In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Educational Linguistics

  • Introduction
  • Early Foundational Works: Mid-1960s to Early 1980s
  • Deepening Foundations: 1980s-1990s
  • Reference Works in Educational Linguistics
  • Journals in Educational Linguistics
  • Book Series and Web Resources in Educational Linguistics
  • Research Methodology and Ethics: Ways of Knowing, Being, Seeing

Related Articles Expand or collapse the "related articles" sectionabout

Forthcoming Articles Expand or collapse the "forthcoming articles" section


Linguistics Educational Linguistics
Nancy H. Hornberger
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0291


Educational linguistics is a field of research, theory, policy, and practice whose essential concern is the teaching and learning of language. Integrally tied to the emergence of sociolinguistics in the 1960s, educational linguistics encompasses not only the linguistic, pedagogical, and developmental aspects of language teaching and learning but also the social identities, meanings, relationships, contexts, and roles of language in (language) teaching and learning. Similarly, our attention is not only on classroom teachers and learners, but the whole gamut of social settings and agents, including policymakers, families, schools, workplaces, religious institutions, communities, societies, and more—and whether real-time or virtual and oral, written, or digital. Critically, not only these social dimensions but the ways in which they are infused with and influential on relations of power are foundational in educational linguistics. From its earliest days up to the present, there has been a productive tension between the named field of educational linguistics and the many scholars and practitioners who “do” educational linguistics but may not call themselves educational linguists. Indeed, few of the earliest scholarly giants whose work is at the foundation of the field called it educational linguistics; and today, educational linguists usually claim it as just one of their multiple identities along with applied linguist, anthropological linguist, sociolinguist, or other. The bibliography begins, then, with the sections Early Foundational Works: Mid-1960s to Early 1980s and Reference Works in Educational Linguistics, moving on from there to consider Journals in Educational Linguistics and Book Series and Web Resources in Educational Linguistics followed by Research Methodology and Ethics: Ways of Knowing, Being, Seeing. After this, seven thematic sections cover foundational areas of the field, with a sample of recent publications which capture current educational linguistics at its “heart.” In light of the large scope of the field, and given the space constraints and purpose of Oxford Bibliographies—to provide researchers and students with selective guides through the literature on a given topic—the focus is primarily on publications from 2001 forward in the thematic sections, and on influential and breakthrough pieces throughout. To be sure, there is an inevitable bias in selection, but also a hope that the University of Pennsylvania’s long-term experience in educational linguistics serves as testing ground for defining critical concepts in the field. I acknowledge here with gratitude the assistance and support of my PhD student Sarah-Lee Gonsalves at multiple stages of this project. Not only did her enthusiasm play a role in my undertaking the essay, but her perspective and experience as a newly emerging scholar in educational linguistics helped shape my decisions about what to include (or not), while her dedication and expertise in annotating have left their mark in nearly every entry.

Early Foundational Works: Mid-1960s to Early 1980s

Educational linguistics’ most seminal piece is arguably Hymes 1972, first presented as a lecture at the 1966 Research Planning Conference on Language Development among Disadvantaged Children at Yeshiva University’s Ferkauf Graduate School of Education. As Courtney Cazden points out in the Anthropology and Education Quarterly (2011, issue 42.4) honoring Hymes, this was the time of the US civil rights movement and the inauguration of Head Start, when the US Office of Education was very interested in how the language of “disadvantaged” children (understood then as nonstandard-speaking African American children) might play a role in their school success or failure. Hymes’s proposal of a communicative competence that is as much about the social functions of language as about its grammatical accuracy was perhaps a response not just to Chomsky’s ideal speaker-hearer but also to the political climate of the time. Smitherman 1979 takes up this vision, writing on the legitimacy of black language and the need for new paradigms of educational linguistics research and pedagogy. Language, clearly, is at the core of educational linguistics and the field reflects and contributes to evolving understandings of the complexities of language and communicative competence. Fishman 1982, on age-old challenges of language diversity and education, frames language as part of, index of, and symbol of ethnicity and culture, i.e., what the author calls “peopleness relatedness” or the sense of being part of a particular people, doing the things that this people traditionally does, and knowing (appreciating, sensing, feeling, intuiting) things this people claims to know; he goes on to discuss alternative historical and contemporary stances toward ethnicities as transitional, enduring, or separate but shareable. Other seminal essays and books from those first decades of the as-yet-unnamed field put forth concepts that also became critical to the field: Gumperz 1968, on verbal repertoire in multilingual speech communities; Freire 1970 on conscientizaçaõ “political consciousness-raising” in adult literacy; Philips 1972 on non-verbal communication and home-school mismatch in communicative participation structures; Haugen 1973 on the curse of language used as a basis for social discrimination; Erickson 1975 on gatekeeping encounters and situated social identity in educational counseling; Halliday 1975 on children’s language acquisition as learning how to mean; Cummins 1979 on linguistic interdependence and thresholds hypotheses in bilingual language development; Hymes 1980 on the centrality of language and culture in education; and Heath 1982 on literacy events in home contexts.

  • Cummins, Jim. 1979. Linguistic interdependence and the educational development of bilingual children. Educational Research 49.2: 222–251.

    DOI: 10.3102/00346543049002222

    The article outlines a theoretical framework that examines a confluence of factors (sociocultural and linguistic) in a given context, to advance an understanding of how educational programs impact the cognitive and academic development of bilingual children. Cummins challenges simplistic notions of linguistic mismatch per se as an explanation for language minority children’s poor academic achievement, advocating rather for additive bilingual programs that promote literacy in both children’s first and second languages.

  • Erickson, Frederick. 1975. Gatekeeping and the melting pot: Interaction in counseling encounters. Harvard Educational Review 45.1: 44–70.

    DOI: 10.17763/HAER.45.1.G2X156R1K00W5037

    This groundbreaking microethnographic study of situated social identity in educational gatekeeping encounters explores how race, ethnicity, and communicative styles mediate student-counselor relationships in junior college counseling interviews and consequently impact student trajectories for progression into careers and further study. Erickson suggests that counselors’ greater awareness of co-memberships at play during their interactions with students could improve their ability to support and advise students.

  • Fishman, Joshua. 1982. Sociolinguistic foundations of bilingual education. Bilingual Review/La Revista Bilingüe 9.1: 1–35.

    This historical overview of sociology and sociolinguistics discusses the advent of bilingual education in traditionally monolingual education systems. Using comparative examples from North America, Europe, and former colonies, the essay specifically explores linguistic variation and mass formal education, and the implications of language status and language planning for bilingual education. Fishman concludes that societal support is crucial for the success of bilingual education.

  • Freire, Paulo. 1970. The adult literacy process as cultural action for freedom. Harvard Educational Review 40:205–225.

    DOI: 10.17763/HAER.40.2.Q7N227021N148P26

    This seminal article, both visionary and supremely practical, challenges framings of adult literacy as solely a technical skill and instead calls for a pedagogical shift to see literacy as a transformative social practice. Informed by his experiences in adult literacy education in the complex and highly inequitable multilingual ecology of the Brazilian northeast of the 1960s, Freire calls for more community centered and collaborative approaches to literacy, that advocate for cultural action to seek liberation from historical and contemporary injustice and oppression.

  • Gumperz, John J. 1968. The speech community. In International encyclopedia of the social sciences. Edited by David L. Sills, 381–386. New York: Macmillan.

    In this seminal article, the author highlights the speech community as the center of socially embedded linguistic analysis, tracing the origins of this analysis to the study of dialectology and describing its subsequent development. Gumperz introduces the concept of verbal repertoire as the totality of dialects (regional and social) and superposed variants (e.g., register and style) in a speech community and explores considerations for promoting social change.

  • Halliday, Michael A. K. 1975. Learning how to mean: Explorations in the development of language. London: Edward Arnold.

    Arguing that children are active agents in their own language development, Halliday sets forth his framework for a functional, or sociolinguistic, account of the early development of a child’s mother tongue. Draws on intensive study of the language of his son, Nigel, from nine to eighteen months, to describe and document the child’s learning to mean by expressing instrumental “I want,” regulatory “do as I tell you,” interactional “me and you,” personal “here I come,” heuristic “tell me why,” imaginative “let’s pretend,” and informative “I’ve got something to tell you” functions in approximately that order.

  • Haugen, Einar. 1973. The curse of Babel. Daedalus 102.3: 47–57.

    Challenging narratives on the impact of linguistic diversity, Haugen traces interpretations of the disadvantages of linguistic diversity to the biblical case of the Tower of Babel. Arguing for a reinterpretation, the essay presents the cases of bilingual education in the United States and of the Lapps and Finnish bilingual speakers in Norrbotten, Sweden, and advances the idea that linguistic diversity is never a problem unless it is used as a basis for discrimination.

  • Heath, Shirley Brice. 1982. What no bedtime story means: Narrative skills at home and school. Language in Society 11.1: 49–76.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0047404500009039

    A foundational ethnographic study examining the varied literacy practices in student communities and how these compare to practices encountered in the classroom. Observations in three communities of differing socioeconomic and racial compositions reveal that understandings of what is considered a literacy event varied by community. These findings suggest that this variation should be considered by educators and researchers since it has implications for student development, assessment, and educational achievement.

  • Hymes, Dell H. 1972. On communicative competence. In Sociolinguistics: Selected readings. Edited by J. B. Pride and Janet Holmes, 269–293. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.

    Addressing how a child comes to produce and understand “any and all” the grammatical sentences of a language, Hymes proposes “communicative competence” to capture a broad sociolinguistic vision concerning “whether (and to what degree)” a linguistic action is formally possible, physically and culturally feasible, contextually appropriate, and actually done. The author suggests three interrelated concepts, emergent in sociolinguistics at the time, as relevant to describing communicative competence, namely verbal repertoire, linguistic routines, and domains of language behavior.

  • Hymes, Dell H. 1980. Language in education: Ethnolinguistic essays. Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics.

    Several of Hymes’s early and influential essays articulating a sociolinguistic approach to language and education from a perspective influenced by anthropology, linguistics, and folklore studies. Focus is on the construction of social life and inequalities through language as an evolving and dynamic process and exploration of how schools reflect these larger social influences. Hymes proposes ethnographic monitoring as an important means of evaluating bilingual education programs.

  • Philips, Susan. 1972. Participant structures and communicative competence: Warm Springs children in community and classroom. In Functions of language in the classroom. Edited by Courtney Cazden, Vera John, and Dell Hymes, 370–394. New York: Teachers College Press.

    This study reveals how divergent Native American and non–Native American participation structures lead to an incomplete assessment of student language competence by teachers. Philips argues that teachers should not assume that knowledge of a language necessarily implies a familiarity with a wide range of participant structures beyond students’ communities and this may be the motivation behind student silence and reluctant participation.

  • Smitherman, Geneva. 1979. Toward educational linguistics for the first world. College English 41.2: 202–211.

    DOI: 10.2307/376407

    Smitherman argues for a study of Ebonics that stresses communicative competence rather than phonology and syntax, an ideology that recognizes that knowledge is for all and not just a select few, and a radically new pedagogy that recognizes the legitimacy of Black language and culture. She articulates three interrelated dimensions educators and linguists must pursue together to achieve such a pedagogy: theory and research, policy and planning, and implementation and practice.

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