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Linguistic Diversity and Social JusticeAn Introduction to Applied Sociolinguistics$

Ingrid Piller

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780199937240

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199937240.001.0001

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The Subordination of Linguistic Diversity

The Subordination of Linguistic Diversity

(p.31) Chapter 3 The Subordination of Linguistic Diversity
Linguistic Diversity and Social Justice

Ingrid Piller

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter explores the discursive processes and language ideological debates through which linguistic diversity is dissimulated and subordinated. Linguistic diversity is rendered invisible through the territorial principle, which sets some speakers up as legitimate members of a society while excluding others. Those who are being excluded, delegitimized, and subordinated are usually mobile speakers whose ties to a territory are contested because they result from migration. One discourse about language that is central to their subordination is the construction of language learning as a matter of personal responsibility, where language learning is conceived of as a relatively easy undertaking, and failure to measure up to an imaginary linguistic norm regarded as a sign of laziness or self-isolation. Subordinating ways of speaking always means subordinating speakers. The injustices of cultural domination that are apparent in these processes are compounded in inflexible communicative spaces that institute the inequality between dominant and subordinated speakers.

Keywords:   cultural domination, exclusion, inequality, language ideology, language learning, linguistic norm, migration, personal responsibility, subordination, territorial principle

The previous chapter showed that everyone has their own unique linguistic repertoire and that diversity is inherent in language use. However, the ubiquity of linguistic diversity all too frequently remains obscured and we come to accept that having one particular standardized language is normal and deviations from the norm are problematic. This chapter explores in detail the discursive processes through which this happens. It first asks how it is possible that linguistic diversity—ubiquitous as it is—is so often obscured from view. How can linguistic diversity remain hidden in plain sight? In a second step it examines how linguistic diversity is ascribed to only some speakers and what consequences this ascription has for their social position.

Language sociologists explain the relative invisibility of linguistic diversity by saying that linguistically diverse societies are oftentimes characterized by a ‘monolingual habitus’ or a ‘monolingual mindset.’ The term ‘monolingual habitus’ was introduced by the education researcher Ingrid Gogolin to explain the monolingual institutional organization of schooling in Germany in the face of the fact that significant numbers of students speak a language other than German at home. The concept of the ‘habitus’ draws on the work of sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, who describes habitus as ‘systems of (p.32) durable, transposable dispositions’ and as ‘principles which generate and organize practices and representations.’ In English, the term ‘monolingual mindset’ is used more widely than ‘monolingual habitus.’ It was introduced by the linguist Michael Clyne to describe the mismatch between the fact of widespread multilingualism in Australia and the idealized representation of Australia as a monolingual English-speaking nation.1

A monolingual habitus or mindset does, of course, not appear out of nowhere. It is maintained through a wide range of practices and discourses in an ongoing process of discursive creation and recreation. Institutional and public elements in this process—the ways in which institutions organize linguistic diversity and the ways in which linguistic diversity is talked about in the media—are particularly powerful, and this chapter explores some of these institutional and public discourses that serve to subordinate linguistic diversity, first by obscuring it and second by problematizing it.

The focus in this chapter is on contemporary processes of linguistic subordination and the case studies you will encounter in this chapter all date from the early twenty-first century. However, before we proceed, it is worth bearing in mind that the discursive construction of a monolingual mindset is nothing new, certainly not in the Anglophone tradition, as a famous quote about medieval English by the writer and translator John of Trevisa (1342–1402) demonstrates:

[. . .] by comyxtioun and mellynge [mixing and mingling] firste wiþ Danes and afterward wiþ Normans, in meny þe contray longage is apayred [damaged], and som vseþ straunge wlafferynge [stammering], chiterynge [twittering], harrynge [making a harsh roaring or snarling sound], and garrynge [chirping] grisbayting [gnashing of teeth].2

A text such as this serves to render some ways of speaking—those characterized by ‘mixing and mingling’ with Danes and Normans—problematic. Trevisa describes speech in which linguistic diversity is too (p.33) obvious and impossible to ignore as if it constituted a language impairment (‘wlafferynge’) or was equal to animal sounds (‘chiterynge,’ ‘harrynge,’ ‘garrynge’) or to an involuntary physical reaction (‘grisbayting’).

Trevisa’s text is one little instance in the long history of the discursive construction of linguistic diversity as exceptional and problematic. So how does this process work in contemporary institutional and public discourses?

The Territorial Principle

One way in which we come to see monolingual standard languages as the norm and deviations from that imagined monolingual standard language—and remember each individual repertoire is a deviation but repertoires characterized by multilingualism and language contact tend to be characterized by greater deviation—as problematic is through the close association between language and place.

You will have seen maps that map language onto territory. You probably can conjure up in your mind a map of the Americas where almost all of North America is coded for English except for a bit of French in Eastern Canada; more than half of Central and South America will be coded for Spanish; the other big chunk (Brazil) for Portuguese; and three tiny pockets of English, Dutch, and French where the states of Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana are located. In addition to maps based on the national language of a state, you will be able to find more fine-grained maps that map traditional minority languages onto a particular territory.

Language maps do not only inform us about global language distributions, they also fulfill a particular discursive function: they establish a link between language and territory as a central and normal way to think about language use. The territorial principle is foundational to most thinking about linguistic justice because it undergirds linguistic legislation.

Where legislation exists that is specifically concerned with linguistic diversity, such legislation is usually based on the territorial (p.34) principle and links a particular language to a particular territory. Typically, the territory to which such language legislation applies is a nation-state. Article 2 of the French Constitution provides a case in point: ‘La langue de la République est le français.’ (‘The language of the Republic shall be French.’)3

Even polities that accord legal rights to more than one language often do so on the basis of the territorial principle. Well-known examples of multilingual states that have enshrined the territorial principle fixing a particular language to a particular place include Belgium, Canada, and Switzerland. Belgian legislation, for instance, divides the country into various language territories based on historical settlement patterns. There are two large monolingual territories (Flanders with Dutch and Wallonia with French), one bilingual territory (Brussels with Dutch and French), and various territories that are defined as monolingual but where another language enjoys certain protections (Dutch regions where French is protected; French regions where Dutch and/or German are protected; and a German region where French is protected). Complicated as this may sound, it is still a significant abstraction from Belgium’s actual linguistic diversity. To begin with, individual speakers may be located in the ‘wrong’ territory. In that case—say a French-speaking family living in Flanders—the family would enjoy none of the legal protections their French-speaking compatriots in Wallonia enjoy. Second, the legislated languages are not actually the local Belgian varieties of that language but standard languages standardized elsewhere. Traditionally, it is not standard Dutch or standard German that have been spoken in Belgium but Flemish and Alsatian. Assigning Standard Dutch and Standard German to certain territories has resulted in a shift away from Flemish and Alsatian in those territories. Finally, languages and varieties not ‘traditionally’ spoken in Belgium are left without any legitimate place. Languages such as Arabic, Berber, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, and Turkish, for instance, have been spoken in Belgium by significant numbers of speakers since the 1960s but because they have not been assigned to a particular historical territory they continue to be seen as ‘out of place.’4

(p.35) Even where legislation is specifically designed to protect linguistic diversity and to promote minority languages, the logic of such legislation has followed the territorial principle, as is the case in the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages. Widely seen as one of the most progressive pieces of linguistic justice legislation globally, the Charter was designed to protect and promote regional and minority languages and to enable speakers to use them in private and public life. Signatories commit to a range of measures to promote the use of the regional or minority language in the field of education, in the judicial arena, in public administration and public services, in the media, in cultural activities and facilities, and in economic and social life. However, the scope of the protection only applies to ‘the territories in which those languages are spoken’ and a relevant territory must correspond to ‘the historical base’ of the relevant language. As a result, two sets of languages are excluded from the scope of protection under the Charter: first, languages that have historically been spoken in Europe but have no historical association with a particular territory such as Yiddish and Romani; and, second, languages whose speakers arrived in a territory only after modern state formation and whose speakers did not settle in rural enclaves.5

In sum, the territorial principle is a collective belief that ties a particular abstract language to a particular place and that is enshrined in much linguistic-rights legislation. Given the fact that individuals do not speak a particular abstract language but have a range of repertoires at their disposal, the belief in the territorial principle results in at least two representational injustices: first, the real-life practices of real-life speakers may be rendered invisible (e.g., Flemish becomes Dutch and Alsatian becomes German). Second, the practices of speakers who are categorized as lacking ‘historical ties’ to a particular territory are rendered illegitimate. This gives rise to patently unfair situations where large ‘new’ minorities (also sometimes referred to as ‘allochthonous minorities’) are denied legal protection that is available to small ‘historical’ minorities (also termed ‘autochthonous minorities’). For instance, (p.36) the linguistic and cultural rights of Germany’s 50,000 Danes and 60,000 Sorbs are protected under national and European legislation (including the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages) but no such rights are available to Germany’s three million Turks. An even more bizarre situation exists in Finland, where Russian speakers constitute both a ‘historical’ (pre-1945) and a ‘new’ (post-1989) minority. The former are accorded language and cultural rights under national and European legislation while no such rights are available to the latter.6

The territorial principle that fixes language practices as ‘in place’ or ‘out of place’ finds its clearest expression in language maps and in language legislation. However, for it to maintain the strong hold it has on our collective belief systems the territorial principle needs to be continuously created and re-created in a wide variety of mundane discourses. In the following, we will explore some of those discourses.

Language Segregation

Powerful as the belief in the territorial principle is, linguistic diversity, particularly in urban spaces, has become increasingly difficult to ignore. Even the Belgians, who have taken such pains to assign language to territory, obviously were stumped when it came to their capital city, Brussels, which is designated the country’s only bilingual territory. Linguistic diversity and social complexity are characteristics of urban spaces and divvying up this complexity into neatly contained parcels is nearly impossible. Where it has been attempted, it is usually the product of extreme political, social, or economic violence and the result is the ghetto and genocide.

However, even in the most multicultural cities pockets of segregation persist. Somewhat ironically, some of the most clearly segregated spaces in many contemporary multicultural and highly diverse cities are cemeteries. It is not unusual to find that different communities have different cemeteries and even in the absence of separate cemeteries, different communities tend to occupy different (p.37) plots within one cemetery. As an example I will describe the Catholic cemetery in Tehran in some detail.

Tehran has a number of cemeteries organized by religion: Muslim, Christian, and Jewish. The Catholic cemetery is part of the large Christian Doulab Cemetery complex, where various Christian denominations are located in adjacent but walled-off compounds. About three quarters of the Catholic cemetery is known as the ‘Polish cemetery’ and constitutes the final resting place of almost 2,000 Polish men, women, and children who died in Tehran between 1942 and 1945.

The story of the Poles lying in Iranian soil is one of the less well-known tragedies of World War II. In 1939 the area that was then Eastern Poland and is today part of Belarus and Ukraine was annexed by the Soviets. Around 1.5 million Poles were deported from the area to camps in Siberia. The vast majority of these died in the following months under horrific circumstances. Only around 250,000 of the deported Poles are known to have survived in Siberia. These survivors were released in 1941 when Germany attacked the Soviet Union so that they could join in the war effort against the Nazis. Making their way from Siberia, around 115,000 of these survivors managed to reach Allied-occupied Iran. For a few years, the Polish community flourished in Tehran. There were Polish radio stations and newspapers and study circles were set up, such as the Institute of Iranian Studies headed by Stanisław Kościałkowski, who had been Professor of History at the University of Vilnius until his arrest in 1941. Kościałkowski even wrote a history of Polish-Iranian relations throughout the ages during his time in Tehran.7

However, death was ever-present in this group of weakened survivors, as the 1,869 refugee graves in the cemetery demonstrate. Each of these graves has an identical headstone inscribed with a number, the Polish abbreviation ‘Ś.P.’ (‘świętej pamięci,’ ‘in memory of’), a name, the year of birth, the year of death, and the Latin abbreviation ‘R.I.P.’ (‘requiescat in pace,’ ‘may s/he rest in peace’).

For the majority of the survivors, their stay in Iran was temporary and they later resettled in the UK, the Americas, Africa, (p.38) and Australasia. However, some also chose to stay and to rebuild their shattered lives in Iran as is evidenced by the graves in the far corner of the Polish section. There, a number of tombstones have been erected to the memory of people born in Poland who died in Tehran as recently as 2002. Most of these commemorate women who married Iranian men, as is evidenced by their mixed Polish and Persian surnames. Sadly, these are all single graves and the Iranian husbands and/or families of these women thus must lie elsewhere; maybe in Tehran’s huge Behest-e Zahra Cemetery, where the city’s Muslims find their final resting place. The fact that none of these graves are family graves—despite the fact that the women obviously had new families in Iran—speaks to the fact that faith and nation continue to divide in death those who were joined in life.

In addition to the divisions of faith, national divisions are also set in stone within the Catholic cemetery. Although widely known as the ‘Polish cemetery’ because such a large number of Poles lie there, the cemetery was started in 1855 with a mausoleum for Dr. Louis André Ernest Cloquet, a Frenchman who died prematurely while serving as personal physician to the Shah. The memorial to this Catholic was placed close to—but outside of—the Armenian cemetery. Since then Catholics from most European countries have also found their final resting place there and the cemetery’s sections are more or less clearly divided into national sections.

The banal nationalism of death is most obvious in the cases of the French and Italian dead who lie in the cemetery: their embassies have taken the trouble of placing little metal French or Italian flags at the foot of each French or Italian grave. While such flags are absent from the graves of other nationals lying in Doulab, the language of the tombstones is in most cases the language of the country of birth. None of the German graves I visited, for instance, shows any sign that the person lying there must have lived a transnational life and must, to a smaller or larger degree, have been part of the fabric not only of German but also Iranian society during their lives. The inscriptions on the tombstones bear no traces of a life partly lived in Iran.

(p.39) Visiting a cemetery such as the Catholic Cemetery in Tehran constitutes an object lesson set in stone about the desire of the living to inscribe the boundaries of faith, nation, and language even on those who obviously led lives that transcended those very boundaries.8 But the territorial principle rarely manifests as set in stone as it does in cemeteries. Usually, it is discursively constituted and subject to debate and contestation. In the following we will examine debates about the territorial principle in political discourse and media and social media discourse.

Debating the Territorial Principle

Political and media debates about the relationship between language and place enjoy a particularly wide reach and are highly influential in shaping the common-sense understanding that a nation should only have one language and that linguistic diversity is detrimental to social harmony and national unity. Even states that do not have an official language (or languages) codified in their constitution in the way that France and Belgium do usually operate on the territorial principle, elevating one language and its standard variety above all others.

This is true, for instance, in the case of the USA. The belief that English is the one and only language of the USA constitutes a central aspect of the national identity as an immigrant nation: the belief is that English constitutes an important cohesive device for the melting pot nation and that using English and English only is essential for social cohesion. A famous formulation of this language ideology can be found in a 1919 speech by President Theodore Roosevelt, who said ‘we have room for but one language here, and that is the English language.’9

Despite the strength of the one-nation-one-language ideology, those disadvantaged by this particular language ideology—immigrants from non-English speaking backgrounds who, like most adults, have difficulties learning English to such high levels (p.40) to be able to fully participate—have often struggled against it and won various concessions such as Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act. Section 203 is a provision for the full participation of non-English-speaking voters in the democratic process and thus mandates that election materials need to be printed in languages other than English in districts where population thresholds of other-language speakers are reached. First enacted in 1965 to eliminate the disenfranchisement of non-English speakers, it has been controversial ever since. This is not surprising given the strength of the one-nation-one-language ideology and the fact that even a relatively small and contained measure such as Section 203 has the potential to undermine the whole ideological complex of the territorial principle. Because Section 203 is the subject of such contention, it needs to be regularly extended by Congress. The most recent extension occurred in 2006 and the congressional debate that occurred on that occasion provides excellent evidence not only of the contested nature of the territorial principle but also the ways in which it is constituted and reconstituted in interaction.10

During the debate, speakers repeatedly extolled speaking English as a form of civic and patriotic virtue, as Mauro Mujica, the president of the language lobby group US English, who was invited to testify, did:

When a person steps into a voting booth, he or she is exercising the highest civic duty. Yet, at that very moment the government sends a signal that English is not really necessary to join our national political conversation. Ironically, this message will not be sent to the Spanish speaker in Burlington, Vermont or the Chinese speaker in Wichita, Kansas. It will be sent only to those who live in high enough language concentrations to trigger Section 203’s requirements. In short, it will be sent to the very immigrants who are likely to live in linguistic enclaves where an English-optional lifestyle is a real possibility.11

(p.41) Practically, doing your civic duty means engaging in the life of your community and contributing to the common good: volunteer firefighters are often seen as the ideal example of civic service. Volunteer firefighting, like most other forms of civic participation, occurs on the local level, ‘in linguistic enclaves where an English-optional lifestyle is a real possibility,’ if you will.

Participating in elections, too, is a civic duty—as it is a civic right. However, in contrast to volunteer firefighting, voting requires participation not in a local community but in an imagined community. Promoting English as a civic duty only makes sense if civic participation is delinked from the local and is tied exclusively to the national level.

In the process, it is not only the meaning of speaking English that is transformed but also the meaning of civic participation. From being inextricably linked to participation in the real life of a real community, it becomes individualized. This is particularly clear in those arguments that contrast ‘good’ immigrants with their opposites. The following example by another speaker during the debate is a case in point. Here a ‘good’ individual immigrant from Russia who does his duty because he speaks ‘good’ English is contrasted with the community of Chinatown. Chinatown residents are implicitly coded as linguistic shirkers who fail to do their linguistic and national duty:

I just recently came from San Francisco. I was in Chinatown, and we talk about the enclaves. On my way to the airport I rode with a Russian immigrant who spoke probably as good English as I, though with an accent. And I asked him about Chinatown and he said they don’t speak English there. You can’t live there unless you are Chinese. And in walking in the streets, I heard all the young Chinese students speaking Chinese. That may work in San Francisco, but that would not work in Iowa. In order to participate in the community, you must speak English.12

This quote is patently absurd: an obviously existing community group is exhorted ‘to participate in the community.’ The reason its (p.42) absurdity is not often called out lies in the hold the territorial principle that fixes language in place has on us: we come to share the belief that English is the one and only legitimate language of the USA and that national unity allows for only one single language to be legitimate.

The power of this belief is demonstrated by an egregious example of media discourse where the choice of the ‘wrong’ language in a high school speech was treated as a national scandal.13

In May 2012 the valedictorian of Orestimba High in Newman, a city of 10,000 in central California, chose to deliver his graduation speech in Spanish. Saul Tello Jr., the seventeen-year-old valedictorian, had won the honor to deliver the graduation speech because he was the top graduating student. More than three-quarters of the students at Orestimba High are bilingual in English and Spanish and the valedictorian therefore wrote his speech in English and Spanish. When he asked the principal’s permission to deliver the speech in both languages, the principal argued that a bilingual speech would take too much time and asked the valedictorian to choose one language only in order to save time. Saul Tello Jr. chose Spanish because his parents, who are first-generation migrants from Mexico, do not have much English and he wanted them to understand his speech, where he spoke about always striving to do your best, holding on to your dreams, and acknowledging those who came before you.

Small-town high school graduation speeches are normally local events and their merits are judged by the school community. It is rare for a high school graduation speech to even make it into local media. However, as Saul Tello Jr. and the principal of Orestimba High were soon to find out, flouting the territorial principle that ties English to public speech on US territory was enough to catapult Saul Tello Jr.’s five-minute speech into the national media limelight.

Conservative political commentator Bill O’Reilly, who has a popular evening show on Fox News, denounced the choice of Spanish as evidence of falling educational standards in US schools and ‘this whole self-esteem craziness.’ Editorials in many media outlets across the country followed suit and widely decried the speech as (p.43) evidence of rudeness and lack of respect for the United States. On many of these media websites, the public had the opportunity to weigh in, too, through social commentary.14 Many of these comments directly invoked the territorial principle as a self-evident reason why the choice of Spanish at a US high school graduation speech was ‘wrong.’ For instance, commentators argued that ‘Bill Oreilly is 100% correct. this is America not Mexico. He should of given his speech in english not Spanish’ or that ‘In America we speak English and to conduct the valedictorian speech in Spanish is wrong.’ Another comment, which received the highest number of likes in the debate (an indicator that this view is widely shared among contributors) read, ‘This was a flagrant insult to the United States of America which is an English speaking nation.’

The fact that a trivial event such as a short graduation speech by a high school student may gain national media coverage and condemnation is evidence of the power of the territorial principle. An ‘incorrect’ choice is seen as a problem of such proportions that it warrants national attention.

For national media to attack the language choice of a seventeen-year-old student while speaking in his local school is grossly unfair. The overall effect of national media scrutiny, criticism, and vilification of the choice of a language other than English is to reify English as the only legitimate language in the USA. That such media debates have consequences for individual speakers of other languages is obvious from frequent reports about service denial to people using a language other than English in the public space. These include reports of a college student being detained at an US airport because he was carrying Arabic vocabulary flashcards, an Orthodox Jew being removed from a plane because he was praying in Hebrew, or a young woman being denied service in an Apple store because she was speaking in Persian to an older relative. A survey of Asian-Americans found that 12% of respondents had experienced discrimination on the basis of language in a service encounter in the past two years. This was more than those who reported that they had experienced discrimination on the basis of race.15 We will explore the consequences of (p.44) experiencing language discrimination in detail in Chapter Six. The key point here is that political and media debates that keep reinforcing the self-evidence and legitimacy of the territorial principle have real-life consequences for those who deviate from the ideal of imagined linguistic homogeneity, whether by choice or not.

Linguistic Diversity and Personal Responsibility

A key criticism of Saul Tello Jr., his family and, in fact, the whole group of ‘Hispanics’ or ‘Latinos’ that can be found again and again in the media debate about his high school graduation speech is the fact that they ‘choose’ not to speak English. As one Facebook commentator put it, ‘If You choose not to learn english You dont belong here.’ The reason for this ‘choice against English’ was widely attributed to lack of personal effort. Another comment sums up this view: ‘You are just lazy if you don’t learn it [=English].’

This section explores the issue of choice in linguistic diversity and asks whether people who deviate from a society’s linguistic ideal do so willfully. In other words, are people whose linguistic practices are considered diverse partly to blame for their deviant choices? Victim blaming has always been an aspect of unjust regimes and I certainly would not wish to argue that linguistic subordination is defensible if speakers choose to differ from a society’s imagined linguistic norm. Rather, the argument of this section will be that underestimating the effort involved in language learning, ascribing linguistic diversity to choice, and blaming certain speakers for their ‘personal linguistic choices’ is another central discourse through which the subordination of linguistic diversity is achieved.

We know that Saul Tello Jr. made a choice because he prepared his speech in both languages and we can assume that he could have delivered his speech with equal fluency in English because he would not have been the top student in a California high school if his English was not good. Saul Tello Jr. is bilingual in English and Spanish, (p.45) and to assume that he spoke in Spanish because he had not learned English and was lazy is obviously fallacious.

But what about his parents? The valedictorian claimed that he chose Spanish because he wanted to honor his parents, first-generation migrants from Mexico, who have little English. Have they been too lazy to learn English? Does a Facebook commenter such as this one have a point?

Hell, if I can sit on a ferry boat and then a bus for 6 hours and learn enough French to get around Paris for 4 days, you can learn enough English in a few years to figure out your son’s Valedictorian speech.

The idea that migrants who fail to learn the national language do so because they are too lazy, lack the will power required, or simply cannot be bothered is certainly not limited to US language debates. A 2011 German public awareness campaign, for instance, exhorted migrants and their descendants to speak German. The campaign’s clever slogan ‘Raus mit der Sprache!’ (which literally translates as ‘Out with language!’ and means ‘Speak! Confess! Out with it!’) accompanied images of so-called German language ambassadors. These were German TV personalities, sports stars, or celebrities with a migrant background who posed with their tongue sticking out. The exposed tongue was painted in black, red and yellow, the colors of the national flag.

The campaign is based on a number of assumptions similar to those apparent in the debate about Spanish in the USA. To begin with, there is the assumption that migrants are unaware of the fact that most educational and job opportunities in Germany require German, and that therefore they need to be informed of that fact through public service advertising. The second assumption is that few migrants and their children learn German and, third, that they fail to do so by choice. Migrants are assumed to be too lazy to learn German, as is made explicit by one of the language ambassadors in a tabloid interview:

(p.46) Q:

  • Why is there so little desire to learn German?
  • A:

  • Many people are too lazy. [. . .] I hope the campaign motivates some people to attend a language school. All you have to do is go to the campaign’s homepage. There’s a great database and it’s easy to choose a school.
  • Q:

  • And that’s enough?
  • A:

  • You can’t make it any easier than that. All we can do is get people to think and then we have to say: ‘Ok, you’ve got to do the rest by yourself.’16
  • Unfortunately, language learning is not as easy as choosing a language school from a database. The consensus in applied linguistics is that language learning takes a long time and that the precise duration and final outcome as measured in proficiency level are almost impossible to predict as they depend on many factors, most of which are outside of the control of an individual language learner, such as age, level of education, aptitude, teaching program, language proximity, or access to interactional opportunities.

    Language learning is not at all a simple task and most people readily forget that it takes about twelve years to learn your first language. The first five or six years from birth are devoted to acquiring oral fluency and then another six years or so are needed to learn how to read and write, to acquire the academic and textual conventions of a language, and also to extend grammatical structures (e.g., the English passive is rare in spoken language and normally acquired through schooling), expand vocabulary (a process that continues throughout life whenever we enter a new field and acquire new specialist knowledge with its own terminology), and refine pragmatic conventions (e.g., young children tend to be oblivious to the rules for formal and informal forms of address).

    First-language acquisition may take more time than you thought but its outcomes are relatively uniform (under the condition that schooling is universal in a population). By contrast, the outcomes of second-language learning and the time it takes to achieve those outcomes are much more variable. The US Foreign Service Institute (p.47) (FSI) estimates that it will take an adult learner with average language aptitude about 480 hours of instruction to achieve intermediate proficiency in an easy language (easy from the perspective of an English speaker, such as Dutch, French, Italian, or Spanish) and about 1,320 hours to achieve the same level of proficiency in a difficult language (difficult, again, from the perspective of an English speaker, such as Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, or Korean).

    The Foreign Service Institute estimates are of hours of instruction that their clientele of future diplomats and other US service personnel preparing for missions abroad, i.e., highly educated foreign language learners, will need. Other than through formal language instruction, a language can also be learned informally, as is the case in the immersion contexts migrants typically find themselves in. These immersion contexts in themselves differ widely, as we will explore in the next section. The best estimates we have for immersion learners to acquire academic proficiency in a second language is four years and more, where ‘and more’ may well mean never.17

    Putting a number on how long it takes to learn a new language is a popular exercise and estimates put forward range from the six hours mentioned by the Facebook commentator quoted above to the ‘10,000-hour-rule’ provided by some Canadian educators. Curriculum designers, program developers and policy makers—just as language learners themselves—generally prefer to go by lower numbers. The UK government estimates that migrants will need 360 hours to reach ‘fluency’ in English, while the Australian government used to work on the assumption that it takes 1,765 hours but changed that estimate to 510 hours in the 1990s.18

    How is it possible that estimates of how long it takes to learn a language can vary so widely?

    To begin with, one needs to keep in mind that such estimates are often not based on the linguistic evidence but on practical considerations such as how many hours a typical course offered by a teaching institute takes or how much funding is available to cover the cost of a particular program. From a linguistic perspective, there are two (p.48) problems with attempting to put a figure on how long it takes to learn a language: one is related to what is meant by ‘fluency’ and the other to learner variables.

    ‘Fluency’ is often thought of as conversational fluency—the ability to have an everyday conversation. Young learners in particular can achieve conversational fluency quite quickly. However, the conversational ease of young learners often fools us into overlooking that they may have continued difficulty with the kind of context-reduced and cognitively demanding language that is necessary to succeed in school. ‘Children’s second language acquisition appears superior largely because the structures and vocabulary they need for adequate communication are so much simpler than those required of adults.’19 Conversely, the proficiency of post-puberty learners is often misjudged because even high-proficiency post-puberty learners tend to retain a ‘foreign’ accent.

    Just as the fluency of children and adults is judged by different yardsticks, fluency will seem different for different people and different contexts. To be ‘fluent’ while shopping is different from being ‘fluent’ when undertaking university studies; to be ‘fluent’ as a supermarket check-out operator is different from being ‘fluent’ as a university student. Overall, the key point here is that ‘fluency’ means different things to different people and while we are often all too eager to pass judgment on the proficiency of those who have traces of complex language learning trajectories in their repertoires, our judgments are rarely particularly valid or reliable.

    The problem that defining the endpoint of language learning is well-nigh impossible is compounded by the fact that a definite judgment on how much effort an individual will require to get to some point on the spectrum that is acceptable to those who pass judgment presents a problem of similar magnitude. Age makes a difference: adolescents and young adults have been found to learn faster than older adults. Prior education makes a difference: high school graduates have been found to learn faster than those who have not learned how to read and write in their first language. Socioeconomic (p.49) status makes a difference: those who have the time and resources to set aside for dedicated language learning have been found to learn faster than those who struggle to make ends meet. Gender makes a difference: men in employment have been found to learn faster than stay-at-home housewives. Race makes a difference: European-looking students in Australian high schools have been found to learn faster than Asian-looking students. Religion makes a difference: Christian converts have been found to learn faster after conversion. Sheer luck makes a difference: learners with a caring landlady have been found to learn faster than those whose accommodation arrangements were less favorable.20

    The list could go on and on. The general point is that your success at language learning is related to who you are and which hand you have been dealt in life. The factors listed above—age, prior education, socioeconomic status, gender, race, religion, luck—are by and large outside the control of the individual. What second-language learning research shows above all is that learning another language is not an easy feat. It requires a considerable investment of resources and it makes a huge difference whether you are learning in a supportive community or one that rejects you. The ultimate outcome of second-language learning efforts is not purely an act of willpower or the result of the learner’s personal choices.

    As Brian Barry explains in Why Social Justice Matters, a distinction between the deserving and the undeserving poor has long been a feature of capitalism but was tempered throughout most of the twentieth century by the arrangements put in place by the New Deal in the USA and strong welfare states in Western Europe.21 Today, the distinction has made a comeback in the guise of neoliberal exhortations to exert ‘personal responsibility’ and has served to justify the widening inequalities of recent years. Mostly exhortations to take personal responsibility have targeted poor people but the wider abdication of social responsibility can also be seen in widely held views about the obesity epidemic that is gripping much of the world and, our focus here, in discourses about language learning.

    (p.50) Blaming individuals for having made choices outside their control is patently unjust. Not only is the stigma of lack of willpower and laziness unjust in itself but it also has unjust consequences. First, it makes inequality and discrimination seem fair as we can blame homelessness on the poor choices a person has made, obesity on a person’s lack of fortitude, and inability to understand a speech in English on a person’s laziness. Second, the shame that comes from victim blaming keeps those affected from seeking effective remediation and generally makes positive intervention more difficult.22

    Grassroots Language Learning

    In the previous section we learned that migrants are often blamed for their ‘diverse’ repertoires and are stigmatized for failing to meet the imagined ideal of a particular standard language. While we usually do not think much of it if foreign language learning in the classroom is unsuccessful, there is a special stigma attached to failing to learn a language in an immersion context. Immersion learners who fall short of the ideal are often accused not only of laziness but of self-isolation, of a failure to embrace their new community, of duplicitous disloyalty.

    However, the immersion contexts that are conjured up in these discourses are more often than not imagined ideals, too. In real life, immersion learners do not normally encounter an army of language teachers who would like nothing better than to strike up helpful conversations with strangers that will allow those strangers to practice their communicative skills and this or that linguistic form. Usually, encounters in immersion contexts are with colleagues, employers, or service staff, that is people whose interest it is to get things done with words and not to act as language teachers. As likely as not, such encounters may leave learners frustrated and discouraged rather than providing the rich learning opportunities they are imagined to be. Ethnographic research has (p.51) copiously documented that simply spending time with speakers of the target language does not necessarily result in language learning. For instance, local students have been found to be reluctant to engage with international students; local colleagues prefer to spend break times amongst themselves rather than include language learner colleagues who may be seeking language practice opportunities; and employers may prefer to assign language learners jobs that do not require interactions rather than jobs that would provide language practice opportunities.23

    The repertoires that language learners have access to in immersion contexts can be quite different from those imagined, as a study of language practices in Guangzhou’s Africa Town shows.24 ‘Africa Town’ is the name of two suburbs in Guangzhou where the largest number of Africans in Asia resides. In 2011, there were around 20,000 Africans registered there. The number of Africans estimated to come there for short business visits and those without a legal status was assumed to be about ten times that number.

    Africans come to Guangzhou to trade: at one end of the spectrum there is the so-called ‘luggage bag trade,’ which involves an African community pooling their financial resources. A member of the group then travels to China and purchases as many goods as possible. These are then shipped back home and sold for a profit. At the other end of the spectrum of African traders in Guangzhou are more established people who run their own shops, catering to bulk buyers, including the luggage bag traders.

    The retailers of Africa Town include not only Africans but also rural Chinese migrants whose status may be as semi-legal as that of their African peers if they do not have an urban hukou (户口‎; ‘residence permit’) for Guangzhou.

    English, as the global language of business, plays an important role in Africa Town. So does Mandarin as the national language. Additionally, Cantonese, the local language, and a number of other Chinese vernaculars are widely used in Africa Town, as are a number of African languages, including colonial languages such as French. (p.52) So, there are a lot of diverse repertoires being used in Africa Town but the preeminent power codes are English and Mandarin. The rich diversity of repertories characteristic of communication in Africa Town has been described as grassroots multilingualism or as fragmented, truncated, and incomplete repertoires.25

    However, access to formal instruction in these power codes is rare and Africa Towners have to find other ways to learn whatever they can of these languages. As a result, a contact variety, which locals call ‘Chinglish,’ has developed. This kind of ‘Chinglish’ (not to be confused with unidiomatic Chinese English signage Westerners like to make fun of and which will be explored in Chapter Seven) is characterized by simple English vocabulary and sentence structures, repetition of key words, the mixing of Mandarin expressions, and the influence of Chinese syntax.

    For example, Ibrahim, an urban middle-class male university graduate from Conakry, the capital of Guinea, mostly uses Chinglish, in addition to English, French, Susu, Pular, Mandinka, and Arabic. However, his impressive multilingual repertoire is of relatively limited value without access to Chinese, as he explains: ‘Some factory they speak no French, they speak no English. So no Chinese, no business!’26 However, immediate financial pressures in conjunction with a restrictive visa regime meant that his dream to attend formal Chinese language classes was beyond his grasp.

    Ibrahim’s immersion experience in Guangzhou is incredibly rich and diverse but the ‘target language’ he is predominantly immersed in is ‘Chinglish’ rather than Standard Chinese. Although Ibrahim is engaging in a lot of language learning, there is a mismatch between the ‘target language’ he is immersed in and the imagined ‘target language’ that he should be learning. Access to a power code such as Standard Chinese depends upon resources Ibrahim does not have: in order to study Chinese formally, he would need money, time, and legal status. The structural marginalization of the inhabitants of Africa Town, where money, time, and legal status are in short supply, results in their linguistic marginalization, too.

    (p.53) Judging Speakers

    Above I argued that stigmatizing the repertoires of second-language speakers is unjust because the yardsticks by which their ‘fluency’ or otherwise are measured in everyday judgments of their language are highly flawed. Another reason these everyday judgments about language proficiency are so problematic is related to the fact that language is never judged in isolation from the speaker. As the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu has pointed out ‘speech always owes a major part of its value to the value of the person who utters it.’27

    This means that people who are not expected to speak a particular language (well) may be heard not to speak that language (well) irrespective of their actual proficiency. For instance, Asians are often stereotyped as having low proficiency in English. Consequently, they may be heard not to speak English well even if they actually do. In a by-now-classic experiment conducted in the 1980s at a university in Florida researchers audio-recorded a science lecture aimed at undergraduate students.28 The speaker on the tape was a native speaker of American English speaking in a standard American-English accent. The lecture was then played to two different groups of undergraduate students. In one case, the lecture was accompanied by the picture of a Caucasian woman and in the other it was accompanied by the picture of an Asian woman. Thus, the impression was created that a Caucasian woman was speaking in one instance and an Asian woman in another. Both women were shown in the same pose and had been rated as similarly attractive. So, we have one audio-recorded lecture spoken in Standard American English and two different visual signals: a Caucasian lecturer versus an Asian lecturer. The students who saw the Asian lecturer heard a ‘foreign,’ ‘non-native,’ or ‘Asian’ accent although none was present in the auditory signal. What is more, the perceived accent of the perceived Asian lecturer led to reduced comprehension. The students rated the quality of the lecture and the quality of their learning experience much lower when they thought it was delivered by a speaker with a foreign accent.

    (p.54) Stereotypes about the language proficiency of some groups can be so strong that deviations from the expectations may be taken as evidence that someone is not actually who they claim to be. This was for instance the case in an Australian media debate about a Sri Lankan asylum seeker who was alleged not to be a genuine refugee because he spoke English ‘too well.’29

    In October 2009 a patrol vessel of the Australian Customs Service intercepted a boat with seventy-eight asylum seekers from Sri Lanka on their way to Australia. The asylum seekers were being transferred to a detention center in Indonesia but refused to disembark for about a month, demanding resettlement in Australia. The asylum seekers’ chief negotiator was widely discredited in the media on the grounds that he was using an English name (Alex), that he was ‘well-spoken’ and spoke ‘English with an American accent.’ None of these were expected of an asylum seeker. The following excerpt from a radio interview with presenter Mark Colvin provides an example:


  • And the High Commissioner also said, I’ll quote ‘Alex’s accent is quite a distinct American accent. It is not the accent of a Sri Lankan Tamil.’
  • ALEX:

  • Does the Sri Lankan High Commissioner feel that people in Sri Lanka don’t have American accents or British accents? Is there not international schools in Sri Lanka? Is there not people that do accent training for call centres and various other customer care services?

  • So you trained in a call centre?
  • ALEX:

  • Pardon me? I was trained in a call centre for an American call centre.30
  • In another media interview Alex took issue with the way in which his high level of English proficiency had come to discredit his claim to refugee status:

    The spokesman of the group [. . .] has expressed surprise over the fact that how his American accent English could become a (p.55) reason for the rejection of his refugee plea. ‘Just because I speak English, and I was educated in an American boys mission school in my home town, and then I finished my BA, and then I finished my MBA in India, so does that mean I am not a refugee?’31

    All the asylum seekers involved in the standoff, including Alex, were later found to be genuine refugees by the UNHCR and were resettled in a variety of countries.

    The media story about Alex’ accent being too American for him to be a genuine refugee shows yet another facet of the discursive subordination of linguistic diversity: debates about linguistic diversity are rarely concerned with purely linguistic matters but are about speakers. In making everyday judgments about linguistic diversity—which as we know by now most people are not very good at—media discourses create and recreate social boundaries. When we make everyday judgments about the language of Mexican immigrants in the USA, the language of migrants and their descendants in Germany, or the language of asylum seekers in Australia, what we are really doing is drawing boundaries between legitimate and illegitimate members of our communities. Judgments about language are ultimately judgments about speakers. Not only are these judgments about who is in and who is out; they also provide justifications for social boundaries when a person’s linguistic repertoire becomes tied to moral worth.

    Linguistic Diversity and Moral Worth

    As we saw above, multilingual repertoires are often associated with the stigma of laziness, the stigma of failure to take personal responsibility. In addition to the linguistic stigma directly related to language repertoires, language choice can also be constructed to undermine the moral worth of multilingual populations in other ways.

    This is the case when language choice in instructions and prohibitions singles out a particular group as likely offenders. For instance, (p.56) I have collected a corpus of signage in Australian hotel rooms: information about the services available in the hotel, room service menus, instructions what to do in case of a fire or other emergency, and so forth. The vast majority of this signage is monolingual in English. In the minority of multilingual hotel room signage, Chinese figures rarely. Therefore, a Chinese-English sign (with Chinese above English to indicate priority) that I collected in a Sydney hotel room in 2006 stands out in my corpus because of its bilingualism and its language choice. The sign is a non-smoking sign and the English version reads ‘This is a non-smoking room. An A$400 fine will apply for smoking in the room.’32

    There can be no doubt that the sign is intended to send a message particularly to Chinese guests. The sign thus does double duty: not only does it alert guests to the prohibition against smoking, but it also positions Chinese guests as likely offenders.

    Proponents of linguistic justice often make the facile assumption that multilingual signs by their very nature are more inclusive than monolingual ones. However, it all depends on the context. It is true that a sign such as the Chinese-English ‘no smoking’ sign includes Chinese readers as potential recipients of the message. However, at the same time, the sign excludes Chinese readers from polite society by singling them out as likely transgressors.

    The ways in which signage directed at linguistically diverse populations can serve to impugn their good character is even more obvious in the next example.

    As part of my work, I have over the years visited many English language schools across Australia. English language schools are obviously institutions characterized by a high level of linguistic and cultural diversity: many of the people from around the world who come to Australia for whatever reason—as new migrants, international students, or working-holiday makers—end up spending some of their initial time in Australia attending an English language school.

    In many of these institutions I have discovered toilets to be flashpoints for intergroup tensions. This is because conventions for toilet (p.57) use and for cleaning yourself after you have used the toilet differ around the globe. In Australia, toilets are designed for the user to sit down on and paper is provided for the user to clean herself (my observations are restricted to female toilets). Sit-down toilets are normal in western societies, even if, in public toilets, many women prefer to squat over them for hygienic reasons. Indeed, squat toilets where the user squats over a toilet bowl in the ground are the preferred design in most parts of the world. The Australian preference for toilet paper as a means of cleaning yourself after toilet use is not universal, either, and many societies have a preference for using water for this purpose. There are many more variations, of course, but the variations that matter for the present discussion are the ones between the provision of sit-down toilets and toilet paper, and the absence of squat toilets and water hoses.

    The result of this one-size-fits-all approach is that some people will use the equipment provided in ways other than intended. People used to squat toilets may climb up on the toilet seat, place their feet on the toilet seat and use it as a squat toilet in that way. This can be dangerous as the toilet seat and/or bowl may break under the unusual distribution of weight and it usually has unpleasant consequences as the user may miss the hole, which is too small for this kind of use, or leave print marks of their shoes on the toilet seat. People used to cleaning themselves with water may fill a bottle, cup, or whatever other vessel is at hand in the sink and bring them into the cubicle. Again, the results can be unpleasant as some of the water may end up splashing here and there and the vessels are often left behind cluttering the cubicle. In sum, using the equipment provided in ways other than those they are designed for is problematic for the user and, even more so, for the next user. Furthermore, problems accumulate as the person who finds a public toilet slightly dirty will be less motivated to be careful themselves and the toilet may become quite quickly rather messy indeed.

    Public toilet use constitutes a form of social contract: each user leaves it as they found it and considers not only their own needs and interests but those of the next user as well. In Asia and Europe, there are (p.58) often public toilet attendants, who monitor user behavior and ensure cleanliness. This is not so in Australia, and in diverse institutions such as English language schools the social contract between public toilet users often breaks down. This can cause a lot of anger, frustration, and scapegoating of particular groups as is evidenced from many conversations I have had with administrators, teachers, and students. It is also evidenced from a corpus of toilet signage I have collected.33

    For instance, in 2007 I recorded no less than nineteen individual pieces of signage in the female toilet of a suburban Sydney English language school catering mostly to new migrants from Africa and the Middle East. Five of these were located in each individual cubicle and the remaining fourteen were cluttered around the common wash area where sinks, a mirror, a paper towel dispenser, and a hand dryer were located. These signs contained a range of instructions, assertions, and prohibitions. The signage in the stalls consisted of instructions where to place toilet paper, tampons and sanitary pads, and other rubbish. Two of these signs were in English and two were in Arabic. In each case, one sign was text only and the other a combination of pictograms and text. The fifth sign was trilingual in Arabic, Chinese, and Vietnamese. In the wash area outside the toilet stalls, the wall on both sides of the sink and mirror was littered with a veritable plethora of bathroom etiquette: the disposal instructions featured in the stalls were repeated and there were also prohibitions against smoking, instructions to wash hands, a statement about the proper use of the sink and the towels (‘for hands only’), and a prohibition against taking or leaving ‘water, cups, or bottles.’ As regards the language choice in these signs, seven used English text only, four English and pictograms, and one each used a pictogram, Arabic, Vietnamese, and trilingual Arabic-Chinese-Vietnamese.

    Signage such as this is suggestive of a passive-aggressive running battle between different groups of users of this toilet. The language choices on the signage also suggest that Arabic-speaking women in particular and, to a lesser degree, Vietnamese- and Chinese-speaking women are singled out as offenders against toilet etiquette and as violators of the social contract of public toilet use.

    (p.59) Having to share a toilet with people who leave footprints on the toilet seat or water all over the floor is certainly aggravating. But is there a better way to reduce the incidence of these problems than plastering our public toilets with—more or less effective—signage that impugns the good character of specific user groups? Let’s look at toilets in private schools, malls, and airports across Asia and the Middle East. Many of these institutions offer users the choice between sit-down toilets and squat toilets. And the provision of both paper and a water hose allows users flexibility in the way they wish to clean themselves. In Australia, too, the provision of different types of toilets in public spaces is, in fact, not uncommon. Institutions are required by law to provide toilets for the disabled. Additionally, malls often voluntarily provide mixed-sex family facilities (to cater for fathers with girls or mothers with boys) and miniature sit-down toilets for children. These examples prove that there are few practical obstacles to redesigning public toilets for an inclusive society.

    Offering toilet choice in a diverse society would solve a concrete practical problem both for people who do not share dominant toileting habits as well as those with dominant toileting habits who would no longer have to put up with the unpleasantness created by improper toilet use. In addition to solving a practical problem, toilet choice would also send the inclusive symbolic message that, in a liberal democratic society, sitting or squatting on the toilet and cleaning yourself with paper or water are equally valid.

    Remaking Language Learners

    At present, the symbolic message sent by no-choice toilet provision and toilet signage such as the one I have described above is one of exclusion. The message is that sitting down on the toilet and wiping yourself with paper is the only way—and hence the right and legitimate way—of doing things in Australia. If that is not how you prefer to toilet, then that turns you into an illegitimate offender against (p.60) the social contract. When public institutions only provide sit-down toilets and toilet paper, they leave some people no choice other than to assimilate or transgress.

    The effort to combine language instruction with personal transformation is not new. The toilet signage of Australian English language schools I have described here can be understood as an attempt to teach not only English but also to transform learners into new kinds of people by changing their toileting habits. Similarly, English language instruction during the Americanization movement in the early twentieth century also attempted to transform immigrants’ diets and housekeeping habits. In yet another example, English language programs for Hispanic migrants in the USA are combined with parenting skills instructions.34

    The deficit framing of migrant speakers that is apparent in impugning their toileting habits, their diet, or their parenting is unjust in at least two different ways. First, to impugn the good character and moral worth of language learners constitutes an unjust representation. Second, highly constrained institutional practices that allow only one way of doing things make it impossible for some people to do well. Above I argued that the provision of only one toileting option sets some people up for ‘failure.’ The same is true for language proficiency: inflexible communicative practices can distort proficiency and set up some speakers for failure.

    As an example, let’s consider the following incident reported by a court volunteer in an Australian Magistrates Court. Court volunteers help to work as a liaison between courts and laypeople who may find themselves before the court for the first time in their lives and may have little experience with the justice system. In a radio show about court volunteers, the following report appeared.35 A court volunteer was mingling in the foyer of a Magistrates Court with various people waiting there and approached an Asian-looking couple to ask them why they were in court. The couple explained that they had been summoned for unpaid fines on their car. They also explained that they had sold the car prior to the fines being issued and showed the paperwork that they had brought along to document their innocence.

    (p.61) While the report does not comment in any way on the language proficiency of the couple, it is obvious that they were capable of explaining their situation in an informal one-on-one conversation with a stranger. Now, let’s hear from the court volunteer what happened when the couple were asked to explain the exact same set of circumstances a few minutes later to the magistrate:

    When the magistrate actually asked the man if he had anything he wanted to say, just because of stress and I think the language barrier, he actually just stood up and said, ‘No.’ And so the magistrate then actually just started to make a judgement on orders as far as what he was going to have to do as far as paying back all these fines. And I thought, oh gosh, what am I going to do here? And so actually just said, ‘Excuse me, Your Honour, but I’m really concerned that because of a language barrier you are not actually being advised of some critical information.’ I should say, [. . .] we don’t actually jump up like that on many occasions, but in that situation I just thought, well, we couldn’t let that go.

    In the example we see one and the same person having the English language proficiency to explain a problem in one context and lacking the exact same level of proficiency in another. The example thus complicates the notion of linguistic proficiency in yet another way: we have already seen that ‘fluency’ means different things to different people and that reaching a particular level of fluency is inextricably linked to the learner’s identity and the ways in which that identity is (de)valorized in the target society. This example shows that, additionally, ‘proficiency’ is a function of inclusive or exclusive arrangements. Where a one-on-one informal conversation allowed this particular speaker to succeed, a formal context where the speaker had to speak in front of a group resulted in failure. Social arrangements that only allow for one type of performance to be valid—be it sit-down toilets or formal hearings in a Magistrates Court—while rendering all others invalid are obviously unjust.

    (p.62) Summary

    This chapter has explored the discursive processes through which linguistic diversity is dissimulated and subordinated. Linguistic diversity is rendered invisible through the territorial principle, which is inscribed in stone in the cemeteries of most multicultural cities and which is created and re-created—but also contested—in political and media debates. The territorial principle not only obscures the actual diversity of everyday language, but also, and with greater social consequences, sets some speakers up as legitimate ‘default’ members of a society while excluding others. Those who are being excluded, delegitimized, and subordinated are usually mobile speakers whose ‘historical’ ties to a territory are contested. One discourse about language that is central to their subordination is the construction of language learning as a matter of personal responsibility, where language learning is conceived of as a relatively easy and banal undertaking, and failure to measure up to an imaginary linguistic norm as a sign of laziness or self-isolation.

    It is in debates about language that linguistic repertoires become markers of inclusion or exclusion, of legitimacy or illegitimacy. Language is ideally suited as a marker of distinction because unlike most other key bases for social stratification (e.g., class, gender, race) it is relatively fluid and—seemingly—not inscribed in the body. The discursive construction of language learning as an individual responsibility, however, conflicts with the experience of the relatively static linguistic habitus of adults. More so than most bases of social stratification, language thus dissimulates its operation.

    As we have seen, it is not possible to draw a principled distinction between subordinating ways of speaking and/or subordinating speakers—one always also achieves the other. The injustices of cultural domination that are apparent in these processes are compounded in inflexible communicative spaces that institute the inequality between dominant and subordinated speakers. In the following chapters we will explore the results of linguistic subordination in specific domains.


    (4.) For details on the Belgian language territories and a map see Tabouret-Keller (1999). For details on ‘non-traditional’ linguistic diversity in Belgium, with a focus on the city of Ghent, see De Bock (2014).

    (6.) The European Committee of Experts has criticized Finland for this practice and asserted that under European legislation Finland has obligations to all Russian speakers (Mowbray, 2012, p. 48). For an extended discussion of the relationship between nationalism and minority language rights see also May (2011).

    (7.) Polish refugees in Iran: Antolak (n.d.); Faruqi (2000). Biographical entry for Stanislaw Koscialkowski: ‘Stanislaw Koscialkowski’ (2015). History of Polish-Iranian relationship: Koscialkowski (1943). Polish cemeteries in Iran: Przewoznik (2002). For the grave-mapping project of the Tehran Catholic Cemetery visit www.doulabcemetery.com.

    (8.) For pictures and a more detailed description of the linguistic landscape of Tehran’s Doulab Cemetery complex and to join the conversation visit www.languageonthemove.com/intercultural-communication/polish-cemetery-in-tehran. You might also wish to visit a cemetery in your city and conduct your own research: can you observe a similar segregation of the dead by faith, nation, and language? The practice to segregate old-timers and newcomers in death is evident even in cases where the migrants come from a relatively short distance such as a city’s surrounding countryside and share the same religion and ethnicity, as was found in a study of medieval Danish burial sites (Petersen, Boldsen, and Paine, 2006). Eckert (2002, 2006) presents a fascinating case study of language and identity in Czech cemeteries in Texas.

    (9.) Quoted from Fuller (2012, p. 23).

    (10.) The example is based on research by Subtirelu (2013). Join the conversation about the language ideologies implicit in the congressional debate about Section 203 at http://www.languageonthemove.com/language-migration-social-justice/is-speaking-english-a-civic-duty.

    (14.) The following is based on an analysis of 701 Facebook comments on two separate pages: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10150922980055000&set=a.153347189999.117346.68751504999&type=1 and http://radio.foxnews.com/toddstarnes/top-stories/student-delivers-graduation-speech-in-spanish.html. Quotes are direct copies from Facebook and no changes to spelling, grammar, or other linguistic aspects have been made. For further reading on debates about linguistic diversity in new media see Androutsopoulos and Juffermans (2014).

    (15.) For language-related service denials at US airports and on planes see Baron (2010). For service denial to Persian speaker in Atlanta Apple store see http://www.languageonthemove.com/language-migration-social-justice/shopping-while-bilingual-can-make-you-sick, where you can also join the conversation. For survey of Asian-Americans who had experienced language discrimination see H. C. Yoo, Gee, and Takeuchi (2008).

    (16.) Kiffmeier (2010); my translation.

    (17.) Foreign Service Institute estimates: Archibald et al. (2006). Meta-studies of time it takes to acquire academic proficiency in an immersion context: Collier (1989); Hakuta, Butler, and Witt (2000). For further discussion of adult and child immersion language learning see also Chapters Four and Five, respectively.

    (18.) For the ‘10,000-hour-rule’ see Eaton (2011, 2012). For UK estimates see de Castella (2013). For Australian estimates see Moore, Nicholas, and Deblaquiere (2008).

    (19.) Collier (1989, p. 513). Emphasis in the original.

    (20.) Age: Birdsong (2006). Prior education: Bigelow (2010). Socioeconomic status: Block (2014). Gender: Pavlenko and Piller (2001). Race: J. Miller (2003). Religion: H. Han (2011); Luck: G. C.-L. Chang (2015).

    (22.) For an analysis of the stigmatization of obesity as a social justice issue see Puhl and Heuer (2010). Join the conversation about the cult of personal responsibility in language learning at http://www.languageonthemove.com/language-migration-social-justice/the-cult-of-personal-responsibility.

    (23.) Interactional opportunities of international students: G. C.-L. Chang (2015); Takahashi (2013). Interactional opportunities at work: H. Han (2011); Major, Terraschke, Major, and Setijadi (2014); Yates (2011).

    (24.) The case study is based on H. Han (2013). See Fauna (2011) for further demographic background. Join the conversation about (p.229) grassroots language learning in Guangzhou’s Africa Town at http://www.languageonthemove.com/language-globalization/grassroots-multilingualism.

    (25.) The term ‘grassroots multilingualism’ draws on Blommaert (2008) and ‘fragmented,’ ‘truncated,’ and ‘incomplete’ repertoires on Blommaert (2010).

    (26.) Quoted from H. Han (2013, p. 90).

    (28.) Rubin (1992); Rubin and Smith (1990). For an overview of the research on performance and perception in intercultural communication see Piller (2011). For a recent ethnographic study of the ways in which the English language proficiency of Asian and European speakers is judged in Australia see Butorac (2011, 2014). Join the conversation about perceptions of the English language proficiency of Asian speakers at www.languageonthemove.com/language-globalization/seeing-asians-speaking-english.

    (29.) The following account is based on these media reports: Cochrane (2012); Colvin (2009); Kelly (2010); ‘Tamil Asylum Seekers Caught in Indonesian Waters Say They Face Genocide in Sri Lanka’ (2009); ‘What Happened to the Oceanic Viking Refugees?’ (2010). Join the conversation about this case study at http://www.languageonthemove.com/recent-posts/when-your-english-is-too-good.

    (32.) You can view this and similar signs, and join the conversation about multilingual prohibitions at www.languageonthemove.com/recent-posts/multilingual-prohibitions.

    (33.) You can view a selection of the toilet signage in my corpus and join the conversation about this case study at http://www.languageonthemove.com/recent-posts/toiletology.