ABSTRACT. This article investigates how Bakhtin’s (1984) concept of carnival can be useful for understanding student behavior and language use in a drama class for English Learners (ELs) in an urban middle school newcomer program located in a school in the U.S. state of California. Drawn from a yearlong case study of a drama class for English Learners, the discussion focuses on how playful language use in the classroom was reminiscent of Bakhtin’s (1981, 1984) carnival, which historically serves as a fissure from hierarchy and a relaxation of social mores. During these carnival moments, students were able to playfully experiment with language, take linguistic risks, and thereby appropriate important social and academic forms of language. At the same time, the data also elucidate how carnival was an ambivalent phenomenon wherein certain students strategically used carnivalesque, profane language to critique their experiences in school and give voice to their sense of dissatisfaction of being in a newcomer program and labeled as an EL. This article dovetails on existing research on the applications of Bakhtin’s theories to the classroom and makes a novel contribution to understanding the deeper significance behind the joking and clowning behaviors of middle school EL youth. pp. 23–37

Keywords: carnival; English learners; Middle School; Bakhtin


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