Education Faculty Publications

Document Type

White Paper

Publication Date



The theoretical concept of “academic language” came from research related to the education of speakers of other languages. Cummins (1981, 1984) made a distinction between “basic interpersonal communicative skills” (BICS) which are the language skills that are needed for casual, face to face communication, and “cognitive/academic language proficiency“(CALP), which refers to the specific literary language that is required in academic settings. Cummins described CALP as being more cognitively demanding than everyday interactions, and decontextualized, requiring students to use language in situations where they have relatively few contextual cues (like the intonation, facial expressions and gestures of BICS). In addition, academic language depends on a “preferred” set of language skills based upon accepted school practices. These skills include such things as discipline-specific vocabulary and phraseology, standardized grammar, discourse structures, and particular pragmatic conventions such as using a formal tone or register in both speaking and writing, using specified structures and procedures for completing work, and demonstrating compliance through certain body postures, facial expressions, tone of voice, ways of setting text on paper, etc.


Academic language

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.