Category Archives: Language Arts

Sociology of Language: Reading Responses

Of the three readings for this week, the one that most intrigued me was the one from Yukio Tsuda (2014). I am always inspired by the work Linda Christensen (2009) does, and I’ve read a little bit about what Pennycook (2010) writes about, but I hadn’t read an article similar to the one Tsuda wrote. He raised many important and challenging issues. His assertion that the most serious problem caused by globalization is the Anglo-Americanization of world cultures at first unsettled me as I thought first about labor rights in the developing world, and climate change. I was aware of the role US produced entertainment plays across the globe but I hadn’t linked it specifically to English as a hegemonic tool in the way Tsuda does. This is probably due to being a White home language English speaker from a middle class family. Growing up there were a lot of US movies and tv shows to watch, but materially people’s lives in those movies weren’t too far from what I lived, and linguistically we were speaking the same language. There were also many cultural similarities but the commercial side of the US and exports such as Disney were often criticized. UK cultural exports (such as the BBC) were generally received with less animus by my parents and people around us, and were often seen as ‘superior’, but neither was particularly foreign to us.

Tsuda refers to the work of Takahashi who states, based on empirical research, that native speakers of English (at this international conference) intentionally try to push non-native speakers out of discussions using a range of tactics. Tsuda adds that it seems in international conferences, native English speakers use their linguistic advantage to “magnify their power so they can establish an unequal and asymmetrical with the non-English speakers and this push them out of the mainstream of communication”. This is appalling to me and shows up a highly immature mindset among those who benefit from hegemonic linguistic privilege. It’s not clear what type of conference Takahashi refers to, but that’s not important as all international conferences should focus on the expertize each person brings, regardless of English fluency. It’s likely that the non-native speakers of English have more to add to the conversation, as it’s possible the native speakers use their range of linguistic push-out tactics to cover for content knowledge and analysis, but this wouldn’t be easy to prove. Non-native speakers certainly have an analysis that differs from the English mainstream and this is clear in Tsuda’s work.

Tsuda comments that those who cannot speak English fluently are labeled as incompetent, and thus insulted and perceived to be inferior. In South Africa this summer I read an article about Babes Wodumo, a young Zulu singer/celebrity. Babes has been criticized for not speaking ‘good’ English, this comment directly casting shade on her cognitive abilities. She sings and talks mostly in Zulu, and she can speak English but prefers her mother tongue. It is a source of pride for her. Like Ngugi (quoted by Christensen) she is resisting the colonial linguistic apparatus. Tsuda writes that stereotypes and prejudices are easily created to hold a discriminatory perception and attitude towards those who do not and cannot speak English. I have been paying closer attention over the last week to my reactions to people and their languages use. I can’t say it’s all good, because prejudicial thoughts do come my way despite my personal beliefs in the value of all tongues, in counter to hegemonic views. I doubt this article could have been written by a native English speaker as we are just not as tuned in to life as a non-native English speaker. As I write this I also think about people who have difficulties expressing themselves in their home language, and neurodiverse people, to name a few. This then cycles back to perception of ‘intelligence’ and English ability as a marker of competence. I speak three languages that are closely related and I learned these languages from living in countries where they are spoken. I don’t see myself as cognitively superior because of this. It is an interest I have and one I’ve maintained. My dad speaks about three languages (English, French and German) and my mum has tried to learn languages (French, Italian) but she has a very hard time with it. There is no difference in their intellectual comptence. We also all benefit from being White home language English speakers, thus our languages are seen as ‘supplementary’ rather than ‘necessary’.

Tsuda brings up the “colonization of the consciousness”, the mental control of the colonized by the colonizer. Tsuda quotes Ngugi who points out that the domination of a people’s language by the languages of the colonizing nations was crucial to the domination of the mental universe of the colonized. Tsuda writes that English-speaking people unconsciously hold linguistic imperialist consciousness, while non-English speaking people assume English use to be inevitable, indicating the ‘colonization of their mind’. This point isn’t as well addressed in this article as topics such as the hegemony of English and the Ecology of Language Paradigm, but it is a critical point to include. I would taper the argument by adding White English speakers as ones who hold imperialist consciousness, as many non-White speakers of English are viewed through a racialized lens, no matter their command of the language. Writers such as Ngugi Wa Thiongo have a mastery of English that could put many ‘native’ speakers to shame, but his race and his accent make him seem ‘foreign’ in a way that a White person with a strong Scottish accent wouldn’t be. Regarding the ‘colonization of the mind’, I could argue that it is up to individuals in the academic settings he refers to to not acquiesce to English language demands, but that would be naïve on my part, and shows up my White English speaking privilege. I am looking forward to the CIES conference next year in Mexico City. For the first time proposals will be accepted in Spanish. Considering the extensive linguistic repertoires people at the CIES conference maintain, it would be good to see/hear presentations in many languages other than English. I feel that if the CIES conference can’t do multilingual presentations, then not many international organizations can.

 

 

References

 

Christensen, L. (2009). Chapter 5: Uncovering the Legacy of Language and Power. In Teaching for Joy and Justice: Re-Imagining the Language Arts Classroom. Milwaukee: Rethinking Schools Publication.

Pennycook, A. (2010). Introduction: language as a local practice. In Language as a Local Practice. London: Routledge.

Tsuda, Y. (2014). The Hegemony of English and Strategies for Linguistic Pluralism: Proposing the Ecology of Language Paradigm. Retrieved from http://miresperanto.com/en/english_as_intern/hegemony_of_english.htm

 

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Beware the apologetic stance of liberals

 

“Ignorance is never innocent and is always shaped by a particular ideological predisposition”. This quote from Donaldo Macedo (Macedo, 2000) is in response to educators objecting to the term “colonialism” to characterize the present (writing in 2000) attack on bilingual education (an attack that is still underway). He comments that the apologetic stance of some liberals, faced with the ignorance of educators who blindly oppose bilingual education, is not surprising as classical liberalism always prioritizes the right to private property. Market forces and neoliberalism are a logical extension of classical liberalism. Whiteness and English go together to suppress people of color and other people whose lives are pushed to the margins. English is not the only colonial language but it is the most widespread. It could also be argued that it is the most insidious as it continually morphs and spreads its webbing, increasing its influence.

Cheryl Harris introduced the concept of “whiteness as property” (Harris, 1993)and this can be extended to “English as property”. Speaking English is too often equated with ‘intelligence’ despite clear evidence that native English speakers do not have a monopoly on complex thought. In fact to even enter into that debate shows the dominance of English expression at the expense of other languages and mother tongues. In reference to Prop 227, empirical evidence that showed that in San Francisco and in San José bilingual graduates were outperforming their English speaking counterparts (Macedo, 2000) was deliberately ignored as it didn’t fit the deficit narrative pushed by politicians, the media, and English Only proponents. The days of overt punishment for speaking home languages other than English may be over, but students from lower socio-economic settings are still punished when forced to abandon their mother tongue in formal school settings.

“And then I went to school..” Macedo (2000) states that the ideological principles that sustain debates over bilingual education and the primacy of Western heritage are consonant with a colonial ideology designed to devalue the cultural capital and values of the colonized. It is impossible to extract relations of power and privilege from language teaching, and from teaching in general. The supposed ‘objectivity’ of Dominant American English plasters over the legacy of colonialism and exploitation, that is still very much in play. It is heartening, however, to read the work of researchers in the field, and educators in various settings, who challenge deficit thinking when it comes to students who speak non-Dominant American English. The authors of a 2008 review of research (García, Kleifgen, & Falchi, 2008) posit that the central idea to emerge from the report is that there is a growing dissonance between research on the education of emergent bilinguals and policy enacted to educate them. Eight years on we are fortunate to have even more work focused on the education of emergent bilingual students, work that may serve to buttress the hatred and intolerance now legitimized in too many places.

In terms of policy, the 2001 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Schools Act, renamed No Child Left Behind, pushed nails in the coffin of education of ELs. Instead of linguistic references to bilingual education the goal was English acquisition at all costs. There is little doubt that the assault on bilingual education is directly linked to the number of Spanish speaking emergent bilingual students. At an event to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Lau v. Nichols, one of the attorneys on the case mentioned that it was a strategic decision to have Chinese families file the class action suit, and that if it had been, for example, Sanchez v. Nichols, the result could have been different. It’s hard not to react to that viscerally, but it reflects the attitudes of the time, and prevailing attitudes of today. Around 80% of emergent bilinguals speak Spanish as a home language, providing critical mass in terms of presence and policy. It is impossible, however, to generalize about people who come from vastly different countries and vastly different cultures. The 2008 report provides us with an overview of the data and an overview of programs set up to support emergent bilingual students. The authors contend that the recent shift toward teaching Spanish-speaking English language learners in English alone with no use of Spanish to scaffold their learning appears to be the result of the public’s misunderstanding of the nature of bilingualism and its benefits, as well as cultural politics that have little to do with what is educationally sound for the children.

A report from 2007 authored by the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill found that in a preschool setting when the Spanish speaking children spoke with their teachers in Spanish, conversations were more elaborate, children were rated higher by their teachers in terms of character traits, and there was less bullying and anti-social behavior. The amount of Spanish that children experienced in the classroom was significantly related to teachers’ ratings of children’s frustration, tolerance, assertiveness, task orientation and peer social skills. The use of Spanish in the classroom had no influence on their English language acquisition. When we talk about academic language and academic achievement we must bring in social and emotional hooks, as that is what home languages provide in abundance. These hooks can also come about when children learn native languages relevant to their cultural identity. As these are often languages not used much in the home, the complexity of expression may be mooted, but the importance of the language is not.

Too often decisions on how to teach emergent bilinguals are being made not in the classroom but in legislative chambers and voting booths; not on the basis of educational research data but on the basis of public opinion, often passionate but rarely informed (Murray, 2007). An outspoken advocate of bilingual education, James Crawford (Crawford, 2000), stated, “In a small way when government offers bilingual assistance, it elevates the status of language minorities. It suggests that immigrants and Native peoples need not abandon their heritage to be considered American-or at least to be given access to democratic institutions. In short, it alters structures of power, class, and ethnicity. The demand for language restrictions, by contrast, is a demand to reinforce the existing social order.” Education is always political and bilingual education tends to elicit greater political involvement than other areas of education due in no small part to the colonizing power of English and English-only movements. It is this colonizing power we face and we need creative solutions to support our students’ hearts and souls.

References:

Crawford, J. (2000). Anatomy of the English-only Movement. In At War with Diversity. Clevedon [England] ; Buffalo [N.Y.]: Multilingual Matters.

García, O., Kleifgen, J. A., & Falchi, L. (2008). From English Language Learners to Emergent Bilinguals (Research Review). New York, N.Y.: Teachers College, Columbia University.

Harris, C. (1993). Whiteness as Property. Harvard Law Review, 106(8), 1709–1791.

Macedo, D. (2000). The Colonialism of the English Only Movement. Educational Researcher, 29(3), 15–24.

Murray, M. (Liz). (2007, May 23). Current Political Realities and their Impact on Young English Language Learners. Hunter College, CUNY, New York, N.Y.

 

From P.L. Thomas Ed D: Fostering Convention Awareness in Students: Eschewing a Rules-Based View of Language

“For our students to be aware, then, of both descriptive and prescriptive views of language, for those students to gain a recognition that language use is about purpose and choice, bound by situation and audience, is for them to become agents in how their own credibility and authority is viewed.”

Origen: Fostering Convention Awareness in Students: Eschewing a Rules-Based View of Language