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Most of the research featured in Linguistic Diversity and Social Justice and the case studies that examine the relationship between language and social justice are based in Anglophone contexts and/or in societies constituted as liberal democracies. Iran is neither but, even so, the broad questions raised in the book – how language serves to stratify society and how it mediates access to social goods – are pertinent there, as elsewhere, irrespective of which national language predominates and which political system is espoused.
One of the aims of Linguistic Diversity and Social Justice has been to broaden readers’ understanding precisely of the diversity of relationships in which language and justice can find themselves. In the English original, some of the case studies came from contexts likely to be unfamiliar to the Western reader – such as the linguistic landscape study of the Doulab Cemetery in Tehran, which I use to exemplify the territorial principle. For the Iranian reader, I hope that this case study, in particular, will not only have the ring of the familiar but also serve as a reality check on the overall argument.
Cover of the Persian translation. As for the English original, the cover image was drawn by artist Sadami Konchi
It has also been my hope that Linguistic Diversity and Social Justice would contribute to a new sociolinguistic research agenda examining the relationship between language and social justice. In this regard, it is fitting that the first translation of the book should be into Persian because the field has much to learn from the sociolinguistics of multilingual Iran – both past and present.
It is in a similar spirit of conversation and engagement that Linguistic Diversity and Social Justice was written and conceived as part of a broader conversation about linguistic diversity and social justice. In the English original, this is signaled through the many invitations to the reader to join the conversation on Language on the Move. In the Persian version, the spirit of conversation and exchange also materializes through the very fact of the translation.
I am immensely grateful to Dr Saeed Rezaei for initiating the translation and for his persistence and hard work in bringing it to fruition. I hope the Persian translation will be as well-received as the English original was; and I will be looking forward to the conversations it starts and continues and to seeing the directions they take. Even more so, as dark clouds gather once more over Iran, I hope that the book will find a Persian-language readership in a time of peace and prosperity.
Building the Danish boar fence (Image credit: NDR)
Fences are popular these days: not only in the US with its border-wall-to-Mexico saga but also in Denmark, which recently started to build a fence to ‘secure’ is border to Germany. The official reason for the Danish fence is to keep out wild boars who might be crossing into Denmark from Germany. Its efficiency is highly contested … Although not directly related to issues of language, there are striking parallels between the swine fence and what I, a linguistic ethnographer with 15 years of experience in the area of multilingualism and linguistic diversity, have witnessed, researched and documented in Danish schools.
With the notable exception of English, Denmark is a country strongly beholden to the norm of monolingualism. That is, there is a wide-spread understanding that the normative situation is such that everybody speaks one language. In our case, this language is Danish. Monolingualism may seem paradoxical in Denmark, a country with only 5.7 million inhabitants, which is located in close proximity to countries such as Sweden, Norway, Germany and Poland, and which depends on international trade and exchange. As a result, Denmark is home to people from a wide variety of backgrounds, and in terms of human mobility, efficient fences are even more of an illusion than a realistic substitute for policy. Yet, for the political establishment such insights seem hard to reach and to integrate with an increasingly strong focus on the idea of the nation.
The norm of monolingualism affects many citizens with a linguistic repertoire which includes resources associated with multiple languages. Despite this diversity, the monolingual norm is produced and reproduced in various ways and in many societal domains, but particularly in education. Accordingly, it is not uncommon to witness statements such as the following: “In Denmark we speak Danish. You have the right to learn all the languages you want, but it needs to take place in your spare time.” (Inger Støjberg, now Minister for Children, Gender Equality, Integration and Social affairs; the statement was made in 2012, when she was a member of the opposition). In the quote, “Danish” is used in three different meanings: as the first language of the majority population; as the official language of Denmark; and as the most important language taught in schools. The point argued for was that the state had no responsibility towards minority children’s mother tongue education.
In fact, there is only one educational setting where so-called immigrant languages are legitimate: Mother Tongue (MT) education. MT education is located within the regular school system but outside compulsory education (for details on MT education in Denmark, see Salö et al. 2018). In my team’s research with MT classrooms in and around Copenhagen we found that MT education is still filtered through the lens of Danish monolingualism as MT education is almost exclusively viewed with regard to its effects on Danish.
The official aim of MT education is to ensure students’ linguistic competences in the language regarded as their mother tongue, and their cultural and societal competences with respect to what is formulated as their “country of origin”. Furthermore, MT education is supposed to foster metalinguistic development, enable general participation in school and society in the “host country,” i.e., Denmark, and encourage a global perspective on language and culture (Ministry of Education 2009: 3).
In terms of public opinion (as articulated in letters to the editor, editorials, interviews with politicians, and even academics), there is a general consensus to focus on MT education in terms of its effect on Danish. This aligns with the quote above. As everyone holds that in Denmark we speak Danish, the teaching of those other languages that are associated with immigrants needs to be justified with reference to Danish. This understanding of MT education is widely shared among both supporters and opponents.
The rationale for MT education according to the Danish Ministry of Education
Yet, such effects of positive transfer were never in focus in the classrooms we followed, nor were they part of regular assessment. In fact, MT classes are entirely marginalized. They are ‘fenced’ in relation to general education, and have no relation to whatever else goes on in schools. None of the mainstream teachers or school authorities seem interested in MT education classes. This makes it completely mysterious how the “effect on Danish” should ever come about. To us, there seemed to be more obvious ways to evaluate the relevance of such educational initiatives. For instance, in terms of the classes’ effects on the students’ Arabic, Persian, Polish, or Turkish competences.
Another point is that MT classrooms include participants from a range of backgrounds, a range of relations to the supposed country of origin, and to the language taught. Consequently, one cannot expect consensus about what constitutes ‘good’ or ‘bad’ language, or more or less ‘appropriate’ language (Karrebæk & Ghandchi, 2015).
In the Persian MT classrooms we followed, for example, children came from families who were political, religious, or other types of refugees, who were supporters of the current Iranian government, or who had no explicit political stance and had moved to Denmark for job opportunities or family reasons. In recognition of this diversity, the teacher aimed to create an “ideology free” space. This would enable all students to meet, regardless of their backgrounds. Yet, one way of doing this was to exclude anything that could be associated with the current Iranian government, and even with Arabic language and culture. The use of Arabic loanwords often caused controversy in the classroom. This approach made sourcing educational materials difficult because the teacher refused to use any materials that included pictures of women in hijab. Such images, he felt, would compromise his “ideology free” classroom. On the other hand, the traumas of refugee children went unrecognized. They largely remained unspoken and if they were articulated, they were ignored and suppressed. This created awkward situations and made it difficult for some children to find themselves reflected in the classes.
In the Turkish MT classroom, the diversity among the participants created other difficulties. In this class, the most striking difference concerned the teacher. He was of Kurdish origin and his Turkish language included features that revealed this background. In general, there are strong negative associations with Kurdish-Turkish, and we saw children, and a few parents, voice this in more or less direct ways (Karrebæk & Nergiz, 2019). The teacher, however, had few options to find another job, and we doubt that anybody had thought about how an internal Turkish conflict would play out in a Copenhagen MT classroom, and how this could or should have been handled by the employing authorities.
My work with linguistic diversity in education has shown how immigrants are evaluated and valorized in relation to their Danish competences; how languages other than Danish are, by and large, ignored, devalued and suppressed by the authorities; and how children growing up in this linguistically narrow-minded atmosphere struggle to integrate their mother tongues into an attractive public identity. This is not to say that these outcomes are planned or even desired by Danish authorities. Rather, they result from a severely limited imagination when it comes to multilingualism and cultural diversity. The discursive means to imagine cultural, ethnic and linguistic diversity differently are currently lacking. After all, “in Denmark we speak Danish”. These beliefs and attitudes create a difficult work climate for MT teachers as they have to stay in fenced-in areas in a national setting very unfavorable to the use of immigrant languages. They curtail a good educational climate and obstruct any constructive engagement with MT education.
Nobody really seems to care what goes on in MT education because it is understood as being of little relevance and value – to society at large and ultimately to the children themselves. MT classes were fenced off from the children’s regular schooling experiences. Arguably, this neglect even paved the way for “importing” conflicts from elsewhere.
In short, the orientation to standard Danish and monolingualism leads to marginalization of some children, alienation of others, poor learning conditions, and lots of missed learning opportunities, a linguistically poor society, and a society haunted by globalization and a world which it tries to keep out with a fence.
One of the main reasons why Language on the Move exists is to mentor the next generation of researchers in the sociolinguistics of intercultural communication, multilingualism and language learning. As our diverse team at Macquarie University is immensely strengthened by our opportunities to collaborate, interact and learn from each other, we thought we’d share some of our conversations with our global readership in a loose new series of “mentoring conversations.”
The first such conversation that we bring to you today is between Dr Alexandra Grey and Warnakulasuriya Melanie Fernando. It has been edited from a live discussion.
Melanie is one of our newest recruits and joined the Language on the Move team in 2018 as a Master of Research student. She is researching multilingualism in the collections of public libraries in Sydney.
Melanie: You have an interdisciplinary background in Law and Linguistics and also Sinology. How did that come about?
Alex: I studied and practiced law, but I was also interested in learning Mandarin. So, with the help of AusAID [the Australian government’s now defunct overseas aid agency] I managed to arrange an assignment in Beijing for a year which helped me to learn Mandarin practically by speaking to, and emailing with, my colleagues. From that starting point, I then continued living, working and studying in the People’s Republic of China. China is a massive country, and although I consider my work to fit in with China Studies, there is an enormous depth of knowledge which I’m yet to achieve.
Melanie: How did you go about navigating an interdisciplinary career and moving between different departments as a student and early career researcher?
Alex: That’s a big topic for another blog post! Basically, I played to my strengths in communicating and attended seminars etc. to learn about what was happening in different fields. Ingrid encouraged me to apply for a variety of events and prizes, which helped. I like meeting people and I often have questions to ask, which helped me build up relationships and a sense of where my research could fit. However, it is quite worrying, at times, realizing that you’ve entered a different field and that people do not immediately ‘get’ or value your research. Trying to maintain a solid publication record that speaks to various disciplines is hard work but essential.
Melanie: You must be so thrilled to have won the international inaugural 2018 Joshua Fishman Award sponsored by the publisher deGruyter Mouton. Congratulations, again! How is Joshua Fishman’s scholarship still relevant today and particularly in the Chinese context?
Alex: Joshua Fishman was a pioneer of the sociological study of language, so my PhD (and much of the literature that I based my study upon) are indebted to his work. As I review in Section 2.3.3 of my dissertation, this sociolinguistic approach came relatively late to language research in China but has a lot of currency now. Moreover, Fishman was the first major author to examine what it means to a community to undergo language shift and language loss. Although Zhuang is not listed as endangered, it is contracting from certain domains that he identified as germane to language maintenance such as homes, schools and the media. In all these, Zhuang has been losing ground over just a few decades.
Melanie: When I read your thesis, I was stuck by the idea that language policy treats Zhuang as an object rather than a practice. Can you explain that?
Alex: Policy generally turns languages into objects. Language – Zhuang in my case study – is transformed from dynamic practice into an academic artefact and an object for the archives. Zhuang is not unique in this regard. Objectification also happens through language standardization. I will discuss this angle in a chapter for an upcoming book, Language standards, norms, and variation in Asia, edited by McLelland and Zhao and published by Multilingual Matters. Standardization can create a static, abstracted form of the language which then becomes an emblem. The government can then use this emblem to signal that they are doing something for Zhuang or that they are incorporating the voice of Zhuang people. However, as an emblematic visual object, Zhuang needs to be recognized, rather than read, to convey the intended meaning. Since the government did not match the standardization policy with a fulsome literacy policy, many Zhuang people (and others) cannot actually recognize Standard Zhuang when they see it …
Melanie: Does that mean that Zhuang is widely seen in the linguistic landscape?
Alex: No, not at all. In a place like the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region (GZAR), which is considered Zhuang’s historical ‘homeland’, very little Zhuang is present other than on bilingual street signs in the capital city. There’s even less Zhuang in linguistic landscapes outside this GZAR. In commercial signage it is not there at all. This absence itself is semiotic: Zhuang does not mean ‘urban’ or ‘future’ or even create a marketable emotional affinity with customers. All it means is ‘heritage’.
Melanie: A big challenge for me as a junior researcher is figuring out how to align my research interests with the most suitable research methods. Can you tell me more about your research methodology?
Alex: In language policy studies in general, and in Chinese studies, people have pointed out the cleavages between overt and covert, or posited and practiced, policy. I built on the emerging field of ethnographies of language policy, which in general target these cleavages. I took it further, adding a more technical legal analysis and using qualitative methods to enrich linguistic landscape study with an intersubjective perspective. Basically, I asked Zhuang language activists, professionals, artists, teachers and scholars as well as university students how they experienced and engaged with policy. Data collection spanned a series of cultural, commercial and campus sites: part of the innovation was the breadth, being able to cross-illuminate within one study, another part was the triangulation of theoretical perspectives.
Melanie: Moving on from your PhD research, can you tell me a bit about your postdoctoral research?
Alex: There is a lot to be done back here in Australia in regards to multilingualism, and lack of multilingualism, in the public space of diverse urban communities. I am curious how legally enshrined as well as ad hoc language policies are formed. Specifically, my post-doctoral research is about how the Australian government makes decisions about which language(s) to use for public communication and in which contexts, and how people get involved in these language policy processes.
Melanie: The public libraries I am studying are incredibly diverse. How do you think libraries users can influence language policy?
Alex: Libraries are a good site for looking up-close at how a community remakes or applies language policies. We’ve featured examples from public libraries in Vienna and Sheffield here on Language on the Move. However, it’s another step to get the ‘language stakeholders’ of a library to feed ideas back to policy-makers, especially to influence other, non-library aspects of language policy. That’s determined by people’s political dispositions as well as by communication protocols which the policy-makers may set up. I suspect there could be room for more engagement leveraging libraries and other community spaces or networks.
Melanie: Finally, what has winning the 2018 Joshua A. Fishman award meant to you personally and what’s next?
Alex: The win was a completely thrilling piece of news to receive. I am obviously honored, as I know more people are reading my thesis and that the judges approved of it. This has reassured me to trust my judgement, which is a useful boost to an early career researcher. Based on the award, DeGruyter Mouton will be publishing a book based on my thesis. The book is provisionally titled Language Rights in a Changing China. What a boon! It will be out in early 2020 and Language on the Move readers will hear more about it in due course. I feel really lucky that Professor Piller fostered in me a sense of confidence, and Language on the Move gave me lots of writing practice opportunities and great exposure for my work. Now I feel like I’ve got the skill and the intuition to go in the right direction (but never enough time to do it all!)
Tuesday, April 30, 2:00-3:00pm, AHH 1.602
Andrew S. Ross, University of Sydney, Internet memes as a tool of political participation: Discursive possibilities in the new media landscape
Tuesday, May 14, 2:00-3:00pm, AHH 1.602
Jinhyun Cho, Macquarie University, English fever, language capital, American dreams
Tuesday, June 04, 2:00-3:00pm, AHH 1.602
Van Tran, Charles Sturt University, Factors affecting home language proficiency and use among Vietnamese-Australian children
Tuesday, April 30, 2:00-3:00pm, AHH 1.602
Andrew S. Ross, University of Sydney, Internet memes as a tool of political participation: Discursive possibilities in the new media landscape
Abstract: Internet memes are a contemporary phenomenon situated at the nexus of language, society, and digital communication, and represent a relatively new form of participatory culture that can offer an opportunity for political expression, engagement and participation. Internet memes have been the subject of various definitions, but one of these described them as “groups of items sharing common characteristics of content, form and/or stance, which were created, transformed, and circulated by many participants through digital participatory platforms” (Gal et al., 2016, p. 1700). Arguably the most common type of Internet meme is the image macro (which is also the type that has been the focus of my own work), where the simplistic combination of text and image combine to form a new type of multimodal language in which messages are easily created and shared. Thus, Internet memes represent a novel and widespread form of language use in the new media context.
In this talk, I will draw on two themes of my own work on Internet memes as a way of showcasing their communicative potential and the ways in which combinations of language and image are utilised to convey messages. Firstly, I will discuss how they were employed during the 2016 U.S. Presidential campaign (both for primaries and the general election) as a tool of delegitimization. Second, from more recent work, I will highlight ways in which Internet memes have been used to frame the opposing sides of the climate change debate.
Reference: Gal, N., Shifman, L., Kampf, Z., (2016). “It gets better”: Internet memes and the construction of collective identity. New Media & Society, 18(8), 1698–1714. http://dx. doi.org/10.1177/1461444814568784.
Tuesday, May 14, 2:00-3:00pm, AHH 1.602
Jinhyun Cho, Macquarie University, English fever, language capital, American dreams
Abstract: This presentation will rethink the notion of English as a global language and examine local particularities and distinctive ideologies of English in the Korean context. English first arrived in Korea in 1882 and I will trace its historical development via the post-independence period (1945-1960), when the seed for the ongoing phenomenon of “English fever” was planted in Korean society. The evolution of English as valued language capital in Korea is inseparable from the cultural, economic and political influence of the United States. The dominance of the United States has turned English into a powerful tool in the minds of Koreans and is seen as enabling the pursuit of dreams for class mobility, distinction and female emancipation
Tuesday, June 04, 2:00-3:00pm, AHH 1.602
Van Tran, Charles Sturt University, Factors affecting home language proficiency and use among Vietnamese-Australian children
Abstract: The Vietnamese language is spoken by 300,000 people in Australia, equivalent to 1.2% of the country’s population and Vietnamese is in the top four most common languages other than English spoken in the country. Studies in home language maintenance show a tendency of language loss from the second generation onwards. With the first wave of Vietnamese immigrants coming to Australia in the 1970-80s, the Vietnamese community in Australia is experiencing a critical time in terms of maintaining their home language. Home language maintenance can be observed through indicators including language use and language proficiency (with speaking and understanding as oral proficiency and writing and reading as written proficiency). This study surveyed a total of 271 Vietnamese-Australian families regarding their children’s language proficiency and use and associated factors. Factors under examination belonged to four groups: child, parent, family, and community factors. Bivariate analyses including Pearson correlation and Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) were conducted to explore the associations between language proficiency and use and a range of child, family and community factors. Multiple regression was later conducted to further explore the relative associations of significant bivariate factors and language proficiency and use. Notably, this study has found that factors significantly associated with child language proficiency and use are more related to parents than to children, family, or community. Moreover, no significant correlation was found between child language proficiency and use and a range of factors including children’s Vietnamese community language school attendance, parents’ gender and education, presence of relatives, and availability of community meeting places.
“Fremdschämen” is a German word that means being embarrassed on behalf of someone else. In Australia, this feeling is frequently induced by the behavior of our politicians. Yesterday, public embarrassment on behalf of our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, resulted when he greeted an Asian-looking woman on the campaign trail with “ni hao”. “I’m Korean”, she responded, and Australians cringed “How embarrassing!”
Here’s That Awkward Video Of Scott Morrison Saying “Ni Hao” To A Korean Voter: Scott Morrison is being skewered on social media after he greeted a Korean-Australian voter with “ni hao” hello in Mandarin while campaigning in Strathfield, Sydney. excerpthttps://t.co/4ttITsJXwMpic.twitter.com/WOpPjZWh4l
Chinese warning against illegal parking in Sydney apartment building
Australia today is a de facto multilingual society. According to 2016 census data, 22.2% of Australians speak a language other than English (LOTE) at home. In the major cities the number of multilinguals is much higher (38.2% in Sydney; 34.9% in Melbourne).
Mandarin is the most frequently spoken LOTE and is the home language of 2.5% of the Australian population (4.7% in Sydney). This means that no LOTE strongly predominates nationally although this may differ across localities. In Strathfield, the Sydney suburb where the ministerial gaffe occurred, Korean is spoken by 10.9% of residents and thus slightly ahead of Mandarin with 10.6%.
That politicians would try to reach these diverse groups is not surprising. However, a gauche attempt to greet an Asian-looking person in Chinese exposes the gap between our predominantly white Anglo monolingual politicians and the diverse population they are supposed to represent.
Multilingual warning against trolley dumping in Sydney apartment complex
Multilingualism in Australia is largely restricted to the immigrant population and their children. This means that proficiency in a LOTE is, by and large, also a marker of an ethnic identity that is not Anglo/white.
The Anglo/white population has been struggling to come to terms with this reality. For the longest time, the key strategy has been to simply ignore LOTEs and carry on as if Australia were a monolingual English-speaking society – the infamous monolingual mindset. However, our multilingual reality has become increasingly difficult to ignore, and as a result we see more and more efforts at multilingual communication.
The red lines are the visual equivalent of shouting at Chinese residents to do their laundry properly
In short, most of the time when Anglo-Australians use a LOTE, they do not imagine interacting with another complex person but talking at some uni-dimensional simpleton. These multilingual practices do not engage but otherize.
That multilingual practices can exclude just as much as they can include is most apparent in multilingual prohibition signs. When prohibitions are stated in more than one language in an otherwise largely monolingual space, these prohibitions position LOTE speakers as trespassers and interlopers who cannot be relied upon to do the right thing. Signage stating bathroom etiquette is one such example.
Chinese-English signs placed over toilets during open houses (when a house that is for sale is open for inspection by potential buyers) are another. I find it difficult to imagine that toilet use during open houses is such a problem that it requires intervention with a specifically designed sign. The sign in all probability serves less to deter inappropriate toilet use than to disseminate its implicit message: that Chinese customers have questionable hygiene. Multilingual prohibition signs related to illegal parking, illegal use of shopping trolleys, or illegal use of washing lines all invite the same conclusion: Chinese residents are offenders against the norms of everyday interaction.
Open house toilet sign
LOTE use, and specifically the use of Asian languages, predominantly Chinese, in the public space in Australia – in cases where it emanates from outside the LOTE community – is the latest incarnation of the fear of Asians that has been inscribed into Australian culture ever since it became a British outpost far away from Europe but close to Asia.
Australia’s fear of Asia manifested itself most explicitly in the “White Australia” policy, which excluded Asian immigrants for most of the 20th century. While a racist immigration policy has given way to a non-discriminatory immigration policy for almost half a century now and most immigrants today come from Asia, Anglo-Australia is still struggling to come to terms with the reality that Australia is an Asian country geographically and is increasingly becoming an Asian country demographically.
Another open house toilet sign
But what do these realities mean for our diverse society? The linguistic evidence at present suggests that “Australian” and “Asian” continue to be imagined as mutually exclusive categories. But our collective embarrassment at this state of affairs is palpable, and change is in the air.
Professor Katrijn Maryns explains the linguistic transformations that turn “undocumented migrants” into “genuine” or “bogus refugees”
Language is the inescapable medium through which we live our lives. Access to social goods such as education, employment or community participation occurs through the medium of a particular language. However, all too often we take language for granted and its social role is obscured. One context that exemplifies both the power of language and its invisibility is the asylum determination procedure.
The asylum determination procedure is designed to distinguish between “genuine” refugees – migrants who should be granted asylum because of a well-founded fear of persecution in their home countries – and economic migrants.
Katrijn Maryns, Professor of Translation, Interpretation and Communication at Ghent University, illuminated the linguistic challenges inherent in the Belgian asylum determination procedure during her recent visit to Sydney, where she attended the inaugural “Language and Law” symposium at Sydney University (organized by Alexandra Grey and Laura Smith-Khan) and delivered the first Lecture in Linguistic Diversity of 2019 at Macquarie University. Professor Maryns showed that the determination that distinguishes between “genuine” refugees and economic migrants is essentially a linguistic process. Language is central to producing the asylum seeker’s story in interview with an asylum officer; and the officer’s report of the asylum seeker’s story ultimately forms the basis for the decision.
In this process, meaning is transformed from one language to another, from one person to another, and from the spoken interview to the written report. These multiple transformations are highly complex but their complexity is obscured in the definite binary outcome of acceptance or rejection.
Asylum seekers are mostly talked about in numbers. Sociolinguistic ethnography illuminates the processes behind the numbers (Image credit: Europarl)
So much can go wrong, as Case 1, an excerpt from the asylum interview of a soft-spoken young woman from Sudan illustrates. The woman (in the excerpt represented as “AS” for “asylum seeker”) explained that a man had aided her escape from Juba by stating “one man .. carry me . help me …” (l. 20). The Belgian asylum officer (“AO”) misheard “carry me” as “Karimi” and her report – which entered the file and became the version of record of the asylum seeker’s story – stated “A man named Karimi helped me.”
Although the final written report (in Dutch) is written in the first person – as if it were the authentic voice of the asylum seeker – it is obviously highly mediated and undergoes a series of linguistic transformations to arrive at its final form.
Could the “carry me – Karimi” misunderstandings have been avoided if an interpreter had been used? Maybe.
However, before the question of interpreter use can even be entertained, a determination of the asylum seeker’s language must be made by the asylum officer. Asylum seekers often have complex linguistic repertoires that are not easily summed up under one single language name. The complexity of the linguistic repertoires of people on the move clashes with the monolingual assumptions of a neat match between national origin and a named language that typically guides European asylum procedures.
Case 1 (Source: Katrijn Maryns, Guest lecture, Macquarie University, 02-04-2019)
This clash between factual complexity of linguistic repertoires and the bureaucratic drive to simplify means that even something as seemingly simple as determining the language in which an interview should be conducted is not simple at all. For instance, in another example (Case 2), Professor Maryns introduced us to a Belgian asylum officer, who was keen to get the interview done in English.
Given that English is the official language of Sierra Leone, the country of origin of the asylum seeker she was interviewing, this does not seem like such an unreasonable idea. It only becomes unreasonable when one knows that proficiency in English in Sierra Leone, as in many other postcolonial countries with English as an official language, is closely tied to formal education. The asylum seeker tried to explain that much to the officer when she said “I no go to school” (l. 4).
In a testament to the power differential inherent in the interview situation, the officer waves away that objection and makes the asylum seeker “sign” (indicate by cross or circle) that she’s happy to conduct the interview in English.
The asylum interview is a high stakes situation: for asylum seekers, matters of life and death may ride on it. Most of the time, all they have to succeed in this effort is their story: they must tell a credible story, in a plausible linguistic form, in a plausible genre, and of a plausible content. However, what is plausible to the European asylum bureaucracy may be vastly different from the story an asylum seeker can tell with the resources at her or his disposal.
Case 2 (Source: Katrijn Maryns, Keynote lecture, Sydney University, 01-04-2019)
In short, the asylum interview places extremely high linguistic demands on the asylum seeker while severely curtailing the possibilities for the production of a credible story.
Maryns, K. (2005). Monolingual language ideologies and code choice in the Belgian asylum procedure. Language & Communication, 25(3), 299-314.
Maryns, K. (2006). The Asylum Speaker: Language in the Belgian Asylum Procedure. Manchester: St. Jerome Publishing.
Maryns, K. (2013a). Disclosure and (re)performance of gender‐based evidence in an interpreter‐mediated asylum interview. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 17(5), 661-686.
Maryns, K. (2013b). Procedures without borders: The language-ideological anchorage of legal-administrative procedures in translocal institutional settings. Language in Society, 42(1), 71-92.
Maryns, K. (2015). The use of English as ad hoc institutional standard in the Belgian asylum interview. Applied Linguistics, 38(5), 737-758.
“Do you speak English?” is a frequently asked question, which Saudi people must be prepared to answer with a confident “Yes!” when applying for a job or to a university. In Saudi Arabia, as in many other places, knowledge of English has become a major prerequisite for many positions and in numerous disciplines. This demand for English has opened the way for an explosion of private institutes teaching the English language, where English is regarded as a commercial product that can earn good money for the purveyor. It is therefore reasonable to expect that the promotional discourses disseminated by these institutions conceal language ideologies that shape learners’ beliefs regarding English learning and its teaching.
My master’s thesis explored the approaches that English language teaching institutes use to persuade their audience that they should learn English in their institution. It examines language ideologies by looking at how English language learning is presented in the online advertisements produced by these institutes, and at the ways in which they represent themselves to their audience. To do this, I analyse visuals and texts to see how institutions make use of a range of language resources in promoting their services.
The analysis of the institutes’ ads shows that, in their attempt to persuade a potential audience to enroll, they conceptualize English as a global language. For example, English learning is described as totally advantageous as it supposedly opens the gates to job opportunities, education and travel. English learning is also represented as fun, confidence-building, and personally empowering.
Advertisement for Adwaa Almarefah Institute
The findings also reveal concepts that simultaneously mystify and oversimplify English learning. For instance, native-English speaking teachers are described in idealistic terms; there are claims that the use of specific textbooks will guarantee successful language learning and that success in global English proficiency tests such as IELTS or TOFEL is assured.
To be presented with such ideologies must affect people’s beliefs about what English learning involves. The elevated position given to English in the ads must diminish the status of Arabic in the minds of the younger generation. Thus, the English language teaching industry in Saudi Arabia must consider an approach that avoids presenting English learning as a totally beneficial phenomenon. In addition, other misrepresentations, such as the value of a specific textbook or considering native-English speaking teachers as being the best, should be reconsidered by the industry as these representations may deceive English learners regarding the utility of other language textbooks or the characteristics of the ideal teacher.
My PhD research will expand on the study of the language ideologies underlying the promotional discourses of English language teaching institutes in Saudi Arabia. Videos, pictures and texts taken from the institutes’ websites and Twitter accounts will be included in the study. The thesis will also explore how audiences actually receive the promotional discourses of the institutions.
Language in asylum determinations (Image Credit: moz.de)
We’ll be kicking off the 2019 Lectures in Linguistic Diversity series at Macquarie University with a guest lecture by Katrijn Maryns, Ghent University, Belgium, exploring language and vulnerability.
When: Tuesday, April 02, 2:00-3:30pm
Where: Australian Hearing Hub Room 1.602
What: Language and vulnerability: reflections on the management of linguistic diversity in the asylum determination procedure
Abstract: In response to the increasing numbers of migrants and refugees crossing into Europe since 2015, significant efforts have been made at EU level to manage its asylum and migration systems more efficiently. While EU policy is relatively cognisant of the technical-legal and medical-psychological complexities of the procedure, the discursive, multilingual challenges specific to the asylum process remain underexposed. When it comes to the determination of refugee status, it is particularly surprising and worrying how little attention is paid to the role of language in what are essentially discourse-based procedures, where spoken and written discourse form the main input for the representation and the assessment of asylum cases (Barsky, 1994; Pöllabauer 2004, Inghilleri 2005; Maryns 2006, Tipton 2008; Blommaert 2010, Smith-Khan 2017). In my presentation, I aim to explore two areas of tension in the discursive management of asylum cases: (a) the tension between the often very rigorous conditions for submission, representation and assessment of asylum applications on the one hand and the unreasonably high linguistic demands set by the asylum authorities on the other; and (b) the unclear and to some extent even conflicting roles attributed to language, either as a meaning-making tool (for the representation of asylum seekers’ accounts), as a categorisation tool (for the legal classification of asylum cases according to the Convention criteria of refugee status) or as a verification tool (for the evaluation of the veracity and credibility of asylum seekers’ accounts). Drawing on linguistic-ethnographic data from the Belgian asylum context, I will discuss some of the implications of these conflicting linguistic demands for the construction and evaluation of asylum identities. Specifically, I will focus on the multilingual ‘management’ of asylum cases. I will use data examples in which several multilingual strategies are being used, including lingua franca use and interpreter mediation. These examples will demonstrate how an ignorance of linguistic variation at different levels exacerbates linguistic vulnerabilities and inequalities in the course of the asylum process.
Finally, I will reflect on our position as academics in this domain, i.e. the challenges of being heard as language researchers in a setting where language is generally not given priority.
Katrijn Maryns (PhD in Linguistics) is an Associate Professor in the Department of Translation, Interpreting and Communication at Ghent University (Belgium), where she teaches multilingualism and interpreting courses. She is a member of the Research Centre for Multilingual Practices and Language Learning in Society (MULTIPLES) and the Centre for the Social Study of Migration and Refugees (CESSMIR). Her linguistic-ethnographic research examines the role of discourse, multilingualism and linguistic inequality in institutional contexts of globalisation, with a particular focus on asylum and migration. She is the author of The asylum speaker: Language in the Belgian asylum procedure (Routledge 2006), editor (with Philipp Angermeyer) of the book series Translation, Interpreting and Social Justice in a Globalised World (Multilingual Matters), and she has published in various international peer-reviewed journals (Applied Linguistics, Language in Society, Journal of Sociolinguistics, Language & Communication).
Barsky, R. (1994) Constructing a productive other: Discourse theory and the convention refugee hearing. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Blommaert, J. (2010) The sociolinguistics of globalization, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Inghilleri, M. (2005) Mediating Zones of Uncertainty: interpreter agency, the interpreting habitus and political asylum adjudication, The Translator, 11 (1), 69-85.
Maryns, K. (2006) The Asylum Speaker: Language in the Belgian Asylum Procedure. London: Routledge.
Pöllabauer, S. (2004) Interpreting in asylum hearings: Issues of Role, Responsibility and Power, Interpreting 6, 2: 143-180.
Tipton, R. (2008) Reflexivity and the social construction of identity in interpreter-mediated asylum interviews, The Translator 14 (1), 1‒19.
Smith-Khan, L. (2017) Different in the same way? Language, diversity, and refugee credibility. International Journal of Refugee Law, 29(3), 389–416.
Reports of and debates resulting from previous Lectures in Linguistic Diversity:
The educator Professor Hans H. Reich, who pioneered education-and-migration-related research in Germany, passed away on the 19th of February 2019. The obituary below was first published in German, and translated into English by Hanna Torsh.
With Hans Reich’s passing we have lost an outstanding researcher, an irreplaceable mentor, the guiding light of migration and education research in Germany. We have also lost a friend.
Hans Reich was appointed as Professor of German language and literature in teacher education at the Pädagogische Hochschule Rheinland, Abteilung Neuss, in 1971. His research focus was on the pursuit of an equitable education system in the context of migration in Germany. Among his many achievements was the fact that he pioneered research into the teaching of migrant children. Together with Manfred Hohmann and Ursula Boos-Nünning he founded a research group which investigated, for the first time in Germany, the effect of teacher qualifications on the educational success of migrant children. At the same time, the group evaluated and developed intervention projects and significantly influenced education policy and practice. The research group remained in close contact after Hans Reich became Professor of German as a Second Language at the University of Koblenz-Landau in 1979.
Even after his retirement in 2005, Professor Hans Reich continued to be an active and inspirational contributor to research and education policy in an increasingly diverse society.
A key contribution was the initiation of the first international comparative study examining how European education systems were reacting to increasing numbers of migrant children in their midst. It is not only the conviction that we need to learn from each other that characterized his work but also the belief in the value of trust and cooperation among researchers. This conviction resulted in a large number of research groups which came about through his involvement. One example is the research program “Effects of labor migration on education and training” (“Folgen der Arbeitsmigration für Bildung und Erziehung”), which was supported by the German Research Council (DFG) with Hans Reich as the chief investigator (1991 to 1997). This program introduced a change in perspective in the research into migration, education and training which continues to shape research into this field today. It overcame the previous narrow focus on migrants in favor of a focus on the whole of society in which all members – albeit in different ways – are affected by the changing linguistic, cultural and social diversity in their social world.
Hans Reich also made an important contribution to the field of German as a foreign language. His starting point was not an interest in the dissemination of an abstract language but instead the process of acquisition, learning and use of languages. Central to this were the learning challenges faced by learners, the conditions under which their linguistic development takes place, and the pedagogical approaches this calls for. In this way he turned the focus on multilingualism, both as a basis for and as a goal of the learning process in second language education.
Another outstanding example of his contribution to the field is the model program “Supporting children and young people with a migrant background” (“Förderung von Kindern und Jugendlichen mit Migrationshintergrund – FörMig”) (2004 to 2009). Hans Reich was a member of the scientific committee of the program and we found him a meticulous researcher, inspiring collaborator, and wonderful mentor.
One result of our collective work were concepts such as that of integrated language learning (“durchgängige Sprachbildung”), which has significantly impacted educational practice and policy in Germany.
Hans Reich was an active listener as well as an active researcher and motivator; a conversation partner, who took on board diverse points of view, who carefully but critically asked questions, and who lent an ear even to those who might have been shy or slow to make their contributions.
Hans Reich knew that research is rooted in social responsibility. As a participant in discussions over education policy he always kept this in mind, whether in his role as a member of the advisory committee for migration (“Rat für Migration“), as a political advisor and in numerous initiatives in educational practice – from pre-schools to primary and secondary schools to higher education and training institutions – or as an advocate for teachers in difficult situations, above all teachers of heritage languages.
With the passing of Hans Reich we not only lose an outstanding researcher and educator, but also a connoisseur of good food and wine and an excellent conversationalist. He captivated his listeners, even if – or perhaps because – he could never bring himself to add PowerPoint presentations to his lectures.
He will be very much missed.
Hamburg, Berlin, Vienna, Landau, and Cologne, February 2019