Speaking English and social identity: Migrant students in Queensland high schools

Miller, Jennifer M. (1999). Speaking English and social identity: Migrant students in Queensland high schools PhD Thesis, Graduate School of Education, The University of Queensland.

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Author Miller, Jennifer M.
Thesis Title Speaking English and social identity: Migrant students in Queensland high schools
School, Centre or Institute Graduate School of Education
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 1999
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Open Access Status File (Publisher version)
Supervisor -
Total pages 336
Language eng
Subjects 420000 Language and Culture
Formatted abstract
This study investigates the relationship between the acquisition and use of spoken English by migrant students in Queensland, and their construction and representation of social identity. It seeks to find new ways to look at these issues, by drawing together understandings from the fields of second language acquisition, discourse theory, and identity theory. The theoretical framing of the study therefore moves it beyond positions frequently associated with formal second language acquisition perspectives, to a broader and more political conception of language use.

Language use is a form of self-representation. As such, it constructs social identity, and implicates values, ideologies and the relations of discourse and power in social contexts. Linguistic minority students in Australian high schools need to achieve self-representation in dominant discourses, if they are to participate in mainstream social and academic contexts, renegotiate their identities in new places, and accrue the necessary symbolic capital to integrate into social institutions.

Participants in the study were ten recently arrived high school age students from non-English speaking backgrounds. They were tracked from arrival to integration in their chosen high schools for just over a year. A naturalistic qualitative form of inquiry was used in collecting and analysing data, which is presented in the form of case studies. Data sources included: videotaped focus groups, interviews in English and in the first language, observation in classrooms and in selected school events, talks with administration and teachers, as well as student diary writing and work samples. The interviews in English were viewed as instances of communicative competence in spoken English, but also as accounts of the students' positionings and insights into the social order of the school. A range of discourse analytic approaches was used in analysing the data.

For the representation of identity, a key finding of the study was the significance of 'audibility' — or how one is heard by mainstream speakers. That is, how students were heard by other speakers was just as important as how they spoke. Furthermore, their moves towards audibility and self-representation were facilitated and constrained by institutional and social practices within and beyond the high schools. For these students, differences in language use powerfully structured their everyday experiences at school. It is argued that there is a need to challenge institutional practices which marginalise these students, and limit their opportunities for self- representation.
Keyword Children of migrants -- Education -- Queensland
English language -- Spoken English -- Queensland
Additional Notes The author has given permission for this thesis to be made open access.

Document type: Thesis
Collections: Queensland Past Online (QPO)
UQ Theses (RHD) - Open Access
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Created: Mon, 14 Dec 2009, 16:36:54 EST by Ms Natalie Hull on behalf of Social Sciences and Humanities Library Service