Abstract: Within the last several years, researchers working with linguistic minority children have focused increasingly on the development of the types of language proficiencies that are required to perfonn successfully in academic contexts. Most practitioners and researchers agree that, in order to succeed in schools, such learners must be given the opportunity to acquire academic, rather than everyday, language. Unfortua nately, in spite of the growing interest in the kind of language that will result in school success, we currently lack a single definition Of even general agreement about what is meant by academic language. This paper examines the conflicting definitions and conceptualisations of academic language and argues that limited understandings of bilingualism and of the linguistic demands made by academic interactions will lead to the continued segregation of linguistic minority children even after they have reached a level of stable bilingualism.
there is currently no agreed-upon definition of either academic English or academic language in general. While this has been discouraging and problematic for many researchers and practitioners within the second-language leaching profession, what is significant is that a number of related professions are engaging in the examination of what they understand to be academic language and inquiring about its role in the school success of all children.
In the case of academic English, the discussion of many significant and important issues is taking place in a context in which the response of both the community of scholarly specialists and members of the public (including spedal interest organisations, news media, parents, teachers, administrators, policy makers) are anticipated.
ideological context hegemonic voices, hegemonic voices, public sphere, scholarly sphere
Hegemonic voices argue for teaching the standard language to the underprivileged, while counter- hegemonic voices argue that insisting on the standard will only continue to maintain the position of the powerful who already speak the privileged variety of the language. p14 ['standard language ideology']
Standard English as a highly charged notion
Learners: mainstream English, ESL (TESOL [college] & ESL [K-12])
For these individuals [e.g., some members of the writing and composition profession] academic language is primarily understood to mean that language which is free of non-standard or stigmatised features.
The TESOL profession also sees academic languages as a set of intellectual practices. Primarily, however, at the college level, this profession is particularly focused on stylistic conventions that are part of that practice (within particular professions), including text organisation, presentation of iniormation, and grammar and usage. Importantly, the TESOL College profession views its students as competent both academically and linguistically in their first language and considers that the profession's role is to help them to avoid discourse accent
The ESL profession that works with K-12 students, by comparison, focuses on non-English background, immigrant students who enter American schools. Much of the activity of this profession has been directed at the teachmg of the structure of English to such youngsters as a preliminary to their learning subject-matter through English.
This group of practitioners, however, has focused almost exclusively on the development of what has been called Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency or CALP which is considered to be fundamentally different from BlCS, that is, from Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills.
COGNITIVE ACADEMIC LANGUAGE PROFICIENCY:
+ cognitively and linguistically complex language needed for success in academic settings
+ conceptual-linguistic knowledge
+ the ability to manipulate and interpret language in cognitively-demanding, context-reduced texts
Very little attention has also been given by the L2 communities to the extensive work that has been carried out on literacy as a social and cultural practice (Cope & Kalantzis, 2000; Delpit, 1988; Edelsky, 1991; Gee, 1990; Rose, 1989; Street, 1984; Walsh, 1991). The view that there are multiple literacies rather than a single literacy, that these literacies depend on the context of the situation, the activity itself, the interactions between participants, and the knowledge and experiences that these various participants bring to these interactions is distant from the view held by most L2 educators who still embrace a technocratic notion of literacy and emphasise the development of decontextualised skills.
In sum, positions about academic language in diverse learners that are held by the different professional communities have developed and evolved in communication with particular sets of voices that are a part of specific professional worlds. In Bakhtinian terms (Bakhtin, 1990: 91) utterances within each professional world (must be regarded primarily as a response to preceding utterances of the given sphere ... Each utterance refutes, affirms, supplements, and relies on the others, presupposes them to be known and somehow takes them into account'. p25
Unfortunately, as is evident to those who work with linguistic minority students, that is, with both second language learners and speakers of nonstandard varieties of the language, the increasing residential and academic segregation in which these students find themselves offers few possibilities for their participation in communication spheres where 'academic language is used naturally and comfortably by those who, as Gee (1992: 33) has suggested, have acquired it by 'enculturation (apprenticeship) into social practices through scaffolded and supported interactions with people who have already mastered the Discourse'. p31-32
I believe that what we need to do is to imagine other possibilities. Like Guerra (1997: 258), we too must envision language minority L2 writers who develop what he called 'intercultural literacy', that is, 'the ability to consciously and effectively move back and forth among as well as in and out of the discourse communities they belong to or will belong to'. Even in middle school, we should want minority L2 writers to understand that they too have something to say. p33