Is an antiracist and decolonizing applied linguistics possible? Connecting the past to the future


The contours of applied linguistics as a disciplinary field have been shifting within a global context that itself has been undergoing significant change. Increasing recognition of the interconnectedness of race, migration and mobility, language, and capital has meant that for applied linguists, the meanings of language study have also been transformed. We have seen greater attention within the field to issues of race and equity. This includes, for instance, exploration of the ways race and language construct each other, linguistic analysis to better understand racial discrimination and inequalities, movements to revitalize Indigenous and endangered languages, and new ways of theorizing language categories and boundaries. However, at the same time, applied linguistics continues to be embedded in histories of conquest, racial violence, and domination, and in a contemporary context of inequitable global racial power and forms of knowledge production and transmission that are steeped in colonial reasoning. These enduring legacies are indelibly but invisibly woven throughout our language practices, pedagogies, research methods, relationships, and the academic, social, and institutional spaces we are immersed in, as well as in our imaginaries of what counts as valuable and legitimate. In keeping with the theme of AAAL 2020, “Vision 20/20: Looking back, moving ahead,” Motha looks ahead, seeking to connect the past not only to the present but also to our future, asking what a future that is clear-sighted about the injuries and damages of colonialism and racial inequity might look like. Drawing particularly on examples from language teaching contexts, she asks: Is the discipline of applied linguistics irretrievably rooted in an ontology of race and empire? Or is an antiracist and decolonizing applied linguistics possible? What might it look it? And how might it be achieved?


Suhanthie Motha’s research explores the centrality of race and empire within the workings of the discipline of applied linguistics and the English language teaching industry. A teacher educator and associate professor in the English Department at the University of Washington, she is the author of Race, Empire, and English Language Teaching, which won the American Educational Studies Association (AESA) Critics’ Choice Book Award and the Comparative and International Education Society’s (CIES) Globalization and Education SIG’s Book Award. Her work has been published in journals including TESOL Quarterly, Modern Language Journal, Critical Inquiry in Language Studies, Race Ethnicity and Education, Peace and Change, and Language Teaching, and in edited collections representing a range of areas.

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