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date: 28 May 2020

Summary and Keywords

Language is fundamental to teaching and learning, yet is prone to invisibility in education systems. Drawing on work from applied linguistics that foregrounds language use in education, a “power” heuristic can be used to highlight linguistic privilege and its implications for students and their individual language repertoires. Language can be understood as a tool for performing particular interpersonal and ideational functions; its structure and uses are determined by context. For most students, experiences of language that is education-related reside in three core domains: the home and community, the school, and the nation state. Language expectations in these domains vary and position the linguistic repertoires of students differently. A key consideration is the student’s first language and its relationship to the expectations and privileged varieties of different institutions, for example, the local school and the national education department. By foregrounding linguistic privilege in education, the alignment, or misalignment, between students’ language resources and the prevailing language norms of educational institutions is made visible and open to change. Inherent in the level of alignment are issues of educational inclusion, access to powerful language forms and genres, and academic achievement. The concept of power affordances can be used to refer to the enabling potential of the relationship between language status, language affiliation and a student’s linguistic repertoire. Power affordances can operate as three broad potentials, capabilities or statuses: socioeconomic power, which resides in the language of global and state institutions ranging from government to schools and manifests in instruments such as national standardized tests; sociocognitive power, which enables the capacity to learn and recognizes the language intensity of knowledge; and identity power, which references social belonging and is strongly indexed to language. Conceptualizing language and its power affordances in education provides a useful framework for understanding the relationship between students’ language resources and the often implicit linguistic demands and practices of education systems. It also highlights the rich potential of applied linguistics in understanding education.

Keywords: affordances, applied linguistics, cultural capital, educational assessment, educational linguistics, language in education, language learning, language and power, language variety, standard languages

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