Language Codes

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Language Codes

The construct of elaborated and restricted language codes was

introduced by Basil Bernstein in 1971, as a way of accounting for the

relatively poor performance of working-class pupils on language-based

subjects, when they were achieving as well as their middle-class

counterparts on mathematical topics. Interestingly, it was stimulated

directly by his experience of teaching in further education.

It is frequently misunderstood, largely because of Bernstein's

unfortunate choice of labels. The "restricted" code does not refer to

restricted vocabulary, and the "elaborated" code does not entail

flowery use of language. There is an issue of "linguistic

impoverishment" in the educational problems of some pupils, but

Bernstein is not on the whole concerned with such extreme cases.

One of Bernstein's research studies involved showing a group of

children a strip cartoon and recording their account of what it

depicted. Some said things like:

"They're playing football

and he kicks it and it goes through there

it breaks the window and they're looking at it

and he comes out

and shouts at them

because they've broken it

so they run away

and then she looks out

and she tells them off"

while others said:

"Three boys are playing football and one boy kicks the ball

and it goes through the window

the ball breaks the window

and the boys are looking at it

and a man comes out and shouts at them

because they've broken the window

so they run away

and then that lady looks out of her window

and she tells the boys off."

(from Bernstein, 1971 p 203 [re-arranged])

As Bernstein points out, the first account makes good sense if you

have the strip cartoon in front of you, but means much less without

it. This is an example of restricted code. The second can "stand on

its own", and is an example of elaborated code. See Bernstein's own

work for detailed accounts of the research behind the construct.
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