The reflexive imperative among high-achieving adolescents
A Flemish case study
The socio-cultural conditions of late modernity induce a “reflexive imperative” amongst young people, which also results in metapragmatic and metalinguistic behaviour, as has been demonstrated by linguistic ethnographers (LE). However, recent LE studies on reflexivity in Western European settings have mainly focused on how groups of socially low-status, geographically mobile and multilingual youth are involved in creative linguistic processes in which the disapproval of their linguistic hybridity is denounced. In this paper, based on a linguistic-ethnographic study, I will uncover the influence of the reflexive imperative on a different group: six high-achieving, white, elite, male, adolescent pupils in Flemish Belgium. Through a micro-analysis of their metacommentaries and speech practices, I describe the subtle metalinguistic and metapragmatic moves of the pupils, which demonstrate their attitude towards standard language use at school. An analysis of these boys’ linguistic reflexivity demonstrates a complex attitude towards Standard Dutch and Standard Language Ideology: at first sight, they seem to incline towards linguistic equality, resulting in a relaxation of the standard norm. However, an analysis of the more indirect metapragmatic practices of these boys reveals how they strategically use the symbolic capital of Standard Dutch, a practice which echoes the Flemish language-in-education policy and might serve to preserve (or prepare) their (future) elite position in society.
Keywords: language and education, linguistic ethnography, Flanders, Standard Language Ideology, linguistic reflexivity
For any use beyond this license, please contact the publisher at