Non-English_Looking at Language Through the Lens of Lack 

February 6, 2023

This Sunday at the 2023 Grammy’s, Benito Martínez, better known as Bad Bunny, opened the show with a vibrant performance dedicated to his home country of Puerto Rico, completely in Spanish. The performer was nominated for three Grammys for his album Un Verano Sin Ti, released only and completely in Spanish. Of the nominations, one was for album of the year, which made history as the first nomination of an album, sung only and completely in SPANISH. And yet, the closed captioning did not capture the language that he was singing in, and instead captured the one language he was not singing in.  

Social media began trending with images of closed captioning stating “speaking non-English” and “singing non-English”.  

As a society, we have been able to work towards self-driving cars, and 3D printing, and you’re going to tell me that we don’t have the technology to identify what language a person is speaking/singing in?  

If we are hoping to use resources like closed captioning as a tool for creating accessibility (for hard of hearing, deaf, and/or multilingual communities who are less proficient in the language, etc..) we must do better at looking through an additive lens that honors linguistic diversity, labels accordingly and elevates language communities thoughtfully. 

The problem with focusing on what isn’t being spoken… 

  • Telling the users of CC the language that is not being spoken, does not help anyone to contextualize the background or culture of the individual/performer/performance.  
  • In addition to “speaking non-English”, he was also “speaking non-Chinese” “speaking non-French” “speaking non-Arabic” and many more languages that were not acknowledged in the singularization of one language. 
  • The language that was being spoken has more native speakers than the language that was highlighted as “not” being spoken. 

This happens in our schools, workplaces, and communities all the time. Especially, in a monolingual culture that narrows focus on differences as deficiencies, rather than assets. 

What can we do… 

  • Consider how you speak about individuals “English Language Learners, non English speakers” and reflect on how identifying the specific linguistic community could help to shape the context necessary to work with them productively.  
  • Consider how identifying the specific language helps create meaningful connections between speakers of diverse languages.  
  • Consider that language is directly related to how someone/people identify and to limit it by comparing to only one language rather than opening the conversation to a more sociocultural dialogue only cheats you from an opportunity to embrace linguistic diversity, equity, and inclusion.  


Dra. Rivera Pagán

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