Legitimizing multilingual practices in the classroom: The role of the 'practiced language policy'

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This paper revisits the notion of ‘legitimate language’ (e.g. Bourdieu 1977) as it relates to multilingualism in educational contexts. Since Heller (1996) developed the notion of ‘legitimate language’ to encompass issues of language choice, there has been a consensus that a legitimate language is a language that is appropriate in a given situation. However, a crucial issue remains to be addressed, namely that of knowing what benchmark do classroom participants use to know when a language is appropriate, that is, legitimate or not. To address this issue, this paper takes as an example the case of an induction classroom for newly-arrived immigrant children in France where multiple languages have been observed. A Conversation Analysis of a set of audio-recorded interactions reveals that whilst languages other than French are not legitimized by top-down language policies and ideologies held at the societal and institutional levels, they are nevertheless seen as legitimate according to the local “practiced language policy” (Bonacina-Pugh 2012). This paper thus argues for a multi-layered understanding of legitimacy and shows how in the classroom under study, and possibly in other multilingual classrooms, practiced language policies play a key role in the legitimization of multilingual language practices.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)434-448
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism
Issue number4
Early online date11 Oct 2017
Publication statusPublished - 20 Apr 2020


  • legitimacy
  • classroom interaction
  • language policy
  • multilingualism
  • conversation analysis
  • France
  • analysis


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