Separate and flexible bilingualism in complementary schools: Multiple language practices in interrelationship


Creese A, Blackledge A, Baraç T, Bhatt A, Hamid S, Wei L, Lytra V, Martin P, Wu C & Yağcioğlu D (2011) Separate and flexible bilingualism in complementary schools: Multiple language practices in interrelationship. Journal of Pragmatics, 43 (5), pp. 1196-1208.

Sociolinguists have long recognized that language is a social construct, and have found elusive any firm definition of what constitutes a language in relation to overlapping varieties. On the other hand, it is long established that language is recruited by nations, communities and individuals for its symbolic value and distinctiveness. Whereas the first of these positions views language as fluid and changing, with permeable boundaries, the second stresses the fixed, rigid nature of language. This paper describes how these two positions are played out in the multilingual contexts of four English cities, in complementary schools where young students learn Bengali, Cantonese, Gujarati, Mandarin, and Turkish. In the research reported here we observed a broad range of multilingual practices across a variety of settings in schools, and at the boundaries of school and home. From these practices we identify two seemingly contradictory positions in relation to participants' bilingualism: an ideology which argues for 'language separation' and one in which 'flexible bilingualism' flourishes as a practice. These two positions can be said to illustrate the dynamic tension described in sociolinguistic research, which has often viewed language as fluid and overlapping, while at the same time acknowledging language as a social construct which demarcates and reifies identities. The paper looks at how students and teachers simultaneously lived both 'separate' and 'flexible' positions, and navigated between them interactively and discursively. Our analysis suggests that relations between 'language' and 'ideology' are far from straightforward for the young people and teachers in complementary schools. The heteroglossic reality of multilingual practice, with its flexible movement across and between 'languages', is underpinned by the social structures of which such interactions are a part.

Bilingualism; culture; language; heritage; heteroglossia; translanguaging;

Journal of Pragmatics: Volume 43, Issue 5

FundersUniversity of Birmingham
Publication date30/04/2011
Publication date online19/11/2010
Date accepted by journal05/10/2010