Somali immigrant youths and the power of print literacy

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11 Scopus citations


This article examines some of the ways in which the politics of a written script are enacted among Somali refugees and immigrants in present-day schools and classrooms. Analysis focuses on data gathered with Somali youths in one all-immigrant high school classroom in the US. Data are examined to illustrate how global processes, some of which have developed across timescales of multiple decades, including the decision about a Somali script, the Somali civil war(s) and the rise of Somali Diaspora, play out in everyday classroom interactions. Here we extend the academic conversation about the cognitive and educational benefit of home language literacy and schooling when learning a new language by exploring the dynamic relationship between the symbolic power of Somali print literacy on the one hand, and current classroom practices and informal policies on the other. These findings illustrate how the history of the Somali script, differential access to formal schooling along gender lines and the benefit of having print literacy in Somali play out in everyday interactions at school. We document ways in which Somali print literacy is integral to how Somali adolescents see themselves and others as learners and individuals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4-19
Number of pages16
JournalWriting Systems Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2 2015


  • Adolescent
  • Diaspora
  • ELL
  • ESL
  • Limited formal schooling (LFS)
  • Literacy
  • Refugee
  • Somali


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