Multilingual identities in higher education: Negotiating the 'mother tongue', 'posh' and 'slang'

  • Preece S
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This paper examines linguistic diversity among minority ethnic undergraduate students categorised as from widening participation backgrounds in a new university in London. All students are British born and educated and from working-class families. The paper considers how the students negotiate multilingual and bidialectal identities within the context of an academic writing programme regarded as providing English language remediation. Firstly, there is a consideration of how the students position their heritage languages in relation to English. It identifies three key ways in which the students adopt multilingual identity positions in the academic community, showing how these allow the students to display weaker to stronger affiliation to heritage languages in the setting. Secondly, there is an exploration of how the students adopt bidialectal identity positions to contrast the ‘posh’ (standard English) practices of the academic community with the ‘slang’ (vernacular English) language practices of their peers. It considers ways in which the ‘posh/slang’ binary enables the students to establish social networks and negotiate their positioning as in need of English language remediation. The paper argues for an imagining of English-medium universities as multilingual spaces in which the linguistic diversity of non-traditional minority ethnic students is viewed primarily as an asset, rather than as a problem.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Heritage languages
  • Higher education
  • Minority ethnic students
  • Multilingual identities
  • Standard and vernacular English
  • Widening participation

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  • Siân Preece

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