Linguistic Repertoire

The ‘polylingualism norm’ (Jørgensen et al., 2011) describes a situation where individuals have access to words, phrases and concepts from a range of languages. Although these linguistic resources might be categorised within dictionaries and textbooks as “belonging to” specific languages, they are drawn on by individuals in much more fluid and hybrid ways. Rather than being rigidly segmented within an individual’s mind, they contribute to a common ‘linguistic repertoire’. Blommaert and Rampton (2011) define this concept as referring to:

‘individuals’ very variable (and often rather fragmentary) grasp of a plurality of differentially shared styles, registers and genres, which are picked up (and maybe then partially forgotten) within biographical trajectories that develop in actual histories and topographies’ (p6).

Individuals pick up different bits of language at home, at school and in other contexts, all of which combine to form their linguistic repertoire. The linguistic repertoire of a young Londoner might include:

  • a growing knowledge of Standard English literacy picked up at school;
  • a vernacular London English used with friends and siblings, including elements of a London Jamaican Creole;
  • some spoken conversational Arabic picked up from grandparents, reinforced during occasional extended trips to Tunisia;
  • a reading knowledge of Koranic Arabic studied at the mosque;
  • some knowledge of an adapted “text speak” Arabic employing Roman script, used on social media;
  • snippets of French studied as MFL, alongside snippets of Tunisian-inflected French picked up from grandparents;
  • greetings, insults and other short phrases in a range of languages picked up from multilingual peers.

The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) (Council of Europe, 2001) distinguishes between multilingualism as ‘the co-existence of different languages in a given society’ (p4) and ‘plurilingualism’ whereby individuals build up ‘a communicative competence to which all knowledge and experience of language contributes and in which languages interrelate and interact’ (p4). The notion of a ‘linguistic repertoire’ captures this sense of various linguistic ingredients contributing to a common skill set.