The Office of Faculty Development

Linguistic Capital

Linguistic Capital is an idea originating in anthropology and attributed to Pierre Bordieu, later adapted as a sociological construct by Tara J. Yosso who wrote that linguistic capital “reflects the idea that students of color arrive at school with multiple strengths, including language and communication skills.”  As language is a complex and dynamic construct, linguistic capital refers to much more than the vocabulary and grammar knowledge possessed by students in a dominant language.  Linguistic capital also refers to student ability to work within different language registers and communication styles and to utilize various social skills within a variety of contexts.

By learning about students’ linguistic assets, learning experiences can be planned to highlight these assets.  By developing asset-based learning experiences, all students may benefit from the collection of diverse assets present in a learning environment.

While linguistic capital refers to assets related to what we often think of as “formal languages,” there is a very diverse variety of skill sets and language types that students develop and use in everyday life.  Students who are digital natives, those who were born well into the digital age, often have highly developed language skills for use in digital contexts.  The wide variety of contexts, or registers, in which students use language are associated with a diverse set of skills that intersect, but do not completely overlap.  These skills, from both formal and informal contexts, can be leveraged to improve the learning opportunities of students.

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