Never enough language/Language is never enough: Raciolinguistic perspectives on applied linguistic theories of change


Legacies of colonialism have pathologized particular populations’ linguistic practices as perpetual learning impediments, scapegoating language as a primary cause of educational and broader societal problems. Pathologizing colonial language ideologies continue to inform assumptions about language proficiency assessments as unbiased scientific measures. In turn, purportedly objective language (dis)abilities are represented as self-evident signs of whether one’s broader life trajectory is headed toward normatively defined success. Based on this logic, the accumulation of institutionally recognized linguistic skills through educational language learning is presented as a key intervention for communities and populations framed as communicatively deficient. In US schools, the labor of linguistic accumulation is imposed and regulated through language classifications such as English learner, long-term English learner, and proficient English user. These classifications rationalize population management structures that purportedly allocate access to institutional opportunities based on students’ linguistic abilities. In fact, regardless of the extent to which racially marginalized students ostensibly engage in standardized language practices, they continue to experience differential access to opportunities based on their colonially inherited societal positions as illegitimate subjects with illegitimate languages. Violent US histories of racial and linguistic dispossession, stigmatization, domination, prohibition, policing, containment, and elimination are part of broader legacies of Black and Indigenous genocide and enslavement that founded and continue to organize the nation. This presentation draws on abolitionist, decolonial, and raciolinguistic perspectives to understand historical and contemporary efforts to consolidate and contest borders delimiting languages, populations, and geographies. Such a reconceptualization points to opportunities for reckoning, redress, and reimagination that emerge when we understand racially marginalized communities not as communicatively deficient, but rather as dynamic linguistic contexts that unsettle conventional assumptions about knowledge, skills, and schooling. By situating linguistic struggles alongside broader political struggles, we can identify new strategies for connecting language learning projects to the imagination and creation of possible worlds. 


Jonathan Rosa is Associate Professor in the Graduate School of Education, Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, and, by courtesy, Departments of Anthropology and Linguistics, at Stanford University. His research centers on joint analyses of racial marginalization, linguistic stigmatization, and educational inequity, as well as collaborations with schools and communities to track these phenomena and develop tools for understanding and eradicating the forms of disparity to which they correspond. Rosa is author of the book, Looking like a Language, Sounding like a Race: Raciolinguistic Ideologies and the Learning of Latinidad (2019, Oxford University Press), and co-editor of the volume, Language and Social Justice in Practice (2019, Routledge). His work has appeared in scholarly journals such as the Harvard Educational Review, American Ethnologist, Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, and Language in Society, as well as media outlets such as MSNBC, NPR, CNN, and Univision.

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