30 March 2017

Project Description

Funded by the FNRS (PDR T.0091.16, 2016-2020) and the ULB/Brussels-Wallonia Federation (Action de recherche concertée, 2016-2019), this project sets out to describe and understand how teachers reconcile the irreconcilable: it explores how teachers in heteroglossic urban schools implement linguistic policies predicated on a monoglossic view of education, social mobility and society. In particular it analyses (1) how teachers articulate a monolingual policy; (2) if and to what extent teachers are responsive to linguistic diversity; and (3) which conditions facilitate these articulations and responses.

Sociolinguistic research has thusfar been much engaged in analysing the complications that arise in contemporary urban schools, where teachers have to implement monolingual policies in sometimes abundantly heteroglossic contexts. The bulk of attention has tended to prioritize pupils’ tactics however, and has been less concerned with teachers’ varying strategies, or only when these strategies serve to criticize official linguistic regulations. Such preferences risk leaving unexplained responses to policy that scholars find disagreeable, and they sit uncomfortably with research that contends that varied, ad hoc responses to policy are to be expected, especially when policy creates contradictions. This project therefore proposes a sociolinguistic analysis of teachers’ diverse implementations of language policy, regardless of their desirability, in four Belgian secondary schools. The project’s goals are to analyse [1] how linguistic diversity is policed, allowed or encouraged; [2] what form teachers’ language use has in and out of class; [3] which attitudes prevail in these contexts; and [4] to what extent language management, form and attitudes are conducive to a working consensus in class. Methodologically this project will be linguistic-ethnographic in nature, with a focus on long-term participant observation, audio-recording and interviews to obtain local perspectives that are difficult to find via approaches focusing on explicit claims for evidence. The project in this way aims to fill a significant empirical gap in the sociolinguistics of urban education, and to inject public debate over language policy and education with a realistic account of contemporary teaching.