A sociological study of second language diffusion

Eliezer Ben-Rafael, Hezi Brosh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Tremendous importance has been given to the study of second language acquisition (SLA); however, while SLA focuses on the hardships met by the individual learner on his or her way to linguistic competence, it does not, nor does it intend to, consider the motivations of learners, nor the diffusion of these motivations within society and among social categories. The sociology of language has investigated these aspects through a variety of perspectives. One perspective focuses on school language programs as a matter of linguistic policies of political centers. A second perspective relates linguistic resources to group boundaries, and principally ethnicity. A third perspective views language resources as assets of linguistic-cultural capital. These viewpoints are rarely considered jointly, let alone as complementary to each other. Yet, each of the three aspects emphasized by these perspectives not only has its own intrinsic dynamics, but also interacts with the other two. It is our contention that the rationale of linguistic policies, the characteristics of linguistic groups and the linguistic capital values involved constitute the interacting dimensions of second language diffusion at school. We have applied this approach to the case of Arabic in Israeli Hebrew-speaking schools. We turned to three sources of information. In order to understand the rationale of the Israeli linguistic policy toward Arabic, we analyzed the orientations of the Arabic programs and collected testimonies of policy makers about the educational aims of Arabic teaching. The ethnic backing and the linguistic capital value of Arabic were investigated by a survey of Jewish Israeli students of Arabic programs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-24
Number of pages24
JournalLanguage Problems and Language Planning
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1991


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