Journal of Academic Language and Learning, Vol 8, No 3 (2014)

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A TALL order? Legitimation Code Theory for academic language and learning

Karl Maton

Abstract


In searching for an adequate theory, the field of academic language and learning faces challenges of relating concepts to data and overcoming knowledge-blindness. Most approaches to education are either context-dependent or freely-floating, severing theory from data and practice, and cannot capture the nature of the knowledge practices into which students wish to be apprenticed. This paper suggests Legitimation Code Theory (LCT) as a potential approach for studying and shaping academic language and learning that addresses these challenges. In recent years LCT has grown rapidly as a basis for empirical research; studies are using the framework to explore the organising principles of knowledge practices across the institutional and disciplinary maps of education. This paper focuses on one dimension of this framework: Semantics. First, the concepts of ‘semantic gravity’ and ‘semantic density’ are defined. Second, the paper brings these concepts together to analyse data drawn from a major classroom study. Specifically, movements are traced in the degrees of context-dependence and condensations of meanings of knowledge within classroom practice in Biology and History. The analysis suggests that ‘semantic waves’, where knowledge is transformed between relatively decontextualised, condensed meanings and context-dependent, simplified meanings, are a key characteristic of academic literacy. Third, the paper discusses how these concepts are being widely used to explore diverse practices in education, revealing the generic and subject-specific attributes of academic literacy. Lastly, it is argued that LCT offers a potentially fruitful framework for exploring and shaping academic language and learning practices.

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