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Linguistic identity and social cohesion in three Western Cape schools
Language is foundational to issues of belonging in contemporary South Africa. The country’s colonial and apartheid history facilitated the differential development and privileging of particular languages alongside the project of racial capitalism (Alexander, 1989). Educational arrangements were affected by these developments because of how black South Africans were economically and socially limited by rudimentary exposure to the primary languages of access (English and Afrikaans). This study argues that this history is what currently influences the movement of black South Africans into the schools they were historically excluded from in former coloured, Indian and white areas, and further that this movement is also encouraged by the promise of greater access to and development in the English language (Fataar, 2015). It suggests that the persisting status of English as lingua franca across state, educational and cultural communications and products requires teaching that is sensitive to the historical relationship of the language to the underdevelopment and undervaluation of local linguistic forms. Moreover, the subject English and its embedded values and norms (included in the compulsory texts and textbook) is a critical area of enquiry for thinking through issues of social cohesion and belonging. Through case studies of three Cape Town teachers, this study argues that a range of influences affect how language and meaning are constructed in English classrooms, and that learners experience these influences to their own identities in different and often conflicting ways.
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