, Volume 46, Issue 6, pp 911–922 | Cite as

Centripetal and centrifugal language forces in one elementary school second language mathematics classroom

  • Richard Barwell
Original Article


Research on the learning and teaching of mathematics in contexts of language diversity has highlighted a number of common tensions that arise in a variety of contexts. These tensions can be explained by Bakhtin’s characterization of two sets of forces that are present in any utterance: centripetal forces represent the drive for unitary language, standardisation and linguistic hegemony; centrifugal forces represent the presence of heteroglossia, stratification and decentralisation. In this paper, I use this theoretical perspective to examine ethnographic data from a study of a second language mathematics classroom in Canada, in which the students are almost all speakers of Cree, one of the original languages of Canada. My analysis highlights three situations in which the tension between centripetal and centrifugal forces is particularly salient: the students’ use of Cree; working on mathematical word problems; and producing mathematical explanations.


Centrifugal Force Word Problem Language Policy Mathematics Classroom Mathematics Class 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



I am indebted to the school, teacher and students who kindly participated in this research. The data collection was funded by SSHRC, grant number 410-2008-0544. I am grateful to Maya Shrestra, Maha Sinno, Adil Dsousa, Jennifer Chew Leung and Élysée Cadet for their work on different aspects of the project.


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Copyright information

© FIZ Karlsruhe 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of EducationUniversity of OttawaOttawaCanada

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