Young People, Oral Improvisation and Language Itineraries

Author: Miren Artetxe Sarasola (University of the Basque Country, Spain)
Speaker: Miren Artetxe Sarasola
Topic: Anthropological Linguistics
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL COMELA 2022 General Session


This paper explores the experience and impact that participation in afterschool oral improvisation workshops –bertso eskolak- has for young Basque speakers. Drawing on participant observation and in-depth interviews among young people in the Northern Basque Country argues that the bertso eskola is best understood as a community of practice wherein relationships of trust and solidarity create a unique kind of space where young people are able to craft their identities and express their ideas and emotions in Basque outside the normative gaze of school and parents.

The paper explores the value of the concept of “community of practice” for understanding key social mechanisms by which motivation to speak a language is generated and sustained. Research shows that the bertso eskola experience works against the generalized trend among Basque speaking youth to switch to speaking French during adolescence.

This case study also explores tensions that arise between the egalitarian ethos of the bertso eskola on the one hand where all speakers are equal, and entrenched language ideologies that attribute greater authenticity and legitimacy to improvisors from Basque speaking families.


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Keywords: Oral improvisation, Communities of Practice, New Speakers, Linguistic legitimacy