Shirley Brice Heath

Language Learning

A whirling debate began in 2015 as social programs began “selling” words as a way to ensure that children growing up in under-resourced communities could catch up with their middle- and upper-class peers in number of words heard before entering first grade. Programs sending well-meaning social workers and volunteers into private homes attempted to convince parents from across cultures to talk more to their children. However, context amounts to almost everything when it comes to interpreting as well as learning language, whether as first or second or further language. A special topics issue of the Journal of Linguistic Anthropology took up debates surrounding the harm or good of these “language-enriching” social programs. See Heath’s contribution:

2016. "The simple and direct? Almost never the solution". Journal of Linguistic Anthropology.

wordsworkplay | Shirley Brice Heath

Words at work and play: three decades in family and community life (2012) is a sequel to Ways with words (1983/1996). In the new book, Heath examines the structures and uses of language that have changed since the 1980s. In particular, she looks at how technologies of communication have shifted values surrounding extended texts (oral and written), printed texts, and assessments of text sources. The new work points to the increasingly multi-layered symbol systems that young and old consult, develop, and store. Habits surrounding these changes have significant effects on memory, personal interactions, analogical reasoning, and uses of evidence.


Language Socialization

Language socialization refers to the ideology and practices that enable learners to acquire one or more languages. For several decades, the term "language socialization" has included primarily early child language acquisition. Today, however, scholars increasingly acknowledge the need to understand language socialization as individuals mature through adolescence into adulthood. Moreover, specific occupations, geographic relocations, and new roles require specific languages, ways of using language, and understanding of different language ideologies.

Around the world, learning to produce and understand "academic language" or the register of student performance now receives considerable attention from scholars whose research may carry implications for teaching practices in formal education. Therefore, later language development, or that acquired during middle childhood and adolescence, needs inclusion in language socialization studies. Linguists and human development experts have little information on the "normal" course of oral language development during middle childhood and adolescence. Thus, topics such as the processing of information drawn from literate sources or from observation and participation in science laboratories or arts studios during these years remain largely unexamined. These gaps in research hinder progress toward understanding the relationship between oral fluency and literacy skills in reading and writing. During middle childhood and adolescence, young learners gain competence in reading to learn and in creating and interpreting multimodal communication. These modes include maps, graphs, charts, music, photographs, visual arts, and digital media, all of which are interdependent with written and oral language.

Section 1: Early language socialization

2011. "Language Socialization in Art and Science". In The Handbook of Language Socialization. A Duranti, E. Ochs, & B. Schieffelin, eds. London: Blackwell Publishers. Pp. 425-442

2000. "Linguistics in the study of language in education". Harvard Educational Review 70.1:49-59.

1990. "The children of Trackton's children: Spoken and written language in social change". In Cultural Psychology: The Chicago symposia on human development. J. S. Stigler, R. A. Shweder, & G. S. Herdt, [PDF available]

1982. "What no bedtime story means: Narrative skills at home and at school". Language and Society. 11.2:49-76. [PDF available]

Section 2: Later language development

2008. "Language Socialization in the Learning Communities of Adolescents". In Language Socialization; Encyclopedia of Language and Education Volume 8 2nd edition. N. Hornberger & P. Duff, eds. New York: Springer. Pp. 217-230.

1999. "Dimensions of Language Development". In Cultural Processes in Child Development. Vol. 29. A, Masten, ed. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Publishers. Pp. 59-75. (PDF available)

1998. "Working Through Language". In Kids Talk: Strategic Language Use in Later Childhood. S. Hoyle & C. T. Adger, eds. New York: Oxford University Press. Pp. 217-240. (PDF available)

Multimodal Literacies

Much debate centers around ways to identify, define, and assess means of producing and interpreting symbolic structure beyond that of verbal language. The term multimodal literacies refers to systems of representation that include written language combined with oral, visual, or gestural modes. These include musical scores, choreographic notational systems, and script notes with sketches that might be used by the director of a theatrical production. The following recent publications by Heath address some of the key issues and questions that surround multimodal literacies in the contemporary world as well as in past eras.

Section 3: Multimodal literacies

2008. (with Brian Street & Molly Mills). On Ethnography: Approaches to language and literacy research. New York: Teachers College Press.

2007. (with R. Wollach). "Vision for learning: History, theory, and affirmation". In Handbook of Research on Teaching Literacy Through the Communicative and Visual Arts. Vol. II. J. Flood, S. B. Heath, & D. Lapp, eds. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum. Pp. 3-12. (PDF available)


Shirley Brice Heath