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Plurilingualism and Transnational Identities in a Francophone Minority Classroom.

Transnational migration is changing French and English minority (1) communities and schools in Canada, especially in large urban centres, as they become increasingly multilingual and multicultural.(2) This transnational migration, according to Wei Li and Hua Zhu, was a notable feature of the twentieth century, but it continues into the twenty-first century. Living in more than one place is normal for an increasing number of people around the globe (Li and Zhu 517). In this article, I adopt a transnational lens, paired with a plurilingual approach, to explore how an eleven-year-old student attempted to negotiate transnational identities in her grade six francophone minority classroom at Ecole Felix-Leclerc,(3) a school located in the Greater Vancouver area, British Columbia, Canada.

Canadian francophone minority communities, according to Nicole Gallant, have been successful in increasing the number of francophone immigrants settling within their communities. Many of these immigrants are not monolingual francophone; therefore, they may be bringing languages other than French into francophone minority schools and communities. In 2012-13, according to the Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique (4) (CSF), children attending francophone minority schools in British Columbia came from more than sixty ethic groups.(5) At home and in the community, many families speak an additional language as well as, or instead of, English and French: they are plurilinguals, and many of them have "multiple ties and interactions" that connect them, Steven Vertovec argues, to others "across the borders of nation-states" (Vertovec, "Conceiving" 447). There is already a rich body of research on francophone as opposed to French/English bilingual identities in francophone minority schools and communities in Canada. (6) However, studies of plurilingual transnational youth in these schools and communities are not as numerous. Two notable examples include works by Awad Ibrahim and Gail Prasad.(7) In this paper, I endeavour to redress research lacuna left by a lack of attention to plurilingual transnational youth who are part of the Canadian and international Francophonie. I present and analyze one youth's complex and rich transnational identities and argue that recognizing and including these identities in the daily activities of francophone classrooms is a way to further the inclusion of plurilingual transnational youth in la Francophonie. Since identity plays a role in school success, and because "language and identity are powerfully intertwined" (Garcia-Mateus and Palmer 245), (8) recognizing and including plurilingual transnational identities can also lead to better student involvement and success.

I begin by providing context for francophone minority schools in Canada. I describe the theories that ground my research in a grade six classroom with plurilingual students: positioning theories of identity, plurilingualism, and transnationalism. Then, as a case study, I draw on excerpts from transcripts of oral classroom interactions featuring Alexandra, one of the participants in the research project, and I illustrate how transnational subject positions are negotiated in the classroom. I conclude by speculating about how the concept of transnational identities could be taken up in francophone minority schools to recognize and valorize plurilingual students' subject positions as transnational, and how this paper might inform the work of all personnel in francophone minority schools throughout Canada--teachers, staff, principals and vice principals, education assistants--but also those who work at the school board level and other education stakeholders in French immersion programs.

Francophone Minority Schools in British Columbia, Canada

In 1969, Canada adopted its first Official Languages Act, which made French and English the two official languages of the country. In 1988, a new Official Languages Act was adopted: it replaced and repealed the Official Languages Act of 1969 (Laurendeau) and was again revised in 2005 ("Understanding"). In accordance with the Act, special status is given to French and English in all federal institutions: they are the official languages as well as the official minority languages. In Canada, therefore, the term "minority language" refers to French and English in contexts where they are not the dominant language. For instance, in a province where English is used by most people in their daily life, English would be the dominant language, making French the official minority language.

In British Columbia, English is the dominant language both in terms of number and status (see table 1). Therefore, the majority of public schools operate in English. The language education rights of the francophone minority, however, are outlined in Section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Constitution Act, 1982). Parents in British Columbia, therefore, may send their children to a public francophone minority school if (1) their first language learned and still understood is French, or (2) they received their primary school instruction in Canada in French (following a French first-language curriculum), or (3) they already have a child who has received or is receiving primary or secondary school instruction in French in Canada. According to Annie Pilote and Marie-Odile Magnan, these rights are meant to guarantee access to minority language education << afin d'assurer la reproduction linguistique et culturelle des communautes francophones (ou anglophones au Quebec) >> [in order to ensure francophone (or anglophone in Quebec) communities' linguistic and cultural reproduction] (172, my translation). As Canada is a federation and operates under a constitutional division of power, education falls under provincial jurisdiction (Foucher). Although all the provinces had to abide by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Constitution Act, 1982), the process of creating public French language schools and school boards in English-speaking regions followed different timelines throughout the country. In this article, I focus on francophone minority schools in British Columbia, as it is the province in which I conducted this study.

In the 1960s, the Federation des francophones de la Colombie-Britannique (FFCB) started lobbying for public francophone schools in British Columbia. An important gain happened in 1978 when the government announced the creation of a program for French as a first language, the programme cadre de francais. In the beginning, the program was administered by local school boards, and francophone classes were opened in English-language schools. The francophone community wanted a separate system and continued to push for one. With the Federation des parents francophones de la Colombie-Britannique (FPFCB) leading the way, the community lobbied for several years and engaged in courtroom battles to attain this goal. (10) The Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique (CSF) was finally created in 1995. British Columbia's Education Act was amended two years later, << afin que soit reconnue definitivement l'autonomie du CSF dans la gestion du programme francophone >> [in order to permanently recognize the CSF's autonomy in administrating the French program] (Gerin-Lajoie and Jacquet 37, my translation). At first, the CSF's responsibilities were limited to the Greater Vancouver area; in 1998, they were finally extended to all French language schools in British Columbia. Today, the CSF administers more than forty schools and annexes, with more than six thousand students (Lapierre and Ouellette 1). Ecole Felix-Leclerc, in which I conducted this research project, is one of these schools.

Theoretical Framework

This research is informed by positioning theories of identity, plurilingualism, and transnationalism. I will briefly outline each of them, beginning with positioning theories of identity, which offer an alternative to traditional notions of identity. Globalization plays an important role in provoking the questioning of traditional notions of identity as tied to citizenship. (11) In this article, since a unique identity based on citizenship is missing among the transnational plurilingual youth participants in this research, I use positioning as a tool to explore their identities.

Positioning, (12) according to Bethan Benwell and Elizabeth Stokoe, is "the process through which speakers adopt, resist and offer 'subject positions' that are made available in 'master narratives' or 'discourses'" (139). I therefore use the term "subject position" instead of "identity" to account for the fact that transnational youth do not have a unique and stable identity: throughout their lives, they are constantly in the process of positioning themselves and others in their social, political, and cultural contexts (Blackledge and Pavlenko). Indeed, the plurilingual transnational youth involved in this study negotiated a range of subject positions--e.g., francophone, bilingual, and transnational--according to their interpretation of the context.

Identity work is a negotiation of subject positions, where negotiation is the interplay between interactive and reflexive positioning. (13) Interactive and reflexive positionings are processes, whereas subject positions are flexible, changing categories (e.g., plurilingual, bilingual, transnational). Interactive positioning happens when youth are positioned by others (e.g., classmates, or a teacher); reflexive positioning (self-positioning) happens when youth position themselves. Plurilingual students used a number of tools to negotiate subject positions, such as when they used images from well-known video games in an assignment to position themselves as French/English bilingual. For the purposes of brevity, I focus on students' use of linguistic resources--that is, their use of languages or their reference to their competence in a language--and of cultural resources such as knowledge about a culture and reference to a country or its geography. Plurilingual students' use of linguistic resources is inextricably tied to their views of their own subject positions (14) and they choose (15) to activate (or not) different parts of their linguistic and cultural repertoires to put forward (or to downplay) certain subject positions (Doran). Students may negotiate subject positions, but peers and teachers may not accept a position; that is, a subject position can be contested. (16)

Of importance in framing this study is the lens of plurilingualism, (17) which entails a dynamic view of linguistic and cultural repertoires and allows for the inclusion of different levels of competence in many languages. (18) According to Daniel Coste et al., plurilingual and pluricultural competence is
the ability to use languages for the purposes of communication and to
take part in intercultural interaction, where a person, viewed as a
social actor has proficiency, of varying degrees, in several languages
and experience of several cultures. (11)

Plurilingual transnational youth are therefore defined as social actors who individually develop a repertoire of more than two linguistic and cultural resources. They are capable of making choices to activate one or many of their resources in their repertoire, according to their interpretation of the situation at hand. Coste and Diana-Lee Simon, Jean-Claude Beacco, and Daniele Moore also suggest that bi/plurilingual practices (19) could be signs of symbolic affiliations, or, using the lens of positioning theories, that such practices could be signs of a negotiation of subject positions. However, kids' bi/plurilingual practices are often viewed negatively, (20) instead of as original ways to mobilize linguistic resources (Moore 161). Furthermore, the status of linguistic resources may change: some resources may be legitimized, for example, a language that is socially predominant and accepted as << vehiculaire >> [lingua franca] (Didier de Robillard, qtd. in Moore 85). This process of legitimization (21) takes place within specific spaces (such as a classroom, a school, a playground) or within groups (e.g., between friends, or with family members). Given the changing nature of linguistic resources, I argue that bi/plurilingual practices can be seen as a tool for plurilingual students to reflexively position themselves as transnational.

Transnational identity, according to Moises Esteban-Guitart et al., is a more favourable strategy than other models of adaptation, such as assimilation, "ethnic flight," or "active opposition."(22) Esteban-Guitart and Vila define the concept of "transnational identity" as a type of national identity "linked to at least two national referents" (18): the society of origin and the host society. Neither the society of origin nor the host society can completely replace the links to the other community. Carola Suarez-Orozco and Marcelo Suarez-Orozco write that transnational identities are constructed when "displaced people" "preserve the affective bonds with their culture of origin" without renouncing the "skills needed to develop satisfactorily in the dominant culture" of the host society (qtd. in Esteban-Guitart et al. 246). Transnational identities are therefore a dynamic fusion between traditional connections with the society of origin and the way of life of the host society. Anna De Fina also writes that transnational identities are often characterized "by the use and appropriation (at time conscious and at time just enacted in practice) of cultural resources that belong to different communities and places" (556). In research on transnationalism, Vertovec ("Transnationalism") writes that, according to one view, keeping connections to the society of origin could weaken integration to the host society; another view, however, suggests that "public recognition and representation of migrants' transnational, multiple identities" (575-76) can improve democracy. I argue that recognition of transnational subject positions could improve plurilingual students' sense of belonging to the classroom community and, more generally, to a Canadian francophone minority community.

The Research Project

I collected the data presented in this paper during an ethnographic case study in a grade six classroom at Ecole Felix-Leclerc, an elementary (kindergarten to grade six) francophone minority school situated in the Greater Vancouver area, a large multicultural and multilingual city in British Columbia. The school is administered by the CSF, one of the most culturally diverse school boards in French Canada. (23) Two years prior to the beginning on this study, I worked as a teacher-librarian at Ecole Felix-Leclerc. I was on leave from the school during the research activity; however, my prior teaching assignment supported my familiarity with the grade six classroom in which I conducted the study.

At Ecole Felix-Leclerc, all subjects were taught in French, except for English Language Arts (ELA), which students began studying as a subject in grade four.

Students were expected to read, write, and speak in French at all times (again, except during ELA). In my research project, I focused on four plurilingual students, and I used the following methods to collect data: field notes, videos and audio recordings, individual interviews, and multimodal texts. The data presented in the paper, however, come from audio recordings of oral classroom interactions. In the excerpts below, original data--that is, my transcription of what participants said--are presented first and are followed by an English translation in italic (see Appendix for Transcription Conventions). I translated all the excerpts myself. Furthermore, as my focus was on subject positioning through the use of linguistic and cultural resources, if a participant spoke in a way that was not grammatically correct in the original data, I did not edit the sentence or point out that mistake with the word [sic].

There were twenty-five students in this class. Of this number, nineteen consented to participate in the study. During a researcherled activity, (24) the students created a linguistic map (Dagenais and Berron) to represent all the languages they understood, wrote, and/or spoke at home, and with whom. Table 2 provides a snapshot of the linguistic diversity in this class, as presented by the students themselves. Of the nineteen participants, four plurilingual students consented to act as focal students: (25) Alexandra (French, English, Polish), Blastoise (French, English, Russian), Bob (French, English, Cantonese), and Tria (French, English, Tagalog). Two teachers also participated in my study: Brigitte and Elizabeth. Brigitte taught from September to December, at which point she was appointed resource and learning leader for the school board. Elizabeth took over the class and taught from January to June.

At the beginning of the research project, I interviewed the focal students individually to get to know them better. I asked them questions about where they were born, their family, their languages, their likes and dislikes, and so on. The concept of plurilingualism and subject positioning informed and influenced my questions, but I endeavoured to avoid, as much as possible, questions that may have been perceived as suggesting the "right" answer to the students. I am aware, however, that as an adult, a researcher, and an interviewer, I was not neutral. Interview data are co-constructed by the interviewer and interviewee.

In this paper, I present results from a content analysis of the transcriptions of plurilingual focal students' oral interactions with their peers and adults (teachers and researcher). I used a coding frame developed for the purpose of this study, which included both theoretically motivated categories (Purcell-Gates et al.) and data-driven categories (Schreier). I adopt a theoretical perspective in which transnationalism, subject positioning, and plurilingualism are interconnected. My analysis of classroom interactions is guided by the following questions:

1) In oral interactions, which tools (cultural and linguistic) did plurilingual students use to negotiate transnational subject positions?

2) Were these subject positions recognized and accepted by classmates and adults?

My analysis led to the identification of instances in which focal students used their linguistic and/or cultural resources in the process of subject positioning as transnational. These instances were situated in particular interactions taking place in specific places and times. The temporality of students' interactions in specific places and times was important to the study. These instances reminded me of Ibrahim's "moments of identification," which he defined as "where and how they [the youth in Ibrahim's study] saw themselves reflected in the mirror of their society" ("Operating" 65). Mirroring his phrase, I adopted the expression "moments of positioning" to refer to those instances in which focal students negotiated subject positions as transnational.

As space is limited in this article, I present and discuss moments of positioning featuring one of the focal students, Alexandra. This approach has some limitations, as the distinctiveness of her experience limits the generalizability of the findings. Robert E. Stake, however, suggests that a case report's purpose is to represent the case, not the world. I have, therefore, endeavoured to provide readers with a "vicarious experience" (Stake 460) through rich examples of data of classroom interactions featuring Alexandra. The first moment of positioning is taken from an interview I conducted with Alexandra; the second and third are taken from oral interactions with classmates. I selected these moments featuring Alexandra because they were "rich"; that is, 1) they took place during naturally occurring activities in this classroom (interaction between student and adult, small-group project with peers, and large-group activity); 2) they presented different ways of mobilizing linguistic resources to negotiate a transnational subject position; and 3) they pointed to a rejection of transnational subject positions.

A Plurilingual Student's Transnational Subject Positions

Alexandra was eleven years old at the beginning of the study. An only child, she was born in British Columbia but had moved to Poland at a very early age before coming back to British Columbia at age six (that is, in grade one). She started grade one at the Ecole Felix-Leclerc, and had done most of her schooling there. When Alexandra arrived at Ecole Felix-Leclerc, she knew only a few words in French and English. (26) In grade six, however, she was able to communicate very well in French in the classroom. Brigitte, her teacher, commented that every time Alexandra spoke in class, it was in French. In ELA, Alexandra still needed extra support but was able to communicate with her peers in English.

Throughout her schooling, Alexandra also spent weeks at a school in Poland. At the beginning of grade six, she missed the whole month of September in Ecole Felix-Leclerc because she was in Poland with her parents, and she told me she attended school there. Alexandra understood, spoke, wrote, and read Polish, English, and French. At home, she spoke Polish and English to her father, and Polish, French, and English to her mother. Her grandmother lived close by, and Alexandra spoke mostly Polish to her. She also had a friend who was not a student at Ecole Felix-Leclerc, with whom she spoke Polish and English. At school, she spoke French and English. According to Alexandra, there were no other Polish speakers at the school.

Transnational Subject Position in an Interview with the Researcher

I began the interview by asking Alexandra to introduce herself (name and age). I then asked her if she was born in the city where the school was situated. This question was followed by one that aimed to discover whether or not she had lived elsewhere. Her answers to both questions were short and affirmative. I followed up with more questions, trying to learn more about where she lived during her early years.
Excerpt 1--Interview with the Researcher

Genevieve:  Ok. Est-ce que tu es nee a [nom d'une
            ville en Colombie-Britannique]? Okay.
            Were you born in [name of a city in
            British Columbia]?
Alexandra:  Oui. Yes.
Genevieve:  Tu as toujours habite a [ville en
            Colombie-Britannique]? [pause] Est-ce
            que tu as habite ailleurs? Have you
            always lived in [city in British Columbia]?
            [pause] Have you lived elsewhere?
Alexandra:  Ben oui. Well yes.
Genevieve:  Ou est-ce que tu as habite? Where
            have you lived?
Alexandra:  En Pologne. In Poland.
Genevieve:  Quand est-ce que t'as habite en
            Pologne? Est-ce que tu es allee en
            voyage quelques mois ou quelques
            annees [pause]? When did you live in
            Poland? Did you go on a trip for a few
            months or a few years [pause]?
Alexandra:  C'etait avant que je suis venue ici. It
            was before I came here.
Genevieve:  Okay.
Alexandra:  Avant ma premiere annee. Before
            grade one.
Genevieve:  Okay.
Alexandra:  Maternelle j'etais la hum et comme
            [pause] tout toutes mes vacances je
            vais comme en Pologne. Kindergarten I
            was there and like [pause] all all my
            vacations I go like to Poland.
Genevieve:  Est-ce que vous avez une maison en
            Pologne ou vous habitez avec de la
            famille? Do you have a house in Poland
            or do you stay with family?
Alexandra:  Hum j'ai [pause] ben j'ai une maison et
            aussi je peux habiter avec la famille. Um
            I have [pause] well I have a house and I
            also can also stay with family.
Genevieve:  Tu dis que tu es allee a l'ecole aussi en
            Pologne quand tu etais en maternelle?
            You say you also attended a school in
            Poland in kindergarten?
Alexandra:  Ouin. Yeah.
Genevieve:  C'est quelle ville? Te souviens-tu? Which
            city? Do you remember?
Alexandra:  Hum Szczecin. Um Szczecin.
Genevieve:  Ok. Comment est-ce que tu ecris ca?
            Est-ce que tu peux me l'epeler? Okay.
            How do you write that? Can you spell it
            for me?
Alexandra:  S [pause] ah [je sais pas]. S [pause] ah [I
            don't know].
Genevieve:  Veux-tu l'ecrire? Do you want to write it?
            [Alexandra takes the pencil and writes it
Genevieve:  S [pause] z [pause] oh repete-le encore
            une fois. Comment tu le dis? S [pause] z
            [pause] Oh say it one more time. How
            do you say it?
Alexandra:  s [Szczecin].
Genevieve:  Est-ce que tu peux [pause] [Szczecin].
            Ok d'accord. Y'a beaucoup de << z >>
            c'est difficile pour moi de prononcer les
            << z >>. Can you [pause] [Szczecin].
            Okay all right. There are a lot of "z" it's
            hard for me to pronounce "Zs."
Alexandra:  Ouin [sourire]. Yeah [smile].
Genevieve:  [Rires] Ok. Donc est-ce que tu es
            nee a [ville en Colombie-Britannique]
            et tu es retournee en Pologne ou tu
            es nee en Pologne et apres tu es venue
            a [ville]? [Laughs] Okay so were you born
            in [city in British Columbia] and went
            back to Poland, or were you born in
            Poland and after that you came to [city]?
Alexandra:  Ben je suis nee comme ici a [ville]. Well I
            was born here in [city].
Genevieve:  Okay.
Alexandra:  Et ben je suis Polonaise. And well I am

In this interaction, the interview questions provided Alexandra with an opportunity to engage in a process of negotiation of a subject position as transnational. Alexandra used a number of tools to negotiate a transnational subject position. Following my questions, she stated that she was born in British Columbia, but that she had lived in Poland until kindergarten, and that she returned to Poland for all her vacations. Talking about the fact that she lived in Poland--making a reference to a country other than Canada--was her way to position herself as transnational. She put forward her positioning as transnational in a similar way at the end of this excerpt, following my request for clarification. She repeated that she was born here (that is, British Columbia, in Canada), followed by an explicit reference to a national referent: "Et ben je suis Polonaise. And well I am Polish." With these two turns, she established a clear link between British Columbia and Poland, or between her host society and her society of origin. In her case, despite the fact that she was born in British Columbia, her society of origin is Poland, because she moved to that country at an early age and lived there until she was in grade one. Another tool that Alexandra used to put forward her subject position as transnational was her reference to her regular vacations in Poland. These vacations have helped Alexandra to preserve her affective bonds with Poland and with the Polish language. Being able to locate a place of her own in Poland, a house and a city, as well as family in her society of origin, was also a tool used to negotiate her subject position as transnational.

Throughout this excerpt, I, as an interviewer/researcher, was not neutral. I was interested in the affective bonds Alexandra might have with her host society and her society of origin. I showed interest by asking questions to find out details of Alexandra's story: where she was born, if she had a house in Poland or stayed with family, and so on. I demonstrated interest in the Polish language, and tried to pronounce the name of her city, without much success, which resulted in a smile from Alexandra. As a researcher, I played a role and had some influence in her process of positioning. Yet this is exactly what interactive positioning is: an interactive positioning happens when an individual (a researcher) positions another individual (a participant in a research project). Furthermore, positioning takes place in the interplay between interactive and reflexive positioning, that is, being defined by others and defining oneself. Alexandra could, for instance, reject, modify, or accept the subject position: she had some agency in this process. When I exclaimed that it was a hard word for me to pronounce, I interactively positioned Alexandra as the expert, as the one with the right linguistic competence in the situation, with the connections and with the language. Alexandra responded positively to this positioning by repeating the word for me and by smiling at my tentative pronunciation.

Transnational Subject Position in a Small-Group Project

During classroom interactions with peers, Alexandra also engaged in the process of negotiating a subject position as transnational. During the second moment of positioning I analyzed, classmates appeared not to accept Alexandra's transnational subject position. The excerpt was recorded during a project in which students worked in teams of four to create a two-minute advertisement presenting a destination in the solar system to potential travellers. The teams used the program Keynote for Mac to create their advertisement. Alexandra worked with Tria (a French/English/Tagalog plurilingual girl), Daniel (a French/English bilingual boy), and a third student who did not participate in the study. In this paper, I refer to this student as the NP (Non-Participating) student. They created an advertisement for Callisto, a moon of the planet Jupiter. During this project, Alexandra researched and wrote notes, but when the three others were exchanging information or talking about fonts and colours to use in the Keynote presentation, she often sat by herself, drawing cartoons. In Excerpt 2, Alexandra was sitting close to Daniel and Bob1 (a French/English bilingual boy), who was not on their team, but was friends with Daniel.
Excerpt 2--Classroom Interaction during a Small-Group Project

Bob1:        C'est tout ce que tu as ecrit jusqu'a
             present? That's all you have written so
Daniel:      Ouin. Yeah.
Bob1:        Ouais t'as ecrit quand meme pas mal
             pas beaucoup de choses. Yeah you did
             not write much.
Daniel:      Je sais parce que c'est difficile de les
             trouver. I know because it's hard to find
Bob1:        (xxx) sur les nuages seulement les
             nuages (de Mars). C'est plus difficile
             de trouver les nuages que de trouver
             Callisto. (xxx) about cloud only (Mars's)
             clouds. It's harder to find clouds than to
             find Callisto.
Daniel:      (xxx) Callisto.
Bob1:        Yeah but les nuages (xxx) look [typing]
             Callisto. Yeah but the clouds (xxx) look
             [typing] Callisto.
Daniel:      Okay but look at this.
Bob1:        I know (xxx)
Daniel:      (xxx) (website for Callisto though)
Bob1:        Callisto [typing]
Alexandra:   What the heck? [very softly, looking at
             Daniel's laptop]
Daniel:      Actually no.
Bob1:        No.
Daniel:      The Wikipedia doesn't do anything for
             you. It doesn't work at all.
Bob1:        Okay.
Daniel:      Ca ne fonctionne pas. Je l'ai essaye
             Bob1. It doesn't work. I tried Bob1.
Alexandra:   Qu'est-ce que c'est ca? What is this?
Daniel:      Maintenant tu detruis mon ordinateur
             [very calm voice]. Now you are
             destroying my computer [very calm
             [Voices of students from other teams]
Teacher:     Est-ce que ca va toi, Alexandra? Are
             you okay, Alexandra?
Alexandra:   Je sais pas ce que c'est [xx]. Ca a
             bouge avec ca. I don't know what this
             is [xxx]. It moved with that.
Teacher:     Euh ca se peut. Hm it is possible.
Tria:        Awkward awkward.
NP student:  (xxx).
Tria:        Ouh regarde j'ai trouve quelque chose
             pour toi. Ouh look I found something
             for you.
             [Voices of students from other teams]
Alexandra:   Ye! Je peux traduire Wikipedia en
             polonais. Yeah! I can translate
             Wikipedia in Polish.
             [Voices of students from other teams]
NP student:  [The student is wondering if s/he
             should research the distance between
             Earth and Callisto]
Tria:        Non [pause] comme [pause] est-ce
             que tu veux savoir [pause]. No [pause]
             like [pause] do you want to know

Daniel and Bob1 were discussing how little information they had found so far on their respective topic of research (Callisto and Mars), and they were arguing about who was having the harder time finding information. Alexandra spoke softly to attract their attention, but the boys continued without acknowledging her verbally and without including her in their conversation. Alexandra tried again to get their attention on Daniel's laptop. This time, Daniel appeared to react to her comment as he exclaimed that Bob1 was destroying his computer, but he did not respond directly to her. Alexandra made a third attempt to interact with her teammates: she stated that she could translate Wikipedia in Polish. She was telling them that she was able to change the language on Wikipedia from French to Polish but, and most importantly, that she was able to read Wikipedia in Polish. This comment seemed to echo Bob1 and Daniel's discussion about Wikipedia. Following this turn, other students in the classroom spoke, but there were no clear uptakes to Alexandra's comment from Daniel, Bob1, Tria, or the NP student. Plurilingual speakers such as Alexandra can select and activate from their repertoire of linguistic resources the tools they need to communicate effectively in a given interaction. Their choices of linguistic resources are influenced by the local discourses in the classroom and by the subject positions these discourses allow (Mathis; Moore). In her last turn, Alexandra selected and activated French--the legitimate language of interactions in the classroom--to refer to Polish and to put forward the fact that she was able to read Polish. This I would argue, was an attempt to reflexively position herself as transnational through a reference to her competence in Polish, and by explicitly exposing her connections to a language other than the school's and the community's languages. Using French, however, was an attempt to continue situating herself within the official French discourse of the francophone classroom and school.

Among other issues currently raised in the field of transnationalism, one view holds that keeping connections to the society of origin could weaken integration to the host society (Vertovec, "Transnationalism"). This argument echoes the discourse at Ecole Felix-Leclerc, where French is the only legitimized language of interaction at school and in the classroom (except during ELA), following the view that students need maximum exposure to French in order to develop and maintain their skills. In Alexandra's case, Polish and English are seen as illegitimate linguistic resources in the classroom and, therefore, could be seen as weakening integration into the school community. As a skilled plurilingual speaker, Alexandra selected French instead of Polish because it was a resource shared among her teammates. Her use of French to adopt a transnational subject position was an original way to mobilize her linguistic resources and showed how she creatively fused her French and Polish subject positions.

Alexandra's transnational subject position was received differently by her classmates than by me, as the researcher, in the interview. Her reflexive positioning was met with no reaction, but there may be many reasons for this lack of reaction. It is unlikely her teammates did not hear her, since she was sitting right beside them. One plausible explanation relates to Alexandra's status as an outsider in the classroom. Alexandra often did not participate in friendly chatter; her teammates may have been unaware she was addressing them. Moreover, Daniel, Tria, Bob1, and the NP student may have been unwilling to engage in a friendly interaction with her. The fact that Alexandra's teammates did not explicitly respond to her self-positioning does not mean that they did not interactively position her. In an interaction, people have a certain level of agency in the process of positioning, but other participants in the interaction may reject or ignore a subject position. Alexandra selected a subject position she wanted to put forward in this interaction, but her teammates' lack of reaction could be interpreted as a challenge to her reflexive positioning as transnational. I argue that this an example of the "perpetual tension" (27) between reflexive positioning and interactive positionings of plurilingual speakers. Her teammates may have challenged this subject positioning because they did not believe Alexandra could read Polish. They may also have challenged it because the classroom discourse did not easily allow for subject positions involving connections to other countries and other languages. A francophone subject position was, I would argue, the legitimate and most desired linguistic subject position offered by the monolingual school board and school's discourses.

Transnational Subject Position in a Large-Group Activity

Alexandra also negotiated a transnational subject position during a Skype Mystere call, an activity involving the grade six students at Ecole Felix-Leclerc and a "mystery" group through Skype. The two teachers had decided together on a time for the call, and the students from both classrooms were expected to locate the other group (country and city) as fast as possible by asking closed questions. Only the teachers knew the location of each group. During this call, students in Alexandra's group took on roles with specific responsibilities, and only some students were supposed to use their laptops. Alexandra's role in this activity required the use of a laptop to look up information on Google and Google maps. She was sitting with her friend Apricaka (a French/English bilingual boy) and Donald-Smith (a French/English/Italian plurilingual boy), a classmate with whom she sometimes interacted. Apricaka and Donald-Smith did not have laptops at the beginning of the activity. The three students' interest in the Skype Mystere call wavered quickly. Only a few minutes into the call, they had already begun talking about zombies. Ten minutes after the beginning of the call, the other group discovered Felix-Leclerc's location. Alexandra's classmates reorganized in response to their location being identified: all of them began using their laptops, even if their roles and responsibilities did not require it. Apricaka and Donald-Smith now had access to laptops, and instead of looking for information about the other group's location, they began to play games on the internet with Alexandra.
Excerpt 3--Classroom Interaction in a Large-Group Activity

Alexandra:     Je suis dans Quebec, je vais faire
               un (xxx). Je drive un tank. Je arrive a le
               city. Je continue dans le north. Keep
               going north. I am in Quebec, I will make
               a (xxx). I drive a tank. I'm arriving at the
               city. I continue north. Keep going north.
Donald-Smith:  Oh je l'ai trouve. C'est ma maison juste
               ici. Oh I found it. It's my house right
Alexandra:     I'm climbing the mountain. [pause] Keep
               going north.
Alexandra:     I'm driving a tank. (...)
Alexandra:     Oh do you want to see my [pause] rusty
               house in Poland?
Apricaka:      hm hm.
Alexandra:     okay hm [pause] yeah okay [typing] (...)
Donald-Smith:  Je vais trouver ma maison. I will find my
Alexandra:     Attends je crois que j'ai trouve ma
               maison. Attends je vais essayer de la
               trouver. Wait I think I found my house.
               Wait I will try to find it.
Apricaka:      Attends. Est-ce que ca c'est Freedom
               Bakery? [pause] Oui! Freedom Bakery!
               Wait. Is that Freedom Bakery? [pause].
               Yes! Freedom Bakery!
Donald-Smith:  Ah? Oh ouais! Ah? Oh yeah!
Alexandra:     Mon house! Ca c'est mon house! Ca
               c'est mon rusty old house! My house!
               That is my house! That is my rusty old
               house! [voice cheerful]
Donald-Smith:  Oh vraiment? Oh really?
Alexandra:     Ouais! Yeah! [voice cheerful]
               End of recording

In this moment of positioning Alexandra, Apricaka, and Donald-Smith were playing at driving a tank on Google Maps. Donald-Smith was the first to talk about locating his house (in British Columbia) on Google Maps. Alexandra joined his new "game" and asked if they would like to see her house. She included a detail that was absent from Donald-Smith's earlier turn: she asked if they wanted to see her house in Poland (instead of her house in British Columbia). Her voice had sounded happy since the beginning of the excerpt, and when she found her house, her voice was more cheerful than before. My analysis of this interaction suggests that Alexandra used her knowledge of Poland's geography to position herself as transnational, and her classmates accepted this subject position.

In this moment of positioning, Alexandra initiated the process of positioning: she reflexively positioned herself as transnational by creating connections between her "here"--the game she was playing online with the two boys in a francophone minority school in British Columbia--and her "there"--that is, her house in Poland, in her society of origin. She put forward this subject position by using her pluricultural competence: she made a reference to her house in Poland, something she had also done during her individual interview. Being able to locate a physical space in another country, a space that belongs to her ("'my' rusty old house"), was a tool she used to negotiate a transnational subject position. Her connection to Poland made her different from her classmates, allowing her to negotiate a subject position that was a fusion of British Columbia and Poland. In this interaction, being able to show her rusty old house in Poland to her classmates was used as a tool for positioning as transnational and pluricultural.

In this interaction, Alexandra selected the linguistic resources--French and English--that were most likely to draw responses from Donald-Smith and Apricaka and to engage them in her process of positioning. The two boys also used the two linguistic resources; however, they did not comment on her use of French and English. Donald-Smith reacted to her turns and showed interest in her house in Poland: he accepted her reflexive positioning and interactively positioned her as someone with connections to another country, another home. He accepted her transnational subject position.

Summary and Concluding Thoughts

In this paper, I focused on Alexandra's negotiation of transnational subject positions in oral interactions with peers and adults. She showed that she had developed the linguistic skills she needed in the dominant culture of her francophone minority school. In an English environment in British Columbia, Alexandra was able to add French and English to her linguistic repertoire, while also continuing to use Polish and preserve her affective bonds with Poland, her society of origin. Alexandra's subject positions as transnational were not always recognized by her classmates. There was tension between a subject position Alexandra put forward for herself--that of a transnational who could read Wikipedia in Polish--and the subject position her classmates attempted to impose on her, influenced by the school's discourses which emphasized monolingualism and, accordingly, did not accept a transnational subject position as legitimate. When an adult or peers recognized Alexandra's transnational subject position, however, her turns were not only more frequent in the interaction but also richer in term of her use of linguistic and cultural resources.

If we agree that identity matters at school, and that identity and language are not just linked but "powerfully intertwined" (Garcia-Mateus and Palmer 245), then we need to take steps to foster plurilingual students' reflexive positioning as transnational to accommodate linguistic diversity and bi/plurilingual practices, and to encourage participation rather than exclusion or separation. Adopting a plurilingual and pluricultural paradigm in the curriculum and in the classroom could help education stakeholders in francophone minority schools acknowledge that languages other than French, and cultures other than francophone cultures, are assets, not obstacles. Additional languages--languages other than French, which is the target language in francophone minority schools--should be framed as resources that can be used as stepping stones to scaffold more accomplished performances in the target language. (28)

There are many ways teachers and other education stakeholders in francophone minority schools can include additional languages in their practices. The language awareness approach (29) and the use of dual-language books (DLBs) in literacy instruction (30) offer great potential in this area, as both promote positive attitudes toward a plurality of languages as well as the development of metalinguistic abilities. Both can be used to recognize and value a wide range of languages--home languages of immigrant, refugee, or culturally and linguistically diverse students, as well as languages of plurilingual and transnational students--and to promote children's cultural awareness. These approaches to literacy can allow students to negotiate subject positions other than that of a monolingual French speaker.

The creation of multilingual or dual-language identity texts (31) could also foster the recognition of a larger range of subject positions, such as transnationals and plurilinguals. In the context of francophone minority schools, students could create multilingual or dual-language texts in collaboration with the English Language Arts teachers, or in collaboration with classmates. ScribJab, a combined website and iPad application, could be used to help students create, narrate, illustrate, and publish multilingual texts. (32) ScribJab could become a new tool in students' process of positioning themselves as transnational, allowing plurilingual students to foreground their bonds with a society of origin, but also with the host society.

The goal of these pedagogical approaches--language awareness, DLBs, and multilingual or dual-language identity texts--is not to teach languages other than the target language (French, in the case of my study). The intention is to develop a plurilingual and pluricultural paradigm in the curriculum and in the classroom by promoting positive attitudes toward plurality of languages. These approaches can help create a classroom space where plurilingualism is recognized as a continuum, with students using and combining different linguistic and cultural resources in different contexts to fulfill differentiated communication needs. When adopting these approaches, however, educators should to be mindful not to adopt an "essentialist" (Goodhart) view of languages as being tied to countries (i.e., by asking students "Who speaks Farsi and would like to talk about their hometown in Iran?," when many students who speak Farsi may have been born in Canada). We need to recognize that identity work is a constant process of positioning oneself and others, and that students may choose to put forward (or to downplay) certain subject positions (Doran) depending on the context.

Transnational migration is changing large urban centres in Canada, and they are becoming increasingly multilingual and multicultural. Francophone minority schools and minority communities in these cities are, as a result, also becoming increasingly multilingual and multicultural. In schools like Ecole Felix-Leclerc, more than half of the students are plurilingual, immigrant, and/or transnational. Like Alexandra, they are able to use their linguistic resources in different ways and in different situations, but their subject positions as transnationals are not always accepted, recognized, and valorized. Because identity and language are intertwined, and because identity plays a role in school success, one great way to ensure these students' involvement and success at school is to recognize and value their subject positions as transnational.

Appendix - Transcription Conventions

(?): A question mark between parentheses instead of a name or initial indicates that no good guess could be made as to the identity of the speaker.

?Walter: a question mark before the name of the speaker stands for a probable but not safe guess regarding the identity of the speaker.

[pause]: The word "pause" between square brackets indicate a pause in the speech.

(...): Three dots between brackets indicate that some material of the original transcript or example has been omitted.

[: A square bracket between turns indicates the point at which overlap by another speaker starts.

(xxx): xxx between parentheses means a stretch of talk was impossible to hear.

(don't): Words between parentheses represent the best guess at a stretch of talk which was difficult to hear.

[laugh]: Material between square brackets provides extralinguistic information, e.g., about bodily movements.

--: A dash indicates that a speaker has been cut off by someone else.

EMPHASIS: Capital letters indicates that a speaker gave a syllable, word, or phrase particular prominence.


(1) French and English are both official languages in Canada. The term "minority language" refers to French or English in contexts where they are not the dominant language. For instance, English is dominant in the province of British Columbia, making French the minority language.

I explain this concept in detail in the section titled "Francophone Minority Schools in British Columbia, Canada."

(2) Rejean Lachapelle and Jean-Francois Lepage wrote that, over the last fifty or sixty years, three major mutations impacted << l'evolution demolinguistique >> ("the demolinguistic evolution") in Canada (11). Of interest in this paper is the third mutation, which is << la poussee de l'immigration >> ("the growth/rise of immigration") (99); it affected the whole country but major urban centres in particular (74).

(3) Ecole Felix-Leclerc is not the school's real name.

(4) British Columbia francophone education authority.

(5) This statistic was taken from the "Rapport annuel 2012-2013" (5), an annual report published yearly by the CSF.

(6) See, for instance, work by Christine Dallaire; Christine Dallaire and Josianne Roma; Diane Gerin-Lajoie; Rodrigue Landry et al.; and Annie Pilote et al.

(7) To explore the two notable examples of work with plurilingual transnational youth in minority schools and communities, see Awad Ibrahim's "Becoming Black," "Operating Under Erasure," "The New Flaneur," and "Will They Ever Speak with Authority?" For Prasad, see her dissertation, "The Prism of Children's Plurilingualism: A Multi-Site Inquiry with Children as Co-Researchers across English and French Schools in Toronto and Montpellier."

(8) See also Bonny Norton, who discusses the importance of identity in learning a second language and Peter Sayer who discuss translanguaging in the classroom in a transitional bilingual education program as a legitimized means of performing desired identities.

(9) These statistics are from the Census Profile, 2016 Census, Vancouver.

(10) For more information on events related to the francophone presence in British Columbia, see Nicolas Kenny's text "Francophones of British Columbia."

(11) Moises Esteban-Guitart and Ignasi Vila write:
Globalization, on the one hand, and the demands of the so-called
"cultural minorities"--immigrants, stateless nations, indigenous
peoples--(Kymlicka, 1995), on the other hand, have called into question
the traditional homogeneous notions of identity whereby the state
contains and ensures social ties and political agreement via the
homogenization of citizenship based on the "one language, one
territory, one identity, one nation-state" formula. (17)

(12) Positioning theories of identity build on works by Judith Butler, Bronwyn Davies, Davies and Rom Harre, and Dorothy Holland and Kevin Leander.

(13) Blackledge and Pavlenko write: "In the present collection negotiation of identities will be understood as the interplay between reflective positioning, that is, self-representation, and interactive positioning, whereby others attempt to reposition particular individuals or groups" (249).

(14) According to Meredith Doran, language is a "central tool for the strategic enactment of multiple subject positions" (96).

(15) Youth have some level of agency in the process of positioning (Holland and Leander).

(16) Blackledge and Pavlenko argue that while agency is important in positioning, instances of reflective positioning are often contested by others. Plurilingual transnational students can find themselves in "a perpetual tension between self-chosen identities and others' attempts to position them differently" (249).

(17) Plurilingualism is influenced by sociolinguistics (e.g., Louis-Jean Calvet; Louise Dabene; Francois Grosjean; and William Labov).

(18) For an extensive discussion of this dynamic view of bilingualism and plurilingualism repertoires, see Daniel Coste et al., Grosjean, and Daniele Moore.

(19) For instance, using French and English in the same sentence, or alternating sentences in each language.

(20) Moore writes that in the classrooms, teachers generally evaluated bi/plurilingual practices as incorrect utterances with interferences from other languages (161).

(21) The term "legitimate language" has roots in Pierre Bourdieu's work. Claude Le Manchec, reflecting upon Bourdieu's work, suggested that << la variete linguistique du groupe social dominant rend plus ou moins legitime les productions langagieres >> [the dominant social group's linguistic variety makes language productions more or less legitimate] (123, my translation).

(22) The "ethnic flight" strategy, according to Esteban-Guitart et al., involves identification only with the host country or society, whereas the "active opposition" strategy of adaptation involves developing identities in the margins of the host society and rejecting the institutions of the dominant culture.

(23) As stated by the Conseil Scolaire Francophone in their brochure titled "Services TEFIE," a program employing workers to offer services to francophone newcomers, to help immigrant families settle in francophone schools in BC.

(24) All activities conducted by the researcher with the group were in French. However, when I interviewed the students individually, I gave them the option to speak French or English. Most of the time, they elected to speak French to me.

(25) The term "focal student" comes from the works of Anne Haas Dyson. In her papers, she describes as "focal students" the students on whom her attention was focalized during her ethnographic work in classrooms.

(26) I was a teacher-librarian at the Ecole Felix-Leclerc for a few years, from the time the grade six students in my study were in kindergarten to grade four. I was there when Alexandra arrived at Ecole Felix-Leclerc in grade one.

(27) As discussed by Blackledge and Pavlenko, and Pavlenko and Blackledge.

(28) See the work of Jim Cummins, as well as the work of Merrill Swain and Sharon Lapkin, on this topic.

(29) To learn more about the language awareness approach, see the works of Francoise Armand et al. ("Sensibiliser"), Nancy Geoffrey et al., and Diane Dagenais et al. ("Linguistic").

(30) To learn more about the use of dual-language books (DLBs) in literacy instruction, see Rahat Naqvi et al.

(31) To learn more about multilingual or dual-language identity texts, see the works of Armand et al. ("Le Soutien"), Cummins et al. ("Affirming"), Cummins et al. ("Timelines"), Cummins and Early, and Giampapa.

(32) To learn more about ScribJab, see the work of Dagenais and Kelleen Toohey, as well as Dagenais et al. ("Multilingual").

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Genevieve Brisson is an assistant professor in French Education in the Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University, in Canada. Her scholarship explores bi/plurilingualism in relation to literacies and identities, and she is interested in documenting the literacy practices of plurilingual children and youth. Her research also focuses on Canadian children's literature, children's literature in translation, and the use of literature in first and second language classrooms.
Table 1: Mother tongue and language spoken most often at home in
British Columbia (9)

                           French Only  English Only  Non-Official
                                                      Language Only

Mother Tongue              1.25 %       68.93 %       27.56 %
Spoken Most Often at Home  0.36 %       78 %          15.6 %

Table 2: Languages spoken at home, as presented on students' linguistic

           Monolingual  French/English  Plurilingual  Languages Spoken
                        Bilingual                     at Home

Number of
Students   0            10              9             Arabic,
                                                      English, French,
                                                      Italian, Polish,
                                                      Russian, Rwandan,
                                                      Sign language,
                                                      Spanish, Swahili,
                                                      and Tagalog
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Author:Brisson, Genevieve
Publication:Jeunesse: Young People, Texts, Cultures
Date:Dec 22, 2018
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