Toward a New View of Low-Achieving Bilinguals: A Study of Linguistic Competence in Designated "Semilinguals"

By Valadez, Concepcion M.; MacSwan, Jeff et al. | Bilingual Review, September-December 2000 | Go to article overview

Toward a New View of Low-Achieving Bilinguals: A Study of Linguistic Competence in Designated "Semilinguals"


Valadez, Concepcion M., MacSwan, Jeff, Martinez, Corinne, Bilingual Review


1. Introduction

Research in bilingual education has made an important impact on bilingual curricula and teaching practices. Unlike many other domains of educational research, research on bilingualism and bilingual education has impacted practitioners, forging a spirit of inclusion and promoting discussion between researchers and teachers. The intense in-service activity of the first decades of federally funded bilingual programs was underway as the field was building theories. By 1981 there appeared to be sufficient consensus in the field that a milestone volume was published by the California State Department of Education, Schooling and Language Minority Students: A Theoretical Framework (1981). The theories, thus made accessible, became a boon to administrators and teacher trainers hungry for explanations of how and why first language instruction would remedy the inefficiency of submersion English instruction for language minority students. As a result of these efforts, no teacher in the state of California is currently el igible to receive a teaching credential without an acquaintance with the work of Cummins and Krashen, for instance. So we might say that certain theories in bilingual education have become institutionalized.

However, the theories themselves may lead to decisions that have negative educational consequences (Edelsky et al. 1983; Martin-Jones and Romaine 1986; Commins and Miramontes 1989; Valadez 1995; MacSwan 1999, 2000). For example, Cummins proposed his famous threshold hypothesis as a way of explaining academic achievement differences in minority language bilinguals (such as Spanish-speaking children learning English in submersion programs in the United States) and majority language bilinguals (such as English-speaking children learning French in immersion programs in Canada) (Cummins 1976, 1979). Cummins posited that certain language minority children have "limited ability in both their languages," a condition he called "semilingualism" (Cummins 1979) or "limited bilingualism" (Cummins 1981).

This perception of students was highlighted in a recent Los Angeles Times article (Pyle 1996). In the schools of the Los Angeles Unified School District there were reported to be 6,800 immigrant students who have been labeled "non-nons," that is, children who allegedly do not know English, Spanish, or any other language. The district's educational response has been to place these children in individual classrooms and provide them with intensive language instruction. At the end of this article, we will address the wisdom or inadvertent harm that may result from such a decision. What may be driving the determination that these children are limited in both languages appears to be an interpretation of Jim Cummins's (1976 1981) threshold hypothesis, in which the lowest threshold of bilingualism is said to include children who have a "low level in both languages." The term that has been applied to these children is "semilingual"; in Los Angeles, they are called "non-nons." In another California district the label is "clinically disfluent."

Almost nowhere, however, is the notion of "non-non" or "semilingual" precisely defined. Cummins (1976, 1981) refers to the condition as one of "low level in both languages," and Toukomaa and Skutnabb-Kangas (1977) refer to it as "semilingualism." The closest we come to an actual definition is that proposed by the philologist Nils Hansegard (1968), cited in Skutnabb-Kangas (1981). He lists the characteristics of "semilingualism" as a deficiency in both (all) languages in any of these categories: (a) size of repertoire of words and phrases; (b) linguistic correctness; (c) degree of automatism; (d) ability to neologize; (e) mastery of cognitive functions of language; and (f) richness of meaning.

We used these criteria to pose our research question:

Do the children bearing the label "semilingual" or "clinically disfluent" have a relatively impoverished knowledge of morphology, make frequent errors in syntax (word order), and appear relatively inexpressive? …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Toward a New View of Low-Achieving Bilinguals: A Study of Linguistic Competence in Designated "Semilinguals"
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.