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College of Arts & Sciences
Linguistics Program


Second Language Learnerhood among Cross-cultural Field workers

Thor Sawin

[Full text of dissertation in ProQuest]

Committee Members: Jennifer Reynolds (Director), Elaine Chun, Curtis Ford, Paul Malovrh, Tracey Weldon

Abstract

This dissertation studies second language learnerhood (ideologies about why and how to acquire a target language) among American field workers of a multinational, faith-based development organization, "Love the World". This organizational ethnography is longitudinal, tracking how learnerhood changes across the first years of field service. It is also multi-sited, tracing learnerhood across an assemblage of interconnected nodes. Field workers' learnerhoods are shaped by two larger ideologies of language learning which interact across the nodes of and individual trajectories through Love the World. One ideology, rooted in academic tradition, developmental second language acquisition and modernist missiological theory, valorizes the individual learner (the locus of abstract knowledge and skills) who seeks to acquire a reified heart language. Such heart language belongs to and defines host nationals living at each field site. Another ideology, rooted in sociocultural pedagogical methods, emphasizes distributed cognition, linguistic repertoires and community participation. Against the backdrop of changing realities of language use which accompany globalization, tensions between these two ideologies of learnerhood affect the success of field workers' attempts to perform their host language identities and their organizational duties at 13 field sites across Europe.

Because Love the World tends to devolve policy making and accountability for language acquisition to ever more local organizational scales, individuals are left to draw heavily from their own personal models of learnerhood and folk ideologies of language acquisition, rather than on institutional training, when deciding how to pursue target language proficiency. To analyze this process, the construct of learnerhood is grounded within sociolinguistic and second language acquisition theory, and then contextualized within the assemblage of missions and development organizations. This involves describing these organizations' advocacy for and adoption of sociocultural pedagogical methodologies, such as Greg Thomson's Growing Participator Approach. Next, learnerhood is described from three perspectives, first by identifying frequently emerging themes common across the different sites and then by analyzing these themes from both a spatial-hierarchical and an ontogenetic perspective. Finally, I identify consequences of the ways that learnerhoods develop within Love the World, suggesting practical applications for transnational organizations to better prepare language learners and implement sociocultural methodologies.