Rights/Resources v. Linguistic Saviorism 🤨

November 2, 2021

When I was just starting middle school, I had recently moved. The first day of school can be anxiety-inducing and even more so when your name starts with an X. My family moved a good amount (Navy brat) so I was well aware of the protocol. Run through the names Will, Samantha, Amanda, etc and when the last names began to start with an “R”, I knew what time it was. The teacher would usually stop, stare at the name, maybe go with the last name instead.

I would then speak up pronouncing my name phonetically “See-oh-mah-rah, but you can call me Xixi (pronounced See-See)”.

That day my teacher responded with, “Do you speak English?”.


By that point in my academic career, I had only attended English-speaking settings. I actually felt more confident in English than in Spanish. And yet, just by seeing my name, I set this teacher into a mental tailspin where she was in a full-blown panic trying to figure out “how to handle the situation”. Our biases influence how we engage with others. I am certain if you asked this woman, “Would you restrict, tolerate, or promote languages in your classroom?” she would likely lean towards the promotion orientation because, for the most part, we all want to “do the right thing”. However, our biases influence how we interpret what “the right thing” is.

Last post we talked about the decisions we make. How we can orient or direct ourselves towards making decisions that promote, tolerate, and/ restrict multilingualism. How we orient ourselves like we mentioned the last blog can be implicit/explicit, intentional/unintentional. But the more that we bring awareness to the implications of the decisions we make, how they create or restrict spaces for multilingualism, the more we can make conscious decisions that align with our values.

This week we discuss another piece to our reflection puzzle and an even more abstract concept, language ideology. The beliefs that you have towards languages, language learning, and multilingualism. It is important to understand what you believe because our beliefs manifest as our default action settings. This week we will discuss the language theories set by Richard Ruiz (1984). Ruiz categorizes the beliefs as “orientations” in his 1984 article. However, since then the research has interchangeably used the terms ideologies and orientations to refer to his work we will use the term orientations for the “actions and directives” and ideologies for “attitudes and beliefs”. (Note: there are many ideologies in addition to the ones I present in this week’s blog. Additional perspectives, theories, and research will be presented in future blog posts.)

Language as a Problem

This is where a person, as the title suggests, views language as a problem. Now, it is important to clarify that this manifests is a variety of complicated manners. From, “This is America, we speak English” to “The poor kid has no language” (when students have a home language other than the dominant language). Now this ideology, when it appears in its most restrictive manner is obvious to spot and be critical of if you understand the value of multilingualism. However, more insidious is the lack of awareness that people have around language learning which leads to language as a problem ideology. When individuals have a deficit mindset around language varieties, they believe they are helping and in reality, they are doing harm. Expediting language learning can have long lasting negative effects on second language acquisition and first language maintenance. The person that views language as a problem when they do not have dominant language proficiency will attempt to promote language through a limited belief system, which either tolerates diversity or promotes programs and processes that expedite language learning (like the teacher that panicked thinking that I didn’t understand English, instead of assuming that I understood multiple languages). So, while this ideology can be obvious to distance yourself from saying, “Well I don’t restrict languages so I can’t believe it is a problem” the other manifestation of “Those poor kids/people can’t speak” erasing the linguistic ability that they do have is language as a problem ideology. If you are not valuing an individual’s linguistic ability and seek to “help” by “correcting” or “ignoring” their language, culture, diversity, you should consider how you are practicing that classic savior model “Poor you. I know better. Let me help, by imposing”. #Linguisticsavior

Language as a Right

Language as a Right ideology is a focus on a person’s legal/human right to use language to access the same resources as any other citizen. Therefore, this ideology as Ruiz put it not only allows for the right to learn new languages but also to maintain and use home languages. Do you believe that individuals have the right to maintain their home language as they acquire new languages? Do you believe that individuals should be encouraged to acquire new languages because they deserve the same opportunities as any other person? Do you believe that when individuals are in spaces we as business owners, community members should be supporting one another to communicate to the best of our ability? Do you amplify languages and language varieties, or just the ones you know, you feel comfortable with? When you create content are you considering the accessibility of different linguistic communities including deaf and blind community members? This has the potential to be a very positive ideology, and, if you are only supporting a person’s right to language in one language, or the dominant language you should consider if you truly view language as right.

Language as a Resource

Language as a Resource values the linguistic resources of individuals. Similar to language as a right ideology, we need to ask those critical questions about what we believe and for whom. Do we believe that language is a resource for all? Do we believe language varieties are a resource? Do we believe home languages are a resource, despite the proficiency of the individual in the dominant language? Or do we see language as a resource for those who are proficient in certain languages? I see this ideology manifest often in the World Language Learning spaces. And I say this with love to all my World language teachers, having been one for over a decade.

When you have a student come into your (Fill in the blank Language) Class and the student is a heritage speaker, do you seek out to prove that their dialect is valued in your classroom? Or do you tear them down because they “think they know” but they make grammar mistakes? Do we encourage students classified as “English Learners” to take advantage of opportunities such as the Seal of Biliteracy, or just the students who have extracurricular course work to support this title?

These are questions, not to criticize, but to be critical.

These are questions to reflect and bring awareness to what we do and why we do it.

This is a personal process, but this is not personal to you my dear reader. We are living in a society that promotes certain ideals and values certain resources.

What we believe becomes our default.

This is why we must ask these questions.

Challenge yourself to consider what do you believe? Where did those beliefs come from? Are they grounded in experiences, research, argument, counter-argument?

Warmly,

Dra. Rivera Pagán

References:

Ruíz, R. (1984). Orientations in language planning. NABE Journal, 8(2), 15–34. https://doi.org/10.1080/08855072.1984.10668464

P.S. If you would like to share your experiences with language policies, comment on this blog post 🗣🎧📖✍🏽👀🤟🏽

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