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L2 Investment in African languages: a multiple case study of successful white learners of African languages in post-apartheid South Africa



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James, Michael William 


Informed by a critical realist perspective and using a multiple case study methodology, this PhD study recruited, interviewed and analysed 12 cases of white South African (wSAn) learners in the post-apartheid era who reached a high proficiency in an indigenous African language (AfL) as a second or additional language (L2). The phenomenon of study, L2 AfL learning (L2AfLL) by wSAns, was characterised as a form of L2 indigenous language learning (L2ILL) by settler-descendants occurring in other post-colonial contexts like New Zealand and Kenya, among others. As an overall framing device, an investment metaphor was reconceptualised for the purposes of this study as the ‘L2 Investment’ framework – inspired, but divergent, from Norton’s (1995) construct of investment and later investment model (with Darvin, 2015). Six core cases were selected and analysed in depth; in the cross-case analysis, these were complemented by a further six peripheral cases, in order to achieve a measure of analytic generalisation from the inclusion of limit cases (Campbell & Yin, 2018). Viewed through an L2 Investment frame, it was found that successful investment in L2AfLL occurred in cases with nominal access to AfLs in high school; ideal neurophysiology and prior human capital; and intrinsic motivation. For those who lacked such ideal personal conditions, guardian investment by parents was sufficient to catalyse investment behaviour, or the introduction of circumstantial necessity through moving to an AfL-dominant, rural area. All successful cases were found to have committed to a ‘transgressive modality’ of L2AfLL, in which class and spatial boundaries were overcome. This was undertaken either in isolation, or in addition to an academic modality (high school or university). Beyond a narrow focus on the conditions for and development of linguistic capital, fluency in an AfL was typically found to be leverageable for further social and symbolic capital, limited occupational gain, as well as what was termed zookairotic capital – e.g. emergent senses of rootedness, legitimacy, physical and psychological security, and joy. This emerged primarily for investors themselves, but also for most AfL-speaking interlocutors. Evidence was thus found for the value of multiple instances of symmetrical multilingualism (Orman, 2007), with implications for broader social welfare and nation-building.





Liu, Yongcan


african language learning, african languages, indigenous language learning, L2 Investment, multilingualism, post-apartheid, Second language acquisition, SLA, south africa, white South Africans


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
The Bradlow Foundation