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Academic Paper

Title: Orientations to English in post-apartheid schooling
Author: Carolyn McKinney
Linguistic Field: Sociolinguistics
Abstract: As Voloshinov has famously argued, ‘the word is the most sensitive index of social changes, and what is more, of changes still in the process of growth’ (Voloshinov, 1986: 19). Scrutiny of young people's discourses on language together with their language practices offers us a window into a society in transition, such as present-day South Africa. This article examines the language ideologies and language practices of Black youth attending previously White, now desegregated, suburban schools in South African cities, important spaces for the production of an expanding Black middle class (Soudien, 2004). Due to their resourcing during apartheid (both financial and human) previously White schools are aligned with quality education and perceived as strategic sites for the acquisition and maintenance of a prestige variety of South African English. This article looks at how mainly African girls (15–16 years) position themselves in relation to English, drawing on data collected using ethnographic approaches in four desegregated schools in South African cities: three in Johannesburg, Gauteng and one in Cape Town, Western Cape. The discussion focuses on two significant themes: English and the [re]production of race; and the place of English in young people's linguistic repertoires. My aim is to show how African youth in desegregated schools orient themselves to English and what their language ideologies and language practices might tell us about macro social processes, including the (re)constitution of race in South Africa. Schooling, as Bourdieu points out, is one of the most important sites for social reproduction and is thus also one of the key sites, ‘which imposes the legitimate forms of discourse and the idea that discourse should be recognised if and only if it conforms to the legitimate norms’ (Bourdieu, 1977: 650). However, co-present with processes of reproduction are practices that work to subvert and unsettle dominant discourses. Suburban desegregated schools are thus productive sites for the re-making of cultural practices (including language) and identities.


This article appears IN English Today Vol. 29, Issue 1, which you can READ on Cambridge's site or on LINGUIST .

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