian language policymakers in the late 1990s. In Ecuador, there are profound ethnic divides, which translate into class differences. Only 10% (King and Haboud, 2002, p. 360) of Ecuadorians are of “white” Spanish ancestry, but they dominate the senior governmental and military posts in the country. The middle-class consists of mestizos (mixed Indigenous and white) and poorer “whites,” whereas, the lower classes are almost exclusively Indigenous Ecuadorians.

The most obvious examples of flaws in the language-as-resource model comes from this situation. Firstly, Indigenous languages are explicitly employed as a tool to teach Indigenous students Spanish. This discourse is also used as a way of privileging international languages, especially English, in the wealthier private schools whose graduates typically end up working for large multinational companies or the government. In both of these examples, language is used as a tool. The first shows the coercive deployment of the language-as-resource model, the second shows the exclusionary deployment of this model. Languages, in these instances, are seen as being useful only if they accomplish a specific end: the greater economic benefit of the speaker. These examples show that both wealthy and poor Ecuadorians are being forced to adopt the dominant languages of the community that appears to offer the greatest economic opportunity to people of their class, so as to be absorbed into a wider economic community. Even if the more deplorable Indigenous example is ignored, the experience of upper-class, white, Spanish communities shows the subordination of Spanish culture to that of the dominant English one; one where English becomes a status symbol among the Ecuadorian elite (King & Haboud, 2002). The dialogue of interculturality fits very well within this discourse, as long as the dominant language is the privileged one in intercultural relations. It is always the Indigenous student who is forced to learn Spanish in school, for instance, not the other way around.

Hornberger’s (2002) study of Bolivian ideological linguistic spaces demonstrates that Indigenous people themselves are conscripted into this narrative. This topic will remerge in the discussion of language ideologies in Nunavut, as well. While conducting a workshop for teachers for the Quechua bilingual program in Bolivia, Hornberger (2002) recounted that the Vice-Minister of Education reported that “questions have been raised about the Reform’s [sic] attention to indigenous languages, and indigenous parents have begun to demand that their children be taught in Spanish” (p. 28). In this case, the parents of Indigenous children in schools reported that the language of the Indigenous people came with an opportunity cost. They believed that without education in Spanish their children would be put at an economic disadvantage compared with those who had received such linguistic education. This is an inevitable consequence of placing an economic asset-based spin on language development where there is not a parallel expansion of the economic opportunities in the native language of the people.

Rindstedt and Aronsson (2002) also found support for this claim that parents were conscripted into a language ideology that subordinated Quechua in favour of the dominant Spanish culture. In their analysis, they described the “ultimate decisive factor on the individual level is parents’ choice of the language they use when addressing their children” (Rindstedt & Aronsson, 2002, p. 722). This conclusion came from ethnographic observations in a community in rural Ecuador where the community was identified as a hotbed of Indigenous activism in the region. Parents in this community reported that all of their children, regardless of age, were fluent Quechua speakers, but neither Rindstedt nor Aronsson observed children younger than ten years old speaking Quechua. Additionally, there is an important consideration here regarding the role of policy in reversing language shift. Rindstedt and Aronsson (2002) contended that “[t]he key to successful reversal of language is located primarily in the natural intergenerational transmission of the language in the home, not in government laws, policies, or formal schooling” (p. 723). This statement discounts the role of policies in influencing the behaviour of parents, who in this case, were clearly influenced by the lack of opportunity for Quechua speakers and chose to speak Spanish to their young children.

Valdiviezo (2009), who has taken a more concerted effort to analyze policy documents in multilingual settings, holds a contrary view of the dismissive attitude towards policy in the Andean context of Rindstedt and Aronsson (2002). Valdiviezo (2009) made several observations about the nature of the bilingual intercultural education (BIE) policy in Peru. In particular, the policy was constructed from the top-down, it provided a vague treatment of the intercultural element, and it focused more practical efforts on bilingualism, as opposed to interculturality. By lacking focus on interculturality, Valdiviezo (2009) argued that BIE programs have struggled with implementation and “remain. . .a space of exclusion of indigenous [sic] languages and cultures” (p. 61). This problem was further reflected in the treatment the policy was given during teacher education workshops. The information provided by the Ministry of Education to teachers at the workshops, when bilingualism was given in a collaborative and educational setting, presented the cultural elements of these new language reforms in a separate lecture from a senior school board official. This practice, Valdiviezo (2009) argued, reinforces a separation between the pedagogic value of teaching Quechua culture and language. This programme encouraged teachers to adopt an ideology of valuing Quechua only as a linguistic tool that encourages Indigenous students to privilege Spanish/Western knowledges; thus relegating Quechuan culture as something to be alluded to in lectures, rather than taught outright. This is obvious when considering the ways in which teachers treated the task of translating ideas between cultural contexts. Valdiviezo (2009) observed that teachers struggled greatly translating school culture into Quechua, thus emphasizing the Indigenous value system and deemphasizing the Western. Conversely, they found no difficulty translating Spanish texts and ideas into Quechua, which privileges Western/Spanish values in the classroom as the referent language. This kind of analysis highlights the many fruitful ways in which policy development and implementation can have very serious implications for the behaviour and ideology of the actors operating within the given policy frame.


Much of the literature reviewed that follows came at a time of major reforms in the Territory of Nunavut; in particular, the Education Act and Inuit Language Protection Act were both passed in the same year (Legislative Assembly of Nunavut, 2008a, 2008b). Additionally, since nearly 80% of newly hired teachers are non-Inuit (Department of Finance, 2017), it is important to consider the opinions of Qallunaat teachers in this context, as they remain the largest share of the teacher workforce. When Aylward (2009) conducted an opinion survey of teachers in secondary schools, many of the deficit ways of thinking from the above examples emerged. For instance, according to some of the teachers, it became obvious that students who engaged in cultural activities should not be granted a high school diploma. One teacher stated that “We need to give the child who spends half of the year on the land the right to graduate with a ‘traditional skills’ diploma” (Aylward, 2009, p. 85). Much of this talk of tiered systems of recognition for completion of school is couched in the language of refusing to “dumb down” the academic requirements in order to squeeze Inuit kids through school. According to Aylward (2009), this opinion was prevalent among secondary school teachers who were under pressure to teach an entire hidden curriculum (Giroux & Purpel, 1983) to students in three years, and then prepare them for Alberta Diploma Exams by the end of Grade 12. This bicultural metaphor, according to Aylward (2009), is used to restrict the horizons of students, as they are seen as having limited aspirations and being in need of education reform, so as not to put unrealistic pressures on them or on the teachers.

A response to this deficit mindset expressed by teachers comes from Tulloch et al. (2016) who examined the responses of Inuit to having a community member as principal in the school. Based on the experiences of two schools whose principal or co-principal was Inuit, Tulloch et al. (2016) reported that seeing an Inuk (singular form of Inuit) in the role of principal overturned the “cognitive imperialism” which had subordinated Inuit culture within the school (p. 195). The possibly symbolic gesture of hiring an Inuk as principal also had larger, more far-reaching consequences for the school culture. The Inuit principals were able to truly enforce the cultural norms of the community, rather than paying lip service to them. Inuit principals had been raised in and embodied the IQ principles (Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit are Inuit cultural values and roughly translates to things Inuit know) upon which the Nunavut school system is supposed to be founded. As Tulloch et al. (2016) reported, Inuit face many challenges stepping into these roles. They were often placed in a position where they were expected to be “better than a Southerner” (Tulloch et al., 2016, p. 203). Instead, they found themselves unsupported and on the knife’s edge of balancing the various interests of everyone in both the school and the community. Oosten and Laugrand (2009) made a similar recommendation regarding leadership in schools as they argue for the importance of on the land teaching with elders, something that is difficult to accomplish within the bureaucracy of a school, particularly if it is not valued by the school principal.

One of the main goals of these changes to educational leadership and the composition of the teaching workforce is to promote and secure the Inuit languages indefinitely; this was a founding principle of Nunavut. Tulloch et al. (2009) explored the language ideologies of language role models within Inuit communities. The language shift throughout the territory towards English remains an ongoing problem for Inuit leadership, which can be explained in part, by “the economic and political weight of English combined with years of deliberate assimilation” (Tulloch et al., 2009, p. 134-135); however, this is changing. This economic argument remains powerful within the territory, but because of the greater need and opportunity for bilingual speakers of Inuit languages, there is greater economic incentive for young people to learn their own languages. This is in contrast with the examples from the Andes and Aotearoa/New Zealand where there remained little economic incentive to learn an Indigenous language. According to Tulloch et al. (2009), the “job” discourse was important to the informants, but linked to positive prospects for the future of Inuktitut. Additionally, there is an interesting discussion with regard to minority language rights within a linguistic minority community. In this case, the unique example of the small Franco-Nunavummiut (Nunavummiut means person from Nunavut) community in the territory. According to Cancel (2009), the experiences of the Francophone debates in southern Canada played an important role for the Inuit language majority in Nunavut.


This literature review has explored the model of language-as-resource quite extensively. Language-as-resource orientations were considered problematic as they emphasize certain economic models and simply flip the deficit model on its head emphasizing assets, but maintaining the references to a balance sheet. It was also argued that, in certain contexts, this model could be explicitly harmful to Indigenous language speaking communities, while in others, it could be beneficial. In the cases of the Andes and Aotearoa/New Zealand, it appeared to be more negative than positive, as there remained little economic opportunity explicitly afforded based on belonging to their minority language communities. On the other hand, it appeared that the economic opportunities afforded by bilingualism in Nunavut could be a driver of language role models to encourage young people to pursue better use and understanding of both the dominant language and their native tongue.

In contrast, the ecological model of Hornberger (2002) was not explicitly referenced in the literature, but had some interesting characteristics that made it a more useful model for this research. The ecological model firstly emphasizes health and wellbeing, along with diversity as a benefit in and of itself, and the metaphor is inherently relational. This relationality implied in a metaphor of biodiversity is in keeping with Indigenous methodologies (Kovach, 2009; Smith, 2012). This model and its utility will need to be explored further before proceeding with this research project, but it seems to be a valid alternative to the language-as-resource model. Additionally, the efficacy of the Aotearoa/New Zealand model of Indigenous language preservation through schooling was problematized, as their reputation as a shining light seemed to be slowing, rather than reversing, the trend away from Maori language use. In all of this literature, there has only been a tangential reference to policy. Policies were often treated as codices of programs and established the boundaries of acceptable practice in each context. In some cases, insiders were seen as agents who were better suited to enforce policies, especially those that had a cultural aspect (Tulloch et al., 2016). In other cases, the boundaries of policy were transgressed or deemphasized by policy actors (Hornberger, 2002). The conforming and transgressive actions of people affected by the policies cannot be entirely understood without a serious historical analysis of the development of these policies. The purpose of this literature review was to highlight ways in which power operates within the development and implementation of policy in Indigenous contexts. This invites reference to Gale’s (2001) critical policy sociology, which emphasizes the exclusion of voices from the policy discussion as key to the operation of power in policy discourses; uncovering this use of policy will explain the actions of responsible persons within the policy apparatus.


This review was conceptualized to analyze literature from three main areas with different experiences of bilingual education and Indigenous language revitalization projects. The goal of this review was to highlight two theoretical metaphors, which prove useful in rethinking the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous language communities, language-as-resource, and language ecology, and also to highlight the importance of policy analysis in this discussion. In particular, the operations of schools modelled on Western standards and the conflicts within Canada’s relationship with the Territories was at the centre of this analysis. Additionally, an analysis of English-Plus multilingualism was considered a threat to decolonization within education programmes involved in language revitalization.

Consideration was given to a variety of contexts, which have had varying degrees of success in implementing bilingual education in their respective school systems. Aotearoa/New Zealand was chosen as a place whose program has been widely regarded as a successful early adopter. The literature, however, showed that in recent years this positioning of the Aotearoa/New Zealand model had major flaws in terms of its execution. In addition, the systems of the Andes were considered as the most egregious overuse of the language-as-resource model, highlighting its inherent flaws; the recurring one being that Indigenous languages were used as a means to better teach Spanish. In the absence of economic opportunity for bilingual or monolingual Quechua speakers in many of these countries, the parents of Indigenous children were ensnared in an ideology that subordinated their language to that of the dominant Hispanic culture. Finally, the work of various scholars around the time of Nunavut’s major reforms in 2008 was discussed. In large part, the discourse has not moved forward, and there remains gaps in this discussion, especially in the area of policy analysis. Ultimately, it is policy—the ideological expression of the powerful within a society—that influences how people behave under this very apparatus.


Aylward, M. L. (2009). Culturally relevant schooling in Nunavut: Views of secondary school educators. Inuit Studies, 33(1–2), 77–93.

Bourdieu, P. (1986). The forms of capital. In J. G. Richardson (Ed.), Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education (pp. 15–29). New York: Greenwood Press.

Cancel, C. (2009). Minorité franco-nunavoise et majorité inuit : tensions et coopération dans les débats sur l’éducation. Inuit Studies, 33(1–2), 153–171.

de Jong, E. J., Li, Z., Zafar, A. M., & Wu, C.-H. (2016). Language policy in multilingual contexts: Revisiting Ruíz’s “language-as-resource” orientation. Bilingual Research Journal, 39(3–4), 200–212.

Department of Finance (2017). Towards a representative public service. Government of Nunavut. Retrieved from:

Doerr, N. M. (2009). Laughing at mistakes: Language politics, counter-hegemonic actions, and bilingual education in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Journal of Language, Identity & Education, 8(2–3), 124–143.

Gale, T. (2001). Critical policy sociology: Historiography, archaeology and genealogy as methods of policy analysis. Journal of Education Policy, 16(5), 379–393.

Giroux, H. A., & Purpel, D. E. (1983). The hidden curriculum and moral education: Deception or discovery? Berkeley, California: McCutchan PubCorp.

Government of Canada, Office of the Auditor General of Canada (2013, November 19). Education in Nunavut. Retrieved October 8, 2017, from

Harrison, B. (1998). Te Wharekura o Rakaumangamanga: The development of an Indigenous language immersion school. Bilingual Research Journal, 22(2–4), 297–316.

Hill, R. (2011). Rethinking English in Māori-medium education. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 14(6), 719–732.

Hill, R. (2016). Transitioning from Māori-medium to English-medium education: Emerging findings of a pilot study. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 19(3), 249–265.

Hornberger, N. H. (2002). Multilingual language policies and the continua of biliteracy: An ecological approach. Language Policy, 1(1), 27–51.

King, K. A., & Haboud, M. (2002). Language planning and policy in Ecuador. Current Issues in Language Planning, 3(4), 359–424.

Klapwijk, N., & Van der Walt, C. (2016). English-plus multilingualism as the new linguistic capital? Implications of university students’ attitudes towards languages of instruction in a multilingual environment. Journal of Language, Identity & Education, 15(2), 67-82.

Kovach, M. (2009). Indigenous methodologies characteristics, conversations and contexts. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Laugrand, F., & Oosten, J. (2009). Transfer of Inuit qaujimajatuqangit in modern Inuit society. Inuit Studies, 33(1–2), 115–152.

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Milner, H. R. (2008). Critical race theory and interest convergence as analytic tools in teacher education policies and practices. Journal of Teacher Education, 59(4), 332–346.

Rindstedt, C., & Aronsson, K. (2002). Growing up monolingual in a bilingual community: The Quichua revitalization paradox. Language in Society, 31(5), 721–742.

Ruíz, R. (1984). Orientations in language planning. NABE: The Journal for the National Association for Bilingual Education, 8(2), 15-34.

Smith, L. T. (2012). Decolonizing methodologies: Research and indigenous peoples (2nd ed.). London; New York: Zed Book : Distributed in the USA exclusively by Palgrave Macmillan.

Tulloch, S., Metuq, L., Hainnu, J., Pitsiulak, S., Flaherty, E., Lee, C., & Walton, F. (2016). Inuit principals and the changing context of bilingual education in Nunavut. Inuit Studies, 40(1), 189–209.

Tulloch, S., Pilakapsi, Q., Shouldice, M., Crockatt, K., Chenier, C., & Onalik, J. (2009). Inuit perspectives on sustaining bilingualism in Nunavut. Inuit Studies, 33(1–2), 133–152.

Valdiviezo, L. (2009). Bilingual intercultural education in indigenous schools: an ethnography of teacher interpretations of government policy. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 12(1), 61–79.

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L’enseignement du français chez les Premières Nations d’hier à aujourd’hui : défis didactiques, pratiques pédagogiques et compétence plurilingue

Volume 2(1): 2018

NANCY CRÉPEAU, Université d’Ottawa

CAROLE FLEURET, Université d’Ottawa


Le développement de compétences langagières en langue de scolarisation chez les élèves de communautés linguistiques minoritaires demeure un facteur important de réussite scolaire. Cette réussite scolaire peut notamment se concrétiser par un enseignement de la langue de scolarisation qui tienne compte du répertoire langagier des élèves dans leur langue d’origine. En dressant le portrait sociolinguistique des Premières Nations au Québec et un état des lieux des pratiques d’enseignement du français depuis la scolarisation obligatoire, nous analyserons les fondements pédagogiques à l’origine des pratiques actuelles. Ces pratiques éducatives, qui font abstraction du répertoire langagier des élèves, limitent leur réussite scolaire et le développement d’une compétence plurilingue (Auger, 2013). À cet effet, nous discuterons des défis relatifs au développement de la compétence plurilingue chez des élèves au regard de la langue de scolarisation en prenant appui sur l’avancée des recherches en langue seconde qui sont dans la lignée des travaux fondateurs de Cummins (1979) relativement à l’hypothèse de l’interdépendance. Nous terminerons cet article en examinant quelques pistes favorisant, d’une part, la mise en valeur du répertoire langagier des élèves et, d’autre part, le transfert d’une langue à l’autre, aspect essentiel dans l’apprentissage de la langue de scolarisation et le développement de leurs compétences en litéracie.


The development of linguistic competency in the language of schooling remains an important factor for the academic achievement of minority communities. Educational practices, which ignore students’ language repertoires, limit such academic achievement and hinder the development of their plurilingual competence (Auger, 2013). Academic success, therefore, can be achieved by teaching the language of schooling while taking into account the students’ language repertoires. A description of the sociolinguistic profile of First Nations in Québec and a presentation of the French language teaching practices employed since the introduction of mandatory schooling will enable an analysis of current pedagogical practices. A discussion of the challenges students faced in the development of their plurilingual competence, with regard to the language of schooling, will also be examined through the theoretical second language learning lens of Cummins’ (1979) interdependence hypothesis. We will conclude by examining potential avenues that foster the development of students’ language repertoires and that discuss language transfer–an essential aspect of language learning and literacy development.

Mots-clés : peuples autochtones, français de scolarisation, enseignement, compétence plurilingue, répertoire langagier.


Les peuples autochtones au Canada sont reconnus par la Loi constitutionnelle de 1982, qui les définit selon trois groupes distincts : les Indiens (appelés également « Premières Nations »), les Métis et les Inuits (Affaires autochtones et Développement du Nord Canada [AADNC], 2017). Selon le recensement de 2011, les personnes ayant une identité autochtone représentaient 4,3 % de la population canadienne, soit 1 400 685 individus. De ce nombre, au Québec, 141 915 personnes ont déclaré être autochtones (1,8 % de la population) (Statistique Canada, 2011a). Ce groupe est jeune et connaît une forte croissance démographique : entre 2006 et 2011, on note une augmentation de 20,1 %, comparativement à 5,2 % pour la population canadienne. Pour les Premières Nations, cette progression se chiffre à 22,9 % (Statistique Canada, 2013a). Sur le plan linguistique, au Canada, 22 % des Premières Nations ont déclaré être capables de soutenir une conversation dans une langue autochtonei (Statistique Canada, 2013b). Cette proportion est inférieure à celle du recensement de 2006, et ce, de 5,6 points. Malgré cette diminution, plus de 60 langues autochtones sont encore parlées. Chez les Autochtones, 20,9 % ont déclaré avoir une de ces langues autochtones comme langue maternelleii ; la proportion la plus élevée de ces personnes se trouve au Québec (Statistique Canada, 2012). De plus, la proportion de locuteurs autochtones au Québec capables de soutenir une conversation en langue ancestraleiii est supérieure au reste du Canada (soit près du tiers, contre 17 %). Chez les Premières Nations, ce pourcentage est de 41,7 % au Québec, contre 22 % au Canada (Statistique Canada, 2011a).


Avant d’aborder le développement des compétences langagières des élèves des Premières Nations, il nous faut d’abord présenter brièvement le contexte sociolinguistique dans lequel ils évoluent ainsi que le statut conféré au français au sein des communautés. Nous présenterons brièvement les pratiques pédagogiques dans les années 1950-1960.

Contexte Sociolinguistique des Premières Nations au Québec

Pour bien comprendre le contexte sociolinguistique des peuples autochtones au Québec, nous aborderons brièvement la répartition des différents groupes et des langues autochtones sur le territoire. Les données, disponibles sur le site des Affaires autochtones et du Nord Canada (2017), proviennent de l’Enquête nationale auprès des ménages de 2011.

Les peuples autochtones au Québec se distinguent selon trois groupes linguistiquesiv, répartis en 11 nations et en une cinquantaine de communautés. Les langues autochtones qui y sont encore parlées présentent un degré de vitalité très varié d’une nation à l’autre, voire d’une communauté à l’autre. Même si la situation de ces langues est plus favorable au Québec qu’ailleurs au Canada, le patrimoine linguistique est extrêmement fragile : « la plupart des communautés autochtones abritent en ce moment les dernières générations de locuteurs monolingues de leurs langues » (Drapeau, 2013, p. 209). Le déclin de l’économie traditionnelle autochtone, l’expansion des médias de masse au sein des communautés ainsi que la hausse du niveau de scolarisation peuvent amener un effet dévastateur sur la préservation des langues autochtones (ibid).

Les langues inuktitut, atikamekw, crie et naspakie sont celles qui connaissent le plus haut degré de vitalité ; les communautés qui les parlent ont pu conserver leur langue en raison de leur éloignement des centres urbains (AADNC, 2017; Statistique Canada, 2011b). L’état de la situation linguistique de certaines nations ou communautés se trouve cependant fragilisé à cause du nombre restreint de locuteurs. Par exemple, chez les Innus de la Côte-Nord, une majorité (83 %) a l’innu comme langue maternelle et l’utilisait à la maison (AADNC, 2017), mais pour la communauté de Mashteuiatsh, en 2011, la situation était préoccupante, car une minorité (13,3 %) avait l’innu comme langue maternelle. Dans certaines communautés algonquines au Témiscamingue, par exemple, la langue n’est presque plus parlée, mais lorsque l’on examine les trois communautés en Abitibi, près de 62 % des résidents de Pikogan ont déclaré connaître une ou des langue(s) autochtone(s), alors que cette proportion s’élevait à 64 % au Lac Simon et à 55 % à Kitcisakik. Pour ces trois communautés, la proportion d’individus ayant l’algonquin comme langue maternelle, soit la première langue apprise et parlée, était en moyenne à 46 % (AADNC, 2017). En 2011, on estimait à 1 620 le nombre de personnes ayant l’algonquin comme langue maternelle au Québec (Statistique Canada, 2011b).

Pour les Micmacs, situés dans l’Est de la province, la situation est plus critique : presque la moitié des résidents de deux communautés connaissent leur langue autochtone. À Gesgapegiag, 47 % utilisent la langue autochtone à la maison, contre 16,3 % à Listuguj. D’autres communautés, pour lesquelles l’anglais demeure la langue majoritaire, se trouvent déjà très avancées dans le processus d’assimilation ; les individus de ces communautés qui ont une connaissance solide de la langue autochtone sont plus âgés, alors que les plus jeunes sont moins portés à la connaître (Drapeau, 2011). Chez les Mohawks, on retrouvait, en 2011, une centaine de personnes ayant la langue autochtone comme langue maternelle (Statistique Canada, 2011b).

Les communautés n’ayant plus de locuteurs natifs (ou presque) sont celles dont la langue ancestrale est sur le point d’être remplacée de façon définitive par le français ou l’anglais. Chez les Abénaquis, celle-ci est presque éteinte (en 2011, le nombre de locuteurs était de dix), et le français constitue une langue utilisée par la presque totalité des résidents (AADNC, 2017). La langue ancestrale des Malécites est plutôt parlée aux États-Unis et au Nouveau-Brunswick (Hot et Terraza, 2011), alors qu’au Québec, elle est totalement inexistante. Pour les Hurons-Wendat, la langue autochtone est endormie, et un projet de revitalisation la concernant était en cours jusqu’en 2012 (Sioui, Picard et Dorais, 2008).

En somme, même si, au Québec, la situation des langues autochtones semble plus réjouissante par rapport à celle des autres provinces canadiennes (Statistique Canada, 2012), rappelons que leur survie est très incertaine, en raison du nombre restreint de locuteurs, de la scolarisation et des médias en langue majoritaire (Drapeau, 2013). Selon Baraby (2011), environ 50 à 90 % des 6 700 langues minoritaires encore parlées dans le monde risquent de disparaître d’ici les cent prochaines années si elles ne sont plus transmises aux prochaines générations. Les langues autochtones au Québec, qui sont minoritaires, n’échappent pas à cette tendance, ce qui amène les locuteurs de langue autochtone à devenir bilingues (français ouv anglais), voire plurilingues, par la voie de la scolarisation. Ce bilinguisme parmi les Autochtones scolarisés conduirait, au sein des communautés, à un état de « diglossie »vi généralisé, c’est-à-dire que la langue autochtone est davantage utilisée dans un contexte informel entre les membres de la communauté, tandis que la langue majoritaire est davantage utilisée dans les situations formelles qui exigent l’utilisation de l’écrit (Drapeau, 2011, 2013).

Place et Statut du Français Chez les Premières Nations

D’un point de vue historique, le français a représenté la langue d’assimilation chez les Premières Nations du Québec (Sarrasin, 1998), notamment chez les Abénaquis, les Hurons et les Micmacs de la Gaspésie. Pour leur part, les Innus et les Atikamekw l’utilisent comme langue seconde (L2)vii (Daviault, 2013). Chez les Algonquins, le français est couramment parlé à Pikogan, au Lac Simon et à Kitcisakik, mais on remarque qu’au sein de la nation algonquine coexistent deux langues majoritaires ; en effet, pour les communautés situées au Sud de l’Abitibi, c’est l’anglais qui est la langue d’usage (AADNC, 2017). Cette émergence des langues majoritaires auprès des Autochtones au Québec coïncide avec la scolarisation obligatoire des enfants au sein des écoles résidentielles. Rappelons que l’implantation d’un réseau de pensionnats à travers le pays a été un élément central de la politique d’assimilation du gouvernement fédéral par rapport aux peuples autochtones. Ainsi voulait-on « tuer l’indien au sein de l’enfant » (Commission de vérité et de réconciliation du Canada [CVRC], 2015a, p. 135) en le soustrayant à son entourage, en le gardant en permanence « dans le cercle de la civilisation », pour le resocialiser de façon complète selon les attentes et les valeurs de la société euro-canadienne (Commission royale sur les peuples autochtones, 1996).

Ainsi le français était-il la langue de scolarisation dans les pensionnats catholiquesviii (Laurin et Couture, 1968; Tremblay, 2008). Les missionnaires de ces établissements savaient que son enseignement ne serait pas chose facile puisque la plupart de ces enfants ne le connaissaient pas (Auteur inconnu, 1956; Lesage, 1966).

La méthode dynamique

Dans un document intitulé Residential education for Indian acculturation (Laviolette, 1957), on peut entre autres prendre connaissance du principe d’acculturation. En effet, rappelons, comme nous l’avons mentionné plus haut, qu’une des finalités scolaires était d’assimiler les enfants des Autochtones. Ainsi le curriculum scolaire se fondait-il sur le principe d’acculturationix, défini de la façon suivante :

tout programme de scolarisation visant l’acculturation des Indiens doit être basé sur le respect d’origines culturelles et ethniques des élèves et sur la volonté des enseignants de répondre à leurs besoins spéciaux. Cela doit comprendre une initiation de manière franche, agréable, graduelle et méthodique pour que les élèves indiens puissent s’approprier les coutumes de la société canadienne [traduction libre] (Oblate Fathers in Canada, 1958, p. 13).

Pour ce faire, les enseignants avaient recours à la méthode dynamique, élaborée pour les Canadiens-Français par les Filles de la Charité du Sacré-Cœur de Jésus au cours de la première moitié du XX e siècle. Sur le plan psychologique, la méthode tenait compte du rythme de chaque enfant et des différences individuelles. Selon le guide du maître, celui « […] qui enseigne le français par la méthode dynamique n’enseigne pas; il guide le jeune élève qui, en vertu de son propre dynamisme, fait lui-même […] ses recherches et ses découvertes » (Filles de la Charité du Sacré-Coeur de Jésus, 1965, p. 4). Cette pratique pédagogique amenait l’enfant à passer du langage parlé au langage écrit, tout en tenant compte de ses capacités, selon son âge. Le Père Grenon, à l’époque directeur du pensionnat de Saint-Marc-de-Figuery, a adapté la méthode dynamique à un pensionnat indien. Pour l’enseignement du vocabulaire, on invitait les enseignants à se référer aux connaissances et aux intérêts des élèves pour élaborer le vocabulaire à enseigner. Une fois que les élèves savaient nommer une quinzaine d’objets, on introduisait des notions plus complexes.

Après 3 mois [sic] les élèves de 7 ou 8 ans ont assez de vocabulaire oral pour commencer l’enseignement du français écrit […]. Ce travail de vocabulaire oral doit cependant se continuer au cours de l’année de préparatoire, la 1re [sic], la 2e et même la 3e année. Ne jamais perdre de vue que l’enseignement du langage passe en premier lieu dans un pensionnat indien (Grenon, 1958, p. 1-2).

La méthode dynamique, aussi dite globale, se basait sur l’action énoncée en une phrase, contrairement aux méthodes phonétiques et syllabiques prenant appui sur les lettres et les syllabes. Ainsi, « de la phrase nous passons aux mots, des mots aux syllabes et enfin aux lettres » (ibid, p. 2). Ce procédé de la connaissance commence « du connu à l’inconnu ; du concret vers l’abstrait ; du tout au composé » (ibid, p. 2).

Cette méthode visait le développement langagier en français en misant sur une ambiance familiale et sur un climat de confiance mutuelle pour que les élèves utilisent « naturellement » la langue française, sans qu’il soit nécessaire « d’imposer aux élèves de parler français » (ibid, p. 4). Cependant, il nous semble que ces extraits contredisent les nombreux écrits sur la question de l’enseignement de la langue dans les pensionnats. En effet, la littérature scientifique et les témoignages de survivants nous montrent qu’il était interdit aux enfants de parler leur langue maternelle, même lors de la visite des parents, sous menaces de punitions physiques (Crytes, 2013; Loiselle, 2007; Ottawa, 2010; Rankin et Tardif, 2011; Tremblay, 2008). Le récit de Dominique contredit aussi l’approche préconisée par les Oblats : « c’est à coup de règles sur les doigts et de claques derrière la tête que nous avons graduellement intégré le vocabulaire des 8emitekojix et tenté, tant bien que mal, d’interpréter les concepts accompagnant leurs expressions » (Rankin et Tardif, 2011, p. 75).

Par ailleurs, Bousquet (2012) soulève que l’éducation scolaire québécoise des années 1950-1960 était bien différente de la philosophie éducationnelle autochtone. Par exemple, l’apprentissage de l’art oratoire, qui avait une place importante dans les pensionnats indiens au Québec, avait lieu « selon les critères de langue française : contrairement au discours en algonquin, pas de répétitions, pas d’histoires édifiantes sans explication de morale, pas de longues descriptions » (Bousquet, 2012, p. 13). De cette façon, on voulait préparer ces citoyens de demain à la parole publique, alors qu’au sein du peuple algonquin, la prise de parole ne se fait que si l’individu « se sent légitimement compétent pour le faire » (ibid, p. 15). De plus, Bousquet met en relief certaines différences du point de vue de la structure des langues française et algonquine. D’une part, le français comprend plusieurs termes génériques et a très souvent recours à l’abstraction. D’autre part, la langue algonquine, qui est une langue agglutinante et descriptive, comprend des genres (animés et inanimé) qui n’existent pas en français. Ces différences majeures ont eu des conséquences sur l’expérience d’apprentissage du français chez ces enfants : les concepts abstraits enseignés n’avaient pas d’équivalent dans leur langue premièrexi (L1). Certains enfants, comme Oscar, ont trouvé cet apprentissage difficile : « Je ne comprenais rien de ce qui se disait pendant plus d’un an. Ça se passait tout en français. Le temps d’apprendre des mots, ç’a pris du temps… avant de comprendre » (Tremblay, 2008, p. 191). L’expérience traumatisante de la séparation brutale de l’enfant et de ses parents a certainement contribué à diminuer sa disposition psychologique à apprendre une autre langue.

Le principe d’acculturation impliquait également l’intégration de normes socio-culturelles ou d’une conception du monde totalement éloignée de celles des élèves :

Celle que nous appelions tibiki kisis devenait tout bonnement la lune. Oteimin n’était plus le fruit en forme de cœur, mais bien la fraise. Onako, qui se rapportait à quelque chose de passé, ne suffisait plus : il fallait désormais comprendre les nuances entre hier, l’autre jour et l’année dernière […]. Et que dire du genre des mots ? La tête est féminine, – même pour un homme ! -, mais pas le crâne […]. Quand j’appelle mahigan juste par son nom, je reste en lien avec son esprit. Lorsque je dis ‘le loup’, c’est comme si je m’en éloigne en mettant un ‘le’ entre nous. (Rankin et Tardif, 2011, p. 75-76).

Le programme scolaire québécois ne cherchait pas directement à assimiler les élèves autochtones, on voulait leur offrir les mêmes services qu’à tous les autres Québécois (Crytes, 2013). Toutefois, cette notion « d’équité » n’était pas à l’avantage des élèves autochtones, car on évaluait leurs compétences en langue française en faisant fi de leur langue maternelle. On remarquait déjà à cette époque que les performances scolaires d’élèves fréquentant les pensionnats étaient comparées à celles des élèves québécois, sans tenir compte du fait que le français était leur L2 :

[…] il faut reconnaître que l’éducation de notre jeunesse indienne n’avance pas de pair avec celle des élèves de l’autre secteur de la population québécoise. Nos enfants sont désavantagés par les difficultés de la langue dès le départ : ce qui les met en retard sur leurs compagnons et compagnes de classe dans les écoles publiques de la Province. (Lesage, 1967)

Cela dit, bien que ces écoles aient amené les élèves autochtones à apprendre le français et à devenir fonctionnels dans la société moderne, on peut dire que « […] la conséquence globale reste une perte des compétences linguistiques » (CVRC, 2015b, p. 57), car cela a eu, entre autres choses, comme conséquence de compromettre, voire d’inhiber la transmission de la langue autochtone à la génération suivante. La scolarisation des Autochtones se faisant au Québec en grande partie dans la langue majoritaire, cela explique aujourd’hui le niveau élevé de bilinguisme chez ces populations. Ce bilinguisme, que l’on peut qualifier de soustractifxii, a des effets néfastes sur les compétences des Autochtones dans leur langue ancestrale (Drapeau 2013), voire sur leur réussite scolaire (Morris et O’Sullivan, 2007).

Alors, aujourd’hui, où en est-on ? Est-ce que les élèves autochtones, au regard de ce passé linguistique toujours prégnant, atteignent un taux de réussite à l’école comparable à celui de la population québécoise ou Canadienne ? Si l’on porte un regard sur les statistiques les plus récentes en matière d’éducation chez les Autochtones au Québec, on peut affirmer que le taux de réussite de ces derniers est plus bas que leurs homologues québécois (Posca, 2018). Certes, les écoles résidentielles ont laissé leur place ; les communautés autochtones ont pris en charge leur éducation et s’occupent, notamment, du recrutement des enseignants. On peut cependant se questionner sur les connaissances que ces enseignants détiennent sur les avancées de la recherche en didactique des langues pour favoriser le développement langagier des élèves en langue de scolarisation.


Au regard de ce qui a été présenté, on peut aisément se rendre compte de la fragilité de la réussite scolaire chez les élèves autochtones. Nous savons que cette dernière est la résultante d’un ensemble de facteurs, mais dans le cas qui nous intéresse ici, nous souhaitons discuter de la compétence langagière des apprenants, car elle représente un des atouts majeurs à la réussite scolaire et sociale. Les avancées de la recherche en didactique des langues ont fait émerger le concept de langue de scolarisation,dont nous discutons maintenant.

Apprentissage du Français Langue de Scolarisation

La notion de langue de scolarisation (LSCO) est apparue il y a une vingtaine d’années dans le contexte de l’enseignement du français comme L2 dans les pays de la francophonie (Le Ferrec, 2012). Selon Verdelhan-Bourgade (2002), c’est « une langue apprise et utilisée à l’école et par l’école » (p. 29), assurant un rôle médiateur dans la transmission des savoirs disciplinaires, qu’ils soient d’ordre linguistique ou non, en L1 ou en L2. Elle est à la fois objet et langue d’enseignement. Pour l’élève, la scolarisation représente l’entrée dans l’écrit, par l’acquisition de la lecture et de l’écriture selon les traditions pédagogiques nationales, ainsi que l’appropriation des savoirs disciplinaires qui deviendront spécialisés durant son cheminement scolaire. La LSCO répond à des fonctions d’ordre heuristique, langagière et méthodologique, permettant d’accéder au savoir, de faciliter sa découverte, de l’organiser et de rendre convenable l’utilisation de la langue dans la société. Le niveau atteint dans cette langue conditionne l’insertion dans le système et la réussite sociale : « [a]ucune autre matière, aussi valorisée soit-elle par la société, ne comporte cette dimension, ce poids réel sur la réussite » (ibid, p. 30).

Un enseignement monolingue impose donc la référence à une langue, non pas commune, mais unique, qui ignore l’existence des autres langues représentées sur le territoire national, comme les variétés propres à la langue nationale elle-même. Elle induit à une pratique normée de la langue et à l’apprentissage des comportements sociaux valorisés par l’enceinte scolaire. En niant les langues connues du locuteur pour des raisons idéologiques, c’est le développement des compétences en langue française qui est remis en cause, car cette approche génère de l’insécurité linguistique chez l’apprenant, et ne lui permet pas de se repérer dans le fonctionnement et les processus d’appropriation dans la langue ciblée (Auger, 2013). Pour l’élève de culture orale, comme c’est le cas pour celui issu des Premières Nations, cet apprentissage de l’écrit devient une confrontation particulièrement exigeante (da Silveira, 2013).

Le français est la LSCO chez les Algonquins en Abitibi et les Innus de la Côte-Nord ; ils sont scolarisés en français et suivent des cours en langue autochtone tout en respectant les exigences ministérielles (Mowatt-Gaudreau, 2013). Au sein des trois communautés Atikamekw, depuis 1990, les enfants ont la possibilité de suivre le programme scolaire en français dès leur entrée à l’école ou encore de suivre le programme bilingue, à partir duquel les cours sont donnés en langue atikamekw durant les premières années du primaire (Sarrasin, 1998). Depuis 2002, une communauté atikamekw a conservé le programme bilingue en 1re et en 2e années du primaire. Une deuxième communauté a supprimé le programme bilingue au primaire en faveur de l’enseignement du français par submersion, tandis qu’une troisième communauté maintient un double cheminement, selon le choix des parents (Sarrasin, 2017). Quoique les communautés aient le choix de la langue d’enseignementxiii, les écoles doivent se conformer aux exigences du ministère de l’Éducation et de l’Enseignement supérieur du Québec (MEES) selon le programme de formation reconnu, en français, LSCO (ou en anglais, selon les régions). Pour soutenir leurs élèves dans l’apprentissage du français, les écoles ou organisations scolaires déploient des moyens, chacune à sa façon. Par exemple, chez les Innus, dans le cadre d’un programme de soutien à la réussite scolaire, l’institut Tshakapesh a implanté un comité de langue française en vue de produire des épreuves régionales conformes aux exigences du MEES. Ainsi sont-ils en mesure d’identifier les besoins des élèves, de soutenir les enseignants des communautés pour la réussite des élèves. À l’école Migwan de Pikogan, on mise sur des activités visant à approfondir la maîtrise du français, par exemple, en valorisant les référents culturels des élèves pour l’apprentissage de la lecture (Mowatt-Gaudreau, 2013).

Défis liés au développement de la compétence langagière en LSCO des élèves des Premières Nations

L’école met l’accent sur des critères standardisés quant à la « maîtrise » de la LSCO, ce qui n’est pas sans causer des difficultés scolaires aux élèves dont la L1 est différente. Dans un rapport annuel, des responsables de l’éducation en milieu atikamekw constatent les faibles connaissances des élèves en français à la fin du primaire, qui doivent réussir au même titre que les « natifs », donc « maîtriser » la langue dominante qui, rappelons-le, est une L2, à l’oral et à l’écrit, pour ces derniers, en plus d’assimiler les disciplines scolaires qui leur sont enseignées dans cette langue (Conseil des Atikamekw de Manawan, 2012). La notion de « produit normalisé » a été critiquée par Bourdieu (1982) pour sa contribution à la reproduction des inégalités sociales : « [l]es locuteurs dépourvus de la compétence légitime se trouvent souvent exclus en fait des univers sociaux où elle est exigée, ou condamnés au silence » (ibid, p. 42).

De nombreux écrits font d’ailleurs ressortir que les difficultés rencontrées par les élèves autochtones dans la LSCO ont des répercussions sur l’ensemble de leur rendement scolaire (Archambault, 2010; da Silveira, 2012; Hot, 2013; Manningham, Lanthier, Wawanoloath et Connely, 2011; Morris et O’Sullivan, 2007; Presseau, 2006) et bien au-delà de ce cadre (da Silveira, 2012). C’est pourquoi il importe d’examiner les principaux défis liés au développement langagier de ces enfants afin d’envisager des avenues qui leur permettraient de bénéficier d’une éducation plus équitable (Battiste, 2000).

Usage d’une variété linguistique et difficultés dans la langue de scolarisation

Comme nous l’avons mentionné plus haut, certains élèves de communautés autochtones ont le français comme L1, mais ils bénéficient également d’une exposition à la langue ancestrale dans leur entourage. On pourrait croire à un avantage chez ces élèves lors de leur entrée dans le système scolaire en français ; or, ces élèves auront aussi été exposés, dès leur plus jeune âge, à une variété linguistique différente de la langue de scolarisation (Daviault, 2013; Hot, 2013; Mowatt-Gaudreau et Maheux, 2009; Reyner et Hurtado, 2008), ce qui représente un défi important pour eux lorsqu’ils commencent leur parcours scolaire, ayant recours à une variété du français qui ne correspond pas aux attentes de l’école. Ceux se trouvant en difficulté d’apprentissage au primaire n’ont souvent pas eu l’occasion, avant ou parallèlement à leur parcours scolaire, d’accéder à des formes de relations sociales et à des pratiques langagières semblables à celles utilisées à l’école (Daviault, 2013).

Par ailleurs, une étude sur les signes avant-coureurs du décrochage scolaire menée en milieu autochtone où le français utilisé par les élèves est différent de celui de l’école fait ressortir que 29,4 % d’entre eux affirmaient comprendre très peu ou pas du tout les consignes et les informations données par l’enseignant en classe, alors qu’au secondaire, cette proportion s’élevait à 68,8 % (Mowatt-Gaudreau et Maheux, 2009). L’absence d’enseignement formel et explicite pour amener les élèves à s’approprier les différences entre ces variétés linguistiques serait, selon de la Sablonnière, Usborne et Taylor (2011), un déni de leur droit fondamental à recevoir un enseignement dans leur langue autochtone et contribue à la discrimination systémiquexiv. Sterzuk (2008), qui a examiné les pratiques des écoles en Saskatchewan, où une proportion importante d’élèves autochtones se retrouvent dans des programmes de rééducation du langage et de la parole, qualifie les pratiques évaluatives de ces écoles comme étant linguistiquement oppressives à l’égard de ces élèves utilisant une variété non standard. Selon l’auteure, ces évaluations standardisées, qui ne peuvent être exemptes de biais, semblent ne pas tenir compte des propriétés de cette variété linguistique, ce qui peut mener à un diagnostic erroné, d’où la nécessité de considérer les variations linguistiques dans l’enseignement des langues à l’école.

Langue seconde et compétences fragiles pour le lire-écrire

Un deuxième élément à considérer concerne les pratiques éducatives qui autorisent, d’une certaine façon, l’absence de réflexion critique et bilingue de l’enseignement de la litéraciexv. Une étude de cas menée dans une école primaire autochtone ontarienne (Heydon et Strooke, 2012) montre que la plupart des enseignants sont favorables à enseigner la litéracie à partir d’un matériel standardisé, même s’ils trouvent que l’usage de ce matériel est difficilement conciliable avec les besoins des élèves. D’autres programmes de transition qui tiennent compte de la L1 de l’élève auront tendance à faire une transition trop rapide de la langue autochtone comme langue d’enseignementxvi à la langue dominante. Une étude auprès de la Commission scolaire crie montre que plusieurs enfants n’ont pas acquis un registre langagier suffisant en lecture en langue crie pour apprendre à lire dans une L2 lorsque le cri n’est plus la langue d’enseignement : « [e]n 6e année, 24 % des élèves avaient atteint un niveau de lecture équivalent à celui de leur année de scolarisation en anglais, et 16 % en français » (Conseil des statistiques canadiennes de l’éducation, 2009, p. 39). N’ayant pas les fondements nécessaires en lecture et en écriture, ces élèves ne peuvent donc pas réussir dans les disciplines scolaires. Dans la mesure où la langue d’enseignement change avant que les enfants n’aient l’occasion d’en appréhender la structure, ces derniers risquent d’apprendre de manière parcellaire leur L1 et, par ricochet, de rencontrer des difficultés dans leur apprentissage de la L2. Nous nous référons ici à l’hypothèse des niveaux-seuils de Cummins (1979), qui souligne que l’accès aux deux langues se produit lorsqu’un seuil minimal de compétence linguistique est atteint en L1 (et en L2) pour permettre aux aspects potentiellement bénéfiques du bilinguisme d’influencer le développement cognitif de l’enfant. Ainsi un niveau inférieur de compétence linguistique (the lower threshold) est-il une situation où les deux langues ne sont pas « maîtrisées » ; un seuil supérieur de compétence (the higher threshold) réfère, quant à lui, à une forme de bilinguisme additif où l’enfant développe un haut niveau d’habileté en L2, à partir d’inputs qu’il reçoit de son milieu, et commence à profiter des avantages cognitifs des deux langues.

Lecture et langue autochtone

Un troisième défi se présente pour les élèves ayant une langue autochtone comme L1, car ces derniers doivent acquérir la LSCO sans pouvoir s’appuyer sur des habiletés littéraciques xvii dans leur L1 (Morris et O’Sullivan, 2007). Le défi est important pour les enseignants en langue autochtone, car ils disposent souvent d’un corpus écrit très limité. Certains écrits existent, tels que des manuels d’enseignement des langues et des traductions d’œuvres littéraires, mais l’écriture n’est pas une pratique courante puisque les langues autochtones sont de tradition orale (Baraby, 2011; Drapeau, 2011). La lecture de livres dans la langue ancestrale est donc peu familière à la population autochtone. N’ayant pas l’occasion de développer leur sensibilité graphique en langue autochtone (Baraby, 2011) et de devenir des lecteurs compétents dans leur L1, ils doivent tout de même développer des habiletés en lecture en L2 sans pouvoir réellement prendre appui sur une base de compétence en L1. Pourtant, selon l’hypothèse de l’interdépendance de Cummins (1979), la L1, à partir de laquelle le développement de la compétence linguistique prend forme, est le fondement à l’acquisition d’une L2. Le niveau de compétence atteint en L2 par un enfant bilingue est donc une fonction partielle du type de compétence atteint en L1 au moment où l’exposition intensive à la L2 débute. Cela dit, plus la compétence en L1 est élevée, plus les conditions à l’acquisition d’une L2 sont propices au bilinguisme ; à l’inverse, un faible développement en L1 peut amener des conditions d’apprentissage difficiles en L2 pour l’enfant. Il importe aussi de tenir compte que dans un contexte où la L1 est majoritaire, celle-ci ne semble pas affectée par une exposition intensive à la L2, à la lumière des nombreuses études citées par Cummins (1979). En conséquence, les enfants développant un haut niveau d’habiletés en L2 auront accès de manière fluide aux deux langues. Dans le contexte où la langue est minoritaire, les conclusions semblent opposées aux situations où la langue est majoritaire : l’enseignement initial de la L1 a démontré de meilleurs résultats que l’immersion ou la submersion en L2 de façon précoce. Donc, la théorie de l’interdépendance en situation de minorité linguistique fait ressortir que l’enseignement de la L1 est plus bénéfique pour les enfants, dans la mesure où certains aspects de leurs connaissances linguistiques ne sont pas complètement développés au début de la scolarisation.

En bref, l’école devrait être en mesure de développer un bilinguisme additif, voire un plurilinguisme chez les élèves des Premières Nations en misant davantage sur langues autochtones, pour prendre en compte leur répertoire langagier, mais faute de financement adéquat ou de dispositifs appropriés, cette voie s’avère difficile à mettre de l’avant. Rappelons que le débat sur la légitimité des langues d’origine comme fondement à l’apprentissage de la LSCO est présent depuis plusieurs décennies chez les chercheurs (Cummins, 1979, 2010; Fleuret, 2013; Hornberger, 2003). L’étude de Morris et O’Sullivan (2007) auprès des Innus recommande aussi de renforcer les compétences en L1 et de s’appuyer sur les savoirs que les élèves ont acquis pour amener une transition vers les apprentissages en L2, comme le démontre la recherche (Cummins, 1991).

Programmes d’Enseignement des Langues Autochtones au Sein des Écoles des Premières Nations

L’enseignement des langues autochtones dans les écoles des communautés a commencé vers les années 1970, à la suite de la publication de La maîtrise indienne de l’éducation indienne, par la Fraternité des Indiens du Canada ([FIC], 1972), ancêtre de l’actuelle Assemblée des Premières Nations. Cette déclaration de principe avait pour but de baliser l’organisation des services éducatifs pour les Autochtones et de proposer un changement en matière d’éducation aux parents et aux communautés, à la suite de l’échec du système des pensionnats. Cette déclaration signifiait une volonté des Autochtones de prendre en charge l’éducation, soit (1) la responsabilité juridique et l’administration, (2) les programmes, (3) les enseignants et (4) les services et les installations matérielles. Dans la section portant sur la langue d’enseignement, la FIC exprime sa position :

Bien que les parents et les membres de la réserve jouent un rôle important dans la transmission de la langue, il demeure nécessaire de l’enseigner de façon régulière, en en faisant (1) une langue d’enseignement et (2) une matière d’enseignement […]. L’enfant devrait être initié à l’anglais ou au français comme langue seconde seulement après avoir acquis une solide connaissance de sa propre langue. (FIC, 1972, p. 16)

Afin de préserver et de promouvoir leur patrimoine linguistique et culturel, plusieurs communautés des Premières Nations au Québec ont instauré différentes initiatives. Parfois, elles prennent la forme de programmes bilingues dans les écoles, où les enfants vont apprendre leur langue autochtone comme L2, comme c’est le cas chez les Mohawk et les Innus de Mashteuiatsh (Drapeau, 2011). Dans d’autres communautés, les écoles offrent un programme bilingue où la langue autochtone est la langue d’enseignementxviii durant les premières années de scolarisation, comme c’est le cas au sein de certaines communautés Atikamekw (Sarrasin, 1994, 2017), chez les Naskapis et les Crisxix (Hot, 2010). Enfin, certaines communautés intègrent la langue autochtone dans le programme scolaire, notamment chez les Algonquins en Abitibi (Mowatt-Gaudreau, 2013) et les Innus de la Côte-Nord. Par ailleurs, les Innus ont développé un programme en langue innue afin de définir les attentes et les contenus d’apprentissage au primaire (Institut Tshakapesh, 2011). En ce qui a trait aux Algonquins de Kitigan Zibi en Outaouais, l’école offre un programme d’immersion en langue algonquine les après-midis et un programme où celle-ci est offerte comme matière d’enseignement (Hot, 2010).

Ce tour d’horizon nous permet de voir que les communautés ont élaboré une variété de projets de valorisation des langues ancestrales à différents degrés d’intensité, du cours en langue autochtone comme matière d’enseignement au programme d’immersion. Or, pour la grande majorité de ces communautés, le défi persistant est celui du manque de matériel didactique en langue autochtone, de financement adéquat et, parfois, de ressources enseignantes qualifiées. D’une part, les communautés des Premières Nations doivent se soumettre aux exigences du MEES pour recevoir le financement nécessaire au fonctionnement des écoles (Conseil en éducation des Premières Nations, 2002) ; d’autre part, aucune reconnaissance officielle de l’existence des langues autochtones dans le programme scolaire qui permettrait aux écoles de bandexx (ou provinciales) de mieux cibler le profil langagier de l’élève autochtone n’a été accordée à ce jour.

Plusieurs recherches en didactique des langues secondes soulignent pourtant que les élèves peuvent bénéficier d’approches éducatives qui prennent en compte leur répertoire langagier. C’est ce que nous présentons dans la prochaine section.

Pratiques d’Enseignement de la Langue de Scolarisation qui Tiennent Compte du Répertoire Langagier des Élèves

Pour que les élèves puissent développer leur plein potentiel au sein des institutions scolaires des communautés, il importe de porter un regard sur des pratiques qui contribuent à une meilleure compréhension de l’interdépendance entre la préservation de la langue autochtone et l’enseignement du français en contexte des Premières Nations (Lavoie, Mark et Jenniss, 2014). Les enseignants, amenés à concilier la réalité de leur classe avec les contraintes de l’institution (programmes, modalités d’évaluation, etc.), représentent souvent des politiques inadéquates à la réalité linguistique des élèves. Par ricochet, les enseignants, ne se sentant pas outillés ou appuyés à inviter les langues des élèves en salle de classe, choisissent de prôner une norme monolingue (Armand, 2011). Sachant que les enfants bi-plurilingues ne vont pas développer leurs connaissances langagières de la même façon que les apprenants monolingues, il est essentiel de tenir compte du bagage de l’élève et de ses habiletés. Afin de mieux comprendre les approches bi-plurilingues, nous présenterons des études effectuées en contexte autochtone ou de minorité linguistique mettant en valeur le répertoire langagier des élèves.

Une première étude a montré que les enfants du préscolaire issus de milieux socio-économiques défavorisés développent des habiletés de litéracie précoce bilingue lorsqu’ils sont encouragés par leurs éducateurs (qui sont soutenus par des spécialistes en litéracie) à devenir des auteurs de leurs propres histoires en produisant leurs livres bilingues (appelés identity textsxxi) et dans lesquels l’enfant est le personnage principal (Bernhard, Cummins, Campoy, Ada, Winsler et Bleiker, 2006). Les résultats soulignent que les enfants issus du groupe contrôle (ceux qui n’ont pas bénéficié du programme) ont eu tendance à régresser sur le plan langagier durant leur passage du préscolaire au primaire, alors que ceux issus du groupe expérimental (280 enfants) ont progressé ou sont demeurés stables. En plus des effets sur le développement de la litéracie précoce, cette étude montre aussi que l’approche valorise l’identité des élèves et a des effets positifs sur la confiance en soi des enfants.

Une autre étude en Nouvelle-Zélande (Glynn, Berryman, Loader et Cavanagh, 2005), qui avait pour but d’évaluer l’effet d’un programme de transition culturellement pertinent (du maori à l’anglais) auprès d’élèves autochtones ayant suivi la majorité de leur scolarité au primaire en langue maori, montre que ce programme de transition du primaire au secondaire permet le développement des compétences en lecture et en écriture en L2, sans affecter la L1. Ces dimensions sont (1) la continuité entre l’école et la maison (la collaboration entre les enseignants, les familles et la communauté dans le cadre d’un programme de lecture), (2) l’instauration d’une approche d’écriture en classe basée sur la coopération et (3) la contribution d’une intervention extérieure afin de fournir des rétroactions écrites aux élèves sur leurs écrits en L2. Les auteurs font ressortir que dans toutes les cultures, l’apprentissage des langues et de la litéracie se manifeste chez les élèves lorsque le contexte social est réceptif et sensible, et lorsque celui-ci reflète les valeurs culturelles et les pratiques familiales et communautaires du milieu.

Une troisième étude, cette fois australienne, consistait en l’implantation d’un programme de litéracie précoce selon une approche plurilingue (James, 2014). En considérant la variété linguistique des élèves, et en collaborant avec les parents et les aînés de la communauté, la transition de la langue autochtone à la langue anglaise a été favorisée, tout comme l’amélioration des compétences des enfants en litéracie et leur intérêt pour la lecture.

Une autre étude menée au Québec sur l’enseignement du vocabulaire en langues française et innue montre que les élèves sont motivés à apprendre des mots nouveaux lorsque cet enseignement débute dans leur L1, en présence des aînés (Lavoie, Mark, et Jenniss, 2014). Ce type d’enseignement développe leur confiance à apprendre une L2 par des méthodes multimodales favorisant la rétention du vocabulaire. Armand (2011), dans une synthèse sur l’enseignement de l’écriture en L2, soutient qu’un seul contact avec les unités lexicales et dont le sens est expliqué par l’enseignant pendant la lecture de textes est insuffisant pour s’assurer d’une utilisation adéquate par les élèves dans leurs productions écrites. De nombreuses opportunités de contact devraient être créées par l’enseignant.

Plus précisément par rapport au développement des capacités métaphonologiques des élèves, une autre étude en contexte innu (Lavoie, 2016) visait à mesurer l’effet d’une trousse de conscience phonologique en langues française et innue. Les résultats démontrent que les élèves ayant fait partie du groupe expérimental avaient une meilleure connaissance des lettres que ceux ayant fait partie du groupe témoin. La trousse a aussi eu un effet sur la motivation des élèves, puisque leurs manières d’apprendre et les éléments issus de leur environnement culturel ont été valorisés.

Une dernière étude menée dans une école ontarienne de langue française avait pour but d’explorer l’appropriation de l’écrit chez les élèves scolarisés en français L2 en difficulté d’apprentissage (Fleuret, 2013). En autorisant les élèves à utiliser leur répertoire langagier dans leur L1, par l’entremise de la littérature de jeunesse plurilingue, les activités proposées selon les besoins des élèves ont optimisé le développement des capacités métalinguistiques, et certains ont eu recours au transfert, étant autorisés à utiliser leur L1. Le profil langagier des élèves s’est avéré plus juste pour mieux cibler les interventions, car l’enseignante était moins axée sur la norme. Cette étude laisse entrevoir la possibilité de mieux discerner les difficultés liées à l’acquisition langagière des difficultés d’apprentissage. Dans le même ordre d’idées, d’autres écrits scientifiques nous montrent que les usages de la littérature de jeunesse plurilingue représentent des leviers importants pour assurer des espaces de continuité entre les sphères scolaire, sociale et familiale, en vue d’optimiser les pratiques d’enseignement-apprentissage des langues et des cultures (Fleuret et Sabatier, sous presse; Moore et Sabatier, 2014).

Les études présentées nous montrent que les élèves ont de meilleures chances de développer leurs compétences langagières si leur répertoire langagier est pris en compte dans l’enseignement de la langue de scolarisation. Ces pratiques représentent des avenues équitables d’éducation aux langues, par l’inclusion de l’élève dans sa singularité.


Dans cet article, nous avons dressé un état des lieux de l’enseignement des langues auprès des peuples autochtones, soit l’enseignement des langues ancestrales et du français, LSCO. En effet, dans la foulée des travaux de la Commission de vérité et de réconciliation, il nous apparaissait important, dans un premier temps, de rappeler brièvement l’historique éducationnel des Premières Nations, pour mieux comprendre, dans un contexte de violence symbolique indéniable (Bourdieu, 1997), les traumatismes vécus par ces peuples et le rapport au français LSCO qu’ils ont construit. L’éducation ayant servi d’instrument pour tenter d’éliminer les langues et les cultures des peuples autochtones au Canada, il nous semble qu’aujourd’hui, elle doit contribuer à réparer les torts causés pour tendre vers une véritable réconciliation, dans une perspective visant à reconnaître la compétence plurilingue des élèves des Premières Nations dans une perspective interculturelle.

D’autre part, si l’on regarde où nous en sommes aujourd’hui, il est clair que les enjeux didactiques et pédagogiques sont criants. Toutefois, les quelques propositions didactiques présentées ici laissent envisager la possibilité de reconnaître et de favoriser l’apprentissage des langues autochtones chez les Premières Nations, parallèlement à celui du français, menant ainsi à la création d’un espace d’apprentissage sécurisant pour les élèves.


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Sarrasin, R. (1998). L’enseignement du français et en français en milieu amérindien au Québec : Une problématique ethnopédagogique. Revue canadienne en linguistique appliquée, 1(1‑2), 107‑125.

Sarrasin, R. (2017). Langue et réussite scolaire en milieu atikamekw (document non publié). La Tuque, Canada : Conseil de la nation atikamekw.

Sioui, Y., Picard, I. et Dorais, L.-J. (2008). Yawenda : projet de revitalisation de la langue huronne-wendate. Recherches amérindiennes au Québec, 38(1), 85‑87.

Statistique Canada. (2011a). Les peuples autochtones au Canada et au Québec : Premières Nations, Métis et Inuit. Récupéré 10 août 2017 du site Centre interuniversitaire québécois de statistiques sociales, section Présentations et publications :

Statistique Canada. (2011b). Tableaux de données (Québec) : Connaissance des langues autochtones détaillée (79), connaissance des langues : réponses uniques et multiples portant sur les langues (3), identité autochtone (8), statut d’Indien inscrit ou des traités (3), langue maternelle autochtone (11), région de résidence : réserve (3) et groupes d’âge (8) pour la population dans les ménages privés du Canada, provinces et territoires. Enquête nationale auprès des ménages de 2011. no 99-011-X2011030 au catalogue.

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Sterzuk, A. (2008). Whose English Counts? Indigenous English in Saskatchewan schools. McGill Journal of Education, 43(1), 9‑19.

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Tremblay, D. (2008). L’éveil des survivants : Récits des abus sexuels dans les pensionnats amérindiens du Québec. Montréal, Canada : Les éditions Michel Brûlé.

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i Le terme langue autochtone est utilisé plutôt que celui de langue maternelle étant donné que le fait de pouvoir converser en langue autochtone ne signifie pas d’emblée que celle-ci est la première langue maternelle apprise des locuteurs.

ii Bien que la notion de langue maternelle soit difficile à définir, vu son passé historique et son emploi dans plusieurs disciplines, nous entendons, pour le but du présent article, que celle-ci concerne l’ordre de l’acquisition et l’ordre du contexte, soit « la langue acquise la première par le sujet parlant dans un contexte où elle est aussi la langue utilisée au sein de la communication » (Cuq, 2003, p. 152).

iii La langue ancestrale renvoie à la « langue, autre que les deux langues officielles du Canada, à laquelle on est rattaché par son père ou sa mère ou ses grands-parents » (voir le portail linguistique du gouvernement du Canada :

iv La famille linguistique eskimo-aléoute comprend la langue Inuktitut; la famille linguistique algonquienne, groupe linguistique le plus important au Québec, inclut les langues abénaquise, algonquine, atikamekw, crie, innue, malécite, micmaque, naskapie ; la famille linguistique iroquoienne inclut le mohawk et le huron-wendat (Hot et Terraza, 2011).

v Nous souhaitons rappeler ici que nous utilisons la conjonction ou, employée seule, car elle est suffisante à exprimer la possibilité d’addition ou de choix.

vi Nous reprenons le terme utilisé par Drapeau (2011). Toutefois, celui-ci est remis en question par les chercheurs en L2, puisque sa définition tend à renforcer les perceptions qui gravitent autour de deux pôles. La sociolinguistique tend à démentir l’existence de cette bipolarisation dans la mesure où les deux langues coexistent et s’entremêlent (Prudent, Tupin et Wharton, 2005). Ce débat ne constitue pas l’objet du présent article. Dans le contexte de ce qui nous intéresse, la diglossie dans sa forme commune sera considérée.

vii Cuq (1991, p. 93) définit une langue seconde comme étant « le français parlé notamment dans les régions du monde (ex. l’Afrique), où cette langue, tout en n’étant pas la langue maternelle de la majorité de la population, n’est pas une langue étrangère comme les autres, que ce soit pour des raisons statutaires ou sociales ». Le français y est donc une langue de scolarisation. En Belgique, en revanche, on utilise généralement langue seconde dans un sens plus large, « issu de la sociolinguistique anglo-saxonne », c’est-à-dire « tout système acquis chronologiquement après la langue première ».

viii Parmi les pensionnats ayant accueilli les enfants amérindiens au Québec (Bousquet, 2012), six auraient été en opération entre 1934 et 1980, et se répartissaient comme suit : deux à Fort George (un anglican entre 1934 et 1979 et l’autre catholique de 1936 à 1952), trois catholiques, dont un à Sept-Îles (1952-1967), un près d’Amos (1955-1972) et un à Pointe-Bleue (1957-1965) ainsi que le pensionnat anglican de La Tuque (1962-1980).

ix Il est intéressant de noter la différence de sens accordée entre la définition ci-dessus et celle de Cuq (2003, p. 12), pour qui l’acculturation « est le processus par lequel un individu ou une communauté accède à une culture et se l’approprie au point qu’il ne s’aperçoit plus qu’elle ne lui est pas naturelle mais qu’il l’a construite. Ce qu’on acquiert, on finit par oublier qu’on l’a acquis : c’est la célèbre amnésie des apprentissages (Bourdieu). L’enseignement vise presque toujours (sans succès total) à établir une culture, une croyance à des valeurs culturelles qu’il considère comme légitimes ».

Le terme wemitigoji désigne les « Blancs ».

xi La langue première d’un individu est « celle qu’il a acquise en premier, chronologiquement, au moment du développement de sa capacité de langage. “Première” ne signifie donc pas la plus utile, ni la plus prestigieuse, pas plus que “seconde” ne veut dire “secondaire” » (Cuq, 2003, p. 152).

xii Le bilinguisme soustractif renvoie à un état de bilingualité au sein duquel l’apprenant acquiert une L2 au détriment de sa langue maternelle, entraînant des déficits dans son développement cognitif. Cet état se manifeste lorsque l’entourage dévalorise la langue maternelle de l’enfant socialement moins prestigieuse par rapport à la langue dominante (Hamers et Blanc, 1983, p. 447).

xiii L’article 97 de la Charte de langue française indique que les réserves ou communautés autochtones ne sont pas assujetties à la disposition selon laquelle l’enseignement se donne en langue française. L’article 88 stipule, pour les Commission scolaire crie et la Commission scolaire Kativik, que les langues d’enseignement sont le cri et l’inuktitut de même que les langues en usage dans ces communautés (l’anglais et le français, dans une moindre mesure). Cet article s’applique également aux Naskapis de Shefferville. Comme en fait mention Hot (2013), en fonction des facteurs géographiques et historiques, ces écoles dispensent de l’enseignement en langues autochtones, habituellement durant les premières années du cheminement scolaire, pour ensuite faire une transition vers le français ou l’anglais.

xiv La discrimination systémique, intégrée et acceptée par la société, tant par les individus des groupes majoritaires que minoritaires, est représentée par les normes véhiculées de la culture majoritaire et par un traitement heurtant les individus des groupes minoritaires (de la Sablonnière, Usborne, et Taylor, 2011).

xv Nous utiliserons le vocable litéracie au sens de David (2015). Sa définition a une portée beaucoup plus large que celle de l’alphabétisation dans un système d’écriture en particulier. Elle se comprend plutôt dans un ensemble de pratiques mobilisant l’écrit, avec des finalités propres selon les contextes spécifiques.

xvi Ici, nous conservons le vocable « langue d’enseignement » étant donné que la définition de la LSCO de (Verdelhan-Bourgade, 2002) stipule que celle-ci s’étend à tous les secteurs de l’enseignement, dont la communication scolaire, ce qui n’est pas systématiquement le cas avec la langue autochtone.

xvii Néologisme emprunté de Jaffré et David (1998), ce terme témoigne de la préoccupation récente à l’égard des effets bénéfiques de la fréquence et des contacts précoces avec l’écrit.

xviii Ici, nous conservons le vocable « langue d’enseignement » pour les mêmes raisons mentionnées précédemment.

xix Les parents peuvent choisir entre le français (pour certaines écoles) ou l’anglais comme L2.

xx Une école de bande est celle qui est administrée par un Conseil de bande, responsable de gérer les services éducatifs du primaire et du secondaire de son territoire. Le financement de ces écoles est fourni par le gouvernement fédéral; en contrepartie, les écoles doivent se conformer aux exigences des programmes scolaires provinciaux étant donné que l’éducation relève des provinces (Conseil en éducation des Premières Nations, 2002).

xxi Le principe consiste à faire écrire une histoire par l’enfant, en collaboration avec l’enseignant, pour soutenir l’élève dans la LSCO en partenariat avec les parents pour traduire les histoires de l’enfant dans la ou les langue(s) parlée(s) à la maison. Les histoires portent sur la famille, les amis et les intérêts personnels de l’enfant, illustrés par des images, photos et dessins.

Listening instruction and patient safety: Exploring medical English as a lingua franca (MELF) for nursing education

Volume 2(1): 2018

M. GREGORY TWEEDIE, University of Calgary

ROBERT C. JOHNSON, University of Calgary – Qatar


This study examines the intelligibility of interactions in Medical English as a lingua franca (MELF), in relationship to patient safety. Fourteen nursing students from six different first languages (L1s) listened to a recorded MELF health assessment scenario discussion involving two nurses with differing L1s. Comprehension questions measured intelligibility of: recognition, comprehensibility, and interpretability. Results indicated that perceived intelligibility generally aligned with actual intelligibility; areas of misalignment pertained to matters of critical import to patient safety. Senior nursing instructors’ views were explored through semi-structured interviews and all deemed that patient safety in the scenario was threatened by issues of intelligibility, particularly at the phonological and lexical levels. While hospital settings demand exceptional communicative precision for patient care, findings underscored challenges when English was a lingua franca. Results point toward the inclusion of interactive, authentic listening, and content-specific vocabulary instruction as critical components in the language curriculum of MELF nursing education contexts.


Cette étude examine l’intelligibilité dans les interactions de l’anglais médical en tant que lingua franca (MELF), en relation avec la sécurité des patients. Quatorze étudiantes en soins infirmiers ayant six langues maternelles (L1) différentes ont écouté une discussion sur le scénario d’évaluation de la santé du MELF, dans laquelle deux infirmières ayant des L1 différentes ont été enregistrées. Les questions de compréhension mesuraient l’intelligibilité dans les catégories de reconnaissance, de compréhensibilité et d’interprétabilité. Les résultats indiquent que l’intelligibilité perçue correspond généralement à l’intelligibilité réelle ; cependant, les zones de désalignement se rapportent à des questions d’importance critique pour la sécurité des patients. Les opinions des instructrices chevronnées en soins infirmiers ont été explorées au moyen d’entrevues semi-dirigées ; elles ont jugé que la sécurité des patients dans le scénario était menacée par des problèmes d’intelligibilité, notamment au niveau phonologique et lexical. Alors que les contextes hospitaliers exigent une précision communicative exceptionnelle pour les soins aux patients, les résultats soulignent les défis particuliers rencontrés lorsque l’anglais est une lingua franca. Les résultats indiquent l’importance de l’inclusion d’une écoute interactive et authentique, et d’une instruction de vocabulaire de spécialité en tant que composantes essentielles du curriculum de langue dans les contextes d’enseignement infirmier du MELF.

Keywords: Medical English as a lingua franca (MELF); English as a lingua franca (ELF); English for Nursing Purposes (ENP); English for Specific Purposes (ESP).


Qatar, as with many of its Arabian Peninsula neighbours, has seen massive infrastructure expansion due to the development of oil and gas resources in the region, which has been carried out by a largely expatriate workforce. In 2012, out of a total population of just under 1.8 million, Qataris accounted for only 15% of the citizenry. The countries representing this sizeable expatriate population includes: India (24% of Qatar’s total population), Nepal (16%), and the Philippines (11%), while non-Qatari Arabs accounted for 13% of the nation’s total (Paschyn, 2012).

Theoretical discussions of English as a lingua franca (ELF) in the Arabian Peninsula are rather forcibly moved to a practical level, given the reality that such interactions characterize the region’s health care settings. The influx of large numbers of expatriate health care workers has given rise to English becoming the lingua franca of many hospitals and clinics across the Arabian Peninsula; this phenomenon has been linked to concerns over patient medication errors (Bladd, 2008), thus making this discussion one of grave practical import. For the purposes of this article, Seidlhofer’s (2011) definition of ELF will be employed: “any use of English among speakers of different first languages for whom English is the communicative medium of choice, and often the only option” (p. 7).

Despite this multilingual environment, English has become the functional language for health care settings in the State of Qatar. This is largely due to the present and historical roles of English—the dominant language of the expatriate workers’ countries of origin—and also the growing dominance of English as the linguistic vehicle for medical communication (Maher, 1987). In such a context, intelligibility among different varieties of English, in order to deliver safe and effective patient care, is a critical concern. As Smith and Nelson (2006) noted, given the global expansion of English, it is largely unimportant if a particular group of English users are unintelligible to another linguistic group; what matters is that they are intelligible among themselves. English users in Nepali, for example, may utilize phonological or lexical features unfamiliar to speakers of Philippine English (who interact among each other with their own English variety); the subsequent shortcomings in intelligibility between these two groups will be of no import—until they find themselves in a situation where English is used as a lingua franca. In many Arabian Peninsula clinics and hospitals, such a situation is a daily occurrence (Almutairi & McCarthy, 2012; El-Haddad, 2006). Indeed, such interactions formed a foundational impetus for this present study. For example, while visiting a Qatar clinic, one of the authors noted multiple English dialects in the following communication: “an Indian pharmacist deciphered the instructions of a Filipino doctor to a Qatari patient, mediated through a Sri Lankan nurse” (Tweedie & Johnson, 2018, p. 73).

Despite widespread ELF interactions in health care contexts, due to the global migration of medical professionals (Lu & Corbett, 2012), the nature of Medical English as a lingua franca (MELF) interactions has been understudied. The present investigation examines the extent to which differing English varieties among nurses in the State of Qatar are intelligible to one another, and whether issues of intelligibility impact the quality and safety of health care delivery. Additionally, this study also investigates the intelligibility of these communications (between practicing nurses) to nursing students in the Bachelor of Nursing Program.


Intelligibility among Varieties of English

The global number of English users is estimated to be two billion or one-third of the world’s population (Crystal, 2008). The remarkable spread of English and its role as the “default mode” for global communication (McArthur, 2002, p. 13) has led to discussions around the extent to which the many varieties of English are (un)intelligible to one another (e.g., Kachru & Nelson, 2006; Kachru & Smith, 2008; Nelson, 2011). The present study provides an opportunity to investigate this issue in the medical context in Qatar where a largely expatriate workforce, from a myriad of linguistic backgrounds, use English to communicate across different varieties of the English-language.

Defining intelligibility might begin with what Kachru (2008) terms the “Smith paradigm,” referring to Smith’s (1992) division of intelligibility into three elements: intelligibility (word recognition), comprehensibility (word meaning, locutionary force), and interpretability (the meaning behind the word, or illocutionary force) (see also Smith & Nelson, 1985). Nelson (2011), in an exercise intended to aid readers in defining the above three elements of intelligibility, recounts “When I was being taught my manners, my primary caregivers made it clear to me that ‘When somebody says ‘Would you like to stay for supper?’ it’s time for you to go home”‘ (p. 26). In this case, comprehensibility would involve the listener’s knowledge that the modal question form “would you like” means an offer or invitation, “supper” as a meal eaten in the evening, and so on. Interpretability, the illocutionary force, involves an understanding of the implications underlying the utterance: presumably, in Nelson’s cultural context, a question about staying for supper was not an invitation at all, but a way of informing the guest that his or her visit was nearing an end.

Interpretability (locutionary force) is the most complex level of the three divisions in Smith’s framework for intelligibility (Nelson, 2011), referring to “the recognition by the hearer/reader of the intent of purpose of an utterance, i.e., the perlocutionary effect the speaker/writer is aiming at” (Kachru & Smith, 2008, p. 63). It includes contextual familiarity, background information, and can be informed by both linguistic and extra-linguistic awareness (Nelson, 2011, p. 37). Given the broad acceptance of the Smith paradigm, its tripartite definition of intelligibility has been adopted for the analysis of MELF interactions in this study.

Studies measuring intelligibility have tended toward considerations of “native speaker” (NS) judgements regarding “non-native speaker” (NNS) speech, leaving a research gap with regard to interactions across English varieties—the focus of this present study.

Some studies have attempted to fill this void. Deterding and Kirkpatrick (2006) also drew upon the Smith framework on their analysis of recorded semi-informal conversations among English users from South-East Asia to examine whether shared pronunciation features of an emerging lingua franca interfered with intelligibility. They largely did not, and the researchers asserted that these non-standard features, when shared among speakers, served to augment intelligibility. In cases where pronunciation features were unshared, this led to unintelligibility.

Meierkord’s (2004) analysis of informal ELF conversations found that at the syntactic level, interactions adhered to the grammatical patterns of standard English; thus, evidencing that L1 transfer features, along with processes of simplification, regularization and levelling, all contribute to intelligibility being achieved in such contexts.

As noted, studies of intelligibility primarily focus on the perceptions of those from English as a Native Language (ENL) contexts (UK, US, Canada, etc.), ignoring the reality of non-ENL, ELF interactions. A review of the literature on linguistic barriers in health care contexts reveals a similar propensity.

Language Use and Patient Care

Despite the potential for practical application, the intersection between applied linguistics and health care communication has, until relatively recently, been overlooked (Candlin & Candlin, 2003). While studies have found that language barriers in health care settings create difficulties in: physician-patient interface, inhibit access to care for patients, lower their adherence to treatment, and decrease patient satisfaction (e.g., Carrasquillo, Orav, Brennan, & Burstin, 1999; Schenker, Lo, Ettinger, & Fernandez, 2008; Wilson et al., 2005); the primary foci have been interactions between NS health practitioner to NNS patient in ENL settings (Cameron & Williams, 1997; Ian, Nakamura-Florez, & Lee, 2016; Shi, Lebrun, & Tsai, 2009). For example, Staples (2015) compared the discourse features of NNS internationally-educated and NS US-educated nurses when communicating with NS standardized patients. While they found much of the language used was similar, NNS discourse differed in terms of lexico-grammatical features. US nurses were shown to have a more patient-centred discourse through means such as “expressing empathy, developing rapport, reassuring patients, and more generally therapeutic communication” (p. 134), in contrast to the internationally-educated nurses “provider-centred” orientation (p. 216). While extensive in scope, Staples’ study differs from the focus of this investigation as it took place in an ENL setting rather than an ELF one, and the internationally-educated nurses in this study exhibited high proficiency in English (p. 123). Frank’s (2000) study of NNS international students and NS health care staff in a university clinic encountered difficulties in overall understanding, but particularly for medical terminology; however, this also took place in an ENL setting.

Previous studies have also identified potential risks to patient safety through language barriers, but again, mainly in ENL contexts. For example, Wilson et al. (2005) found that physicians who spoke the same language as patients (“language concordant”) “reduced reports of adverse medication effects and confusion with medication instructions” (p. 803). Another ENL-specific study, of nurse-patient cross-cultural communication in a surgery ward, examined perceived barriers in language and culture that, in the views of nurses, hindered “safe and effective care” (Boi, 2000, p. 387). Similarly, the nurses interviewed by Graham, Gilchrist, and Rector (2011) recounted language barriers as “challenging, frustrating and even dangerous” (p. 117), but were describing NS nurse – NNS patient interactions. A similar focus on ENL settings has been characteristic of studies on the teaching of English for Nursing Purposes (ENP), and scant attention has been paid to ENP communications in countries where English functions as an official language among other first languages, or where it is taught as a foreign or international language (Bosher & Stocker, 2015). Even less is known about ENP instruction in lingua franca contexts.


This study investigated two questions:

  1. In a MELF interaction, to what extent did miscommunications occur between two nurses? Further, in the judgement of nursing instructors, to what extent could issues of intelligibility observed during the scenario affect the quality of patient care?
  2. To what extent was the above MELF interaction intelligible to other nurses and nursing students?


Research Setting

This study takes places at a nursing education institution in the State of Qatar offering undergraduate and graduate nursing degrees with English as the medium of instruction. The student body at the time of writing comprised 39 different nationalities, representing multiple linguistic backgrounds. The Bachelor of Nursing Program consists of two study tracks: the Post-Diploma (PD) track, for nurses who have previously completed diplomas and are practising in the local health care system, and, the Regular Track (RT) for students who do not have any previous credentials or experience in the field.

Health Assessment Scenario in a MELF Context

Assessment scenarios have been utilized in nursing education for the development of integrative and critical thinking skills (Carter & Dickieson, 2010; Wales & Skillen, 1997), while minimizing strain to students and avoiding risks to patients (Zunzarren & Rodriguez-Sedano, 2011). Scenarios in nursing education can range from advanced use of technology in simulating “high-fidelity” to real-life conditions (Maneval et al., 2012, p. 125) through to constructed “dialogic exchange” based on scenario cards (Carter & Dickieson, 2010, p. 66). The content of this particular scenario (see Appendix A) was created with the assistance of a senior nursing faculty member, and was designed to be such that linguistic unintelligibility within the situation would impact patient care, and would also employ syntactical forms that nurses would regularly encounter in the course of hospital ward duty. The scenario’s focus was an end-of-shift handover of a patient from Nurse A, finishing a shift, to Nurse B, starting a shift.

The scenario was shown to two female student volunteers from an upper-year undergraduate nursing course. Both students, enrolled in the PD program, were experienced nurses currently practicing in the local health care system, and would have completed such patient handovers routinely as part of their responsibilities. Student A was given a description of the scenario, including her role as outgoing nurse and necessary patient information to be explained to her colleague. Student B, meanwhile, previewed only her role description as the recipient of the end-of-shift report. Student A described her L1 as Tamil, Student B as Arabic: both had met the university’s entrance requirements in terms of English proficiency.ii As seen in Table 1 below, Nurse A [L1 Tamil] displayed linguistic features of pan-Indian English (Sailaja, 2009, 2012), such as non-distinction between /w/ and /v/, the absence of the /eɪ/ dipthong, and a preference for progressive verb forms. Nurse B, [L1 Arabic] meanwhile, assigned the role of the incoming shift nurse receiving the report, demonstrated speech characterized by (lack of) do-support questions. Their discussion was recorded as a 3:08 minute digital audio file.

Scenario Role Played by Self-identified ‘mother tongue’ Selected linguistic feature Examples
Hospital nurse going off-shift Student A Tamil /w/ and /v/ non-distinction He has /wɒm.ɪtɪd/ twice today
absence: /eɪ/ diphthong He’s also stating that he’s feeling funny and um feeling /hə.ləʊs/ around the lights
preference for progressive verb forms I wonder maybe he’s crazy something he’s telling that way
Hospital nurse coming on-shift Student B Arabic lack of do-support in question forms You not take blood sugar?

No any interferon?

This refer the file?

Table 1: Summary – Health assessment scenario discussion

Opinions Regarding Potential Miscommunications and Health Care Impact

The health assessment scenario recording was played to three senior nursing instructors at the institution. All possessed multiple years’ experience at both clinical and instructional disciplines of nursing and were familiar with the multilingual context in the clinical settings in which they and the student participants work. All held advanced degrees, were female, and were speakers of Canadian English (Walker, 2015), reflecting the institution’s instructor profile. A semi-structured interview explored their views on whether issues of intelligibility in the recorded discussion might impinge upon patient care. Interview questions were constructed following Wengraf’s (2001) tripartite question divisions of central research, theory and interview (see Appendix B). Interviews were recorded as digital audio files and coded for analysis. A thematic analysis approach (Braun & Clarke, 2014) served as a framework for examining the interview data in a manner consistent with the “bottom up” orientation of grounded theory (Corbin & Strauss, 2008).

Additionally, the researcher was cognizant of the need for interviews to probe a distinction between nursing practice content (Did the nurse in the recorded scenario lack the knowledge or experience in nursing practice to assess the patient?) and language (Was patient assessment hindered by pronunciation, unfamiliar grammatical forms, inaccurate vocabulary, inability to access necessary vocabulary, etc.?). In each assertion of inadequate health assessment then, the interviewer probed further to ensure the nursing instructor differentiated between these two areas, as illustrated by the following extracts.

Extract 1

Interviewer: That – so that the fact that there wasn’t information, that was an issue with nursing, not a language issue.
Nursing Instructor X: It’s a content issue.
Interviewer: A content issue.

Extract 2

Interviewer: So do you feel that that’s related to it being a second language or do you
Nursing Instructor Y: I don’t know. Sorry. Umm [pause] Yeah, I don’t know, I don’t – I think I would have the same concerns about an English speaker who said yeah, he’s acting crazy. I think I would still have to push them to say what does – describe that.

The next section begins with an overview of the findings, followed by specific examples.

Listening Comprehension Task for Nursing Students

For the final phase of the research, the recorded health care assessment scenario was played for Bachelor of Nursing students at the institution. Simultaneously, students completed 10 listening comprehension questions (Appendix C). These were developed, in consultation with a senior nursing instructor, to verify that the listening comprehension questions reflected areas of critical import for patient care in the context of the specific scenario. Further, construction of the comprehension questions followed Buck’s (2001) “default construct” for listening in that tasks were designed to involve the processing of realistic spoken language in real time, and the comprehension of both equivocally and unequivocally stated content (p. 114). Items in the first section (Questions 1-6) followed the order of discussion progression, and targeted content comprehension over attention to extraneous detail, a central feature of listening construct validity (Rost, 2002). A second section (Questions 7-10) asked listeners to reflect on perceived intelligibility; it included closed and open-ended items to allow for collection of unanticipated information (Wiersma & Jurs, 2009). Items were intended to gauge respondents’ perceived intelligibility of the health assessment scenario recording. The perception of understanding is of central concern in health care interactions, in that gaps in interactional understanding can have serious consequences for patient safety.

Participants were also asked to identify their “strongest language,” a term chosen to reflect the reality in Qatar of an “unbalanced multilingualism” (Cenoz, 2013, p. 6), where individuals typically differ in proficiency levels across two or more languages. Respondents were also asked to indicate programs of study (degree or diploma) and gender, but for purposes of confidentiality asked not to provide any further identifying information.

A total of 14 BN students completed the listening comprehension section of the study. The sample reflected the student population of the institution, with participants being predominantly female (14), a mix of RT and PD students (5 and 6, respectively, with 3 not indicating study track), and a variety of “strongest languages” (5 – Arabic; 3 -Tagalog; 2 – Farsi; 2 – Malayalam; 1 – Indonesian; 1 – Yoruba).


Senior Nursing Instructors’ Opinions Regarding Health Care Impact

Several themes emerged from the interviews with the senior nursing instructors, summarized in Table 2.

Theme Nursing Instructor X Nursing Instructor Y Nursing Instructor Z Comments
Expressed concern that English language ability could affect patient safety Yes Yes No Z identified imprecise expression (see Extract 9) as a threat to patient care, but not necessarily safety
Expressed concern regarding intelligibility of medications list Yes Yes No Z noted her background in cardiac care might have enabled inference
Expressed concern regarding intelligibility of phonological or syntactic features No Yes No Y noted differing pronunciations but expressed comprehension
Expressed concern that imprecision in expression could affect patient safety Yes Yes Yes

Table 2: Semi-structured interviews – Summary of responses

Patient Safety

First, two of the three nursing instructors (pseudonyms X and Y) explicitly stated that language-based miscommunications between the interlocutors could negatively affect patient safety. While the third instructor (Z) did not explicitly link any single miscommunication as jeopardizing patient safety, she did express concerns about miscommunications affecting patient care. The extracts below provide examples illustrating patient safety concerns expressed by nursing instructors.

Extract 3

Interviewer: In your opinion, were there areas of language, not nursing practice but language, that could affect patient safety, in this example?
Nursing Instructor X: Uh, yes, I think so, and I think it goes back to the the terms she used before: “funny” and “crazy” because those can be very umm, you know, funny what does that really mean, you know, is he unconscious umm , you know is he responding to verbal umm commands, to painful stimuli, like those all impact umm patient care. And she did mention that the potassium was high, so that would lead me to be believe that these were more serious concerns than acting funny. And that nursing umm other nursing intervention should be taken immediately, instead of just you know making a referral at some point in time.

Extract 4

Nursing Instructor Y: But I think there’s more – I think there’s cardiac issues going on and we might be overdosing them on potassium, right now. And that could be so the beginning of the confusion we might be sending him into a delirium which I didn’t hear anything about. But that would be my immediate thought, umm if I was diagnosing.


Two interviewees (X and Y) indicated concern about intelligibility in the reports of administered medications. Z felt she understood the list of medications the patient was receiving, but added that her background in cardiac care might have assisted with inferring the medication names and dosages. What she could not comprehend, however, was the type of fluid being administered to the patient intravenously.

Extract 5

Nursing Instructor Y: I didn’t get the names of all the medications. I got Lasix 20, didn’t get the frequency of it, didn’t get I think there were 3 meds, I didn’t get the next medication at all, and then I got potassium 20 millequivalents qd. I got that this patient vomited twice, pulse, I’ve got a question mark, I’m not sure if said they took the pulse, or they didn’t get the pulse . . . umm . . . I’m not sure what acting funny looks like? Umm , and not quite sure how that connects to seeing halos around the light.
Interviewer: So uh – so these – the fact that you didn’t get the medications –
Nursing Instructor Y: Huge issue!

Pronunciation and/or grammar

While nursing instructors noted areas of pronunciation from the two recorded interlocutors where comprehension was a challenge, none directly linked these to patient safety. Nursing Instructor X noted differing vowel articulations of two terms (C-difficile and Lasix) but indicated comprehension of both, while Instructor Z indicated a lack of comprehension surrounding the type of intravenous solution. The pan-Indian or Arabic linguistic features noted in Table 1 were not remarked upon by any of the three nursing instructors. None of the instructors mentioned grammar issues as a barrier to comprehension.

Precision in expression

All three nursing instructors indicated concerns that a lack of precision in expression evidenced in the scenario might negatively impact patient safety. In the recording, for example, Nurse A attempts to describe the patient’s mental state of disorientation, and does so with the patient’s own words “feel[ing] funny” and her own description “he’s crazy”. Instructors X, Y and Z all conveyed views that this indicated a lack of precision in expression necessary for effective nursing practice.

Extract 6

Nursing Instructor X: She she stumbled over her words, right? It wasn’t it the articulation wasn’t clear what I would expect it to be, You know she seemed hesitant over umm the information that she was conveying, like she didn’t I didn’t feel that she had a sense of confidence about what she was talking about umm you know that there she didn’t have really a umm a clear plan about what she wanted the next nurse to do. It was kinda left up in the air. Umm…
Interviewer: And are those problems of language, do you think?
Nursing Instructor X: I do, because maybe she probably couldn’t umm find the words to articulate what she said. So I don’t know if it it could be a content issue, maybe the person speaking didn’t know the content? But it could also be that they didn’t have the words to verbalize what they wanted to say.

Extract 7

Interviewer: And just to be clear, so I’m clear … they that uh that being unclear to the next nurse, you’re saying it could be a language issue, she may not know the words to say?
Nursing Instructor X: Right. So in my own personal experience, you know if I keep probing students, I can sense that they you know that they know kind of the content, but they’re not able to find the words. And if they translate what they’re saying into their native language, and that other person tells me what they were saying then it makes more sense. But here I don’t know if she really had the language to express what she wanted to say. Maybe she did do with her own cardiac assessment, and she didn’t have the knowledge, right? She talked about things like (pitting) edema, but umm she couldn’t clearly articulate you know the objectivity behind it, you know (pitting) edema plus one plus two plus three umm that kind of thing so umm perhaps she doesn’t have the the language ability to umm to portray that information.

Extract 8

Nursing Instructor Y: So then she talked about air entry, she talked about a moist cough. I would be concerned about this patient because of the KCL, and the high potassium . . . umm . . . And then so the other confusing part about this was that they said that this person is disoriented, but they’re responding well. So I don’t know what they’re responding well to. If they’re disoriented, and they’re crazy, and they’re acting funny, then to me, responding well is a bit of a misnomer.
Interviewer: Would would someone being a native speaker of English use responding well in an unclear kind of way?
Nursing Instructor Y: I don’t – I would hope not.
Interviewer: So it might be language?
Nursing Instructor Y: It might be language. I think maybe they’re responding well physically, but they’ve got a whole other psychodynamic going on here, that I’m concerned about. And if their potassium is is creeping up, then they’re not actually responding well, you need to attend to the potassium (be)cause that could kill them.

Extract 9

Nursing Instructor Z: Crazy – that was a little off for me, yeah.
Interviewer: Off.
Nursing Instructor Z: When I heard that word uh that’s not a word I would use. Or I would hear a nurse use. So I don’t know what she meant by that. But then when they went on I assumed that she was talking about him being orientated or disoriented. So I I don’t what she meant, if she meant that his mental status wasn’t quite where it should be and I think that’s where the other nurse might have been pushing she asked had his blood sugar been tested which would be a normal thing for a nurse to think about because a person could be disoriented if their blood sugars were high or low? Um but they hadn’t checked that. The other nurse said they hadn’t checked that. So um yeah the crazy part was something I didn’t really care to hear. We you wouldn’t hear that that’s not something you hear a nurse say. It doesn’t mean anything um medical it doesn’t reflect assessment a nursing assessment. So that part was a little bit maybe she was struggling with language to describe what it was she was trying to say that that was one part, yeah. That wasn’t great.
Interviewer: That might be language?
Nursing Instructor Z: Well, maybe it’s maybe she didn’t know the right word to use? Because crazy’s not a word you hear in nursing assessment language, or medical language by a physician, nurse, anybody. It’s just, it’s a it’s a lay term, you know, it’s a it’s not a word that we would use.

Listening Comprehension Task for Nursing Students

Listening comprehension responses

Of the six listening comprehension questions, participants demonstrated little difficulty answering three correctly, while the remaining three proved challenging. A list of comprehension items and the number of correct/incorrect answers for each is provided in Appendix C. Table 3 below shows selected examples of variance in listener comprehension for the three problematic items.

Question # Information given in recorded discussion Number of incorrect responses /14 Incorrect response (number)
Q1: How old is the patient? ’84 years old’ 4/14 unanswered (3)

40 (1)

Q4: The patient’s pulse is 92. Is there any other information given about the pulse? ‘irregular’ 13/14 regular (13)
Q5: How is the patient’s blood sugar? ‘blood sugar, not take’ 5/14 normal (3)

within normal (1)

good (1)

Table 3: Variance in listener comprehension – Selected examples

Perceived intelligibility

Questions 7 to 10 gauged respondents’ perceived intelligibility of the health assessment scenario recording. Variable responses characterized listener perception of the recorded health assessment scenario, but overall, participants expressed confidence that they had understood the discussion. Thirteen of the 14 listeners, for example, indicated they understood 70% or more; only three felt inaccurate pronunciation interfered with meaning. Speech rate and interlocutor accent was reported as a barrier to comprehension by just over half of listening participants (9/14 and 8/14, respectively). Table 4 below summarizes participant responses.

Question 10 was an open-ended item which gave listeners opportunity to add any other remarks on the recorded discussion. Ten of 14 listeners provided comments, and these followed varied themes: four comments noted fast speech; four referred to accent as a comprehension barrier; and two comments used the phrase ‘easy to understand’. Some examples:

In general was OK, not very difficult, but the way they pronounce and the accent is little bit made the word meaning to change, but because we had a lot of experience in working with Indian nurse so it became a habit to hear it and I feel it’s OK and easy to understand. [Sic] [“strongest language”: Farsi]

Her spoke too quickly and needs to improve her accents. [Sic] [“strongest language”: Arabic]

The hand over was clearly communicate between them. It was easy to understand patient condition and what the nurse did for the patient. [Sic] [“strongest language”: Farsi]

No, only some litters that are going from nurse mouth is littel difficult to understand because all indina staff have this problem e speaking. [Sic]. [“strongest language”: Arabic]

‘It will be difficult for people who has no knowledge about medications to understand what nurse A said especially when it comes to medical words. [Sic] [“strongest language”: Indonesian]

Question # Responses (14 listeners)
Q7: How well did you understand the patient’s condition and symptoms? easily (7)

understood, but with some difficulty (7)

Q8: How much of what the nurses said did you understand? 90% or more (6)

70-89% (7)

50-69% (1)

Q9: Say whether you agree (A) or disagree (D):

(a): The nurses’ accents* made it difficult to understand the patient’s condition and symptoms.

Agree (8)

Disagree (6)

(b): The nurses spoke too quickly for me to understand the patient’s condition and symptoms. Agree (9)

Disagree (5)

(c): The nurses wrongly pronounced some words, so I couldn’t get the meaning. Agree (3)

Disagree (11)

(d): The nurses wrongly pronounced some words, but I could still get the meaning. Agree (7)

Disagree (6 )

No Answer (1)

(e): The nurses spoke Standard English. Agree (5)

Disagree (8)

No Answer (1)

Table 4: Perceived intelligibility – summary of responses

*bold type in original


Concerns over patient safety with respect to communication issues in an ELF context (Bladd, 2008) were echoed in this present study. According to the three nursing instructors who listened to the recorded assessment scenario, patient safety was threatened by issues of language intelligibility. With the 14 nursing students who listened to the recording, a high degree of perceived intelligibility generally aligned with actual intelligibility; however, areas of misalignment were on matters of critical import to the patient’s condition.

The “Smith paradigm” and its three-part division of intelligibility served as a framework for discussion in regard to the areas of (un)intelligibility evidenced in this study.


Nursing instructors

Word recognition difficulties with medication and its administration were highlighted in the semi-structured interviews. The effect on patient safety of misunderstanding in this area of nursing care, could be, as emphatically stated by Instructor Y, a “Huge issue!” All three instructors referenced difficulties in understanding medicines and/or administration, noting unintelligibility of the actual names and amounts and frequency of dosage.

Nursing students

Despite nursing student listeners’ perceptions about the effect of accented pronunciation, word recognition overall accounted for minor impact on intelligibility of the recorded scenario, as evidenced by comprehension instrument responses. Disconcerting, however, was the pervasive misrecognition of the patient’s irregular pulse (13 of the 14 heard “regular”), and that while the patient’s blood sugar level had not been tested, over one-third of the respondents (5/14) understood it to be “normal” or “good”.


Nursing instructors

It is in the area of locutionary force, in particular, where instructors noted the adverse effects of language ability on nursing care. The descriptors “funny” and “crazy”, uttered as Nurse A presumably searched for more precise nursing lexis like “disoriented”, were considered a threat to patient safety by the instructors. As mentioned by Nursing Instructor Y, imprecise terminology could delay diagnosis of a potentially dangerous issue, such as an overdose of potassium chloride (see Extract 4).

Nursing students

Unlike their instructors, who noted with alarm the imprecise use of the terms, the student listeners did not remark upon the use of “funny” and “crazy”. Certainly, although a precondition for inclusion in this study was completion of the institution’s health assessment course, the student nurses are not expected to demonstrate the same level of assessment skills as the instructors. Still, this may be a case of “they don’t know what they don’t know” – or, the failure to note the importance of precise terminology may perpetuate imprecisions.


From the standpoint of patient safety, it may be encouraging to note that the recorded health assessment scenario evidenced interpretability as indicated by nursing instructor comments and as measured by nursing student responses to listening comprehension questions.

Nursing instructors

Instructors demonstrated use of situational and contextual knowledge to apprehend the recorded scenario. Instructor Z described drawing inferences from her background in cardiac care, while Y noted differing vowel renderings but still correctly identified the condition and medications. Both X and Y noted that they would press for clarification if this were an actual hospital setting (e.g., Y: “Well, if I’d been sitting on this report, I would have pushed this nurse to say ‘Tell me what funny looks like to you.'”)

Nursing students

Respondents described a process that is likely very familiar to them in an environment where English is used as a lingua franca—drawing upon both linguistic and extra-linguistic contextual knowledge to gain meaning.

A nursing student who identified her “strongest language” as Farsi noted that “the way they pronounce and the accent is little bit made the word meaning to change, but because we had a lot of experience in working with Indian nurse so it became a habit to hear it and I feel it’s OK and easy to understand”. [Sic]

Another student listener (“strongest language” – Indonesian) thought Nurse A’s speech would be “difficult for people who has no knowledge about medications” [sic]; however, this student’s correct answers on the listening comprehension section indicated that she did possess the required background knowledge.

However, a note of caution needs to be sounded alongside these positive assessments of interpretability. Consider the following extract from the recorded assessment scenario discussion, and the nursing students’ responses.

Extract 10

Nurse B: Okay, why you um, take your uh, take the blood sugar? The uh the blood sugar, uh, it’s high?
Nurse A: Blood sugar, not take.
Nurse B: You not take blood sugar?
Nurse A: No.
Nurse B: Not diabetic, not diabetes.

Question 5 asked the nursing student listeners, “How is the patient’s blood sugar?” 11 of the 14 listeners correctly answered that the blood sugar levels had not been taken. However, three answered “normal”, one “within normal” and one described the levels as “good”. This example of interpretability misunderstanding serves as a reminder that critical care situations in general require an unusually high degree of communicative precision, with the possibility of heightened difficulties where a lingua franca language is vehicular.


A number of limitations need to be taken into account when considering the wider implications of this study. The first limitation is one common to many studies of listening: the “packaging” of a fundamentally interactive activity into a more static exercise. Conversational universals like backchannel signals for listener-speaker feedback and repair systems to restore comprehension (Goffman, 1974) are absent for listeners hearing a recorded discussion. While all listening is inherently interactive communication, Buck (2001) delineates listening assessment constructs based on a continuum of interactive collaboration. As noted previously, this particular study measured comprehension on a non-collaborative communication task in that the research construct gauged listening in a non-interactive context. In order to extend understanding of ELF interactions in health care settings, future research is needed in observing interactive contexts where listeners attempt to formulate meaning collaboratively.

When considering the broader applicability of the findings, it is also important to note the small sample size in the study. Future research might consider larger numbers of participants, representing even further linguistic variation; such a line of inquiry extends the range of possibilities in probing areas of (un)intelligibility. Consistent with the makeup of the institutional context, the nursing instructors evaluating the recorded scenario for patient safety in this study all listed English as their “strongest language”. A future study might broaden the sample to include similarly qualified instructors from other linguistic backgrounds to gauge their take on MELF interactions in the context of patient safety.

With the above limitations considered, we now turn to the implications for English language teaching’s intersection with nursing education, and how (M)ELF might contribute to belonging, identity and the development of medical professional practice in migrant destination regions.


Several implications for nursing education in ELF contexts present themselves from these findings. First, linguistic preparation of nursing students for whom English is an additional language will look differently in ELF contexts than in ENL ones. The teaching of listening skills should aim not just for comprehension of a single “standard” accent, as is often the pedagogical focus in ENL settings, but also effective comprehension across a wide variety of Englishes. Effective listening pedagogy should seek to enhance listening skills that are interactional in nature, which can be achieved by expanding upon the traditional listening task constructs to include more active listening techniques, like clarification, summarizing, etc.—thus, veering from a “receptive orientation”‘ toward a “collaborative” or “transformative” one (Rost, 2002, pp. 2–3). Pronunciation pedagogy should, similarly, deemphasize NS accents as the preferred target, in favour of being understood in MELF environments where the future nurse practitioners will find themselves in. Research-informed speaking pedagogy should also investigate and catalogue target areas for enhancing intelligibility in such contexts.

Scholars have emphasized the goal of communicative effectiveness—as opposed to a strict attention to accuracy—in ELF interactions (Björkman, 2011). As Jenkins (2007) argued, in an international communication context, “the ability to accommodate to interlocutors with other first languages than one’s own is a far more important skill than the ability to imitate the English of a native speaker” (p. 238). Firth (1996) found that lingua franca interactions used a number of means to make unusual interactions appear more “normal”, such as a “let it pass” approach (waiting until an unclear meaning became clear) and “make normal” strategies (producing formulations of marked speech) (pp. 243-247). Other means of circumventing misunderstandings in ELF interactions include repetition, clarification, self-correction, direct questions, and error repair (Kwan & Dunworth, 2016). Nursing curricula for MELF contexts would do well to include explicit teaching of such strategies.

Second, the important role of the range and depth of nursing-specific lexis was highlighted by this study. Precise description is at the heart of effective health assessment, and providing such precision in a vehicular language adds an additional challenge. The formation of frequency-based nursing corpora (Shimoda, Toriida, & Kay, 2016) provides new opportunities for lexis-based pedagogical approaches in nursing education.

Third, listening has been considered an undervalued and under-taught area of language teaching, the “Cinderella of the four macro-skills” (Flowerdew & Miller, 2005, p. xi). This present study underscores its importance, even centrality, for the language teaching curriculum in MELF contexts. The findings suggest that listening needs to be extended from its traditional role as a static, receptive activity to a much more interactive one; the importance of authenticity and genuineness (Rost, 2002) are emphasized by the need for exceptional precision required in patient assessment. Fortunately, authentic and genuine opportunities for interactive listening is often already incorporated into many nursing programs in the form of the simulation laboratory. Simulation training, a mainstay of nursing curricula, provides “a unique educational strategy to facilitate the development of skills, competencies and clinical judgement that are mandatory to provide safe, quality patient care” (Decker, Caballero, & McClanahan, 2014, p. 2). In many cases, however, English language instruction is seen only as a precursor to participation in nursing programs, and not incorporated into nursing program simulations. This results in a largely underutilized pedagogical opportunity for “real-world” listening situations nursing students will encounter in future practice.


As a migrant worker destination, the states of the Arabian Peninsula are of special interest for the study of (M)ELF interactions, given the L1 language contact environment where English serves as a second or third language for many in the large expatriate workforce. In discussing the UAE, Boyle (2012) describes an environment where migrants accelerate language change, given the tendency to lessen enforcement of linguistic norms in such settings, and predicts language change to be observable not only in English, but Arabic and South Asian languages like Urdu and Malayalam, and in other languages which are represented in the UAE’s migrant workforce (p. 328).

ELF in this way provides an avenue for identity and belonging in an environment where permanent residence is highly unlikely, if not impossible (see Economist Intelligence Unit, 2009, for an explanation of residence/citizenship policies in the Arabian Peninsula). Migrant destinations like the Arabian Peninsula present a rich opportunity for researchers to consider whether ELF will not only stabilize, but become a norm-providing variety of English, rather than its current norm-dependent orientation, with a convergence of grammatical/lexical systems. Maurenen (2012) describes language users who, interacting over time, will eventually synchronize to norms. Might we envision a day when what is now ELF in the Arabian Peninsula will converge into a series of norms (and then eventually be codified and taught)? On several occasions, for example, we have been asked in Arabian Peninsula coffee shops, by migrant workers from the Philippines, for our “good name,” a feature associated with South Asian English (Kachru, 1993, p. 382), perhaps an illustration of ELF norm convergence in the region. This may exemplify the process described by Mauranen (2012), who predicting a regulation of speech norms over time, and the forming of discourse communities (Swales, 1990). The data in this study suggest that a MELF discourse community may already be in development. As noted previously, one nursing student (L1 Farsi) described her comprehension of an Indian nurse (L1 Tamil) in a patient handover: “the way they pronounce and the accent is little bit made the word meaning to change, but because we had a lot of experience in working with Indian nurse so it became a habit to hear it and I feel it’s OK and easy to understand.” [Sic]

The notion of community/communities of practice (COP) (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Wenger, 1998) has been drawn upon by ELF theorists to describe the nature of such speech communities (Mackenzie, 2014), and may be of particular relevance to MELF users. A COP depicts the inherently social nature of learning, framing the process as one of a learner participating in the social world, and contrasting with portrayals of the individual learner in isolation, depending on cognition exclusively. Mutual engagement, a joint enterprise and a shared repertoire characterize the social learning of the COP (Wenger, 1998). Utilization of the knowledge created by COP in organizations –often overlooked because of their informal nature (Boud & Middleton, 2003)—presents an opportunity for institutions that educate health care professionals to generate MELF linguistic resources, which transcend the limited term contracts of expatriate workers.


This study examined intelligibility of a health assessment scenario among different varieties of English, in a health care context where English is a lingua franca. As in all hospital settings, exceptionally accurate communication is necessary for patient safety, but the findings here underscored its importance in MELF contexts. The results point toward the inclusion of interactive and authentic listening, and frequency-based vocabulary instruction, as critical components of English language curricula as it intersects with nursing education for MELF contexts. As the findings of this study suggest, the neglect of communicative precision in MELF instructional contexts is done at patient peril.


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Appendix A – Health Assessment Scenario

Health Assessment Scenario 1 – NURSE A

Shift Change: You are giving shift report to the ongoing staff.

Mr. Saddi is an 84 year old male with congestive heart failure, who has developed pulmonary edema and has also acquired C-difficile in hospital and has become dehydrated. Medications include furosemide (Lasix) 20 mg PO qd, digoxin 125 mg PO qd, potassium chloride (K-Dur) 20 mEq PO qd. He has vomited twice today, and you are not sure he kept his pills down. He is also stating that he “feels funny and I’m seeing halos around the lights – I wonder if I am going crazy”.

You report on the following:

– admitting diagnoses

– report vital signs (BP 180/82, P 92 R 26)

– urinary output hourly over the last eight hours

– auscultation: diminished air entry with inspiratory crackles throughout (review what this could be)

– cough is wet and non-productive

– tachycardic

– pulse irregular

– recent lab values show potassium level increasing

– disorientation

– patient opening eyes in response to touch

Health Assessment Scenario 1 – NURSE B

Shift Change: You are the incoming nurse during shift change.

Listen to the outgoing nurse and the information they give you about a patient.

You are a participant in the conversation, so feel free to ask questions or do anything else you might want until you are comfortable you have the information necessary.

Appendix B – Interview Questions

Central Research Question (CRQ), Theory Questions (TQ), and Interview Questions (IQ) (Wengraf, 2001)

CRQ(1): To what extent do issues of intelligibility among users of different varieties of English threaten safe and effective patient care?

TQ(1): Are there linguistic misunderstandings that might threaten safe and effective patient care?

IQ(a): How well did you understand this shift report?

IQ(b): What things made it difficult to understand the report?

IQ(c): In your opinion, are there possibilities for misunderstandings in language that could affect patient safety?

IQ(d): In your opinion, are there possibilities for misunderstandings in language that could affect the overall quality of patient care?

Appendix C – Student Nurse Responses

Language Female






























TG011 F BNRT C C C I C C A 90+ A A
TG02 F BNRT C C C I I C B 50-69 A A D A D 2
TG03 F BNRT C C C I I C B 90+ A A A A D
YA01 F BNRT I C I I C I B 70-89 A A D D A 3
AC01 F I C I I C I A 70-89 A A D D D 4
AC02 F PDBN C C C I I I B 70-89 D A D D D
AC03 F PDBN C C C I C C B 90+ A D D A D 5
AC04 F I C I I I C A 70-89 A D D A D 6
AC05 F I C I I I C A 90+ D A D D A
FI01 F PDBN C C C I C C A 70-89 D D A A D 7
FI02 F PDBN C C C I C C A 90+ D D D A A 8
IN01 F BNRT C C C C C C B 70-89 D A D A D 9
MM01 F PDBN C C I I C C A 90+ D A D D A 10
MM02 F PDBN C C I I C C B 70-89 A D D D A 11


– 14 respondents

– In Q1-6, no answers were scored as Incorrect (I).

– Comments (see footnotes) are reproduced unedited, as written by the participants.

1: TG – Tagalog; YA – Yoruba; AC – Arabic; FI – Farsi; IN – Indonesian; MM – Malayalam

2: The nurse A was quite a fast talker and seems like she’s out of breath.

3: There is too much information during the endursement. I think endursement supose to be concise.

4: Her spoke too quickly and she needs to improve her accents.

5: It was not proper English language.

6: No, only some litters that are going from nurse mouth is littel difficult to understand because all indina staff have this problem e speaking.

7: In general was OK, not very difficult, but the way they pronounce and the accent is little bit made the word meaning to change, but because we had a lot of experience in working with Indian nurse so, it become a habit to hear it and I feel it’s OK and easy to understand.

8: The hand over was clearly communicate between them. It was easy to understand patient condition and what the nurse did for the patient.

9: I think the nurse A spoke too fast, so it was a little difficult to understand or catch up with the conversation; especially when nurse A tried to explain about the medications. It will be difficult difficult for people who has no knowledge about medications to understand what nurse A said, especially when it comes to medical words.

10: Spoke too quickly.

11: The explanation was OK, but it was mixed so difficult to understand.

i We are hesitant to wade into use of the terms “native speaker / non-speaker” for the purposes of our article, given the terms’ often social, rather than linguistic, construction. We prefer to conceptualize our discussion with the recognition (and affirmation) of varieties of English. In countries where English has a long history, and plays many official functions in government, the media and education (India, for example), it is often problematic to identify who/who isn’t a “native speaker.” In such environments, many multilinguals may be hard-pressed to tell you which language is their L1. We therefore prefer to frame our discussion in this article by referring to someone as a speaker of a particular English: Indian English, or Nepali English, for example. We use the term “English users,” following Deterding and Kirkpatrick (2006). It is important to us to both avoid the imprecisions in the terms NS/NNS, and to be consistent with the unbalanced multilingualism dominant in the research context, and so we have used the term “self-identified” L1 where we had asked study participants to identify their “strongest language.”

ii Institutional requirements: Foundation entrance requires TOEFL iBT 40, IELTS 4.0; degree entrance requires TOEFL iBT 80, IELTS 6.0.

Navigating competing identities through stance-taking: A case of Ukrainian teenagers

Volume 2(1): 2018

ELIZABETH PEACOCK, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse


Scholars of postsocialism have shown how nation and citizenship are shifting along with political and economic borders, and the movement of people across these borders. However, few have examined these transformations through the ways in which individuals take up stances in everyday interactions. Ukraine’s current economic and political difficulties reveal a disconnect between what western Ukrainians feel they deserve and the economic realities that drive them to seek work abroad, which is evident in competing views on migration. This article brings together ethnography and stance theory to examine how teenagers draw upon and engage with a variety of social views to evaluate migration, position themselves and others in relationship to migration, as well as to (dis)align themselves with others in these interactions. The data examined herein come from an informal group discussion held at one public school in a middle-class neighborhood in western Ukraine. The analysis suggests that the stances teenagers take towards Ukrainian migration potentially affect the social identities teenagers construct within their existing peer groups by unintentionally bringing forward socioeconomic class identities that threaten group boundaries based on friendship. In taking up these stances, western Ukrainian teenagers also convey the role migration has in who they are and who they want to be, and reflect the broader views on migration in Ukrainian society.


Les chercheurs s’intéressant au post-socialisme ont montré comment la nation et la citoyenneté évoluent avec les frontières politiques et économiques, et avec le mouvement des personnes à travers ces frontières. Cependant, peu ont examiné ces transformations en étudiant la façon dont les individus prennent position dans les interactions quotidiennes. Les difficultés économiques et politiques actuelles de l’Ukraine révèlent une déconnexion entre ce que les Ukrainiens de l’Ouest estiment mériter et les réalités économiques qui les poussent à chercher du travail à l’étranger, ce qui est évident dans les opinions divergentes sur les migrations. Dans cet article, je lie l’ethnographie et la théorie des attitudes pour examiner comment les adolescents s’inspirent d’une variété de visions sociales pour évaluer la migration, se positionner eux-mêmes et d’autres en relation avec la migration, et se dissocier des autres dans l’interaction. Les données examinées ici proviennent d’une discussion de groupe informelle tenue dans une école publique d’un quartier de classe moyenne dans l’ouest de l’Ukraine. L’analyse suggère que les attitudes des adolescents vis-à-vis de la migration ukrainienne affectent potentiellement les identités sociales que les adolescents construisent au sein de leurs groupes de pairs existants en introduisant involontairement des identités de classes socio-économiques qui menacent les frontières de groupe basées sur l’amitié. En adoptant ces positions, les adolescents de l’ouest de l’Ukraine expriment également le rôle que la migration joue sur la construction de leur identité et reflètent les perspectives plus larges sur la migration dans la société ukrainienne.

Keywords: identity, stance, youth, migration, Ukraine.


Since the early 1990s, migration from Ukraine has been the result of poor living conditions (Shamshur & Malinovska, 1994) that stem from larger economic troubles: the collapse of the USSR and changing relations with the former Soviet republics; hyperinflation following its 1991 independence; growing unemployment, as well as political instability and corruption (Sutela, 2012; Wilson, 2013). For example, the GDP per capita of Ukraine fell from $1,490 in 1991, to $636 in 1999, and was hit hard during the 2008-2009 global economic crisis (Wilson, 2013). Continuing political instability is evident in the 2004 Orange Revolution, the 2014 Euromaidan protests, the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea, and the ongoing military conflict in the eastern Donbass regions. Though Ukrainians have historically migrated throughout Russia and other former Soviet Republics, and to Western Europe and North America to escape the Soviet regime, the persisting economic and social instability of post-1991 has pushed many more to seek work abroad (Hormel & Southworth, 2006; Solari, 2014; Tolstokorova, 2009; Vollmer & Malynovska, 2016). As a result, Ukraine has become one of the top emigration countries in the world, with approximately 12.3% of its population living abroad in 2013 (Ukraine, 2016). While Russia and the United States were the top receiving countries for Ukrainians in 2013 (Ukraine, 2016), for those living in western regions like L’viv, a major city near the European Union border, migration often means travelling to nearby Poland and other European Union countries, such as the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, and Portugal (Fedyuk & Kindler, 2016).

Ukraine’s current economic and political difficulties reveal a disconnect between what western Ukrainians feel they deserve as “Europeans” and the economic realities that drive them to seek work abroad (Montefusco, 2008; Solari, 2010; Tolstokorova, 2009). This disconnect is evident in competing views of migration, which weigh the potential economic advantages against the social disadvantages. On the one hand, migration is viewed by many western Ukrainians as a way to reclaim their pre-Soviet European heritage, through living a “normal” life predicated on achieving a European middle-class lifestyle (Galbraith, 2004; Patico, 2008; Peacock, 2012; 2015; Schulze, 2010). It also gives migrants the opportunity to support their families financially, and to gain the cultural capital that comes with experiencing Europe first-hand (Zhurzhenko, 2010). Remittances, such as providing for a child’s education, help to support those back home and can be the primary support for relatives in rural villages (Dickinson, 2005). In addition, successful migrants can return home with the knowledge and resources to help make their home country “European again.” As Tolstokorova (2009) explains, “Young people with experience of foreign employment have more active positions, higher self-reliance and economic self-sufficiency, and stronger responsibility for their own lives. . . .Furthermore, international experience. . .increases linguistic competence and communication skills, expands cultural horizons and intercultural tolerance” (p.10).

Migration, however, has its downsides. Migrants may find themselves exploited by former co-nationals or locals due to their immigration status, their lack of a social support system, and their inability to speak the local language. While their pay may benefit their families, their status abroad is often that of the underclass, and their absence is often blamed for many of Ukraine’s social problems. This migration puts Ukraine in a bind as it reflects traditional Third World migration patterns (Solari, 2010). The perception that Ukrainian emigrants might come more from a Third World country, rather than a First World one, is evident in some of the risks Ukrainian migrants face, such as human trafficking (Solari, 2010).

There is also fear that migration dissolves the nation, since parents are separated from their children and fewer young adults remain to raise their own families. Though additional economic resources give the children of emigrants valuable social capital, it often comes with a lack of parental attention (Tolstokorova, 2009). Ukrainians who leave to work abroad are often seen as less committed to the nation, as they may never return, and linguistically and culturally assimilate to their host countries of northern and western Europe, Canada, and the United States (cf. Solari, 2014). Those who remain see themselves as having been abandoned, left to solve the country’s problems on their own or to emigrate themselves.

Even the youngest generation in L’viv, who has only known independent Ukraine and has seen the borders of Europe expand to within 60 miles of their home city, is aware of both the potential benefits and risks of migrating to Europe. This generation, even more so than their parents, sees itself as torn between two obligations: the duty to retain their Ukrainian-ness—their language, their culture, their love of the country, on the one hand; and, the expectation to help Ukraine rejoin the rest of the Western world, on the other.

In this article, I examine the stances taken by a group of western Ukrainian teenagers on migration, where a stance is viewed as a type of social action that potentially affects the social identities constructed within their existing peer groups and reflects the broader views on migration in the Ukrainian society. These teenagers draw upon and engage with a variety of social views to evaluate migration, position themselves and others in relationship to migration, and to (dis)align themselves with others in the interaction. They learn particular views about the value of migration from the media, their parents—stories that circulate within their peer and family social networks—and in the attitudes expressed at their schools, such as teachers’ attitudes towards the parents of students who work abroad or in stories that describe migration as the primary source of domestic problems and child neglect. In taking up these stances, western Ukrainian teenagers also convey which of their identities are most salient in the interaction, and the role migration has in who they are and who they want to be.


DuBois (2007) defined stance as “a linguistically articulated form of social action” that is “shaped by the complex interplay of collaborative acts by dialogic co-participants” (p. 139, 142). In order to interpret the meaning of any particular stance, what must be known or inferred from the interaction is the identity of the stance taker, the object of stance-taking, and to what prior stance the stance taker is responding (DuBois, 2007). Stance takers position themselves towards a shared object of the interaction and its context. Such context is important for understanding stance-taking because the positioning of the stance taker, and their alignment to the stances of others, often takes into account existing social relations, the relevant in-the-moment context, and stance taker’s current social identity among their peer groups (Jaffe, 2009; Wortham, 2006). DuBois’ (2007) “stance triangle” emphasizes the process through which speakers perform social acts through stance: as a subject evaluates a shared stance object, they simultaneously position themselves and others, and align themselves with other subjects (p.163). As such, stances can be viewed as “acts of identity” (Le Page & Tabouret-Keller, 1985) that are co-constructed by participants in response to the stances they take towards the shared stance object and the alignments they make toward each other. As the salient social identities of participants are often in-flux, these “identities-in-interaction” (Antaki & Widdicombe, 1998) can play a role in stance-taking and realignment with the stances of others.

More than any other social groups, youth actively engage with processes of identity construction as they distance themselves from their parents, connect to their peers, and otherwise respond to wider social phenomena (Bucholtz, 2002). One way in which they juggle various identities is through the stances they take and the alignments they make with the stances of their peers (Eckert, 1989; Goodwin, 2006). These stances can more clearly reveal the social views and values in wide circulation, as well as illustrate the effects of stance-taking on unfolding interactions. An individual’s stance-taking can be the result of particular social identities, such as class, but can also affect other salient identities, like membership in a particular friendship group.


The data examined here comes from a larger 16-month research project conducted in L’viv, Ukraine in 2006-2007, which investigated what the first generation of independent Ukraine learned about “being Ukrainian”, and how they were developing a sense of national identity. To these ends, I conducted participant observations, semi-structured interviews, and informal group discussions with teachers, students, and parents at two neighborhood public secondary schools. The Taras Shevchenko school was located in a working-class neighborhood, comprised of several Soviet-era apartment blocks. Ivan Franko was located in a middle-class neighborhood with detached homes in an area historically associated with L’viv’s intellectual elite.i Between the two schools, I followed three cohorts during their 8th and 9th grade years, attended a variety of classes with them, spent time visiting their homes, and asked them about current events, their uses of language, and their views on what it meant to be Ukrainian. For the purpose of this paper, I will focus on the analysis of the data collected during one informal group discussion at Ivan Franko school, which focused on students’ future aspirations, attitudes and experiences with international travel, and what they had heard about Ukrainians living abroad. The audio recording of the discussion was transcribed and translated. Instances of stance-taking (IST) were selected from the session and were examined within the context of the emerging interaction by taking into consideration DuBois’ (2007) “stance triangle”, as well as the ethnographically-informed context of the backgrounds and relations between individual students.

During the project, migration emerged as an important point of discussion among teachers and parents. At Taras Shevchenko, parents’ work abroad was viewed as problematic, one that was often voiced by the students’ homeroom teacher during her public scolding of two boys whose mothers worked in Italy and, in her opinion, their poor grandmothers were hopeless in keeping the boys properly disciplined. According to her, without their mothers at home, the boys were destined to become delinquents. The issue of migration at the middle-class school, on the other hand, was more nuanced. Though some students at Ivan Franko had parents working in lower-income jobs abroad, and so were unable to visit their families on a regular basis, migration was not limited to the working class. Rather, working or being educated abroad had an appeal for those with more financial means; a middle-class teenager, for example, could envision gaining both a college degree and first-hand experience of living in a foreign country.

At both schools, two views of migration were apparent in the stances students took toward the issue of migration. The positive view focused on the financial and personal benefits of going abroad. The negative view centered on the dangers of being a migrant in a foreign land and the neglect of one’s family that it resulted in. This negative view was also found towards other students and their stances, including students who were close friends and those who were merely classmates. As such, not all uses of these two views on the value of migration resulted in disruptions of the existing group boundaries. Rather, participants’ stances at times reinforced these boundaries and at other times challenged them.


Friendship groups among teenagers in Ukraine often cross class boundaries, as the socialist value of equality among people continues to prevail. In typical interactions, different classroom statuses allow for the most vocal students to disagree with others with little risk to the existing social relationships, which are based on their status in a peer group, class, and shared interests. The instances of stance-taking that follow occurred during a group discussion among one cohort of 8th graders at Ivan Franko, which was attended by nine girls and two boys, and was held in a classroom after school. The most vocal participants were girls who belonged to two different friendship groups. Ksenya and Vika both come from middle-class families, and are part of the “popular” girls’ friendship group. Whereas, Vika comes from the long-standing middle-class intelligentsia in L’viv, Ksenya’s family is part of the emerging “new” middle class. Her father is an independent businessman and her mother is a housewife by choice, not because of any lack of employment opportunities. Her entire family has also traveled abroad, including a family trip to Egypt with the family of another girl at school. Marta and Sofiya are part of another friendship group in the class. Marta is working-class, the daughter of flower sellers who often send her to spend summers with her rural relatives. Sofiya, like Ksenya, is also part of the emerging middle class; her father migrated to the United States and was working there during that time.

In IST 1 below, class differences lead to competing perspectives on the need to migrate in order to obtain gainful employment.

IST 1: Employment opportunities in Ukraine

Marta ale v Ukrajini lihshi umoby but it’s ideal conditions in Ukraine
Ksenya ale v polovyny= but in the middle=
Nadiya =na naihirshykh robotakh= =in the worst work=
Ksenya =ne znaidesh sobi robota, jakshcho v tebe ne maje, napryklad, vyshchoji osvity, bez vyshchoji osvity nikuda ne berut’, rozumijut’ =you can’t find work for yourself, if you don’t have, for example, a higher education, without a higher education you can’t go anywhere, you know
Marta Mozhna! [mozhna znaity You can! [you can find
FSTii [mozhna znaity, Ksenja, robota shchob [you can find, Ksenya, work that
Marta Ksenya, v Ukrajini zara povno roboty, to ne, to shcho p”jat’ rokiv tomu, prosto ljudy vvyjizhdzhajut’ tuda z [Ukrajiny Ksenya, now in Ukraine there’s full-time work, it’s not like five years ago, it’s just that people migrate there from [Ukraine
Ksenya [ljudy vvyjizhajut’, tomu shcho vony khochut’ krashchoho [zhyttja [people migrate because they want a better [life
Vika [dumaju [I think


Though migrating abroad is unnecessary according to those like working-class Marta, middle-class Ksenya finds migration to be the best and only choice for those with limited education, as well as a way for the middle class to meet their own financial and education goals. In their attempts to take the floor—evidenced by their supporting peers’ latching and overlapping, and Ksenya’s overlap—Marta’s and Ksenya’s opposing stances reinforce their different class positions and friendship group identities.

When multiple identifications are at play, participants can also maneuver their positions in order to favor one identity over another, such as refining one’s stance to align with the morality of one’s peers rather than other non-peers. Though Ksenya and Sofiya usually occupy different positions in the classroom social order, in IST 2, they find themselves taking a similar stance on the value of living abroad, but give different reasons for doing so.

IST 2: I want to live in Ukraine, but. . .

Marta a khochu zhyty v Ukrajini ale maty majetok= I want to live in Ukraine but have an estate=
Sofiya =a ja tozhe khochu zhtyty v kvartyry ale v Londoni =and I also want to live in an apartment but in London
Nadiya v Londoni, duzhe dorohi kvartyry, So[fi in London, apartments are really expensive, So[fi
Sofiya [a nu j shi, ale vse odno meni duzhe Anhlija [podobavajet’sja [so what, it doesn’t matter to me, I really [like England
Nadiya [tam hodynnyky (rzhavijut’) [there’s a clock they ( )
Sofiya meni L’ondon duzhe syl’no podobajet’sja khot’ na p”jat’ khvylyn for me, London is really grand, I liked it after five minutes
((segment skipped))
Vika ja ne khochu…a meni podobaju’tsja v Ukrajini I don’t want to ((go abroad))…I like being in Ukraine
Nadiya a ja b khotila tak mozhe [na ne vse zhyttja I would like to, maybe [but not all my life
Ksenya [ja b khotila pojikhaty za kordon navchatysja, ale ne zhyty [I would like to go abroad to study, but not to live
Maryna Ta yeah
Ksenya a potim povernulasja and return after
Nadiya u v vas taka niby vy zaraz jak vchytesja ale, tak, nu, piznajete svit, nu, mozhete jizdyty tam po svitu for you now it’s as if you’re like studying but, yeah, well, you get to know the world, well, you can go there all over the world
Vika a my, sho ne mozhem? and what about us, we can’t?

While Sofiya favours living in a foreign country due to the more comfortable lifestyle and higher standard of living she could gain there, Ksenya finds the experience of living in another country as a way to improve her life back in Ukraine. Rather than seeking a more comfortable European life and contributing to the country’s growing “brain drain” problem (cf. Solari, 2010), Ksenya’s goal is to get a professional degree at a European university and then return to Ukraine. Though Ksenya agrees with Sofiya that not everything is bad about living abroad, she places more emphasis on her desire to return to Ukraine, framing her desire to emigrate as a particular, demarcated stage in her life, not as the lifetime goal that Sofiya holds. By emphasizing how her stance diverges from Sofiya’s, Ksenya is able to maintain her social distance from Sofiya. Ksenya elaborates in IST 3, where she navigates her similar stance to Sofiya while also managing her disalignment from her close friend, Vika.

IST 3: They want to see something else

Ksenya chomu za kordon? why go abroad?
Sofiya bo za kordonom lipshe, meni zdajet’sja= because it’s easier abroad it seems to me=
Vika =ni ni =no no
Sofiya tak yes
FST ja protestuju I’m against it
((dull thud, followed by laughter))
Natalya tam baksy , baksy zeleni there’s bucks, green bucks
Ksenya ni nje tomu shcho khochet’sja pobachyty shos’ inshe nizh v nas ne til’ky nashu Ukrajinu tobto za kordonom vse rivno jakis’ inshi ljudy spilkuvannja inshe no no because they want to see something different, not only what we have in Ukraine, that is, abroad everything is different, different people and other kinds of interactions

In this way, Ksenya is able to present an identity of a future moral Ukrainian emigrant, one who uses emigration for life improvements and then returns home. By spending time in another country, migrants can experience things that cannot be experienced at home, and can return to Ukraine with greater world experience. In taking this stance, however, Ksenya finds resistance from her friends Vika and Natalya. Vika’s “no” works to reject Sofiya’s claims that life abroad is “easier”, but also foretells her later stance against the value of migration (IST 4). Natalya’s emphasis on seeking money, specifically U.S. dollars (“bucks”), also indirectly resists Ksenya’s claim that migrating leads to deeper changes in the migrants themselves. Though Ksenya is able to negatively align from Sofiya’s position, her strong support of migration reveals possible disalignment from her own friends.

Marta’s and Ksenya’s class identities in IST 1, and Sofiya’s and Ksenya’s class identities in IST 2-3, do not subsume their existing peer group identities. However, a person’s stance-taking can result in the domination of some of identities over others even if the person does not intentionally seek to highlight the dominating identities. Though both Ksenya and Vika belong to the same friendship group, they find themselves taking different stances on whether working abroad is beneficial for Ukrainians. From Ksenya’s perspective, as part of the new middle class, she claims that Ukrainians without a college degree can work as managers and earn more money in Europe than those with degrees in Ukraine. In contrast, Vika comes from a family who is part of city’s long-standing, urban middle class, which values education for itself and which retains social prestige but not necessarily the financial resources equal to that status. As such, Vika challenges Ksenya’s claim saying, “they aren’t managers”, which aligns with Marta’s earlier stance in the discussion (not shown here) that these migrants “abandon their families” when they move abroad to work.

In an effort to explain her view, Vika describes the precarious position of Ukrainian migrants by presenting a narrative about her grandmother’s friend, a woman who found herself in prison in IST 4.

IST 4: Where do you appeal, if you’re not a resident?

Vika I taka sama Italija, pojikhala mojeji babtsi podruzhka, i sho ty dumajesh? jij zrobyly nepravyl’ni dokumenty, vona v tjurmi cydila prosto tak, prosto tak, piv rokiv bo jiji zrobyla tam nepravyl’ni dokumenty, ne tut, jiji zrobyla nepravyl’ni, a tam, i tak povyna ljudej And it’s the same in Italy, my grandmother’s friend went, and what do you think? They made her illegal documents, she sat in prison, yeah only, only, yeah for half a year because she had illegal documents with her there, not here, illegal ones made for her there, and- and, yeah, people have to do it
Lana mozhna ljudy, nu i sho? people might, so what of it?
Vika a sho, nu i sho? Ljudyna prosto tak v tjurmi sydila? tomu shcho jiji hospodari zrobyly jij nepravyl’ni dokumenty and what, so what? people just have to go to jail? because her bosses made illegal documents for her
FST Vsjaki robljat’ dokumenty they make all kinds of documents
Vika a zvidky vona znala sho nepravyl’ni, a tak pobynni ljudej kuda ty zverneshsja, jaksho ty ne mistseva? and how did she know they were illegal? but people have to. where do you appeal, if you’re not a resident?
Ksenya dobre, Vika. davai good, Vika. give us the next one
((open palm hit on tabletop)) ((open palm hit on tabletop))
Nadiya ty musysh ity v jakes’ posol’stvo, zrobyjaty svoji dokumenty, tobi zh ne hospodari tuda idut’ vyrobljaty jikh? you have to go to some kind of embassy, to get your own documents, not have the boss there go and do them for you?
Vika tak, vizu to vsë tak, ale shob vona maje dokumenty [sho vona tam mozhe perebuvaty yeah, all visas are like that, but if she has documents [that she can look over there
Sofiya [ale vona mozhe pereviryty= [but she can verify them=
Nadiya =Vika, vona mozhna pereviryty, khto znaje ukrajins’ku movu, khto pratsjuje, i pereviryty documenty =Vika, she can verify them, someone knows Ukrainian, someone works there, and verify the documents
Ksenya davaite tak, skil’ky poluchaje nasha sidjelka? hryven’ p’jat sot, shist sot, ne bil’she. v misjats’. skil’ky polochaje tam zhe sama sidjelka z Ukrajiny? ja dumaju shcho= tell me, how much does our nurse get? five, six hundred hryven, not more. a month. how much does this nurse from Ukraine probably get there on her own? I think that=
Maryna =°tysjachu dolariv°= =°a thousand dollars°=
Ksenya =tysjachu dolariv, vona des’ tak i poluchaje- ljudy- Vika, tam vyshchyj riven’ zhyttja, rozumijesh? =a thousand dollars, she gets around that, peop- Vika, it’s a higher standard of living, you know?
Sofiya tam mozhe hirshe znannja, ale lipshyj riven’ zhyttja, °ja- ja prosto hovorju° maybe there’s worse information there, but it’s an ideal the standard of living, °I- I only say°
Vika dobre. vsë. good. and that’s all.
Ksenya [davaite dal’she= [give us another one=
FST [davaite dal’she= [give us another one=
Ksenya =bo zaraz posvarymsja =because now we’re fighting

In her narrative, Vika paints a bleak picture of the Ukrainian migrant as a person who has no choice but to migrate with false documents, and who is powerless at the hands of both the Ukrainian and the European states where they end up. In telling this story, the discussion shifts towards issues of immigrant labour rights, forcing the group to face the deeper ramifications of migration beyond employment opportunities and livable wages. After attempting to change the subject, Ksenya repeats her initial stance: the hopes of higher wages are enough to justify why Ukrainians would risk becoming undocumented workers in Europe. While the girls agree that migration will solve many of the economic hardships Ukrainians face at home, their peer group harmony is threatened over the reality that those of different socioeconomic classes may have very different migration experiences and opportunities.

These teenagers find themselves crossing the existing peer group boundaries in taking various stances on migration. Just as Ksenya unexpectedly finds herself positively aligning with non-friend Sofiya in their shared desire to live in Europe, Vika now finds herself in alignment with working-class, non-friends in her desire to remain living Ukraine and in her apprehension of working abroad. Furthermore, the experience of her grandmother’s friend has had an impact on Vika’s stance on migration. If someone like her grandmother’s friend could only migrate with falsified documents and potentially end up in jail because of them, then others like her might one day end up in a similar position. For Vika, undocumented migration is not only the fate of the poor or uneducated, it could happen to a middle-class person like herself.

The Ukraines and Europes that these teenagers describe contrast both economically and morally. The stances taken by these teenage girls support the idea that many Ukrainians migrate for good reasons. Ksenya’s stance in favor of migration highlights the superior European schooling system, and the benefits that higher European wages can bring to migrants, their families, and wider Ukraine in the long term. However, these teenagers hold divergent stances when it comes to the value of migration at a larger scale. For Vika and many of her working-class peers, living abroad can also lead to the rejection of Ukraine, an immoral greediness and focus on individual improvement over that of one’s community, and a life of ease that ignores and avoids the problems faced by their compatriots living in Ukraine. In addition, migration may take away their social support networks and leave them at the mercy of foreign powers, regardless of their social class. This latter stance suggests a traditionally moral Ukraine and a degraded Europe that threatens it; if all of Ukraine were to become like this Europe, it would no longer be Ukraine.


The stances taken and discussed in the ISTs towards migration are connected to the teenagers’ perceptions of Ukraine, and Ukrainians, at the multiple levels (Peacock, 2012; 2016). For example, their stances contrast Ukrainians who decide to migrate and those who do not, between Ukrainian emigrants and those living in their host countries, and between the typical life in Ukraine and in these host countries. Among their various stances, the teenagers seem to agree that western Ukrainians have found themselves on the losing side of the “have-nots,” while the countries abroad provide better opportunities for education and better financial gains, which makes it more difficult for them to become “normal” and “European”, as they deserve.

In their stance-taking, young people draw upon views and values of migration to position themselves both towards the topic of migration, and to align themselves towards their peers. When these views are situated within different logic worlds, however, stance-taking can become a complex process of multiple participants working together to manage (dis)alignments and maintain the pre-existing social order. Participants’ various competing social identities may also influence how they position themselves towards contentious issues and other participants’ stances. Emerging social class identities, such as those in places under transition, can affect which views and values young people are most familiar with, as well as which expectations they hold. In other words, stance-taking, and the worlds that create and are created in the process of stance-taking, highlight the various ways in which people may live in different worlds, worlds that delimit the kinds of experiences they have and what kind of people they may become.

In western Ukraine, teenagers’ stances on migration are shaped by their social positions and the particular worlds these positions create. In the examples discussed in this paper, the stances taken by the Ukrainian teenagers show how they try to make meaning of the conflicting views on migration that exist in the Ukrainian society. The stances they take reflect their values, their aspirations, and their fears. These stances also reflect teenagers’ attempts to try to make meaning of the conflicting views on migration and the life abroad that circulate in the mainstream society. At the same time, the stances the teenagers take bring up underlying social differences, such as social class and their status in a peer group, which unintentionally threaten to disrupt the existing friendship group identities and boundaries. As these teenagers work to manage their conflicting evaluations of Ukrainian migration, they simultaneously mitigate or highlight their (dis)alignments with their peers along friendship and class lines.

The ways in which these youth view Ukrainian migrants can also have a larger impact on Ukrainian society. The debates over whether migrants are retaining or rejecting their Ukrainian identity reveal not just ambivalence towards the role of Ukraine in various perspectives of global migration, but also in how to define Ukrainian identity. While some leave little room for emigrants to remain authentically Ukrainian, others see emigrants as potentially creating a new kind of a hyphenated, dual identity, one that combines the best of Ukraine and Europe.


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i The names of both schools and all participants are pseudonyms.
ii FST refers to a female student who could not be identified by name on the audio recording.

Spanish language ideologies in New Mexico and their impact on Spanish language learners

Volume 2(1): 2018

SARAH O’BRIEN, Trinity College Dublin


This article explores how U.S. students’ receptiveness to Spanish language learning is impacted by the social perceptions of the language that exist within their surrounding community. In particular, the article questions how Spanish language use is impacted by contemporary language ideologies in New Mexico that distinguish Spanish speaking speakers as either stemming from a European colonial linguistic legacy or, conversely, from a more recent Latin–American immigrant linguistic tradition. The research underlying the article was carried out within three school districts in New Mexico, a state with protracted historic ties to the Spanish language yet which nonetheless struggles to develop Spanish language proficiency within its school-going population. Drawing from mixed–method sourced data collected over a seven month period in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Española, the article reveals the stratified views of high school students, teachers, parents, educators and community members to the Spanish language in New Mexico, explores ideologies that Spanish language evokes in the sampled population and makes suggestions on how these research findings can be used by language-planners to improve outcomes for Spanish language learners in the United States.


Cet article examine à quel point la réceptivité des étudiants américains à l’égard de l’apprentissage de l’espagnol est influencée par les perceptions sociales de la langue dans leur communauté. En particulier, cet article examine comment l’utilisation de l’espagnol est influencée par les idéologies linguistiques contemporaines au Nouveau-Mexique qui distinguent les hispanophones ayant un héritage linguistique colonial européen et ceux émanant d’une plus récente tradition linguistique d’immigrants d’Amérique latine. La recherche qui appuie cet article a été réalisée dans trois districts scolaires au Nouveau-Mexique. Malgré l’importance historique de l’espagnol dans cet état américain, la population étudiante éprouve de la difficulté à développer une bonne compétence linguistique. En utilisant une approche mixte pour la collecte de données, effectuée pendant une période de sept mois à Albuquerque, à Santa Fe et à Española, cet article révèle les opinions divisées des élèves du secondaire, des professeurs, des parents, des éducateurs et des membres de la communauté envers la langue espagnole au Nouveau-Mexique. De plus, cet article examine les idéologies évoquées par l’espagnol dans la population échantillonnée et explique comment les résultats de cette étude pourraient aider les aménageurs linguistiques à faciliter l’apprentissage de l’espagnol aux États-Unis.

Keywords: Spanish–American/ Latino identity, Spanish language, New Mexico, bilingual education, language ideology.


Over the last decade, New Mexico’s Public Education Department has engaged in the provision of bilingual Spanish/ English education programmes designed to expose students to a language that was widely spoken by Hispanics within New Mexican homes and communities until the middle of the twentieth century.i These programmes also aim at maintaining Spanish as a native language for first generation Latino students in New Mexico’s public schools as well as developing Spanish language amongst Anglophone populations with no historic connection to the language. By consequence, Spanish language learning in New Mexico encapsulates a complex community of students from culturally disparate backgrounds.

Despite the expansion and delivery of Spanish/ English language programmes, consecutive New Mexico Public Education Department Bilingual Multicultural Education Annual Reports (BMEAR) published since 2010 have stated that the vast majority of Spanish language students score at non and limited proficient levels (New Mexico Public Education Department, 2014). Moreover, Census data returns (Ryan, 2013; U.S. Census Bureau, 2011) have illustrated the increased linguistic domination of English over Spanish within New Mexico’s Hispanic families, indicating the perpetuated vulnerability of Spanish language within the state (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011). These findings are reflected at national level—Beaudrie and Fairclough (2012) have found that Spanish as a first language is unsustainable for third generation Latino immigrants in the United States.

In order to understand these outcomes, I begin with the premise that second language and literacy development must be analyzed within its broader sociocultural context (Goldenberg & Reese, 2006). To explore this, I used questionnaires and structured interviews completed by teachers, parents, community members and high school students—in essence, the population making up a school district—to address the following research questions: How do participants perceive the use of Spanish in the school, home and community; how do attitudes to the use of and learning of Spanish in social and educational contexts vary across different language learning communities in New Mexico; what is the relationship between social attitudes to Spanish language use and Spanish language program performance in New Mexico?

By paying attention to the wider social world in which Spanish language learning is enacted in these three locations, I argued for the existence of various sociolinguistic ecosystems in New Mexico, which are shot through with a pervasive Spanish language ideology. My aim in this article is to establish how such ideologies impact Spanish language students’ responsiveness to learning the language.

My use of the term language ecosystem is based on Haugen’s (1972) definition of language ecology as the study of interactions between any given language and its environment. While Haugen has been criticized for using ecology as a somewhat shaky metaphor for language, his conceptualization of how language interrelates in a given environment nonetheless plays a significant role in capturing the multifaceted and dynamic interactions that occur in and through language. Since Haugen’s coining of the term language ecosystems, there has been increased growth in linguistic and language-learning research that has examined language as a network of interactions as opposed to a thing. Couto (2009) pointed to the psychological and social undercurrents of this network, suggesting that a linguistic ecosystem involves interactions that take place between members of the population and the world, in the neuronal connections of the brain, and between language and society. This study is primarily focused on this latter strand (language and society), and pays particular attention to the political, ethnic, and historic environment in which the Spanish language operates in New Mexico. This study is also based on the premise that language functions socio-politically, in order to valorize or trivialize marginalized identities (Leeman, Rabin, & Román-Mendoza, 2011; Loza, 2017; Valdés, 1998). In essence, it recognizes the persistence of language ideologies (Leeman et al., 2011) and perceives the relationship between language and minority identity as a crucial mediating factor in the acquisition of Spanish language in New Mexico’s public education system (O’Brien, 2017).

To date, research on Spanish language ideology in the U.S. has tended to focus on the linguistic marginalization of U.S. Spanish and the prioritization of so-called pure Spanish in the Castilian form (Ciller & Flores, 2016). According to Valdés, Menken, & Castro (2015), U.S. Spanish occupies a lower status than ‘pure’ Spanish due to its association with a bilingual, bicultural community of speakers. Monolingual Spanish speakers, Loza (2017) argued, are championed as a linguistic ideal while Spanish heritage speakers (SHS) are castigated for deviating from the standard through language interference, informal grammatical constructions and code-switching. However, while the current study recognizes the existence of such language ideologies, I suggest that Valdéz et al.’s (2015) hierarchical delineation of Spanish language along a monolingual European or U.S. bilingual divide is over-simplified and fails to take into account the internal social tensions within U.S. Spanish speaking communities that create and perpetuate their own set of linguistic hierarchies and language ideologies.

More theoretically helpful in capturing this phenomenon is Leeman’s (2012) broader conceptualization of language ideologies as relating to the political interests and agendas of particular dominant groups, which operate at regional as well as international levels and which might include, as in the case of this study, a majority Hispanic or (to use the term employed by the sample participants in this study) Spanish–American population of heritage Spanish speakers who share a territory with a minority Latino immigrant population who speak Spanish as a mother tongue. As shown by Leeman (2012), it is those with social power who make decisions on the language varieties that are considered standard. Galindo’s (1991) examination of how Chicanos (Mexican-Americans born in the USA) disparage the Spanish spoken by Mexican immigrants illustrated the manifestation of such social power between a similar, yet distinct U.S. based Spanish–speaking community. In the subsequent sections of this article, I reinforce Galindo’s findings, illustrating how Spanish language in the surveyed districts in New Mexico has been ideologically sub-categorized so as to prioritize Spanish–American speakers—the term appropriated by New Mexico Hispanics with an extended history of living in the state—and to marginalize recently arrived Latino immigrant speakers, thus rationalizing the subordination of the latter group over the former (Loza, 2017).


To date, a number of scholars have examined the relationships between the social context of language learning in language policy, such as Reece and Goldenberg’s (2006) analysis of community print literacy in the development of Hispanic biliteracy in Los Angeles, Eder’s (2007) analysis of critical language learning strategies within Native American communities, and Valdés’ (2015) California-based study of the effectiveness of bilingual education for Latino youth. Each of these studies lead to a cautionary note on the issues that impede bilingual/ multicultural program effectiveness, which include perpetuations of colonial discourses and dynamics within the language-learning classroom, superficial literacy and linguistic opportunities in the second language classroom and community, and a misalignment of the inherent linguistic dynamics of languages with classroom practices. Research on second language acquisition that has increasingly linked language learning with the development of new identities and notions of self (Leeman et al., 2011) also proposes new possibilities to more fully understand how social processes impact on students’ acquisition of given target languages. That notions of self and group identity develop and crystallize in opposition to or in alignment with philosophies such as nationalism and colonialism (Anderson, 1991) is deeply relevant for all bilingual communities and particularly those situated within New Mexico, an area that has experienced the destabilizing effects of colonialism since the early twentieth century along with nationalist rhetoric that has developed in response to the growth of the Latino community in the United States in recent decades (Hanna & Ortega, 2016).

Paris (2010) highlighted that the Spanish-speaking population in U.S. public education is made up of a linguistically and culturally complex and diverse community of learners and speakers, while Guglani (2016) discussed the extent to which Spanish language is used to validate Latino identity in the U.S. Both authors highlighted the intergenerational shift that has occurred in recent years around Latino identity politics amongst school-going youth. In the present article, I add a new dimension to these findings by examining a wide range of social attitudes to Spanish language from the perspective of a geographically and culturally distinct community that has heretofore received little academic attention.

A relevant aspect of this study is that learning Spanish in New Mexico schools is not simply a process of second language acquisition but also constitutes a heritage–focused effort to maintain a language traditionally spoken by a large proportion of the state’s population. This, therefore, requires engagement with language revitalization theory. Here, Fishman’s (1991) research on reversing language shift proves helpful. The findings illustrate that the family and local community play an indispensable role in heritage language maintenance. Indeed, Fishman (1991) concluded that heritage language support policies at state level can only be effective if they co-exist with linguistically goal-oriented families and communities who are committed to transmitting the heritage language from one generation to the next. Despite the weight of this finding, there is little evidence of state engagement with the family and community linguistic dimension in New Mexico and to date, no attempt has been made to relate the language ideologies to which students are exposed through their social ecosystems with their language learning outcomes.

Post-structuralist understandings of the relationship between language and identity, of the self and of the collective, also provide a theoretical foundation for this study. As pointed out by Kallan (2016), language presents a tangible sense of place. However, this inter–relationship can become mutilated by processes of colonization and globalization (Kallan, 2016; O’Brien, 2017), and there is often a re–modification and degradation of the places and spaces in which these exiled and disenfranchised communities speak and perceive their languages (Anderson 1991; Coole 1996; Fought 2006). Foucault’s (1980) theories on discourse suggest the social and cultural conditions that lead to the production and consolidation of power. His treatise on the extent to which socially-embedded power structures determine who can speak and what can be spoken as having important implications for language users and language learners is particularly useful for the present study. Investigating disparate Spanish language ideologies in New Mexico aims at revealing the cultural legacies and social hierarchies that produce systems of power. Following from this, I examine how such systems of power are articulated through the learning and use of the Spanish language within the sample populations.


I used the 2014-2015 Bilingual/ Multicultural Education Annual Report (New Mexico Public Education Department, 2014) as starting point. This revealed Spanish language proficiency rates in each of New Mexico’s school districts and allowed me to select school districts with varying degrees of Spanish language proficiency in order to generate comparisons across school districts (See Table 1).

School District Proficiency Level (%)
Beginning Intermediate Proficient
Albuquerque 35.68 39.00 25.32
Santa Fe 43.98 44.81 11.20
Española 48.94 41.26 9.81

Table 1: Spanish Language Proficiency in the Sampled Areas (Source: Appendix B, New Mexico Public Education Department Bilingual Bulticultural Education Annual Report 2014-2015)

Thereafter, current U.S. Census data was used to select three school districts within New Mexico featuring socio-economically distinct populations so as to test and compare the relationship between language ecosystems and the learning of Spanish. The populations of Albuquerque, Española, and Santa Fe proved suitable in this regard, with each providing a unique sociolinguistic landscape (See Table 2 below).

Importantly, the borders of each of these city’s school districts closely overlapped with the city borders defined by the U.S. Census, meaning that the socioeconomic data generated by the latter could reliably be used to ascertain the social characteristics of each school district community. Finally, each of the selected school districts had an established, state-sponsored Bilingual/ Multicultural Education Programme, guaranteeing that all participants had some exposure to the learning and teaching of Spanish within the school district.

Española Albuquerque Santa Fe
Population 10, 224 545,852 67,947
Hispanic or Latino 87.1 46.7 48.7
White alone, not Hispanic or Latino 8.8 42.1 46.2
Foreign-born persons (2010-2014) 13.8 10.7 12.9
Language other than English spoken at home by persons age 5 years + 64.6 29.9 33.4
Persons in Poverty 27.7 18.5 18.1
Spanish speaking population

(% of total population)

54 26 32

Table 2: Social Characteristics of the Sampled Areas (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011)

I used two data collection tools: surveys and structured interviews. Bourhis, Giles, & Rosenthal’s (1981) Subjective Vitality Questionnaire, was appropriate in illuminating participants’ perceptions of the ethnolinguistic vitality of and reception to the Spanish language within their school district community. As Ehala and Niglas (2006) noted, the main limitation of the questionnaire is its focus on participants’ objective view of language vitality, as opposed to representing the participant’s emotional relationship with the language. Consequently, I adapted the survey, drawing from Baker’s (1992) socially-framed questionnaire design in order to gather information on participants’ personal perceptions of the specific cultural dynamics of the Spanish language in New Mexico. In total, the student survey had 27 statements, categorized in terms of positive orientation or negative orientation toward the Spanish language. I included additional statements to ascertain nuanced differences between each school district’s perceptions of both Spanish language and Hispanic culture that fell outside of the positive/ negative dichotomy. School principals distributed the surveys. I provided students over the age of 16 years of age in each school district with information on the research one week prior to the dissemination of surveys, so students understood their choice to participate or not. Bilingual surveys were available to all students, though only two of the respondents opted to complete the survey in Spanish. In total, 469 students completed the survey across all three districts, with Española returning the highest proportion of completed surveys. A total of eighty-one percent of participant respondents identified as Hispanic. Due to a formatting error on the survey form, the gender breakdown of the survey sample population was not captured in two of the three sampled population. Nonetheless, surveys were disseminated in high schools with a relatively even distribution of male and female students.

As noted by Pavlenko (2009), quantitative methods are often too rigid a collection tool to represent the dynamic, fluid and shifting cultural forces that shape language attitudes. In order to overcome this limitation and to further explore the data generated by the surveys, I included a qualitative interview component in the research design. Structured interviews were carried out with 32 participants, fulfilling the normal distribution criterion recommended for qualitative research (Cohen, Manion, & Morrison, 2011) (see Appendix B for interview questions). Teaching and learning are understood as socially situated practices; therefore, participant samples from each of the three school districts were made up of at least two of each of the following: secondary school teachers, school administrators, parents, educational stakeholders and community members. Seventeen interview participants were female and 15 were of Hispanic descent, providing a more balanced gender and ethnic distribution than the survey sample. A bilingual research assistant conducted the interviews. Three of the 32 participants completed the interview in Spanish. I informed participants of the study by dissemination a participant information leaflet in each school district, which allowed candidates to self-select as research participants. I also used non-probability snowball sampling methods in order to ensure a balanced proportion of participants from each language community.

The mixed methods study followed a convergent design (Creswell & Creswell, 2017) with concurrent quantitative and qualitative data collection, separate quantitative and qualitative analyses and the eventual merging of the data sets to answer the research questions. Survey data generated by the sample population were analysed using SPSS software, specifically via a cross-tabular descriptive analysis of the three school districts surveyed. Concepts interrogated in both the questionnaire and the structured interview included: personal attitude to the use of Spanish in New Mexico; uniformity as preferable to diversity; awareness of anti-Hispanic sentiments within New Mexico; Spanish language as declining in the community; cultural prioritization of English; and Hispanics as “Other.” Interviews were structured, with questions asked in a pre-designated sequence and with little deviation from the pre-formulated list of questions. I carried out an initial thematic analysis of participants’ responses in order to orientate myself to the data collected and to ensure the suitability of my analytic framework. Thereafter, I categorized responses according to positive or negative orientations to Spanish language and Hispanic culture and then compared these data with the survey results, using the school district from which responses were generated as the prime variable.

Linguistic Ecosystems of the Sampled Population

Española is 88 miles from Albuquerque and 25 miles from Santa Fe. As shown in Table 2 above, Albuquerque has by far the largest population of the three surveyed areas, with half a million residents. By contrast, Española’s population is just over 10,000 while Santa Fe’s is almost 70,000. Due to space limitation, I have not examined the implications of these varying degrees of urbanism on Spanish language learning in the present study. Instead, I focused on the ethnic, socioeconomic status (measured by the persons in poverty row), and linguistic features of each site, as these are considered indispensable to an understanding of the social dynamics of the targeted ecosystems (Williams, 1991).

As shown in Table 2 above, Española has the highest proportion of Hispanic residents, foreign-born residents, people living in poverty and people identifying as Spanish speakers. The latter is surprising, given that BMEAR shows that Española school district students had the lowest proportion of proficient Spanish speakers of the sampled populations (Table 1 above), with Albuquerque had the highest proportion. This inconsistency may be explained by Española’s Spanish-speakers being an older non–school going population or may reflect its citizens’ tendency to claim that Spanish language is used within the home as a marker of identity politics, even if the younger generations are only beginner or intermediate speakers of the language. These data provide subtle evidence for the existence of a language ideology in Española that prioritizes a heritage of Spanish language use.

Figure 1:  Surveyed New Mexico School Districts
Source: Author

U.S. Census data allows deeper insight into the distinct levels of bilingual confidence in each research location. For example, Santa Fe’s Spanish speakers reported much lower rates of English language proficiency than those in Española, suggesting that the former constitute a first or second generation Latino immigrant population, while Española’s population may be formed from a heritage Spanish–speaking community, thus reinforcing its use amongst an older population (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011). That over 96 percent of Española’s 5- to 17-year-old Spanish-speaking population was reported as speaking English “very well” also indicates that young people in Española strongly identify with two languages, whereas their counterparts in Santa Fe do not. In Albuquerque, Census results suggest that the majority of Spanish speakers are first generation immigrants in the 18- to 64-year-old category, one-third of whom reported limited English language proficiency. The children of these immigrants are identified as strong bilinguals in Spanish and English, though in slightly lower proportions than in Española.

At a state level, the reality of Spanish language loss is obvious (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011), with only 28 percent of New Mexico respondents reporting an ability to speak Spanish, in spite of over 70 percent of its population identifying as Hispanic. Significantly, the majority of Census respondents who reported Spanish language proficiency were in the 18- to 64-year-old age bracket. According to Fishman’s (1991) Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale (GIDS), this suggests the potential for the maintenance of Spanish language in New Mexico, since languages are most vital when spoken by a younger and childbearing population. However, this finding is hinged on a presumption of social inclusion; if younger minority language users feel themselves to be socially isolated, their native language will continue to regress. Also significant is that the second largest majority of Spanish speakers were recorded within the 5- to 17-year-old bracket, which reinforces the potential for Spanish to gain momentum in New Mexico, if the language is being engaged with in authentic ways within this population. Outcomes of language policies to reinvigorate the speaking of the Irish language in the Republic of Ireland may present a relevant caveat here: studies show that where the population of Irish speakers soars in the 5- to 17-year-old age bracket, it sharply declines in the 18- to 64-year-old age bracket, since the Irish language is principally being engaged with through formal primary and secondary school language classes, often without any application or resonance in the broader community, thus creating an unsustainable and ineffective pathway for language revitalization (O Ríagáin, 2009). That those over 64 years of age constitute the smallest proportion of Spanish speakers suggests that the majority of New Mexico’s Spanish speakers are younger, generational immigrants from Spanish speaking countries, a finding that aligns with the systematic growth of Spanish in the United States between 2005 and 2011 (Ryan, 2013).


Quantitative Analysis of High School Students’ Attitudes to the Use of Spanish

Quantitative analysis found overwhelmingly consistent levels of positive receptiveness to the use of Spanish among the surveyed students. Indeed, even ostensibly dramatic statements in support of Spanish language were received liberally by the surveyed cohort, as exemplified in the responses below to Statements 2 and 6 (see Appendix A for complete survey results).

Statement 2: All students in New Mexico should learn a second language, especially Spanish.
School District Strongly agree Agree Disagree Strongly disagree Total
Albuquerque 18.3% 50.0% 28.3% 3.3% 100%
Española 25.5% 59.4% 12.1% 2.9% 100%
Santa Fe 24.0% 56.5% 16.2% 3.2% 100%
Total 24.1% 57.2% 15.7% 3.1% 100%

Table 3: Responses to Statement 2

Statement 6: Learning Spanish is important for my country’s future.
School District Strongly agree Agree Disagree Strongly disagree Total
Albuquerque 16.1% 48.4% 30.6% 4.8% 100%
Española 20.6% 51.7% 22.7% 5.0% 100%
Santa Fe 20.4% 47.1% 27.4% 5.1% 100%
Total 19.9% 49.7% 25.4% 5.0% 100%

Table 4: Responses to Statement 6

Mean results generated by survey data illustrated moderate levels of variance between school districts on responsiveness to Spanish language and Hispanic culture. Española’s school district returned highest levels of receptiveness to the use of Spanish, Albuquerque returned the least proportional support for the same concept, and Santa Fe’s student responses were only slightly less positive toward the role of Spanish in the school and community than their peers in Española, with each school district rating Spanish language highly. However, both Santa Fe and Española’s students also articulated a strong sense of identification with Anglophone-oriented questions (Statements 5, 22, 23).

The questionnaire succeeded in drawing out interesting socio-economic profiles of the surveyed communities. Albuquerque students were most likely to assert that their families struggled financially and to indicate the Hispanophone nature of their community (Statements 11, 24). However, this immersion in a Spanish language community did not correspond with high levels of Spanish language advocacy amid Albuquerque’s students and instead, some consistently negative tendencies toward the use of Spanish in the community were observed within Albuquerque’s body (Statements 2, 6, 7, 8, 10, 12, 14).

Statement 9, “Spanish speakers are not discriminated against in our community,” produced some polarised opinions among the Albuquerque cohort, with 18% strongly agreeing with the statement and 16% strongly disagreeing. When compared to Santa Fe and Española, however, they emerged as the least likely group to claim discrimination against Spanish speakers in their local community.

Santa Fe students were more likely to agree that their families struggled financially than their peers in Española, a finding that might be surprising given the lower socioeconomic profile of families living in the latter district (see Table 2 above). Overall, Santa Fe students exhibited the lowest level of tolerance for statements that suggested the Otherness and inferiority of Spanish language and culture (Statements 4, 8, 9, 10, 14, 18, 20, 26) and they emerged as the only surveyed cohort to express as a majority their belief that Spanish speakers were discriminated against within their community (Statement 9). However, they were less convinced about the prioritization of Spanish than their peers in Española (Statements 1, 2, 12,16, 17) and emerged as a community that tended to be more supportive of the cultural role of Spanish language users as opposed to its use as a formal, academic languagein New Mexico (Statements 1, 7, 17, 22).

Española’s students returned consistently positive responses to the relevance of Spanish language in the curriculum and community and their high levels of confidence in their Hispanic language and culture is demonstrated in their responses to Statements 6, 8, 10, 14, 16, 18, 29, 26 and 27. Survey feedback also confirms their biculturalism and aspirations to bilingualism; though they tend to support the use of Spanish they also favour statements that advocate for Spanish-English bilingualism (Statements 5, 7, 12, 13), a finding consistent with the returns of the U.S. 2000 and 2010 Censuses, in which young people in Española strongly identifying with both English and Spanish. Finally, the Española cohort exhibited the most concern about the regression of Spanish language use in their community (Statements 11, 24).

School District Proficiency Level (%) Language Attitude (Mean)*
Beginning Intermediate Proficient
Albuquerque 35.68 39.00 25.32 2.8142
Santa Fe 43.98 44.81 11.20 2.8601
Española 48.94 41.26 9.81 2.8739

Table 5: Relationship between language proficiency and language attitudes (Source: Appendix B, New Mexico Public Education Department Bilingual Bulticultural Education Annual Report 2014-2015)

*Mean average for language attitudes was achieved by a software generated means comparison of statements 1,2,4, 6, 8, 12,16,17,19, 22, 25, 26. A Scale from 1 to 4 was used to establish the mean, with 1= Strongly Negative Attitude and 4= Strongly Positive.

Table 5 illustrates a statistically opaque relationship between language ideologies and language performances. While the language mean results show marginal differences, they suggest that though Española returned the lowest rates of Spanish language proficiency, these students reported the most positive language attitudes of the three surveyed districts. In contrast, though the Albuquerque school district has the highest percentage of proficient language users, these students reported the lowest levels of support for the language of the three communities. Qualitative data were, however, much more effective in illuminating the existence of the relationship between language proficiency and language attitude. Specifically, the interviews affirm that the most proficient users of Spanish in New Mexico are not necessarily surrounded by communities that positively perceive their language use. Conversely, and as developed in the interview data that I present shortly, while school districts such as Española purport to support the use and learning of Spanish, their learners continue to struggle with proficiency, suggesting a disconnection between learners’ cultural and linguistic responsiveness to Spanish language and their ability to communicate in Spanish.

Interview Data and Analysis

Data from the structured interviews confirm the influence of Spanish language ideologies on the Spanish language learning classroom. Interviewees often unambiguously articulated how receptiveness to Spanish amongst communities and students hinges on whether the Hispanic speaker is related to a ‘Spanish–American’ or to a Latino immigrant community.

As shown in Table 6 below, the overwhelmingly positive attitude to Spanish language that Española students indicated was replicated in interview data from the same district. On the contrary, 45% and 50% of the interview data from Albuquerque and Santa Fe, respectively, included more negatively oriented discourse on the same questions while consistent levels of neutrality were maintained across all three surveyed communities. In essence, the data revealed the influence of wider social attitudes to the Spanish language on students’ responsiveness to their Spanish language learning.

Interview Responses by School District Positively Oriented Discourse* Negatively Oriented Discourse* Neutral Discourse*
Albuquerque 4 5 2
Española 8 0 3
Santa Fe 2 4 2

Table 6: Qualitative Cross Tabulation of Interview Responses

*Orientation of positive vs. negative discourse was evaluated by responses to interview questions 4, 5, 9 and 11.

Apart from this, the interview responses provided deep-level insight into the language ideologies that exist within New Mexico. First, interview data revealed the extent to which Spanish language in New Mexico was seen to represent either a Spanish-American or Latino immigrant population. Specifically, Spanish language was positively viewed both by students and their surrounding social community where Hispanic identity was associated with a European Spanish cultural legacy. Conversely, it was negatively viewed in the districts where the Spanish language was psychosocially equated with Latino immigrants. This is illustrated by the fact that the Albuquerque cohort, where Spanish speakers are mostly first- or second-generation immigrants, reported the highest level of resistance to Spanish, as reflected in the following statements:

Something I notice is that some students tend to be embarrassed about speaking Spanish. . . .I think that the media has actually done us a disservice and really has portrayed Hispanic bilinguals and Spanish-speaking immigrants as a negative. (AB3A)ii

People that don’t speak a lot of English that are recent immigrants often times I only see them on the news interviewed if a crime happened in their community or something. They are not profiled as being a great language and culture resource for us. (AB2A)

I think that Spanish-speaking immigrants are still viewed upon somewhat negatively and I think that we need to encourage people to learn the language and not be ashamed to use it. (AB3A)

I’ve run across a lot of people who say it’s [the immigrants’] job to learn to speak English: ‘I don’t have to learn to speak with them’. So, I think there’s some bias there, whether it’s racial bias or just, you know, ‘you’re in my country, you need to be like me.’ (AB4B)

[in the media] If it’s a crime. . .ethnicity is always pointed out [. . .] if it’s something like a heroic thing they almost go overboard like ‘look how great they are even though they’re just a Spanish speaking.’ (AB5B)

In Santa Fe, Spanish language ideologies were more clearly articulated. For example, one participant stated that:

Most people here in Santa Fe have a very positive attitude towards Spanish, the people I’ve met, especially those that know this place’s origins, or that their family come from Spain from past generations. My perception is that it goes hand-in-hand with the socio-cultural status. The higher the socio-cultural status, the more respect and admiration there is toward learning Spanish. (SF2A)

Where SF2A related Spanish language in Santa Fe to a Spanish colonial legacy, an oppositional opinion is expressed by another Santa Fe participant, who sees her students psychosocially relating Spanish language to a Latino immigrant minority, leading to rejection by the students:

Even my own students have to. . .maybe in order to belong, in order to not be losers, to not feel like losers, to be part of the ‘cool’ people, and to be part of a perhaps victorious or prevailing culture, they prefer to not speak Spanish even if they know it. So, the Spanish language is being lost considerably because the Spanish language is associated with uneducated and backwards people. (SF3A)

There’s definitively in the United States a scale of clout, I guess [. . .] it kind of goes down the list and the last on the list is usually Mexicans [. . .] when you look at the media at Mexican Americans, or different Mexican ethnicities, they’re usually portrayed as maids or things like that in the media, in the movies. As for Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz is [sic.] star power of Spanish, from Spanish descent. (SF5B)

Interview data from Española reasserted the existence of language ideologies that positively associated the speaking of Spanish with a prevalent Hispanic or Spanish–American culture. This linkage of language and a certain community of people was seen by interview participants as promoting Spanish language learning within the school district:

I just think that people like to speak Spanish, you know, especially local Hispanics; they like to chat with their neighbours that way and. . . . I think that it is [a] real important part of the sort of present culture. (ES4B)

Crucially, however, responses from Española show that Spanish language use is carefully constructed as representing a European colonial legacy as opposed to a Latin American immigrant community, thus creating an imagined, often mythicized, community of language users with which Spanish language learners and users struggle to relate:

I think Española holds on to an identity with a cultural heritage dating back to Spain, whether they still actually have real connections to that or not [. . .] I think Northern New Mexico people here will even say like ‘our Spanish is different than other places,’ and I think it might be to a certain extent, but I don’t know how much that serves kids if the goal is to become bilingual in a sense of being able to use it in the larger world. (ES2B)

In Española the people connect themselves with Spain and Spanish heritage, not anything else. It’s a sense that that language is pure. It’s their Spanish and it’s from Spain, and all the other ones are almost less than Spanish in a way; and the immigrants coming in and people from other areas coming in are lower in status, so, therefore, [they] don’t want to learn your language. (SF5B)

This statement echoes Leeman’s (2012) argument on the desirability of European Spanish over all other varieties in the U.S. However, it is important to also recognize that communities such as Española, which lay claim to owning the so-called pure Spanish variation, also represent those that struggle most with maintaining Spanish language proficiency in their school districts. This suggests that, far from promoting the use and learning of Spanish, Española’s—and to a lesser extent, Santa Fe’s—language ideologies and its real or imagined tradition of descending from a mythicized European colonial linguistic and cultural legacy has rendered Spanish language acquisition an increasingly exclusive and largely inaccessible goal for Spanish language learners. Furthermore, the persistence of these language ideologies has demotivated Española’s sizeable native Spanish-speaking Latino immigrant population from maintaining their first language, because it is seen to represent an inferior linguistic and cultural tradition. In practical terms, this creates a Spanish language hemorrhage in which the most proficient speakers of Spanish in each of the sampled communities are those that are most likely to be discouraged from speaking it, due to the cultural biases that exist within their linguistic ecosystems.

Interview data also revealed a tangible sense of psychosocial distinctiveness in each of the communities. A strong sense of regional and linguistic exceptionalism stratifies New Mexico’s language ecosystems and is identified by the research participants as a Northern New Mexico (Española and Santa Fe) and Southern New Mexico (Albuquerque and south) sociolinguistic divide:

In Northern New Mexico Spanish is highly regarded, whereas in Southern New Mexico they are very clear that they do not want you to speak Spanish. And when I was in school you were segregated. So, if you came from Santa Fe they would sit you on one side, even in Los Alamos they would sit you on one side and they would say inaccurate or inappropriate things to you. (SF1A)

As a consequence of these diverse perceptions and experiences of Spanish language learning, Spanish in the surveyed populations is not conceived of as a world language of communication but rather as a reflection of the state’s heterogeneous and hierarchically-organized micro–cultures. Crucially, Spanish language ideologies in the surveyed populations are impacted by racial legacies that originate with Spanish colonialism and that are perpetuated by contemporary stereotypes around Latino immigration to the U.S. Whereas this bolsters the social status of Spanish language in Española, which maintains an ideal image of itself as a European colonial–Spanish community, it negates it in immigrant–occupied pockets of Albuquerque, where Spanish language use is associated with a recently arrived Latin–American, and especially a Mexican, population.

It is worth noting that the interview data focused particularly on the role of immigration in shaping language attitudes. As one respondent stated, recent immigration from south of the U.S. border has increased feelings of ambiguity toward Spanish language education, especially among state residents who self-identify as “Spanish–Americans.” This was clearly articulated by one participant in the following way:

The issue, though, is including Mexican or immigrant families in the language program. That’s a whole, another discussion that sometimes is difficult to have because these very proud traditional New Mexicans, who identify more with Spain than they do [with] Mexico, see a need for these programs for their children but to include the Mexicano, it’s still a politically charged issue here for many communities.

These insights reinforce the necessity of looking at Spanish language ideologies within the U.S. in all of their complexity and of recognizing that tangible social distance exists between Hispanics who trace their origin to a European-Spanish colonial legacy and Latino immigrants who have more recently made their home in the American southwest. That these intra–ethnic differences have heretofore gone under–acknowledged is problematic, particularly given that language ideology has been used to validate the social distance between these two groups. The use of Spanish as a tool of socio-cultural subversion within the Hispanic community itself may contribute to increasingly negative attitudes to the language among marginalized Hispanophones, thereby eroding the linguistic motivation of its most proficient speakers.


As shown above, narrative responses reveal the existence of a pervasive Spanish language ideology in New Mexico and the contemporary external and internal political, social and cultural influences that continue to shape its development. Conversely, questionnaire data illuminated a burgeoning student population shaped by 21st century additive bilingual programmes and multicultural worldviews, yet still vulnerable to and influenced by the ideologies of their surrounding community. Indeed, cross tabulation of survey data with interview data revealed a direct correlation between students’ language outlooks and those of their parents, teachers, and community members. Arguably, this has an important implication for Spanish language school language programmers, who should not only consider the cultural dynamics of the language learning classroom when planning for minority language development, but should also find ways to amplify and draw from positive language models in the community and to mitigate or learn from the surrounding community’s more negative language ideologies.

Furthermore, in spite of very progressive attitudes towards the use and development of bilingualism within the surveyed communities, there remains an anxiety among Latin–American immigrants in New Mexico to prove their American-ness by losing Spanish as a native language. This was most visible in Albuquerque and was seen by interview participants as a reaction particularly influenced by contemporary media perceptions, political ideologies, and language ideologies around the “Otherness” of Hispanophone communities. Moreover, the persistence of language ideologies in New Mexico that prioritize Spanish–Americans speakers over Latin–American immigrants is clearly evidenced in the data. This finding is significant not just because it highlights the ineffectiveness of measuring Spanish language ideology purely along a U.S.-European linguistic divide, but also because it calls into question current research on language ideology that associates language prestige with monolingual Spanish or English speakers. In the case of this research, bilingualism was not the important variable in categorizing a language as standard or ideal; rather, the identification of the speaker as either Spanish–American or immigrant emerged as the most important factor in influencing whether his or her Spanish language use was viewed positively or negatively in the surrounding community.

Overall, the data show an overwhelming preference of New Mexico’s high school students to become proficient Spanish speakers. However, to realize this goal, there is a crucial role to be played by their families, teachers, and surrounding community in modelling positive and inclusive attitudes to the Spanish language, regardless of its origins or etymologies.


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Appendix 1: Questionnaire Statements and Responses Cross-Tabulated by School Districts

Note: A Statement 15 was not included in the survey due to a clerical error. As a result, Statement 16 follows directly from Statement 14.

Statement 1:Spanish should be an official language of the U.S.
School District Strongly agree Agree Disagree Strongly disagree Total
Albuquerque 22.2% 38.1% 33.3% 6.3% 100%
Española 17.3% 45.1% 29.1% 8.4% 100%
Santa Fe 21.4% 37.7% 32.5% 8.4% 100%
Total 19.4% 41.6% 30.8% 8.1% 100%
Statement 2: All students in New Mexico should learn a second language, especially Spanish.
School District Strongly agree Agree Disagree Strongly disagree Total
Albuquerque 18.3% 50.0% 28.3% 3.3% 100%
Española 25.5% 59.4% 12.1% 2.9% 100%
Santa Fe 24.0% 56.5% 16.2% 3.2% 100%
Total 24.1% 57.2% 15.7% 3.1% 100%
Statement 3: Being Hispanic is not the same as being American.
School District Strongly agree Agree Disagree Strongly disagree Total
Albuquerque 16.7% 28.3% 33.3% 21.7% 100%
Española 11.9% 29.8% 37.4% 20.4% 100%
Santa Fe 14.2% 21.3% 32.9% 31.0% 100%
Total 13.3% 26.7% 35.3% 24.2% 100%
Statement 4: Our community would be stronger if we all spoke English instead of speaking different languages.
School District Strongly agree Agree Disagree Strongly disagree Total
Albuquerque 7.9% 27.0% 42.9% 22.2% 100%
Española 12.6% 22.3% 39.1% 26.1% 100%
Santa Fe 11.5% 22.9% 40.1% 25.5% 100%
Total 11.6% 23.1% 40.0% 25.3% 100%
Statement 5: Teachers should have native English proficiency.
School District Strongly agree Agree Disagree Strongly disagree Total
Albuquerque 23.3% 43.3% 30.0% 3.3% 100%
Española 14.1% 57.7% 23.5% 4.3% 100%
Santa Fe 12.3% 59.1% 24.0% 4.5% 100%
Total 14.7% 56.3% 24.6% 4.2% 100%
Statement 6: Learning Spanish is important for my country’s future.
School District Strongly agree Agree Disagree Strongly disagree Total
Albuquerque 16.1% 48.4% 30.6% 4.8% 100%
Española 20.6% 51.7% 22.7% 5.0% 100%
Santa Fe 20.4% 47.1% 27.4% 5.1% 100%
Total 19.9% 49.7% 25.4% 5.0% 100%
Statement 7: People who want to be Americans should learn English.
School District Strongly agree Agree Disagree Strongly disagree Total
Albuquerque 30.2% 41.3% 17.5% 11.1% 100%
Española 25.7% 43.9% 21.1% 8.0% 100%
Santa Fe 27.1% 46.8% 18.2% 7.1% 100%
Total 27.1% 44.5% 19.6% 8.1% 100%
Statement 8: I am not interested in learning to speak Spanish fluently.
School District Strongly agree Agree Disagree Strongly disagree Total
Albuquerque 9.8% 26.2% 23.0% 41.0% 100%
Española 9.7% 17.4% 35.6% 37.3% 100%
Santa Fe 8.3% 14.7% 44.2% 32.7% 100%
Total 9.3% 17.7% 36.9% 36.2% 100%
Statement 9: Spanish speakers are not discriminated against in our
School District Strongly agree Agree Disagree Strongly disagree Total
Albuquerque 17.7% 45.2% 21.0% 16.1% 100%
Española 15.0% 43.3% 31.3% 9.9% 100%
Santa Fe 14.8% 30.3% 40.0% 14.8% 100%
Total 15.3% 39.1% 32.9% 12.4% 100%
Statement 10: Spanish speakers speak too much Spanish at school.
School District Strongly agree Agree Disagree Strongly disagree Total
Albuquerque 13.1% 32.8% 29.5% 24.6% 100%
Española 8.5% 16.9% 53.4% 21.2% 100%
Santa Fe 7.7% 14.1% 47.4% 30.1% 100%
Total 8.8% 18.1% 48.1% 24.7% 100%
Statement 11: There is more Spanish spoken around here now than there was several years ago.
School District Strongly agree Agree Disagree Strongly disagree Total
Albuquerque 22.6% 48.4% 21.0% 8.1% 100%
Española 12.3% 39.6% 38.7% 8.9% 100%
Santa Fe 17.9% 43.6% 28.2% 9.6% 100%
Total 15.7% 42.2% 32.7% 9.1% 100%
Statement 12: All teachers in New Mexico should be bilingual.
School District Strongly agree Agree Disagree Strongly disagree Total
Albuquerque 13.1% 29.5% 44.3% 13.1% 100%
Española 17.3% 42.2% 35.4% 4.6% 100%
Santa Fe 18.3% 35.9% 35.3% 10.5% 100%
Total 17.1% 38.4% 36.6% 7.8% 100%
Statement 13: People who speak both Spanish and English fluently are more successful.
School District Strongly agree Agree Disagree Strongly disagree Total
Albuquerque 31.1% 41.0% 26.2% 1.6% 100%
Española 29.7% 47.3% 16.3% 6.7% 100%
Santa Fe 29.5% 34.6% 26.9% 8.3% 100%
Total 29.8% 42.1% 21.3% 6.6% 100%
Statement 14: You have to learn English if you want to be successful.
School District Strongly agree Agree Disagree Strongly disagree Total
Albuquerque 28.6% 33.3% 27.0% 9.5% 100%
Española 13.1% 33.1% 41.5% 12.3% 100%
Santa Fe 9.7% 31.0% 38.1% 21.3% 100%
Total 14.1% 32.4% 38.3% 15.0% 100%
Statement 15: Spanish should be taught alongside English in all schools in New Mexico.
School District Strongly agree Agree Disagree Strongly disagree Total
Albuquerque 30.6% 43.5% 24.2% 1.6% 100%
Española 30.4% 56.1% 11.8% 1.7% 100%
Santa Fe 18.3% 51.0% 23.5% 6.5% 100%
Total 26.3% 52.7% 17.5% 3.3% 100%
Statement 16: There should be classes taught entirely in Spanish at my school that are mandatory for graduation.
Agree Disagree Strongly
Albuquerque 4.9% 23.0% 52.5% 19.7% 100%
Española 14.2% 24.3% 45.6% 15.9% 100%
Santa Fe 7.3% 16.0% 48.7% 28.0% 100%
Total 10.7% 21.3% 47.6% 20.4% 100%
Statement 17: I dislike Spanish music and culture.
School District Strongly agree Agree Disagree Strongly disagree Total
Albuquerque 4.8% 11.1% 38.1% 46.0% 100%
Española 5.6% 9.9% 39.9% 44.6% 100%
3.3% 5.3% 37.7% 53.6% 100%
Total 4.7% 8.5% 38.9% 47.9% 100%
Statement 18: Schools should teach more of our Spanish colonial history.
School District Strongly agree Agree Disagree Strongly disagree Total
Albuquerque 13.3% 53.3% 28.3% 5.0% 100%
Española 19.7% 49.4% 28.8% 2.1% 100%
Santa Fe 11.7% 47.4% 26.6% 14.3% 100%
Total 16.1% 49.2% 28.0% 6.7% 100%
Statement 19: Mexicans in New Mexico don’t like to learn English.
School District Strongly agree Agree Disagree Strongly
Albuquerque 5.2% 20.7% 50.0% 24.1% 100%
Española 10.3% 20.1% 46.6% 23.1% 100%
Santa Fe 10.0% 18.0% 42.7% 29.3% 100%
Total 9.5% 19.5% 45.7% 25.3% 100%
Statement 20: Since I am in the U.S.A, people should assume I only speak English and should not address me in any other language.
School District Strongly agree Agree Disagree Strongly disagree Total
Albuquerque 12.9% 19.4% 33.9% 33.9% 100%
Española 8.4% 19.7% 49.0% 23.0% 100%
Santa Fe 9.3% 18.5% 40.4% 31.8% 100%
Total 9.3% 19.2% 44.0% 27.4% 100%
Statement 21: If I were born again, I would choose to be born into an English-speaking family.
School District Strongly agree Agree Disagree Strongly disagree Total
Albuquerque 8.3% 21.7% 45.0% 25.0% 100%
Española 12.7% 26.7% 34.7% 25.8% 100%
Santa Fe 12.4% 31.4% 26.1% 30.1% 100%
Total 12.0% 27.6% 33.2% 27.2% 100%
Statement 22: In public, bilingual students prefer to speak English rather than Spanish.
School District Strongly agree Agree Disagree Strongly disagree Total
Albuquerque 15.0% 35.0% 36.7% 13.3% 100%
Española 9.0% 47.4% 34.2% 9.0% 100%
Santa Fe 5.4% 40.5% 41.2% 12.8% 100%
Total 8.6% 43.4% 36.9% 10.9% 100%
Statement 23: I often see Spanish newspapers and advertisements in my local area.
School District Strongly agree Agree Disagree Strongly disagree Total
Albuquerque 13.1% 32.8% 29.5% 24.6% 100%
Española 11.1% 34.9% 41.3% 12.8% 100%
Santa Fe 13.8% 38.2% 35.5% 11.8% 100%
Total 12.3% 35.7% 37.7% 14.1% 100%
Statement 24: I feel proud of the Spanish traditions and the Spanish language here in New Mexico.
School District Strongly agree Agree Disagree Strongly disagree Total
Albuquerque 26.2% 54.1% 14.8% 4.9% 100%
Española 39.9% 48.3% 10.5% 1.3% 100%
Santa Fe 37.9% 41.8% 11.1% 7.8% 100%
Total 37.4% 46.9% 11.3% 4.0% 100%
Statement 25: There are times and places when Spanish should not be spoken.
School District Strongly agree Agree Disagree Strongly disagree Total
Albuquerque 9.7% 29.0% 38.7% 22.6% 100%
Española 11.0% 28.0% 39.0% 22.0% 100%
Santa Fe 7.2% 22.9% 41.8% 28.1% 100%
Total 9.5% 26.4% 39.9% 24.2% 100%
Statement 26: My family struggles financially.
School District Strongly agree Agree Disagree Strongly disagree Total
Albuquerque 6.9% 32.8% 36.2% 22.4% 100%
Española 4.8% 23.8% 36.8% 34.6% 100%
Santa Fe 4.0% 30.0% 34.3% 30.7% 100%
Total 4.8% 27.1% 36.2% 31.7% 100%
Statement 27: There is more strength in uniformity than in difference.
School District Strongly agree Agree Disagree Strongly disagree Total
Albuquerque 23.3% 43.3% 21.7% 10.0% 100%
Española 14.4% 39.3% 34.1% 10.0% 100%
Santa Fe 14.3% 28.6% 39.5% 17.7% 100%
Total 15.6% 36.6% 34.2% 12.6% 100%

Appendix 2: Structured Interview Questions

  1. Please begin by stating your date of birth, place of upbringing, occupation and ethnicity
  2. Describe your language background
  1. Did you have choices around what language(s) you spoke or used?
  2. What motivated you to speak/ learn a certain language?
  1. Describe the people that you interact with through this school district, mentioning their roles (e.g. students/ parents/ teachers), their dominant languages, socio-economic status, traditions, political & social views)
  2. How would you describe the general attitude toward learning minority or native languages such as Spanish within this school district today (positive/ negative/ tense/ active/ passive/ contentious/ accepted/ innate/ developing/ regressing)?
  3. What are your feelings about the introduction of the Seal of Biliteracy to New Mexico Schools?
  4. Do you think that the Spanish taught in the classroom equips students to converse with native Spanish speakers in Northern New Mexico/Albuquerque?
  5. Tell us about times you got involved in your child’s second language learning
  6. Do you think there is a role for community members in the Spanish language classroom?  If so, what is it?
  7. How does the local media (e.g. radio station, newspapers) portray (a) Hispanic Bilinguals (b) Spanish speaking immigrants?
  8. In ten years’ time, what status do you think Spanish will have in Northern New Mexico?
  9. Do you think that language attitudes in Northern New Mexico might be different to language attitudes in other parts of the State or outside of the state?
  10. Who is primarily responsible for keeping Spanish and other minority languages alive?


i Hispanic is a generic term used by the U.S. Census to identify a Latino or Spanish ethnic community. In this paper, the term ‘Hispanic’ is frequently replaced with either ‘Spanish–American’ or ‘Latino.’ This reflects the terminology used by the study’s participants when self-identifying their language and ethnic background. Notably, I do not use the term ‘Chicano’ to describe the sample participants because they themselves do not identify with that categorization.

ii Interview responses were coded with numbers and letters. ‘AB’ represents ‘Albuquerque’. ‘SF’ represents ‘Santa Fe’; ‘ES’ represents ‘Española.’ In turn, ‘AB1’ refers to ‘Albuquerque Participant Number 1; ‘SF5’ refers to ‘Santa Fe Participant Number 5; ‘ES4 would represent ‘Española Participant Number 4’ etc.

“Maybe Jesus knows sign”: Resistance through identity formation

Volume 2(1): 2018

TIMOTHY Y. LOH, Georgetown University


This anthropological research paper explores how Deaf Christians negotiate their identity as members of two distinct identity groups: Deaf and Christian. The historical perception of Deaf and other disabled peoples in the church has not been positive, and a number of Christians today also view disability as one consequence of a fallen world that God will eventually restore. Since—beginning in the 1960s and continuing until the present time—many Deaf people believe that Deafness is a cultural, even ethnic, identity centered around American Sign Language rather than a disability (Lane, 2005), Deaf Christians in America today occupy a unique position of belonging to two identity groups, whose beliefs may conflict with one another and who may not have the same perspective on what constitutes disability. Using ethnographic evidence among Deaf Christians in Washington, DC, I argue that Deaf Christian identity formation can be seen as a nexus of resistance against deaf-deficient narratives in Christianity, which have historical roots and still hold much currency today. My interlocutors do not necessarily see a conflict between their Deaf and Christian identities, seeing both instead as a single identity of “Deaf Christian,” which they index (Ochs, 2009) through conversion narratives, a discourse of “God’s purpose,” and a desire for better inclusion. In using these language forms, Deaf Christians not only point to its existence but also serve to reinforce its existence.


Cet article reprend une recherche anthropologique et explore comment les Chrétiens Sourds négocient leur identité en tant que membres de deux groupes identitaires distincts : les Sourds et les Chrétiens. La perception historique des sourds et des autres personnes handicapées dans l’Église n’a pas été positive, et un certain nombre de Chrétiens considèrent encore aujourd’hui le handicap comme une conséquence d’un monde déchu que Dieu restaurera. Depuis le début des années 1960, de nombreux sourds croient que la surdité est une identité culturelle, voire ethnique, centrée autour de la langue des signes américaine, plutôt qu’un handicap (Lane, 2005). Les personnes sourdes et chrétiennes aux États-Unis bénéficient donc d’une double appartenance à ces groupes identitaires, dont les croyances peuvent éventuellement entrer en conflits et qui ne partagent pas la même définition du handicap. En utilisant des preuves ethnographiques parmi les Chrétiens Sourds à Washington, je soutiens que la formation de l’identité chrétienne des sourds peut être considérée comme un lien de résistance contre les récits sourds-déficients dans le christianisme, qui ont des racines historiques et qui demeurent encore vivaces. Mes interlocuteurs ne perçoivent pas nécessairement un conflit entre leurs identités de Sourds et de Chrétiens, considérant les deux comme une seule identité de « Sourd-Chrétien », qu’ils indiquent (Ochs, 2009) à travers des récits de conversion, un discours sur « le dessein de Dieu » et le désir d’une meilleure intégration. En utilisant ces formes de langage, les Chrétiens sourds montrent leur existence, mais s’en servent aussi afin de la renforcer.

Keywords: deafness, Deafness, disability, religion, Christianity, identity, indexicality, linguistic anthropology.


During our interview, Lucas1 recounted a story to me told to him by his brothers-in-law, who had both attended Gallaudet University, the only liberal arts college for deaf and hard-of-hearing students in the world, in the early 2000s. On the first day of their class on Deaf2 history in America, the professor asked the class, “Who here is Christian?” A few students raised their hands. Pointing at each of them in turn, the professor said, “You. . .you. . .you. . . are stupid and feeble-minded.”

Laughing at the absurdity of the situation, Lucas went on to explain that this professor also coauthored a book about the making of the Deaf community in America, in which he had written:

The New Testament contains neither commandments to treat deaf people decently nor promises that one day all shall be free of disabilities. . . they are depicted as sick beings to be cured by the miraculous powers of Jesus. The deaf individual is lost as a human being. Mark shows no concern or empathy for the deaf man; he merely exploits his condition to demonstrate supernatural power. The possibility that deaf persons may be part of God’s plan, that He created them for a larger purpose, is absent. (Van Cleve & Crouch, 1989, p. 3)

When Lucas had finished signing out the paragraph, he said, “I read it and it’s clear that [the author] isn’t interpreting the Scripture in the proper way. You have to read it in context. He is taking a sentence out of the context and it means something different—but that’s my view.” Lucas believed that the professor was writing from an atheist’s perspective, and therefore drew such dire conclusions; for himself, however, as a Christian of more than 40 years, the notion that God has such a low view of deaf people, and that he did not have a purpose for them, was simply inconceivable.

The anecdote I share above illustrates the central problematic I discuss in this paper: the relationship between Deafness and Christianity; in particular, the unique identity configuration of individuals with both Deaf and Christian identities. In this context, Deafness refers to a cultural identity centered around American Sign Language rather than to physiological hearing loss, distinguished by the use of the capital “d”. As Harlan Lane (2005) has written, “It has become widely known that there is a Deaf-World in the United States, as in other nations, citizens whose primary language is American Sign Language (ASL) and who identify as members of that minority culture” (p. 291).

Deaf Christians in the United States are in the unique position of belonging to both Deaf and Christian identity groups. Beginning in the 1960s and continuing until the present time, the former group have believed that Deafness is a cultural, even ethnic, identity. Many, given the choice, would rather stay Deaf than become part of the hearing community; for example, Lane (2005) recounted an incident when Gallaudet’s first Deaf president, I. King Jordan, was asked on Sixty Minutes if he would like to be hearing, to which his response was, “That’s almost like asking a black person if he would rather be white. . .I don’t think of myself as missing something or as incomplete” (p. 298).

The latter group, on the other hand, views disability (of which deafness is often considered a part) theologically, as one consequence of a fallen world that God will eventually restore. Historically, in traditional Christian doctrine, deaf people were often portrayed as victims of circumstance in need of healing, as the healing of disabilities was taken as a sign of Jesus’ ministry on earth (Matthew 11:4-5). In extreme cases, they were seen as being beyond salvation, based for instance in the Bible verse: “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17), a view which Deaf historians Van Cleve and Crouch (1989) argued is falsely attributed to Saint Augustine, whose view towards deaf people was far more charitable. Whatever the case, “people who interpreted the Bible literally believed that it indicated that those who are deaf are denied the possibility of faith. Without faith, they cannot be Christians and cannot be saved” (p. 4). These two sets of beliefs seem to be in tension: is a deaf person disabled or not? Does a deaf person need to be healed?

In this research project, I use anthropological methods to explore the question: does an identity conflict exist for Deaf Christians? If so, how do they reconcile and resolve the conflict? I ultimately argue that a unified Deaf Christian identity exists among my informants that is indexed through three linguistic characteristics: conversion narratives, a discourse of God’s purpose, and a desire for better inclusion. Deaf Christian identity formation, I argue, can be seen as a nexus of resistance against deaf-deficient narratives in Christianity, which have historical roots and continue to hold much currency today.


Anthropologist Joel Robbins (2003) has argued that although there exist a few ethnographies of particular Christian communities, an anthropology of Christianity for itself—as a “self-conscious, comparative project” (p. 191)—has yet to truly develop, especially compared to an anthropology of Islam. Anthropological studies on the relationship between disability and Christianity are even fewer, with only one scholar, Leila Monaghan (1991), writing about the interplay of Christian and Deaf identities. She discussed these identities in the context of the founding of two Deaf churches, however, without examining if these identities come into conflict. However, the question of identity conflicts for disabled Christians did prompt Kathy Black (1996), ex-chaplain at Gallaudet University, to write A Healing Homiletic: Preaching and Disability about healing narratives in the Bible, focusing on theological views as opposed to lived experiences of Deaf Christians. The latter aspect is the focus of this project.

Language is a useful index as an analytical tool for helping us understand how identities are formed and performed by individuals. From an anthropological framework, I follow anthropologist Lila Abu-Lughod (1991) in focusing on “discourse and practice” (p. 147) as a way to avoid essentialising my informants and presenting their culture as static and unchanging. According to Elinor Ochs’ (2009) Indexicality Principle, people use particular language forms (such as interrogative forms, diminutive affairs, raised pitch, and so on) to point to particular situational meanings (such as temporal, spatial, social identities, social acts and activities, affective and epistemic stances, and so on). A linguistic index, Ochs defined, is “a structure. . .that is used variably from one situation to another and becomes conventionally associated with particular situational dimensions such that when that structure is used, the form invokes those situational dimensions” (p. 406). In particular, Ochs claimed that people use language to index social identity, for example, in hierarchical West Samoan society, “the verbs sau [“come”] and alu [“go”] index that the speaker is of a higher rank than the addressee” (p. 407). Thus, it is appropriate for older siblings to direct imperatives using these verbs at their younger siblings to index their seniority, but not for younger siblings to use them on their older siblings.

Bailey (2000) further elaborated upon how people intentionally and unintentionally use language to index identity by stating that “analysis of language and naturally occurring discourse is a means to understanding how individuals, as social actors, highlight social boundaries and activate facets of identity” (p. 192). He goes on to explain how second-generation Dominican Americans use language practices to highlight their unique identity position and differentiate themselves from other identity groups. For example, they spoke Spanish to differentiate themselves from African Americans, used certain features of African American Vernacular English to differentiate themselves from white Americans, and spoke English to differentiate themselves from Dominicans from the Dominican Republic. Coupland and Jaworski (2009a) also wrote:

Rather than reflecting society and an individual’s place within it, language use is constitutive of social differences and identities. Speakers are able to make active and reasoned linguistic choices, while also responding to the combination of social constraints regulating and restricting their verbal repertoires. (p. 31)

However, Bailey seemed to take for granted the existence of a Dominican American identity without taking into account the process of its formation and the potential conflicts that come with the meshing of two disparate identities. To understand possible responses to identity conflict, Rodriguez and Ouellette (2000) interviewed gay and lesbian Christians, who are analogous to Deaf Christians in that they also belong to two distinct identity groups whose beliefs may conflict with each other. In a similar way to disabled people, there are LGBTQ-negative narratives in Christianity, particularly American evangelicalism, which may cause an identity conflict among gay and lesbian Christians; however, these Christians may not see their sexual orientation as a choice, whereas Deaf identity, as I will elaborate upon further, is often consciously adopted. Rodriguez and Ouellette wrote that there were four strategies in response to gay Christian identity conflict: rejecting the gay identity, rejecting the Christian identity, compartmentalising, and integrating the two identities. They argued that most of the gay Christians they interviewed have successfully integrated these identities and no longer see a conflict between the two. I argue that the Deaf Christians that I interviewed have similarly integrated their identities and no longer see conflict between them.

The participants used a number of stories to index their identities as Deaf Christians, and these narratives are an important discursive tool that allows people to not only present who they are but also better understand who they are. Schriffin (1996) analysed two stories told by Jewish-American women to demonstrate how they construct their identities, using language to display their epistemic and agentive selves, their role in the family, and their identities as mothers. She emphasised the importance of narrative, the centerpiece of her argument:

Narrative is a means by which to arrive at an understanding of the self as emergent from actions and experiences, both in relation to general themes or plots and as located in a cultural matrix of meanings, beliefs, and practices. The form, content, and performance of narrative thus all provide sensitive indices of our personal selves and our social and cultural identities. (p. 194)

In my research, therefore, I attempt to elicit and analyse narratives that point to aspects of the participants’ identities.


This paper is based on data collected from five qualitative interviews I conducted with Deaf Christians over Skype as part of ethnographic fieldwork conducted at a large, multi-sited evangelical church with a Deaf ministry in Washington, D.C. over the period of a year and a half. Interestingly, the theme of disability rarely came up during this period (which could in fact point to a resolved conflict between Deaf and Christian identities), and so my findings are derived primarily from the interviews I conducted rather than from my fieldwork, during which I asked questions specifically regarding this topic.

I conducted one interview with each participant. Interviews lasted between 40 minutes and an hour and 10 minutes. I video-recorded these interviews on my laptop and then annotated them with ELAN for significant themes and important instances of linguistic use. Any quotes that I later use in this article have been translated from ASL into English by me,3,4 and I have strived to preserve the voice of the participant as far as possible by using a more literal, word-for-word approach. In line with more qualitative sociolinguistic work that has been done in recent years (see, for example, Bucholtz, 1999; Juspal & Coyle, 2010; Schriffin, 1996), rather than extrapolating my data to generalise about the experiences of all Deaf Christians, I am more interested in exploring the range of possible responses that individuals in such a position may use to respond to an identity conflict. The qualitative data I collected are useful for “helping us understand the intricacies and local complexities of more particular instances, seen ‘from the inside'” (Coupland & Jaworski, 2009b, p. 19), that is, from the perspective of Deaf Christians themselves.

Of the five participants I interviewed, four were regular attendees of the evangelical church in Washington, DC that I mentioned earlier in this section (where I was also an attendee) and had been for at least two years prior to gathering the data. The church is a large multi-site church affiliated with the Assemblies of God denomination with a number of locations in the DC metropolitan area; while the vast majority of attendees are hearing, they have a small Deaf ministry at their main campus, where one of the services is interpreted into ASL. The fifth participant had attended the church at least once but now regularly attends another hearing-majority church that also has a Deaf ministry.

While all five had some degree of hearing loss and were fluent in ASL, only one of them was a native user. Jonathan had grown up in a hearing family and attended a Deaf school from two to five before transferring to a mainstream school where he did not sign as he was educated alongside non-signing hearing students. He began learning ASL again while in his first year of college and then transferred to Gallaudet where he obtained a bachelor’s degree in Deaf Studies. Vikram had grown up in a deaf family in India, using a variety of homesigns and attending mainstream schools, and only learnt ASL after moving to the United States and attending Gallaudet University. Also mainstreamed alongside non-hearing peers, Lucas did not sign growing up and graduated from a hearing college in Louisiana. After graduation, he moved to Washington DC where he immersed himself in ASL and now uses it as his primary form of communication. Chelsea, the only native ASL user, has a history of hearing loss in her family and her mother and six of her seven siblings are deaf (two were born deaf). She was born hearing and began signing with her Deaf mother and older brother at a young age. She began experiencing hearing loss at the age of 15 and started wearing hearing aids, but did not identify as culturally Deaf until the last two years of high school when she attended a Deaf school. The last, Rachel, was born to and grew up in a hearing family in Singapore. As she was mainstreamed for most of her life, she did not identify as culturally Deaf until she went to Australia where she obtained her undergraduate degree in deaf education and worked as a teacher for deaf children. She spent 11 years there before coming to Gallaudet for her graduate degree and has been learning ASL intensively since then.


The analysis of the data first points to the fact that most of the participants recognise that there could be a conflict between Deaf and Christian identities, though they might not have personally experienced it themselves. Jonathan told me, for instance, that he had struggled with this very conflict between his Deaf and Christian identities in the past (as will be related in a story later). Lucas, who related the anecdote that begins this article, responded that many Deaf people had been “hurt by the church,” given the historical Christian perception of deafness as disability and even a disqualifier for salvation. On the contrary, Chelsea was very adamant in saying that she had never felt a conflict between her identity as a Deaf person and as a Christian. For Vikram, he had personally never felt a conflict between these two identities; when I asked him whether there was one, he was genuinely perplexed and asked me what I meant by that question. However, for both Chelsea and Vikram, they acknowledged that others might perceive the conflict I referred to.

For all the participants, however, they did not see or no longer saw a conflict between Deaf and Christian identities for themselves, instead assuming a new identity of being a “Deaf Christian,” one that they index through language.5 Aside from the question of whether a conflict existed, the data revealed three common themes in the participants’ responses that index the Deaf Christian identity: conversion narratives, a discourse of purpose, and a desire for better inclusion. As I discuss later in my analysis, this Deaf Christian identity and its concomitant themes should be read as a form of resistance against disability-negative narratives present in non-Deaf Christian circles.

Conversion Narratives

The first theme is data was conversion narratives. Conversion narratives are common within evangelical Christianity and wider Christian culture and are often called “testimonies.” These narratives point to the moment at which a person decides to become a Christian and often involves some element of realisation that they did not like how they were living up to that point. For example, Jonathan told the story of how he converted at a co-educational camp: “I remember hearing the story about Jesus knocking on the door of your heart. Jesus says he wants to come in, but you—the person—need to open your heart to let him in.” Chelsea also recounted that she had grown up going to Catholic church and school but never really knew what she believed. She felt the message that she heard growing up was always the same, and never had an impact on her. However, “when I got to my old church, HCC (Heritage Community Church), that’s when I understood [the message of the gospel].”

At the same time, the participants had a similar Deaf “conversion narrative,” also a trope of Deaf literature, if not necessarily labelled as such due to the religious connotations of the word “conversion.” These stories often involve a person who grows up without knowing about Deaf culture and understands deafness only as hearing loss; however, when they encounter the Deaf community for the first time, they find their “true home” there and adopt a Deaf identity (see, for example, Deaf Like Me and Deaf Again). The participants had grown up in primarily hearing environments—Lucas even stated that he had thought of himself as hearing because of his environment—and used speech growing up, but had found the Deaf community at a later stage and now primarily used sign. Jonathan recounted, “Later, when I was 17—or about 16, thereabouts—I started signing again.6 That was when I started to develop my identity from hearing—well, not really hearing, but more hard-of-hearing, more disconnected from the Deaf community. . . I started to make my way to become Deaf.”

These conversion narratives indicate how Deaf identity emerges out of a context of community and is then consciously or subconsciously adopted by its adherents and demonstrated through the learning and deliberate use of sign language.

Discourse of Purpose

The second theme is what I call the discourse of “God’s purpose.” All of the participants, at some point, mentioned their belief that God made them Deaf for some reason. While for Chelsea, the purpose was more personal, for Jonathan, Lucas, and Rachel, it was so that they could reach out to other members of the Deaf community who were not Christians.

For Chelsea, the purpose God had for her was more personal, in that she felt that the most important thing for her was having a relationship with God. As she said, “I can feel, I can have a connection with God. I have feelings, emotions. . . That’s why God made me this way: unique.”

Jonathan believed differently though. After he was not healed of hearing loss at a church service when he was 16 or 17, he had a change of heart. As he recounted:

The more I thought about it, God was really showing me, teaching me, that he made me this way for a purpose. He was not opening my ears, but opening my heart, opening my eyes, to see that his plan and purpose for me. I believe he made me Deaf so I could participate in the Deaf community, in Deaf culture, to sign. . . so I can support Deaf and hearing integration [in the church body].

He also believed that part of God’s purpose for him was also to educate other hearing Christians about Deaf identity, that many Deaf people were happy to be Deaf and did not want to be healed.

Lucas had an even more dramatic shift. He had attended a Deaf school when he was younger, but did not have a good experience there and was often made fun of by other Deaf students because he was not as fluent in sign. He had therefore eschewed anything relating to Deafness in his older years and attended a hearing college. However, he felt that in college he received a call from God to enter full-time ministry serving the Deaf community and, after speaking to his pastor, decided to move to DC to pursue that and became a full-time worker in campus ministry.

Desire for Better Inclusion

The third theme that emerged through the interviews was a desire for better inclusion in the wider Christian body as a particular group, albeit in different forms. For Lucas and Jonathan, they preferred that Deaf Christians have their own church and, in particular, their own Deaf pastor. As Lucas expressed, accessibility in a hearing church was “no substitute for a pastor preaching in sign language compared to a hearing pastor who is preaching with an interpreter.” For him, it was important for Deaf Christians to access the message and the gospel “in their own language,” that is, ASL. Even with interpreters, he felt that some parts of the message were always lost. Jonathan insisted that no matter what a hearing church did to integrate its Deaf members, Deaf people “would always complain”—they needed a church they could consider their own, not one in which they felt they were in the margins.

Vikram, on the other hand, felt that Deaf Christians could be better integrated and that their needs had to be better met. For example, interpreters should stay after the service to help facilitate conversations; currently, he said, interpreters finish interpreting for the service and leave immediately after: “It’s rude!” he said. He insisted on the need for more social events, such as picnics, in which Deaf and hearing members of the church could interact and get to know each other better. Rachel, too, expressed her appreciation of her church’s efforts to provide, for example, sign language classes for hearing people so that they could converse with the Deaf members in the church.


The three themes that emerge from the data—the use of conversion narratives, the discourse of God’s purpose, and the desire for better inclusion—serve linguistically to index the integrated Deaf Christian identity that the participants have adopted. I argue that, in some ways, these three language forms are what Bucholtz (1999) has called “positive identity practices,” which are “those [practices] in which individuals engage in order actively to construct a chosen identity” (p. 211). These positive identity practices, which Bucholtz distinguished from negative identity practices—defined as “those that individuals employ to distance themselves from a rejected identity” (p. 211)—take place at different linguistic levels, including discourse. In the same way that nerd girls in Bucholtz’s study displayed a particular orientation to language form that includes punning, parody, and word coinage, to legitimise their belonging to the nerd girl community, the participants in this study use the three stated discourse-level linguistic strategies to index their belonging to the Deaf Christian community.

The Christian conversion narrative, in particular, is important in indexing belonging in the Christian community, given its prominence in the evangelical Christian tradition (which the Assemblies of God is part of). Everyone is expected to have a “testimony” and having one points to a pivotal point in the Christian’s journey, whether it be a “shift to Christianity from no religion” or the “[strengthening of] a prior commitment to Christianity” (Jindra et al., 2012, p. 2). In fact, at the church, not infrequently, there would be a short, five-minute testimony given by a member of the church just prior to the sermon that could be about God’s deliverance from a particular suffering, a renewed commitment to the faith, a recent conversion to the faith, and topics of that nature. Some of the participants were likely socialised into that experience as regular attendees of the church. Possession of a conversion narrative legitimised their membership in the Christian community, while the language the narrative was given in, ASL, plus a conversion narrative of entry into Deaf culture, indicated their unique position as members also of the Deaf community.

The formation of a Deaf Christian identity was in many ways a rejection of and a form of resistance against the label of “disabled”—and often, “in need of healing”—that hearing Christians impose on them. This is seen in that the discourse of “God’s purpose” that was utilised by many participants was often linked to specific instances of misunderstanding or ignorance by hearing people. For example, Vikram recounted an incident when he visited an interpreted service at a church in Chicago. During the service, he saw two people close by whispering among themselves, and knew immediately that they were going to pray for his healing. Sure enough, they laid their hands upon his ears and started praying. Nothing happened, but after they finished praying, one of them handed him a piece of paper, on it asking him if he wanted to give a testimony. He agreed, walked on stage, and said through the interpreter: “Thank you to the two of you for praying for me. For me to hear—you all want it for me, I understand, because you have pity on deaf people. BUT God—He sees me and He doesn’t [have pity on me]. He gave me everything. This body is what He gave to me and I’m happy with it” (emphasis his). This discourse allowed the participants to define identity for themselves and to see themselves as active protagonists rather than victims of circumstance in their own life stories.

It is also important to note that the three themes that emerged in the interviews with the participants do not merely index the Deaf Christian identity, but in fact also serve to create it. This is what Elinor Ochs (2009) has called “indexical property of constitutiveness.” As she explained, “when interlocutors use indexical forms, they may constitute some social structure in the immediate situation at hand” (p. 411). For example, as mentioned earlier, West Samoan society is very hierarchical and the verbs sau and alu index asymmetric relationships between higher-ranking and lower-ranking members of the society. When older siblings use these verbs on their younger siblings and when younger siblings obey, they in effect recreate the unequal power dynamic. When the participants in the study use these language forms to index the Deaf Christian identity, and also when this identity is recognised by others inside and outside that community (for example, the church agreeing to the Deaf ministry’s request for sign language classes or more interpreters), they essentially reify its unique existence.


There are a number of drawbacks to the methodology I used. The first is my relationship with some of the participants: we are not only fellow church members, but also friends and that could have influenced both their willingness to speak to me as well as the answers they gave me. Our friendship could also mean that they were more honest with me than they would have been with a complete stranger; however, there is no way to discern this. Second, the data I collected was elicited rather than naturally occurring. As Lucas et al. (2013) have written, there is an inherent conflict in data collection of this sort because although sociolinguists are interested in “the language signers’ and speakers’ use when they are not being observed,” researchers often have “to record their production in situations that often lead to self-consciousness” (p. 545). The third is that I am neither deaf nor a native user of ASL. Hill wrote that “ASL users are. . . sensitive to a signer’s audiological status (e.g., Deaf or Hearing)” and recount an incident when a Black Deaf interviewee shifted from signing to speaking when she discovered that one of the researchers was White and Hearing, even though until that point she had been signing fully without voicing (p. 111-112; capitals in the original). While some of these issues, such as my audiological status, cannot be changed, I hope in future projects to mitigate them, through collaboration with a Deaf researcher or recruitment of participants that I do not know.


As shown in the data and argued in this paper, for some Christians, at least, there is a real identity conflict between the Deaf and the Christian identity. However, the participants in this study have managed to resolve the identity conflict by integrating the two, pointing to a unique identity configuration that is both Deaf and Christian, not belonging exclusively to one or the other. They index this new identity by three key linguistic elements: the use of the conversion narratives, the discourse of God’s purpose, and the desire for better inclusion. The title of this piece comes from the interview I conducted with Vikram; when I asked him whether there would be Deaf people in heaven, he responded emphatically, “Why not? Maybe Jesus knows sign.” This response, in which Vikram posits a signing, even Deaf, Jesus, captures the attempt of Deaf Christians to reappropriate a faith that accommodates their membership in the church, in response to disability-negative narratives that have historically served to exclude them from it.

I ultimately hope that this project will serve as a starting point for further research that will inform churches seeking to set up ministries to the Deaf or existing churches with Deaf ministries on how to better serve this particular demographic. More generally, I hope that it provides insight into the issues that arise and the transformations that may take place in the interplay between religion and religious identity and social and cultural developments.


This research was made possible through a Doyle Engaging Difference Undergraduate Fellowship 2014-15, granted by the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs at Georgetown University. I thank Melody Fox Ahmed and Dr. Sara Singha for supporting the project, Dr. Risa Shaw for introducing me to the sociolinguistics of the Deaf community, my interlocutors for generously giving of their time to answer my questions, as well as my peer mentor at J-BILD, Dr. Caroline Riches, and the rest of the editorial team at the journal for pushing me to clarify the terms of my argument and to give my argument greater coherence and form. I presented earlier drafts of this paper at Ways of Knowing 2016: The 5th Annual Graduate Conference on Religion at Harvard Divinity School and 15th Annual Graduate Research Symposium at the College of William and Mary and am grateful for the feedback I received there. Thanks also to Carine Zanchi for translating my abstract into French.


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1 All the participants have been given pseudonyms to protect their privacy.

2 Deaf refers to the cultural/ethnic identity, centered around the use of sign language, whereas deaf refers to an audiological status (whether one can hear or not). The latter (deaf) is a broader category than Deaf.

3 An important limitation, but necessary due to IRB restrictions. Any translation errors are mine alone.

4 I am a hearing researcher who has been involved in the d/Deaf community for many years, beginning in Singapore where I first learned (Singaporean) sign language. I began learning ASL (related to a certain extent to Singaporean Sign Language) in my first year in college and had become proficient enough to take graduate level classes in ASL at Gallaudet University in my last year.

5 As a caveat, Vikram said that he was not a Christian, but rather, a “follower of Jesus,” a phrase he preferred given disagreements between different Christian denominations.

6 As mentioned in the methodology, Jonathan went to a Deaf school from ages two to five and was educated in a mainstream school without sign thereafter.

A distinctive Use of R as a marker of Santomean identity

Volume 2(1): 2018

MARIE-EVE BOUCHARD, Concordia University


This paper examines the ideologies that surround the use of rhotics (or r-sounds) in the Santomean variety of Portuguese. This emerging variety spoken in São Tomé and Príncipe diverges from the European and Brazilian Portuguese norms and shows great variability in its use of rhotics. More specifically, Santomeans often use a strong-R in positions that require a weak-r in other Portuguese varieties (Bouchard, 2017). I argue that this distinctive use of rhotics is becoming a marker of Santomean national identity.  Through the use of sociolinguistic interviews, I examine where this new variety of Portuguese is emerging from, and how Santomeans view their distinctive use of rhotics. Results demonstrated that the use of strong-R is associated with younger Santomeans who grew up after the independence of the country (in 1975), and who are starting to show pride in their national variety of Portuguese.


Cet article examine les idéologies entourant l’utilisation des sons R en portugais santoméen. La variété émergente de portugais parlée à São Tomé-et-Principe diverge de la norme brésilienne et européenne et fait preuve d’une grande variabilité quant à l’utilisation des sons R. Plus précisément, les Santoméens utilisent souvent le R-fort dans des positions qui exigent un r-faible dans d’autres variétés de portugais (Bouchard, 2017). Je considère que cette utilisation distincte des sons R est en train de devenir un trait caractéristique qui marque l’identité nationale santoméenne. Par l’entremise d’entrevues sociolinguistiques, j’examine l’origine de cette nouvelle variété de portugais et la vision des Santoméens vis-à-vis de leur utilisation des sons R. Les résultats montrent que l’utilisation du R-fort est associée aux jeunes santoméens nés après l’indépendance du pays (donc après 1975) et qui démontrent une plus grande fierté de leur variété nationale de portugais.

Keywords: Language ideologies, rhotics, Santomean Portuguese, national identity, youth.


São Tomé and Príncipe is characterized by its great linguistic diversity, and has been called a “labyrinth and laboratory of languages” (translated from Hagemeijer, forthcoming). During the sixteenth century, three native creoles formed on the islands: Forro, Angolar, and Lung’Ie.i According to Hagemeijer (in press), these creoles were the most widely spoken languages on the islands until the beginning of the twentieth century.  The Portuguese language had been restricted to a small group of Portuguese nationals. This sociolinguistic picture changed at the end of the nineteenth century due to the massive arrival of contract laborers coming from different regions of Africa, causing Portuguese to become a lingua franca. Consequently, a linguistic shift from creoles to Portuguese emerged in São Tomé and Príncipe. This shift intensified in the 1960s with the rise of the nationalist movement, the generalized access to education, and the spread of the parental practice of forbidding children to speak creole. When the country became independent in 1975, Portuguese became a symbol of national unity and was more widespread in use. Additionally, there were several other factors that contributed to disfavoring the use of the creoles on the islands: greater social mobility (related in part to Santomean immigration to Portugal), greater access to education and means of communication in Portuguese (e.g., television, Internet), and the absence of language politics in favor of the creoles. Currently, children are growing up with the local variety of Portuguese as their first (and often only) language. This emerging variety of Santomean Portuguese is central to the current study and provides an opportunity to investigate an emerging Portuguese variety in Africa, and the significance of language ideologies in the choice of language and in national identity.

One of the most salient variables that distinguishes Santomean Portuguese from other varieties of Portuguese is the use of rhotics (r-sounds). In European and Brazilian Portuguese, the distribution of rhotics is determined by syllable structure (Mateus & d’Andrade, 2000). The ‘weak-r’ [ɻ, ɾ, Ø] is required when the rhotic is the second element in an onset consonant cluster (e.g., branco “white”). The ‘strong-R’ [r, ʀ, x, ɣ, χ, ʁ, h, ɦ] is required word-initially (e.g., rato“rat”), and, word-medially in syllable-initial position, if the preceding syllable ends with a coda consonant (e.g., honrado“honored”). In coda and word-final positions, these varieties of Portuguese have variable or optional realizations of rhotic variants. Intervocalically, there is a phonemic contrast of rhotics, in words such as carro “car” and caro “expensive”. This means that the use of the strong-R (carro) or the weak-r (caro) affects how the word is perceived by listeners, as it can lead to multiple meanings.

In contrast to this standard distribution of rhotics, some Santomeans pronounce a strong-R in phonetic environments that require a weak-r in other varieties of Portuguese. The following example compares the pronunciation in Santomean Portuguese (STP) to European Portuguese (EP):

STP:     tu    és    brasileira (pronounced [bʁazileiʁɐ])?
EP:       tu    és    brasileira (pronounced [bɾɐzilɐjɾɐ])?
ENG:    you are Brazilian?
‘Are you Brazilian?’

The current paper focuses on the distinctive use of rhotics in Santomean Portuguese, the significance of the language change underway in São Tomé, and the ideologies that surround this change. The main objectives of this paper are to discuss linguistic differentiation (Irvine & Gal, 2000) in São Tomé, in a bid to show how the Santomean Portuguese variety has been erased from public discourse, and to examine how the use of the strong-R has become, and continues to be, a marker of belonging and national identity for young Santomeans.


São Tomé and Príncipe stands out among other Portuguese-speaking African countries, as Portuguese is the first language of the great majority of the population. It is spoken by 98.4% of citizens (INE, 2012). It is the official language of the country, of the government, media, and school, and of everyday life.

Lorenzino (1996) was one the first linguists to note that the Portuguese variety spoken in São Tomé and Príncipe varied from its target language, European Portuguese. Since then, few studies have looked at Santomean Portuguese. Most research on Santomean Portuguese is related to morphosyntactic and syntactic features (Figuereido, 2010; Gonçalves, 2012, 2015); whereas, research on the linguistic anthropology, sociolinguistics, phonetics, and phonology of the language variety are scarce (Brandão, 2016; Bouchard, 2017; Christofoletti, 2011).

Santomean Portuguese varies from Brazilian, European, and other African varieties of Portuguese, especially because of the influence of creoles (Afonso, 2009; d’Apresentação, 2013) and their distinctive use of rhotics. Previous studies from Bouchard (2016, 2017) indicate that this distinctive use of rhotics in Santomean Portuguese (i.e., the use of a strong-R in weak-r positions) is part of a linguistic change underway in São Tomé. Based on the apparent-time construct (Bailey et al., 1991; Bailey, 2004), Bouchard (2017) showed that younger Santomeans use strong-R the most (54.8%), and older Santomeans the least (5.9%) (Figure 1).

Figure 1. The use of strong-R according to age and speaker, based on percentage
(Adapted from Bouchard, 2017, p. 262)

To my knowledge, no previous studies have investigated language shift (from creoles to Portuguese) and language change (regarding the use of rhotics) in São Tomé from the perspective of language ideologies. Language ideology is the link between forms of talk and social structures; it is “the cultural system of ideas about social and linguistic relationships, together with their loading of moral and political interests” (Irvine, 1989, p. 255). In a linguistic community, that is a group of people who use the same linguistic code and signs, language practices are measured against those of the dominant group (Bourdieu, 1982). In the case of São Tomé and Príncipe, the linguistic practices have been measured against and compared to speakers of European Portuguese during the five centuries of colonial rule. European Portuguese was, and may still be, considered to be the standard variety. It is viewed as the “good” way of speaking Portuguese and the linguistic objective to attain; whereas, in contrast, creoles were believed to be “bad.” This encounter between European Portuguese, Santomean Portuguese, and the creoles of São Tomé will now be examined in terms of a language ideology of differentiation (Irvine & Gal, 2000).


In this study, I examine the emerging variety of Portuguese spoken in São Tomé and Príncipe. I discuss how the distinctive use of rhotic in Santomean Portuguese is being associated with national identity, and to santomensidade “Santomean-ness.” The main questions addressed herein are: What is the role of language ideologies in language change in São Tomé? How are language ideologies interrelated with national identity and rhotic use in Santomean Portuguese? The answers to these questions are important given that studies about language use and practices in São Tomé and Príncipe are scarce, and that the Santomean distinctive use of rhotics is a linguistic innovation currently emerging. This paper demonstrates how the use of rhotics is becoming a marker of the young, post-independence, Santomeans, and it contributes to the existing literature regarding the use of certain linguistic features vis-à-vis identity formation and nation building. This is achieved by focusing on the Santomeans’ language ideologies in terms of their use of rhotics in relation to their speakers and identity. Moreover, the semiotic processes of Irvine and Gal (2000) are utilized to shed light on the Santomean sociolinguistic reality and show how the Santomean Portuguese variety spoken by the middle class has been erased from public discourse. Irvine and Gal (2000) suggest that people construct their ideological representations of social and linguistic difference through the use of three semiotic processes: iconization, recursivity, and erasure.

First, Irvine and Gal (2000) describe the process of iconization as being a transformation of the relationship between linguistic varieties or features and the social images they map onto: “Linguistic features that index social groups or activities appear to be iconic representations of them, as if a linguistic feature somehow depicted or displayed a social group’s inherent nature or essence” (p. 37). The second semiotic process in the construction of ideologies and differentiation is called fractal recursivity, and it “involves the projection of an opposition, salient at some level of relationship, onto some other level” (Irvine & Gal, 2000, p. 38). In other words, the contrast that exists in some opposition between groups or linguistic varieties reappears (or persists) at some other levels. Finally, erasure is the process by which ideology renders a group or a sociolinguistic phenomenon invisible (Hachimi, 2012; Hollington, 2016; Irvine & Gal, 2000). It is a form of “forgetting, denying, ignoring, or forcibly eliminating those distinctions or social facts that fail to fit the picture of the world presented in ideology” (Gal, 2005, p. 27). This tripartite framework will be used to access and understand the emerging variety of Portuguese, which I suggest is being created by a growing number among the younger generations who take pride in their Santomean and African identity.


The methodology chosen for studying locally embedded language use, the role of language use in the construction of social and national identity in a multilingual society, and the language ideologies that surround language use included: observation, field notes, and individual sociolinguistic interviews. The fieldwork for the data was conducted mainly in the city of São Tomé, the capital of São Tomé and Príncipe, and its surroundings between June 2015 and March 2017. The 56 participants included in this study were Santomeans, born and raised on São Tomé Island, and who are still residing in the capital or its surroundings. This study is based on roughly 46 hours of tape-recorded sociolinguistic interviews (Becker, 2013; Labov, 1984; Tagliamonte, 2006) from 48 adults (20-73 years old) and eight teenagers (12-18 years old) (Table 1).


Education Level

Age group




High school













































Table 1: Participants in this study

Interviews with adults lasted between 33 and 82 minutes, and interviews with teenagers lasted between 24 and 30 minutes (with the exception of one interview that lasted an hour). Interviews were recorded after I had spent a period of time (starting during the third month, more precisely) in São Tomé and getting to know more about the culture, in terms of their ethnic groups, religious practices, traditional dances, etc. This cultural immersion allowed me to ensure that the questions were relevant to Santomeans. During the interview, I elicited comments on language, ethnicity, identity, and localness to arrive at a clearer picture of the ideologies underlying linguistic choices and perceptions within the speech community. Interviews were conducted in Portuguese, but only the translation of excerpts are provided in this paper.

I also present a concrete example, a narrative description of a Santomean named Célia with whom I discussed the used of rhotics. By examining more deeply the case of Célia, I aim to understand in a more holistic way the experience of one speaker. This includes information about the complexities regarding one’s social network, background, and education, among other things. Although generalizations from one observed case to all other cases is not possible or necessarily desired, this brief case study is an opportunity to derive broader principles and observations of relevance regarding ideologies about pronunciation of rhotics in Santomean Portuguese (cf. Duff, 2008).

Language Ideologies and Linguistic Differentiation in São Tomé

As indicated earlier, I applied Irvine and Gal’s (2000) tripartite semiotic processes to discuss how language ideologies might contribute to language change. Specifically, these three processes made it possible to examine how Santomeans map their understanding of linguistic varieties to people, how language ideologies are constructed among the speakers of the island of São Tomé, and what are some of the consequences of this mapping.

Iconization: European Portuguese, Creole Languages, and their Social Images

Iconization served as a means to examine the mapping of language use onto its speakers.  During colonial times in São Tomé, although the Portuguese were in the minority, they held the position of power. They formed the highest social class on the island, had a higher level of education, and had greater economic means. Over time, their variety of Portuguese came to index their social identity; European Portuguese became a marker of powerful, educated, and elegant people. Santomeans were aware that their native languages, the creoles, were considered to be inferior to European Portuguese. This ideology of inferiority was in part transmitted to Santomeans by the Portuguese colonizers who did not even consider the creoles to be “real” languages, but rather mere dialects of Portuguese. As one participant commented:

They didn’t call it creole, but rather dialect, because Portuguese made sure to minimize creole, they would say that it was only a dialect of Portuguese – which is not true. (Tomás, 50 years old)

In this excerpt, dialect does not refer to a variety of Portuguese, but rather to a language variety that is considered to be inferior to the Portuguese language. In fact, the creoles were spoken by enslaved Africans and their descendants, whom the Portuguese considered inferior. These ideas of inferiority about the languages were then transferred to the speakers of those languages. The creoles became associated with backwardness, savagery, stupidity, and inferiorityii, and these ideologies surrounding creoles were not only transmitted by the Portuguese, but also between Santomeans themselves. If Santomean parents wanted their children to “become someone”, they forbade their children to speak creole:

They were forbidden [to speak creole] because there was a feeling that one who speaks creole is poor, backward, and that creole spoils Portuguese [han han], that’s what they used to say. (Tomás, 50 years old)

Our children have to learn to speak well, to speak well Portuguese, like if fine people, good people, educated people had to speak Portuguese, that it is the language of what. . .the right language, right, the correct language, the creole is seen as a person who is backward, who doesn’t know Portuguese and only speaks creole, I think they thought or think that by speaking creole, a child won’t be able to learn Portuguese well, [Hum. . .like if. . .] yeah, one would interfere with the other, and they wanted their children, well. . .hey, my son has to speak Portuguese well, he has to be someone, he has to be a fine person, he has to express himself well, I think that’s what it is. (Natália, 33 years old)

Thus, European Portuguese became an icon of people with a higher socioeconomic status, and the creoles became an icon of the people from with a lower socioeconomic status. The ideologies surrounding those languages help us understand the ongoing loss of the creoles in São Tomé, as Santomeans gave more value to Portuguese and favored the learning of Portuguese over creoles.

Fractal Recursivity: Settings and Varieties

In the case of São Tomé, the framework for understanding linguistic difference at one level, for example the difference between Portuguese and creole languages in terms of linguistic value and recognition within the society, served to construct differences at other levels, such as linguistic varieties between the city and the plantations. This was achieved through Irvine and Gal’s second semiotic process: fractal recursivity. As Gal (2005) wrote, “fractal recursions are repetitions of the same contrast but at different scales” (p. 27), meaning that the contrast can be reproduced by projecting it onto broader or more narrow comparisons.

According to the 2014-2015 Instituto Nacional de Estatísticas (National Statistical Office) survey results, 66.6% of Santomeans live in urban areas, while 33.4% live in rural areas (MICS, 2014). When talking about language during my fieldwork and interviews, Santomeans often highlighted the difference between the variety of Portuguese spoken in the city and the one spoken in what they called the roças “plantations” (i.e., rural setting). All participants (urban and rural) commented that the variety of Portuguese spoken in the city is “better” than the variety spoken in the plantations:

The first difference I see is the way they speak. [Yeah?] Yes, people in the city speak better than people here in the plantation because, as you know, the environment here is closed. (Carlos, 28 years old, external informant living in rural areaiii)
M-E:    So, on the island, where do you think that people speak better Portuguese?  Where is Portuguese better spoken?
Zé:       In the center of the capital.
M-E:    Why?
Zé:       Because, well, all this, Portuguese, was centralized there and it’s the peak of the country, the head of the country, the president, the prime minister, I don’t know, I don’t know, the best quality stayed there, so it means Portuguese was mainly centralized in the center of the capital then in the other parts of the country, that’s why the most adequate Portuguese is there. (Zé, 52 years old, external informant living in rural area)

There is a higher number of creole speakers living outside the center of the capital, especially in the district of Caué (the southern part of the island, where Zé lives), who speak creole more frequently than those in the center of the capital. For this reason, the influence of the creole languages on the rural variety of Portuguese is believed to be greater than on the city variety. Moreover, people from the city are not only seen as speaking better Portuguese, but also as being more educated, more economically comfortable, better dressed, etc. People from the plantations, on the other hand, are seen as speaking “bad” Portuguese, as having a lower level of education, as being bad-tempered, etc. In this example of fractal recursivity, it is possible to see the reproduction of the contrast (Portuguese/creoles) onto another level (urban/rural).

Erasure of the Speech of a Growing Middle Socioeconomic Class: The Emerging Variety of Santomean Portuguese

Finally, the process of fractal recursion allows for erasure. This process makes it possible to examine elements that do not fit into the ideology of contrast that was constructed. In the case of São Tomé, what is being erased, or rather, ignored, is the speech of the middle-class Santomeans. The middle-class Santomeans are those who have a certain level of schooling (at least high school), a certain economic comfort (a job, a house, perhaps a car, etc.), but who do not necessarily turn towards Europe to find their social and linguistic models. They differ from the higher-class Santomeans in that they are not at the apex of the social pyramid; for example, they are not necessarily members of traditionally important families in the country, nor have they lived abroad (although some may have studied abroad and come back), and they earn money locally (i.e., in dobras, not in euros). Thus, Santomeans, and their speech, do not fit the old stereotypes which consist of dichotomies of European Portuguese/creoles, urban/rural, and rich/poor. The Santomeans that I spoke to only discussed their variety when I asked specific questions, such as “Is Santomean Portuguese different from European Portuguese?” or “Which variety do you prefer: Santomean, European, or Brazilian Portuguese?”. Otherwise, they always preferred talking about creoles, or about what they consider to be “bad” Portuguese (with creole features) and “good” Portuguese (that corresponds to Portuguese grammar and the European standard). I believe that it is in this space, this process of erasure, that Santomean Portuguese is emerging. As mentioned earlier, one linguistic feature that is characteristic of the Santomean emerging class is the use of the strong-R instead of the weak-r in some positions of the word. Most Santomeans are not aware of the use of rhotics, as being typical of their variety of Portuguese, but several informants cite it as a local feature. Furthermore, the social facts show that this particular use of the rhotics indexes the youth and the post-independence period.

In São Tomé, some of the consequences of language ideologies are the deprecation of the creole languages, the growing loss of the creoles, and the prejudices attached to creole speakers; although, this latter part seems to be slowly changing. Moreover, examining the rhotics as used and pronounced in Santomean Portuguese and the ideologies that surround their pronunciation reinforce these consequences.


More than any other feature, for non-Santomeans, the pronunciation of rhotics iconically indexes Santomean Portuguese. On the one hand, most, if not all, lower socioeconomic status Santomeans I interviewed and questioned about pronunciation of rhotics in their variety of Portuguese were not aware of this linguistic difference. On the other hand, higher socioeconomic status Santomeans who studied or worked abroad and who had come into contact with Portuguese or Brazilians had a greater metalinguistic awareness of this feature (Silverstein 1979, 1981). Here is an excerpt from my interview with Pilar who discusses rhotics in Santomean Portuguese.

But I think, I think that we have a particularity, we don’t differentiate the R when it’s one or two. [Hum. . .] Yeah, I think there is only one pronunciation. [Yeah. . .] Yeah. . . .Just like we say “car” (carro) the same way we say “cheap” (barato), for example. (Pilar, 44 years old)

Pilar refers to the phonemic contrast of rhotics. She suggests that there might be only one way to pronounce rhotics in Santomean Portuguese. To her, the word carro “car” (underlying strong-R, spelled with two <r>’s) and barato “cheap” (underlying weak-r, spelled with one <r>) can both be pronounced with the same type of rhotic, i.e., a strong-R. In this excerpt, Pilar pronounced both words with a strong-R, although barato “cheap” is usually pronounced [bɐɾatu] in European and Brazilian Portuguese. This suggests that there is a merger between strong-R and weak-r and that the phonemic contrast in intervocalic position might not exist anymore.  Interestingly, Pilar is one of the participants in this study that uses strong-R in weak-r positions more frequently. In order to understand why her use of strong-R is so distinctive, I questioned her about the Santomean accent (referring here to the rhotics) and identity:

M-E:    And the adults, you think they keep their accent unintentionally, or because they want to, as a form of identity?
Pilar:    The adults? That. . .there I think it’s like this. . .I think. . .that. . .when. . .if maybe they want to show that they’re in Portugal, things like that, they adopt the accent from there, but when not. . .at least in my case, nothing influenced me.

In Pilar’s opinion, some Santomeans adopt the European Portuguese accent in order to show that they are in or have been to Portugal. This certainly reflects the higher status attributed to European Portuguese. However, more subtly, Pilar’s explanation of the adaptation to European Portuguese also implies a certain lack of authenticity, when she proudly says that nothing influenced her speech.

In fact, speaking Santomean Portuguese is about being African rather than Portuguese or creole. It is important to note that Santomeans from the middle and lower socioeconomic class identify as African first, and not as Portuguese:

M-E:    Do Santomeans feel African?
Elzo:    Yes! We feel African, we identify with Africa, we feel, we feel African, we feel African. . . . And it’s a pride, right, to be African, right.  (Elzo, 50 years old)

As seen above, Pilar did not consider the distinctive use of rhotics to be problematic; however, it was distinct for most of the other participants who were aware that the Santomean distribution of rhotics was not identical to that of European Portuguese. In an interview with Marcelo, a 45-year-old Santomean who has also spent time abroad, other perspectives on rhotics can be seen:

M-E: One thing I noticed the first day I was here is the way that. . .that you pronounce
your R, but not everyone does it.
Marcelo: (Laughs!) Carregam nos R!
M-E: Yeah, you noticed?
Marcelo: (Laughs!) It’s possible, I have I think I have this problem of carregar nos R too. . . . I think it’s a bit of a defect of language.

Santomeans usually refer to the distinctive use of strong-R as carregar nos R. Carregar in this sense means “to turn stronger or more intense.” Marcelo considers this distinctive pronunciation of rhotics to be a “problem” and a “defect of language.” This represents the most common opinion expressed regarding the distribution of rhotic variants in the Portuguese spoken by Santomeans. However, it is important to point out how this idea that Santomean Portuguese is different in pronunciation comes from contact with speakers of other varieties of Portuguese. During my stay in São Tomé, I never heard a Santomean discussing, mocking, or criticizing another Santomean’s pronunciation of rhotics, except for a few who had lived abroad.

Some participants have tried different techniques to “remove” this pronunciation, as Alberto, a 32-year-old Santomean who studied in Brazil, did:

Alberto: I notice that I make my R stronger. . . . I tried, I did some exercises with friends who know about diction to try to remove this R, but then I stopped (laughs) and I gave up. . .
M-E: You thought it was something that needed to be corrected?
Alberto: I think so. . .I think so because. . .
M-E: Still today, you think this?
Alberto: I think that if it was easier to correct, I would have corrected it, but. . .because it’s something that I tried once, and twice, and it needed a bit more work, I didn’t insist on changing, if it was easy to change yes, but it’s not something that for me. . .it doesn’t bother me that much, it’s something that, you know, is kinda different.

Alberto knows there is something “different” about his pronunciation. He tried to change it but quit because it demanded too much effort. He now seems to accept the way he speaks.  However, this was not the case for all Santomeans interviewed. In the next section, I turn to the case of a young Santomean who felt discriminated against because of her use of rhotics.


Célia, a 27-year-old Santomean journalist, shared her views and experiences regarding her pronunciation of rhotics. Célia grew up in Riboque, a lower- to middle-class neighborhood that is centrally located in the city of São Tomé. Many people of lower socioeconomic status live there. In this area, the houses, which are made of wood and covered with a simple corrugated iron sheet, are very close one to another. The streets are busy, loud, full of kids running around, and people sit by their door to look at people walking by. Célia grew up in this area with her mother and her siblings. She has spent her entire life in São Tomé City, where she attended primary school, high school, and university. She has never travelled outside the island of São Tomé. According to Célia, her social environment and origin explain her pronunciation of rhotics:

I come from a very poor social circle and I didn’t have any contact with people who speak Portuguese from Portugal [yeah] so my mom speaks like this, my sisters speak like this, people close to me, my family speaks like this, my partner does not though because he lived in Cuba for a long time [ok] so his pronunciation changed and everything, so I think that Santomeans who are Santomeans, especially the ones from a low social circle, a lower social class, that. . .who never traveled outside São Tomé, who never had any other kind of interaction and all, direct interaction [yes] they talk like me.

Interestingly, Célia links this distinctive pronunciation of rhotics to Santomean identity (“Santomeans who are Santomeans”), more specifically to Santomeans from a lower socioeconomic status who have not interacted with speakers of Portuguese who are not Santomean. For the purposes of clarity, there is a need to nuance Célia’s words. In my opinion, Célia is part of the growing Santomean middle class. Her mother used to be a palaiê (seller at the market). Eventually, her mother became a small business owner and she now earns a better living. Célia has a high level of education, even though she did not study abroad – an opportunity which is deemed more prestigious. She has a good job working as a journalist. She acknowledges in the interview that her life now is better than when she was a child. I consider her to be part of the emerging middle-class of São Tomé and Príncipe, and yet, regardless of her qualification and status, Célia is still questioned about her identity based on her pronunciation.

When Célia and I met, she said she was a bit nervous because she thought I wanted to talk to her about her “pronunciation”. I was a bit surprised, so I asked why. She answered that she had been criticized on the Facebook page of the web-journal she works for because of her pronunciation:

It was a Brazilian man, he commented that the journalist had a French accent. After, other people who are Santomeans said no, that she doesn’t have a French accent, she is Santomean. . . . Another said that I speak like this because of our creole Forro [yeah] but another came and answered that I speak like this simply because I speak badly (laughs).

After this interview with her, I found on Facebook the discussions she referred to during the interview (Figure 2).

Figure 2. First excerpt from a Facebook page discussing Célia’s speech

M: The reporter needs to go back to school, she speaks very badly.
H: Why does the reporter have a French accent? Very weird.
J: We Santomeans have this “half”-French accent because of our “dialect.”
H: I haven’t seen other interviewees with an accent like the one of the reporter. Well. . . . If you’re from there and say that’s how it is, who am I to think it’s not.
A: French accent? Since when does our creole remind people of a French accent?  I’ve been living in France for 8 years, and sorry but I know the two accents very well and they are totally different.

It is unclear where the first person (M) is from, but the second one (H) is Brazilian, and the two answering (J and A) are Santomeans. In this Facebook interaction, the different people discussed the quality of Célia’s language (“she speaks very badly”, “why does the reporter have a French accent? Very weird”), and the origin of her accent. One person asks why she has a French accent. One Santomean suggests that it is because of the influence of Forro on Portuguese, and another Santomean who lives in France disagrees and comments that Forro and French accents are totally different. This was the first time that Célia was criticized because of her speech. However, a few days later, people commented on Célia’s accent again on Facebook (Figure 3), and this time she felt very offended:

What really offended me is something from two weeks ago, I did an interview with a lady and then I did a story about the STP Music Award, you know, the contest?  [Yes, yes.]  I did an interview about that and a video, and the Facebook page of the STP Music Award shared the news and somebody saw it, a lady even a young lady, she commented “this journalist, gee, for heaven’s sake, she didn’t do justice to this story, she has phonetic deviation, she urgently needs speech therapy”, I saw that and I was so so hurt, I was really hurt, I was even going to write something to send the person but because I also show my colleague first, he said “Ah [Célia], don’t do that you’ll start an argument, so don’t do it”, I breathed deeply and I let it go but since then I’m so worried I spend my time on the Internet looking for exercises for phonetic deviation, I saw something about putting a pen in your mouth, saying “ma ma mi mi mi” (laughs) for real I saw that (laughs).

Figure 3. Second excerpt from a Facebook page discussing Célia’s speech

G: This journalist, for heaven’s sake, she does not have what is needed for this news report, good public speaker skills, on the contrary, she suffers from an important phonetic deviation, she urgently needs good intensive speech therapy.
N: I loved this a lot.

The person who wrote this comment is a Santomean living abroad. She criticized Célia for her “bad public speaking skills” and her “phonetic deviation,” and because of this pronunciation, G. does not consider her qualified to be a journalist. This comment highlights how negative the ideologies surrounding this pronunciation of the rhotics can be.

These comments were hurtful to Célia, as they criticized her speech, her sense of personhood, but also herself as a journalist; they made her insecure about her accent. She now feels ashamed of her pronunciation, and would prefer to speak as the Portuguese do, as illustrated in the following three excerpts:

I didn’t know I admit that I didn’t know that I spoke like this [ok] I really didn’t have any idea that I spoke like this, I only realized it when I started to work at STP News.iv I’m ashamed of the way I speak right now, I’m ashamed. I think I prefer to speak the way the Portuguese speak just to see if people will leave me alone, but I can’t keep it up.

Célia’s position as a public figure makes her more exposed to criticism. It is this criticism that made her self-conscious of her “accent,” of which she is now “ashamed.” She would prefer to speak European Portuguese not because she likes it better but rather to stop criticisms about her accent. Célia also reports that Santomeans who are abroad suffer from criticisms as well when in Portugal:

My colleague, we were talking about pronunciation again the day before yesterday, he went to Portugal at the end of last year to study, to do his bachelor, and he said that his Portuguese teacher said that we Santomeans speak in a very weird way, but the tone that she used to say that, he didn’t like it [yeah]. He felt that she was belittling the way we speak [yeah]. The teacher made him so mad, but not as much as another friend who has been living in Portugal for a while did and who speaks like Portuguese do [hum. . .]. He was surprised by how my friend speaks, in a way that made my friend really angry because on top of telling him that he speaks differently, he also told him that he makes his R much stronger in a weird way [ok]. My friend got more upset with this colleague who is Santomean exactly because he is Santomean.  He used to speak like this before getting out of here, and only because he’s there now he speaks like the Portuguese do (laughs). He’s acting like that [yeah].  I don’t know, people tend to do that, right.

Célia’s friend disliked the teacher’s comments regarding his speech, but he disliked it even more when the same comment came from a Santomean colleague. Why would a comment from another Santomean be more frustrating than from someone who is Portuguese? It is as if this pronunciation was a marker of santomensidade, of being Santomean. In that case, the friend’s comment was an act of inauthenticity. Rejecting Santomean pronunciation is akin to denying his roots, a part of his culture, a part of his santomensidade.

In the excerpts from this case study, we have seen that Célia links the use of strong-R to a shared sense of national identity and socioeconomic status. However, it is not so straightforward, as some Santomeans from a higher socioeconomic status who have lived abroad (Pilar and Marcelo presented above, for instance) do “draw out” the R, while other Santomeans who have never travelled outside the island do not. Even so, Santomeans, like Célia, and non-Santomeans, such as Célia’s friend’s teacher in Portugal, associate this feature with being Santomeans. I suggest that this emerging feature in the speech of Santomean is becoming a marker of Santomean Portuguese, and at the same time, of santomensidade.


The information obtained from the interviews make it possible to draw several conclusions in relation to the questions posed in this study. The first question is concerned with the perspective of Santomeans toward language use and change. Irvine and Gal’s (2000) semiotic processes were used to look at the Santomean reality and showed how Portuguese became associated with being the “good language” and creoles, with being the “bad languages.” With such beliefs, parents prefer to socialize their children in Portuguese, hoping to offer their children a better future. This may explain in part why the majority of Santomeans speak Portuguese today and why the use of creole languages is receding. This iconization process is reproduced within the Santomean variety of Portuguese, with people considering the speech of urban Santomeans (which is less influenced by its contact with creole) to be “better” than the speech of rural Santomeans. In the narratives of the interviewees, little attention has been given to their own variety of Portuguese, which I suggest emerged covertly between the creoles and European Portuguese. The speech of the Santomean middle-class does not fit into the well-known dichotomies from the past, but it is this variety of Portuguese that is unconsciously being attached to national identity.

This brings me to the second research question, how are language ideologies interrelated with national identity and use of rhotics in Santomean Portuguese? Results from this study show that the rhotics are a feature that can be mapped onto socioeconomic status and national distinctiveness, and that using a strong-R in weak-r positions is a marker of santomensidade. The older generations, the ones born before the independence of the country, use strong-R the least and tend to consider Santomean Portuguese to be errado “wrong”. Conversely, the younger generations use strong-R the most and show pride in their variety of Portuguese as illustrated in the following two excerpts:

Well, many people say that the right Portuguese is the one spoken in Portugal. . . . [Hum hum. . .Do you agree with that?]  No, I don’t agree.  [Why?]  Because I even noticed that they don’t speak that well there. . . .[Ok.]  I think people believe that the best Portuguese is spok. . .is the one spoken there [Hum hum. . .] because it comes from there. . .we speak Portuguese, but it doesn’t mean that the best Portuguese comes from there. (Michel, 22 years old)

I find São Tomé Portuguese, Santomeans, very clear, [more] than the Portuguese from. . .from. . .from Portugal, yeah. Yeah. . .the Santomean person expresses himself/herself well. . .words like, clear, with no difficulty, with no difficulty at all because who can’t understand them is someone who is not used with Portuguese, you know?  I think that it’s a very clear Portuguese, and. . .it’s my land, I can only answer with my Portuguese, because of course, I’m not gonna say that Portuguese from Brazil is a good Portuguese! (Maria, 31 years old)

These two young Santomeans hold their variety of Portuguese in high regard in comparison to other varieties of Portuguese. Thus, what does it mean today to be Santomean? What is the link between languages and identity in São Tomé and Príncipe? Very little has been written about Santomean identity by Santomeans, and the little information that does exist appears quite pessimistic. The literature refers to the national creoles as being an intrinsic element of Santomean culture and identity. However, it also criticizes both the preference that Santomeans have for what comes from outside their nation rather than inside it, as well as the undefined nature of their identity (Bragança, 2012; Costa, 2016). I agree with these authors in the sense that the Santomean identity is still under construction, but I also believe that Santomean Portuguese is the language that is slowly becoming attached to Santomean identity. There is still nostalgia for the past and the creole languages, as if they embodied the Santomean identity as opposed to the Portuguese of the colonizers. Now that the colonizers are gone and have left their language as a trace of their long stay on the islands, Santomeans are becoming a nation, a Portuguese-speaking nation, with its own variety of Portuguese.


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1 The term “creole” is still problematic to creolists (Kouwenberg & Singler 2011). But most creolists recognize that creole languages develop in contact situations that involve more than two languages, and that they are native languages (Thomason 2001). The creoles of São Tomé and Príncipe are Portuguese-based creoles, which means that their lexicons were mainly drawn from Portuguese.



2 Refer to Smedley and Smedley (2011) who examined the evolution of the concept of race and how we came to believe that our societies were composed of unequal human groups.



3 I also include in this paper a few excerpts of interviews I did with Santomeans who live outside the capital. I call them “external informants”, and two of them are included in this paper. Their inclusion in my analysis is helpful to understand the contrast between urban and rural Santomeans.



4 STP News is a fictitious name for the journal where Célia works.

Editorial 2(1): Opening scholarship and rethinking peer review

Volume 2(1): 2018

ALISON CRUMP (Senior Managing Editor), McGill University
LAUREN HALCOMB-SMITH (Managing Editor), Royal Roads University

In his book, The Access Principle, Willinsky (2006) identified the year 2003 as the breakthrough for the open access (OA) movement. Fifteen years after the OA breakthrough, we can see the impact of this movement on high-level policies governing academic publishing and throughout the publishing landscape. For instance, the Canadian Tri-Agency now requires that publicly-funded research be published in open access journals (Government of Canada, 2016). We have also seen the emergence of software to help manage online and open source journals (e.g., OSJ – Open Source Journal) and seen journals transition from print-only to online-only journals. As Eve (2014) argued, however, “there is nothing in the concept of open access that means anything must be done differently except to lower price and permission barriers to research” (p. 137). This is seen, for instance, in Willinsky’s definition of the access principle, that “[a] commitment to the value and quality of research carries with it a responsibility to extend the circulation of such work as far as possible and ideally to all who are interested in it and all who might profit by it” (p. xii). In this editorial, we focus on how we can leverage technology in academic publishing to extend the principle of open access toward a principle of open scholarship. Beyond open access, our view of open scholarship is collaborative and transparent, rather than anonymous and potentially adversarial. Open scholarship, we argue, is changing how we produce and share knowledge. We focus on two aspects of J-BILD—the online platform and the collaborative peer mentoring model—that align with our vision of open scholarship.

When planning to launch the Journal of Belonging, Identity, Language, and Diversity (J-BILD), we explored several options for publishing platforms, the most obvious one being OJS (Open Journal Software). This federally-funded software provides editors, reviewers, and authors with a secure backend for managing submissions and an anonymous peer review process. We did not need this functionality for J-BILD because we do not do anonymous peer review of manuscripts. Instead, we use Google docs to allow authors and members of the editorial team to work collaboratively on developing manuscripts for publication (more on this shortly). Because we didn’t need a system to manage anonymous submissions, J-BILD is self-hosted with WordPress, a platform that gives us aesthetic flexibility as well as something most journals within our field do not offer: the ability to comment on published articles. While we have not seen comments on J-BILD articles yet, we are excited about giving readers the option to connect with authors and provide feedback on what they are reading because doing so allows conversations about research to happen more freely and openly than traditional publishing often allows. These ideas of free and open scholarly conversations tie back to our beginnings as a blog with the Belonging, Identity, Language, and Diversity (BILD) community. It is our view that open scholarship is more than open access. It involves opening lines of communication and inviting public dialogue about published research. It also means making the process of producing published research (that is, through peer review) a personal and collaborative one, rather than one masked in “blind” objectivity.

In founding a journal on the principles of open scholarship, we have taken inspiration from Eve (2014), who reminded us that “shifts in publication practice allow us the space to rethink peer review and other practices and to ask whether there are analogous changes, facilitated either socially or technologically, that could be worth exploring at this time of transition” (p. 137). Like Eve, we challenge the traditional model of peer review as the gold standard in academic publishing and have joined a small, but growing community of scholars who are breaking down the practice of double-blind review (e.g., CJNSE; eLife; Hybrid Pedagogy) and taking away what is sometimes an unconstructive atmosphere. We are also avoiding using the ableist language in the term blind review. We recognize that anonymized peer review “works on a series of unspoken ideological assumptions that are never wholly objective and apolitical” (Eve, 2014, p. 139). By challenging the condition of anonymity in peer review, we have developed a model for J-BILD much like the one Jesse Stommel uses for Hybrid Pedagogy, which focuses on building community through collaborative peer mentoring (Linder, 2018).

We have not, however, shirked the idea that a manuscript should be reviewed by more than one person. Each J-BILD manuscript benefits from the feedback of at least three people: peer mentors do several rounds of feedback with authors, focusing primarily on argument structure and content; copy editors do a second review and a closer edit of grammar, references, and formatting; senior copy editors do a final review and formatting check. Authors are closely involved with the editorial team during each of these feedback cycles, and everyone’s identities are known to one another. This collaborative peer mentoring is done entirely on Google docs, which allows multiple people to access and edit the same document. As managing editors, we are also involved throughout the process. For example, peer mentors or copy editors can flag us in a comment, which sends us an email notification that our attention is needed on a manuscript to resolve a question or issue. Because peer mentors and copy editors have the opportunity to work back and forth with authors, this can improve the quality of their feedback. We have heard from peer mentors that this is a more satisfying experience than doing anonymous reviews, one that encourages a greater sense of investment in the research and the final publication.

Another aspect of the collaborative peer mentoring model that contributes to open scholarship is the quick turnaround time our model allows; we are often able to publish manuscripts within six months to a year of their submission. This is entirely due to the extremely engaged and dedicated members of our editorial team, who we feel are so committed because of the interpersonal connections they make and the investment they feel in helping move an author’s work towards publication. In our view, it is extremely important to recognize the people who contribute to a single issue, which we do as an ongoing practice through our interactions with our editorial team, and through collaborative decision making and input on editorial processes and procedures. We also list their names on the same webpage as the issue they have contributed to. This, we hope, will help address the peer reviewer fatigue—that is, the difficulty in finding reviewers for submissions—that some journals experience. Because of the relatively short timeline for publishing a manuscript, authors are able to bring current research and scholarship to the community, which can allow for dialogue that is fresh enough for authors to use the ideas generated to further their research. This has the potential to enrich the quality of research, expand the reach of knowledge, and of course, build community.

We see open scholarship as grounded in the open access movement, thus it is important to acknowledge some issues with OA. First, open access does not mean universal access; there remain barriers, such as language and connectivity barriers (Suber, 2012). Open access also does not mean free. There are many costs associated with producing scholarship; however, in the world of academic publishing, many of these costs are subsumed under the umbrella of “service.” J-BILD, for example, has no fees for authors and operates on an annual budget of about $100 (fees for hosting the WordPress site and for our domain name) and a tremendous number of volunteer hours, not just ours but from the entire editorial team, including the peer mentors, copy editors, senior copy editors, and web developer.

Publishing an online journal that is also open access is changing how knowledge is produced and shared. It is also changing how people read, for instance, by encouraging more critical engagement with reading because readers can click hyperlinks and check sources and have access to more complete data sets (Willinsky, 2006). An area that has not been fully explored in the field of Applied Linguistics is the integration of digital tools, methods, and media in publications. As a field, we could draw some inspiration from work being done in the field of Digital Humanities, where this practice is far more advanced (see, for example, Vectors Journal, which explores the intersections of technology and social relations). We expect that the J-BILD model will continue to evolve over time as authors begin to embrace the affordances of new media and produce texts that are more multimodal.  We hope to continue to push the boundaries of open scholarship and to encourage new kinds of authors and new kinds of conversations in open spaces.


We received 15 submissions for our second issue. We are pleased to be publishing eight manuscripts–five recent research projects and three critical literature reviews.

Research Studies

Marie-Eve Bouchard presents the results of her study of the ideologies that surround the use of rhotics in the Santomean variety of Portuguese in her article, titled “A distinctive use of R as a marker of Santomean identity.” Bouchard presents and discusses data generated through sociolinguistic interviews to show how the distinctive use of rhotics is becoming a marker of Santomean national identity, particularly among younger Santomeans who grew up after the independence of the country and among those who expresses pride in the Santomean variety of Portuguese.

Timothy Loh, author of “‘Maybe Jesus knows Sign’: Resistance through identity formation,” presents the results of anthropological research exploring how Deaf Christians negotiate their identities as members of two distinct identity groups: Deaf and Christian. Contextualizing his research within historical events over the last 50 years, Loh presents his analysis and interpretation of data generated through ethnographic field work to argue that Deaf Christian identity formation does not necessarily include a conflict between deafness and Christianity, but rather a resistance against historically-rooted narratives in Christianity that relate to deafness as a deficit. Loh further argues and demonstrates that Deaf Christians use language and communication to index and reinforce their identity as Deaf Christians.

“Spanish Language Ecosystems in New Mexico and their Impact on Spanish Language Learners,” by Sarah O’Brien, explores how U.S. students’ receptiveness to Spanish language learning is impacted by the social perceptions of the language that exist within their surrounding community. O’Brien shares the results recent research within three school districts in New Mexico, where she generated data through mixed-methods over a period of seven months. Through her interpretation and discussion of these data, O’Brien explores the stratified views held by members of the school communities, specifically related to ideologies of language related to learning and speaking Spanish, concluding with a number of language planning suggestions for improving outcomes for Spanish language learners.

“Navigating Competing Identities through Stance-Taking: Migration, Class, and Nation,” by Elizabeth Peacock, presents the results of ethnographic research on Ukrainian teenagers’ use of stance-taking on issues of migration as a means of aligning or disalinging themselves in interactions with others. Grounded in stance theory, Peacock’s paper seeks to address limitations in the existing body of research related to the ways in which individuals take up stances in everyday interactions. Through her analysis and interpretation of qualitative data generated through group discussion, Peacock makes links between stance-taking and social identities as they relate to socioeconomic class and migration in Ukraine, revealing the broader views held by Ukrainian teenagers on migration.

Gregory Tweedie and Robert Johnson, authors of “Listening instruction and patient safety: Exploring Medical English as a lingua franca (MELF) for nursing education,” present the results of a recent student exploring Medical English as a lingua franca (MELF). Specifically, the authors look at the intelligibility of interactions using MELF and its implications on patient safety. Through their analysis and discussion of mixed-methods data, the authors argue that intelligibility can have implications on patient safety, concluding their paper with recommendations related to language education of nursing professionals in sociolinguistic contexts where MELF is used.

Critical Literature Reviews

“L’enseignement du français chez les Premières Nations d’hier à aujourd’hui: Enjeux didactiques, pratiques pédagogiques et perspective interculturelle,” by Nancy Crepeau and Carole Fleuret, takes a critical stance to explore the pedagogical foundations at the origins of current French-language teaching practices in Quebec. In particular, the authors focus on the implications of current teaching practices on students from First Nations backgrounds and identify issues related to learners’ language repertoire, academic achievement, and plurilingual competence. The authors conclude their review with recommendations for the future.

In his paper, titled, “A case for policy analysis in minority language discourse: A critical literature review,” Taylor Ellis explores Indigenous language revitalization in educational contexts. Beginning with a critical review of linguistic diversity metaphors, such as language-as-resource (Ruiz, 1984) and language ecology (Hornberger, 2002), as well as specific case examples from around the world, Ellis problematizes and highlights the issues inherent to the language-as-resource model as a whole.

Hailey Iacono presents “Designing opportunities to support pre-service teachers in noticing and understanding how to position students competently: An overview of supporting literature.” Iacono frames her critical literature review within the context of recent educational reforms, specifically as they relate to the mathematics classroom, and limitations in the scope of teacher educational programs. Through her exploration of the literature, Iacono successfully highlights several guiding principles to address such limitations, ultimately making the argument that more research on teacher noticing of interactions relating to positioning students competently is needed.


 Eve, M. P. (2014). Open access and the humanities: Contexts, controversies and the future. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Government of Canada (2016). Tri-agency open access policy on publications. Retrieved from,

Hornberger, N. H. (2002). Multilingual language policies and the continua of biliteracy: An ecological approach. Language Policy, 1(1), 27–51.

Linder, K. (2018, Feb. 19). Dr. Jesse Stommel on founding a journal. Retrieved from,

Ruíz, R. (1984). Orientations in language planning. NABE: The Journal for the National Association for Bilingual Education, 8(2), 15-34.

Suber, P. (2012). Open access. Cambridge, MA, and London, UK: The MIT Press.

Willinsky, J. (2006). The access principle: The case for open access to research and scholarship. Cambridge, MA, and London, UK: The MIT Press.