Language Practices and Identity Construction in Racially Desegregated Urban Multilingual South African Classroom Settings
Pinky Makoe

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



University of South Africa

Primary Discipline

Literacy and/or English/Language Education
Existing research on language policy, ideologies and practices in a variety of educational contexts, shows an increasing hegemony of English and monolingual ideologies amid cultural and linguistic super-diversity. Diversity and difference are often seen as problematic in education contexts around the world, even though research continues to show that multilingualism/multiculturalism is the norm. This study will focus on language practices and identity construction in multilingual educational contexts in South Africa, investigating the extent to which day-to-day school practices (i.e. in and outside of classroom settings) reflect the diversity of learners. The enquiry will be situated in the context of early education (i.e. Grade 1-3) in post-apartheid South Africa (SA), with a specific focus on the changing environment of previously racially segregated suburban classrooms which now cater for predominantly black population of children. In particular, the project seeks to investigate the various linguistic resources (repertories, registers, varieties, styles) which multilingual learners use to negotiate selves in the classrooms and school contexts. Due to historical and political inequalities experienced during the apartheid era in the SA society, education continues to be an ideological context in which hegemonic practices including knowledge, language, values are produced and reproduced. Thus the proposed study also aims to explore the kinds of relationships between language and identity that are embedded in both discourses and practices. More specifically, what assumptions/discourses about diversity exist in schools as social institutions and structures, how are those reflected or inculcated in everyday activities, and how do they determine or construct the kinds identity options that are made available to learners at particular times and places? I will answer these questions by collecting a body of data, including field notes, non-participant observation notes, notes of discussions with the teachers and video data of communicative events and practices within the school context.The study will contribute both empirically and theoretically to current debates in applied linguistics, and sociolinguistics, on language ideologies especially with reference to the complexities of the language practices of late-modern urban speakers in cosmopolitan settings who employ a wide range of linguistic and semiotic resources, in sophisticated and seamless ways (e.g. Bailey 2012; Otsuji and Pennycook 2010; Moll, Neffe and González 1992; Gutièrrez, Baquedano-López, Alvarez and Chiu 1999). Through this research I hope to show that the kinds of resources that learners use in and out of formal classrooms not only serve to redefine the cultural practices of suburban schooling, but also show agency. Ultimately, the outcomes of the project will be used to make recommendation on how to create educational spaces where multiple meaning-making resources and multilingual identities can be valorised and used in contexts of cultural and linguistic superdiversity.
About Pinky Makoe
Pinky Makoe is an Associate Professor in the English Studies Department at the University of South Africa (UNISA). She holds of a Ph.D. from the Institute of Education, University of London. She is interested in how children, particularly English language learners, are socialized into the dominant cultural and linguistic practices in the early years of formal schooling. Through her research, Pinky aims to contribute to our understanding of how institutional language policies and practices affect children’s opportunities to learn. Pinky’s research has appeared in Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, English Academy Review, English Teaching: Practice and Critique, and Journal of African Children’s and Youth Development, among others. Her current research interests include the politics of English, language ideologies, issues of class and identity; hybrid and heteroglossic discourse practices in culturally and linguistically diverse school settings.

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