Shifting language Attitudes in a linguistically diverse learning environment in South Africa

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Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development

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Taylor & Francis


University of Cape Town

This paper draws on post-structuralist theories on language and identity to explore the shifting language attitudes of 15 'black' students over the course of their undergraduate studies at a historically 'white' South African university. All the students speak an indigenous language as their first language. Those students who have been educated in racially mixed schools are relatively at ease in the environment and are able to straddle racial and linguistic boundaries. Those who have been educated in working-class, ethnically homogenous schools enter the institution with a strong desire to preserve their home languages and home identities. For them, English is equated with 'whiteness'. The paper describes the process through which this equation is questioned as English and institutional discourses become more dominant in students' lives, and as relationships with their home communities become strained. By the time the students enter their senior undergraduate years, a shared speech code emerges. The authors argue that this code signals students' dual affiliation to English (and the cultural capital it represents) and to their home identities. In mixing languages across boundaries of school background and across traditional ethnic barriers, the code also signals students' shared group identity as first-generation university students in post-Apartheid South Africa.

This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in the Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development on 22 December 2008, available online: