Creating a dynamic contact zone: An undergraduate English course as multilingual pedagogic space

September 2009
English Teaching: Practice & Critique (University of Waikato);Sep2009, Vol. 8 Issue 2, p54
Academic Journal
This article explores how a linguistically diverse, subject English class can become a multilingual contact zone in which naturalised linguistic identities are made visible and interrogated. The research is situated in a highly diverse, educational context -- Wits School of Education in Johannesburg, South Africa. This is framed by a society in which English occupies a hegemonic position despite there being eleven official languages. Our students come from a variety of linguistic, cultural and social contexts and are currently compelled to do a compulsory year of subject English as part of an undergraduate degree in an institution where the medium of instruction is English. Within these constraints, we attempt to construct a pedagogic environment in which students' various language histories and practices are invited into the discursive space -- not as medium of communication but as valued subject matter. Drawing on Blommaert, Collins and Slembrouck's spatial theorisation of multilingualism (2005), we argue that the pedagogy of the course in question constitutes the classroom as a discursive space which enables students to negotiate their linguistic identities in various ways. While presented as an English course, it seeks to construct multilingualism as a resource and prioritises students' own language experiences by having them write personal language biographies in which they reflect on their linguistic identities. We use a selection of the students' language biographies to explore how these speak to the ways in which students position themselves in relation to the regimes of language constituted by the course.


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