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Self-assessment and standard language ideologies: Bilingual youths in Sweden reflect on their language proficiencies

Conference contribution
Authors Therese Ribbås
Julia Forsberg
Johan Gross
Published in European experiences of ‘good’ language, ‘bad language’, 6 July 2017 — 7 July 2017, University of Nottingham, UK
Publication year 2017
Published at Department of Philosophy, Linguistics and Theory of Science
Language en
Subject categories Linguistics, Bilingualism, Scandinavian languages, General Language Studies and Linguistics, Languages and Literature


Standard language cultures are characterised by beliefs in idealised standard forms of the language in question. In this paper, these beliefs are connected to the concepts of social desirability bias and peer groups, through analysing how Swedish youths reflect upon and self- assess their language competences. The data consists of interviews where informants aged 16-19 in Gothenburg self-assess their proficiency in Swedish, English and home languages, and report which language they believe to be their best, and which they prefer to speak. The results can be structured into two main topics, which both concern the social circumstances where the languages have been learned. First, during the self-assessment, informants reflect on their language proficiencies using different points of reference for the different languages in their repertoires. Here we find four main categories of answers: the informants’ evaluations of other people’s language proficiency compared to their own; their proficiency in other languages; their evaluation of their proficiency in relation to formal grading and feedback given in school; and their own experiences of their limitations and abilities in different situations. The frequency and distribution of these vary depending on the language being assessed, but most reflections occur in the context of discussing Swedish. Second, informants show attitudes towards “good” and “bad” usage of Swedish, something they do not express when assessing English or home languages. In the process of self-assessing Swedish, informants contextualize their proficiency in a way that focuses on standard language ideologies and their speech community. The same pattern does not occur when informants are reflecting on their other languages, indicating the important role that the peer group and speech community have in creating and facilitating these ideologies.

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