In 2012, linguist Rosina Lippi Green wrote, “Discrimination based on language variation is so commonly accepted, so widely perceived as appropriate, that it must be seen as the last back door to discrimination. And the door stands wide open.” Over a decade later, this claim holds true despite decades of research demonstrating the harm caused by linguistic discrimination and advocating for more inclusive practices (see below for readings on the subject).
In an effort to close this door, Westfield State University’s Reading and Writing Center operates with the understanding that:
- Both written and oral English is always evolving and intermixing, so there is no static standard English; instead, there are many Englishes.
- No single dialect or language is superior to another.
- Unilaterally requiring students to conform to a language defined and enforced by a dominant group is harmful and maintains white supremacy. In 1974, the Conference on College Composition and Communication issued a position statement entitled Students’ Right to Their Own Language explaining that “rejecting one's native dialect is to some extent a rejection of one's culture.”
- The ability to draw on multiple languages and dialects is a resource, not a hindrance, to communication.
- The communicative burden should not rest solely with the speaker/the writer; the listener/the reader should make an effort at understanding the writer/speaker. The notion that the writer/speaker retains the primary responsibility for “clear” communication is culturally defined (for example, many cultures expect the reader/listener to work hard to understand) and assumes a particular reader/audience (one fluent with standard academic English).
- While language discrimination is not always tied to race, it often is (consider the reception of British versus Spanish accents for instance) and for many people of color, regardless of how effectively they communicate in standard English, they are perceived as ineffective communicators. As Rosa and Nelson note, “US Latinxs can achieve the highest levels of education, drawing on a range of multilingual practices to navigate various interactions in ostensibly effective ways, and yet still face the stigmatization of their Spanish and English abilities”(629).
The RWC commits to taking the following steps to fight language discrimination:
1. Approach students and student writing with a translingual mindset. This means that we take an asset-based approach by recognizing multiple dialects and languages as resources to enhance communication. This is in contrast to the typical deficit model that expects writing tutors to fix “broken English.” According to the National Council of Teachers of English, “a translingual stance” requires an “understanding that bi-/multilingualism is not a deviation from a monolingual norm. In fact, bi-/multilingualism is itself the norm, and classrooms must be organized with students’ dynamic, fluid language practices at the center of all learning.”
2. Initiate discussions about language discrimination and translingualism with writers so that they are better able to make thoughtful decisions about their writing.
3. Support writers in achieving their goals. To that end, we address writers’ concerns related to style and grammar and support them in advocating for their language practices.
4. Offer and participate in professional development focused on translingualism.
5. Recognize Black English as a language, in accordance with the July 2020 Conference on College Composition and Communication statement: This Ain’t Another Statement! This is a DEMAND for Black Linguistic Justice!
6. Hire a diverse and multilingual staff.
7. Organize events that provide multilingual community members opportunities to share their experiences with linguistic discrimination.
8. Create programs and resources to support multilingual writers.
9. Challenge discriminatory language policies and practices.
10. Share resources with the campus community that raises awareness of linguistic discrimination and promotes linguistic justice.
11. Review this statement and assess our achievement of these goals annually.
Want to learn more about linguistic discrimination/justice? Here are some resources:
From the field of linguistics:
- The Linguistic Facts of Life from English With An Accent (1997) by Rosina Lippi-Green
- “Should Writers Use They Own English Code Meshing in the Classroom” (2010) by Vershawn Ashanti Young
- “Language and Linguistics on Trial: Hearing Rachel Jeantel (and Other Vernacular Speakers) in the Courtroom and Beyond” (2016) by John Rickford and Sharese King
- “Unsettling race and language: Toward a raciolinguistic perspective” (2017) by Nelson Flores and Jonathan Rosa.
- “Understanding Translanguaging in US Literacy Classrooms” (2021) by Kate Seltzer and Cati V. de los Ríos
- Language difference in writing: toward a translingual approach (2011) by Bruce Horner, Min-Zhan Lu, Jacqueline Jones Royster, and John Trimbur
- Purdue Owl’s The Translingual Approach
Anti-Black Linguistic Racism:
- Linguistic Justice: Black Language, Literacy, Identity, and Pedagogy (2020) by April Baker Bell
- Conference on College Composition and Communication’s This Ain’t Another Statement! This is a Demand for Linguistic Justice (2020)
From the field of psychology:
- “The Psychological Damage of Linguistic Racism and International Students in Australia” (2020) by Sender Dovchin
- “The Cost of Code Switching” (2019) by Courney L. McCluney, Kathrina Robotham, Serenity Lee, Richard Smith and Miles Durkee
From the fields of Writing Studies:
- Conference on College Composition and Communication’s Students Right to Their Own Language
- Antiracist Writing Assessment Ecologies: Teaching and Assessing Writing for a Socially Just Future by Asao B. Inoue
- Labor-Based Grading Contracts: Building Equity and Inclusion in the Compassionate Writing Classroom by Asao B. Inoue
- Ten Ways to Tackle Linguistic Bias in our Classrooms, Inside Higher Education, by Catherine Savini
Introducing the concept of linguistic discrimination to students:
- Multilingualism at WSU video by Rosita Ramirez, Spencer Van Tassel, Lillian Afflito, and
- “Why English Class is Silencing Students of Color” and “3 Ways to Speak English” (Ted Talks) by Jamila Lyiscott
- The Significance of Linguistic Profiling by John Baugh
- Nobody Mean More to Me than You and the Future Life of Willie Jordan by June Jordan
- How to Tame a Wild Tongue by Gloria Anzaldua
- Respect AAVE by Rachel Cardoza
- If Black English Isn't a Language, Then Tell Me, What Is? by James Baldwin
- Why Do People Say “AX” Instead of “ASK”? | Decoded | MTV
- “Why Grammar Snobbery Has No Place in the Movement” by Melissa Fabello, 2014.
- “As a Black Woman, I Wish I could Stop Code-Switching. Here’s Why." by Maya Lewis, Everyday Feminism.
- "How ‘Sounding White’ Helps Get You Ahead - on Film and in Real Life" by Katie Martin, 2018.
- “Beyond Language Differences in Writing: Investigating Complex and Equitable Language Practices” by Christina Sánchez-Martín