Linguistic capital and university achievement


RedOrbit.com has posted a recent article by J. Paul Grayson titled Linguistic Capital and Academic Achievement of Canadian- and Foreign- Born University Students. The abstract:

In Canada, many universities are taking steps to recruit and meet the needs of immigrants and/or their sons and daughters, many of whom have English as a second language (ESL). There is, however, no research in Canada comparing potential increases in the linguistic capital of ESL and other students over the course of their university careers and the connection between increases in linguistic capital and academic achievement. In this study, it is shown that in contrast to Canadian- and foreign-born students for whom English is a first language, and Canadian-born ESL students, the linguistic capital of foreign-born ESL students increases over 4 years of university study; however, this increase in linguistic capital is not paralleled by an increase in academic achievement.

To review the article in its entirety click here.

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Linguistic capital and university achievement

  1. Dale, that link doesn;t seem to work.

    If you;ve read the article, can I ask a question: what is “lingustic capital” and how does it differ from “linguistic ability”.

    I find the statement of results a little odd but maybe they are better explained in the full paper. My experience, of evaluating a a year-long university bridge program which simultaneously worked on ESL *and* a variety of academic subjects, suggests the opposite – although it depends to some extent on how good their english was to start with.

  2. I’m not sure what’s up with the link/RedOrbit site. The article says the following of linguistic capital:

    “For Bourdieu and Passeron (1990), “linguistic capital” is a component of “cultural capital” that predisposes the sons and daughters of the privileged classes to academic success; however, a clear definition of the concept is not provided. Other writings of Bourdieu do not deal with this limitation. Using Bourdieu’s concepts as a point of departure, however, Sullivan (2001:893) defines linguistic capital as, “the ability to understand and use ‘educated’ language.” Morrison and Lui (2000:473), in an examination of colonial Hong Kong, define linguistic capital as, “fluency in, and comfort with, a high-status world-wide language which is used by groups who possess economic, social, cultural and political power and status in local and global society.” As in the former colony of Hong Kong, in English Canada, the dominant language is English.

    Despite Bourdieu’s inattention to a precise definition of linguistic capital, he makes four things very clear. First, linguistic capital, as a component of a broader cultural capital, is acquired in large part from parents. Second, the uneducated lower classes in capitalist societies lack the kind of linguistic capital valued by the powerful. Third, academic success is contingent upon the acquisition of linguistic capital. Fourth, deficiencies in linguistic capital contribute to the winnowing out of the sons and daughters of the less advantaged from successive levels of education. This means that relatively few students from disadvantaged backgrounds are found at the university level.”

    How does that compare with what you term linguistic ability?

  3. Well, given that the concept is operationalized in the paper as a self-assessment of speaking English, reading English, writing in English and following a conversation in English, not very much (the link works now, thanks).

    If it were operationalized by a more objective measure (such as a TOEFL score or equivalent), I wonder if you would really find, as this study does, virtually no improvement in “lingustic capital” over 4 years.

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