Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The power of English and academic literacy: Students' perceptions and theoretical, political, and pedagogical implications. A case study of students at the University of KwaZulu -Natal
by Parmegiani, Andrea, Ph.D., City University of New York, 2009, 215; 3349500
Abstract (Summary)

My dissertation seeks to problematize widespread assumptions about language ownership in the context of post-apartheid South Africa, a country where English proficiency is a precondition for professional employment, political participation, and often, academic success, despite the fact that less than 10% of the population speaks English as a first language. My argument is based on a critical literature review and a case study.

Chapter I provides an excursus on the fundamental conceptual tools of analysis (language, power, identity, and discourse) and is followed by a historical overview of how language and identity have been used to define and challenge power relations in South Africa. I discuss the discrepancy between South Africa’s language policy and practice and I review the literature produced by theorists who have engaged in a critical discourse about the power of English. I show how the limitations of these theories can be ascribed to the “birthright paradigm,” or a set of assumptions about language, power and identity that restrict language ownership to the native speakers of a language. I suggest an alternative model for understanding language ownership built on the assumption that additional languages can be fully appropriated.

Chapter II discusses my research methodology, which comprises a questionnaire, ethnographic observations, and in-depth interviews. My research questions look at black South African students’ language practices, their attitudes towards language ownership, and towards language policies.

Chapter III presents my findings and Chapter IV discusses their epistemological, political, and pedagogical implications. Epistemologically, the assumptions of the birthright paradigm do not do justice to the complex socio-linguistic reality of black South Africans such as the students in my sample, who have taken ownership of English as an additional language in various ways. Politically, the birthright paradigm reifies the linguicist effects of English as a dominant language and the power of English to function as a proxy for race for maintaining inequality. Ironically, the birthright paradigm also impedes the promotion of marginalized indigenous languages. From a pedagogical point of view, questioning the birthright paradigm can help students exercise discursive ownership as they appropriate the dominant language.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Kruger, Steven
Commitee: Canagarajah, Suresh, Mlynarczyk, Rebecca, Perl, Sondra
School: City University of New York
Department: English
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 70/02, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Bilingual education, Linguistics, Rhetoric
Keywords: Academic literacy, English, English education, English in South Africa, Langauge ownership, Language and identity, Language policy, Power of English, South Africa, University of KwaZulu-Natal
Publication Number: 3349500
ISBN: 978-1-109-05266-4
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