Analyzing students’ writing in a Jamaican Creole-speaking context: An ecological and systemic functional approach

Shondel Nero, Lillian Stevens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article examines the language and literacy practices of Creole English-speaking children in Jamaica. Situating the study within an ecological framework, we use a systemic functional linguistic (SFL) approach to analyze students’ writing in two Jamaican schools. Data collection included interviews with teachers, classroom observations, instructional materials, and focal students’ writing samples. Data analyses revealed vastly different language ecologies between the schools owing to sharp socioeconomic stratification, the structural organization of schools, and the pervasiveness of standard language ideology, which stigmatizes Jamaican Creole (JC) and privileges Standard Jamaican English (SJE) in schools. Functional analysis of students’ writing showed that the nature of the writing tasks at the schools created different affordances for exploiting lexico-grammatical choices for meaning making – enhancing them in the case of one school but severely restricting them in the case of another – perpetuating the academic disadvantage for JC speakers. Recommendations for structural and attitudinal changes through teacher training and implementation of approaches that engage students’ bidialectal competence for learning are made as important first steps towards addressing educational inequities in Jamaican schools.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13-24
Number of pages12
JournalLinguistics and Education
StatePublished - Feb 2018


  • Academic writing
  • Creole English
  • Functional approach
  • Jamaica
  • Language ecologies
  • Social stratification
  • Standard language ideology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Education
  • Linguistics and Language


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