Language Alternation in University Classrooms

Article excerpt

This paper examines the alternate use of Arabic and English in the context of a university classroom, where a policy to use the former language in place of the latter was being implemented. Analysis of a sample of recorded university lectures of English and Arabic medium classes in sciences and humanities reveals that teachers use code switching, consciously and/or unconsciously, as a pedagogic resource and strategy to achieve a variety of communicative functions, including effective classroom interaction, topic change, and solidarity, among other functions. Hastiness in policy implementation without adequate planning or preparation also seemed to play a role in the translation of policy into actual classroom practice.

Background

This paper (1) is based on classroom research carried out as part of a wider study of the implementation of Arabicization (i.e. the policy of using Arabic as a medium of instruction) at the university level in Sudan (Taha, 1990). Although the changeover to Arabic in secondary schools was completed in 1968/9, this policy was not officially adopted in higher education institutions until the early eighties under the increasing influence of the Islamist forces. In fact, similar trends in the adoption of Arabic as the sole medium of education have been developed in other Arabic speaking countries, such as Algeria and Morocco. The way the policy was carried out in secondary schools in the sixties was criticized by Hurriez (1968) and Hawkes (1969),among others, who maintained that at the initial implementation phase in schools, some influential Sudanese officials were at the time against the policy. Criticisms also included abruptness in implementation and lack of appropriate and adequate textbooks. In 1983, The Sudan National Council for Higher Education endorsed the principle of Arabicization of higher education institutions in the country. And, by 1987 the program was carried out in several faculties of the University of Khartoum, the oldest English medium institution in the country. In 1990, when the National Islamic Front backed government took over, the policy was further endorsed. Now the policy is implemented in almost all universities, with the exception of some private colleges which use English as a medium of instruction (2).

The Study

The research upon which this paper is based included: (1) A sociolinguistic survey of attitudes to language and language policy, (2) Case study work involving interviews with a sub-sample of respondents, and, (3) observation of language use in a selection of classrooms within the context of Khartoum University, Sudan. The main focus of this paper will be on the classroom observations conducted in the context of the transitional phase of policy implementation, mainly the alternate use of Arabic and English in the university classrooms; for the report on the survey work, see Taha (1990). The objectives of the observations were:

1. To gain some insights into the ways in which the policy was being translated into classroom practice.

2. To investigate the ways in which English and Arabic were being used in classrooms by teachers with students whose linguistic abilities vary considerably.

3. To find out whether classroom language practices reflected the respondents' reports of language patterns in the survey.

The classroom data included nine lectures, both science and social science classes that were tape recorded. Of the nine classes, six were officially designated as Arabic medium and three were English medium. The focus of recording was on the teachers' discourse. This is because in some university classes such as these, teacher talk predominates. However, the relatively small size of most of the classes recorded, ensured that almost all students interactions with the teachers were recorded.

Related Code switching Studies

The aspect of classroom discourse that provides the focus of the analysis is code switching or language alternation, primarily in teacher talk. …