A systemic functional linguistic analysis of the utterances of three Pietermaritzburg physical science educators.
In South Africa, Physical Sciences educators play a crucial role in contributing to equal life chances for Physical Sciences learners. This is because they have the opportunity to employ functional language features for increasing access to scientific literacy - a goal of the Physical Sciences National Curriculum Statement. However, no studies were found in the literature which explicitly explored this aspect of a Physical Sciences educator's pedagogical content knowledge in the South African context. This study employs the sociocultural view of science as a language and the complementary theoretical framework of systemic functional linguistics to explore the nature of the utterances of three Pietermaritzburg Physical Sciences educators during Physical Sciences lessons. The focus is on the functional language features of nominalisation, lexical density, functional recasting, and lexical cohesion in terms of repetition and cohesive harmony index. Using a multi-case study methodology, pragmatic paradigm and mixed-methods approach, this study provides a sophisticated description of the utterances of Physical Sciences educators in language contexts characterised by varying proportions of English Second Language to total number of learners. The results reveal that lexical cohesion, measured by the cohesive harmony index and proportion of repeated content words relative to total words, increased with an increasing proportion of English Second Language to total number of learners. Nominalisation and lexical density did not decrease with an increasing proportion of English Second Language to total number of learners. The functional recasting results provide insight into numerous types of functional recasting available to Physical Sciences educators. In addition, a model is proposed regarding how the outcomes to which the functional recasting types contribute, impact on movement towards the everyday or scientific registers of English. Furthermore, each individual Physical Sciences educator had a „signature‟ talk, unrelated to the language context in which they taught. This study has significant implications for the development of pedagogical content knowledge in pre-service and in-service education and training of Physical Sciences educators. Training programmes need to place a greater emphasis on the functional use of language in order to empower Physical Sciences educators to adequately apprentice their learners into the use of the register of scientific English.