The relationship between identity, language and teaching and learning in Higher Education in South Africa

  • Brenda Leibowitz
  • Hanelie Adendorff
  • Shariefa Daniels
  • Ansie Loots
  • Sipho Nakasa
  • Nosipiwo Ngxabazi
  • Antoinette van der Merwe
  • Idilette van Deventer


The study on the relationship of identity, language and teaching and learning was conducted by a team of eight members at a higher education institution in the Western Cape. The aims of the research were to investigate the relationship between language, identity and learning, to show how this investigation can benefit dialogue about transformation, and to facilitate the research development of the team. The research design made use of narrative and educational biography in semi-structured interviews with 64 staff members and 100 students.  The study supports views of identity as constructed and non-unitary.  It shows how language, both as proficiency in the dominant medium of communication and as discourse, is a key component of identity in a higher education institution. The interviews demonstrated how, according to lecturers and students, language and discourse function as primary influences on individuals’ acculturation and integration into the academic community. According to the interviewees, language as a marker of identity is interwoven with other aspects of identity.  It is both a resource and a source of identification and affiliation. The research demonstrated that dialogue and self reflection can be facilitated via research into identity, teaching and learning, and that this can be beneficial for both the interviewees and the research team.


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biography

Brenda Leibowitz
Brenda Leibowitz is Director of the Centre for Teaching and Learning at Stellenbosch University. Her interests are in higher educational development, identity issues and language and learning. At the time of writing the article all team members were working in one of the Academic Support Centres at the University.Email: