Teenage talk: speaking, stance-taking, and young people's views of themselves within the education system

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Cultural narratives of both teenage talk and young people's language skills in general are somewhat negative. On the one hand, concern is expressed at the inadequate communication skills of school leavers and their misuse of English in formal and informal contexts (CBI, 2012), and on the other there is an apparent downgrading of the role of spoken language in curriculum matters (Alexander, 2012). Young people are aware of how their communication can be viewed by adult others and despite a critical awareness of language use and the ability to recognize the linguistic features that manifest social, regional, and ethnic differences, young people are aware of the low prestige nature of their own language use.
However, research with young people seeks out opportunities for young people to talk and make perceivable their epistemic and attitudinal positions through speaking. Asked their opinions and experiences, young people enact their positons as social actors in public acts of stance-taking.
This paper investigates the stance-taking of teenagers in research focus groups in relation to how these participants viewed themselves within the UK education system, and how they talked about themselves. The focus group data forms part of a larger project which investigated the impact of educational reform on institutions across England. Complementary quantitative and qualitative approaches to the analysis of teenage talk in focus groups are used. The primary benefits of combining qualitative approaches to the analysis of discourse and quantitative methods of corpus linguistics reside in the identification of common categories across a substantial number of whole focus group transcripts and the ability to direct analysis to representative transcripts for further qualitative analysis. In this manner, whole transcripts can be investigated individually, as they would be using traditional approaches to discourse analysis, but analysis can also be made of all transcripts using quantitative methods for comparative purposes.
Discussion of results suggest that teenagers in these focus groups employ playful and expressive language to present their ideas and experiences, they self and peer-monitor, and they make choices on how they speak using both standard and youth varieties. When they talk about and position themselves, they do so around much finer-grained groupings than a homogenous "14-19 or 16/19", as reflected in education policy. There is also a significant distinction in the way some young people presented their stance as part of a shared common ground and collective understanding and those who did not signal such solidarity.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 15 Sep 2015
EventBritish Educational Research Association Annual Conference 2015 - Queen's University Belfast, Belfast, United Kingdom
Duration: 15 Sep 201517 Sep 2015


ConferenceBritish Educational Research Association Annual Conference 2015
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


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