Epistemic justice and languaging: A critique of hegemonic thinking, essentialisms and labelling language

Sangeeta Bagga-Gupta (she/her/hen), School of Education and Communication, Jönköping University, Sweden


Despite recognition accorded to the fluid meaning-making nature of languaging and the hegemonies of global-North framings in the scholarship, language scholarship itself continues to be marked by divisions and essentialist practices. This research continues to be organized within bounded areas of expertise that have become naturalized through universalist divisions and labels. Here one or more of the following tends to constitute an organizing principle: language modalities (oral/written/signed languages, multimodality), spatiality (digital-analogue/national/regional/home/institutional languages.), relationality (mother tongue, foreign/native/indigenous languages.), numericity (first/second languages, bi/multi/plurilingual), etc. Specializations in the language scholarship also include demarcated domains, language subject areas and identity positions. Such research, it is argued, is complicit in the creation of bounded areas of expertise that furthermore shape language conceptualizations, including the organization of institutional teaching and learning. The “Epistemic Justice and Languaging” invited colloquium has key relevance for democratic agendas in the contemporary world, not least since applied language scholarship shapes children, youth and adults lives inside and outside institutional settings. This dialogical space brings together senior-junior presenters and discussants from across the globe. Four papers will be “pitched” on the colloquium theme with space for discussant and audience engagement. Each pitch interrogates knowledge regimes with the intent to offer newer (less recognized) ways of understanding language and language learning from epistemic justice alignments.

Labels in research and practice. A useful tool, an object to dispose of or a necessary evil?

Nikolay Slavkov, University of Ottawa, Canada



This conceptual talk will address the complex role of labels and categories in language-related research and practice. On the one hand, it will discuss existing and new inequalities that labels may be based on, create, or re-produce; on the one hand, it will recognize the unavoidable need to use labels as tools for analytical and practical purposes. How can one reconcile such conflicting pressures and remain true to scientific, social, and personal values of advancing knowledge and contributing to a better world? What ethical stances might be possible? Using data from several research projects in disciplines typically categorized as applied linguistics, language policy, and child language development, I will offer a critical view of well-established labels such as native speaker, first language, home language, sequential/simultaneous bilingual, etc. I will argue that as researchers we are often invariably trapped by such labels in designing, interpreting, and disseminating our work. While complete deconstruction or disposal of problematic labels may not always be possible and creating new labels may also be fraught with new problems, critical awareness of the relevant fundamental underlying notions is useful. Critically examining and denaturalizing labels that we sometimes take for granted may lead to rethinking our stances and methods as well as the impact they have.


Indigenous experiences of language revitalization. Critical and decolonial perspectives on binary speaker categorizations

Frances Kvietok Dueñas (she/her)
Pia Lane
Multiling, University of Oslo, Norway


While education was used as a tool for colonization, it now plays a role in Indigenous culture and language revitalization. Educational practices are not neutral efforts to create more speakers of a language; they are ideological practices that shape views about language and learners' identities. Often Indigenous individuals start using their language in educational settings, and their learning and identity trajectories are multifaceted. Drawing on critical and decolonial perspectives and using participatory multimodal narrative methods, we will analyse how learners of Quechua (Peru) and Sámi (Norway) experience becoming speakers and writers. Applied Linguistics have recognized its monolingual bias (May 2014), but such a bias may also be found in revitalization processes. Learners who reclaim an Indigenous language may experience ambivalence and vulnerability: the goal of using the Indigenous language seems unattainable because learners experience that their ways of speaking are less “authentic”, and they may feel that speaking the Indigenous language is something they ought to master, precisely because of their heritage. Therefore, boundary-marking and binary thinking can be a hindrance to revitalization processes, because categorizations such as native vs. non-native, first vs. second language, are not well suited to Indigenous settings and may be an obstacle for learning.



The educational consequences of naming the languaging of deaf youth in Peru

Sara Goico (she/her/hers), Department of Sociology, University of California


Research in Deaf Studies, broadly conceived, has been at the forefront of challenging ideologies about the bounded nature of languages and drawing attention to languaging as meaning-making that utilizes a multiplicity of semiotic resources (Bagga-Gupta 2019; Kusters et al. 2017). This perspective has been critical to the academic re-imagining of the communication of deaf individuals, who have not had sustained access to the linguistic resources of named signed or spoken languages (Goico 2021; Moriarty Harrelson, 2019). This paper brings together two years of ethnographic fieldwork with deaf youth in Iquitos, Peru with the microanalysis of everyday interactions inside and outside of mainstream classrooms to examine how languaging between deaf and hearing peers is interpreted within the education system. From analyzed moments of interaction, it is evident that deaf and hearing students who do not share the same “language” are capable of engaging in meaning-making. Educators also witnessed this, but then mistakenly assumed the deaf students “knew” “Peruvian Sign Language”, thereby erasing the processes through which deaf children are socialized into linguistic resources. The conflation and false attribution that arose as a result of educators’ ideologies further marginalized deaf students in an academic environment where they were already marginalized.


Bagga-Gupta, S. (2019). Languaging across time and space in educational contexts. Language Studies and Deaf Studies. Deafness & Education International, 21(2-3), 65-73.

Goico, S. A. (2021). Repeated assemblages in the interactions of deaf youth in Peru. International Journal of Multilingualism, 18(2), 267-284.

Kusters, A., Spotti, M., Swanwick, R., and Tapio, E. (2017). Beyond languages, beyond modalities: Transforming the study of semiotic repertoires. International Journal of Multilingualism, 14(3), 219-232.

Harrelson, E. M. (2019). Deaf people with “no language”: Mobility and flexible accumulation in languaging practices of deaf people in Cambodia. Applied Linguistics Review, 10(1), 55-72.


Writing language history in spite of history

William L. Leap (he/him/his), Department of Anthropology, American University; Center for Women's Gender & Sexuality Studies, Florida Atlantic University

Historical inquiry-- like history itself -- designates unidirectional linguistic trajectories moving toward specific linguistic/temporal goals. Descriptions of these trajectories may acknowledge variation, but these descriptions rarely include linguistic practices -- or language users -- from the margins or “from below” that are “out of sync” with normative linguistic demands. What results are descriptions of language-in-time affirming history as neatly ordered chronology, “admitting of no exceptions”, while language use in real-life temporal experience displays very different dynamics between language, spatiality and relationality.  To describe linguistic histories in spite of the hegemonic demands of history requires (1) descriptions of language-in-time based on language use in real-life, temporal experiences, and (2) discussions that use these studies to “…outline a discourse which tries to break with [historical] ideology, in order to dare to be the beginning of a scientific … discourse on ideology” (Althusser 1972: 173). Examples from my one historical studies with “language before Stonewall” in the US and language and sexual sameness in late apartheid townships, South Africa, illustrate these claims.


Invited Colloquium Discussant:

Ryuko Kubota (she/her/hers)
Faculty of Education, University of British Columbia, Canada

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