AAAL 2024: Invited Colloquium

Critical race approaches and language studies from international perspectives


Wenhao Diao, University of Arizona

Colloquium Abstract

This symposium critically examines race in language studies in international contexts. The conventional focus on the U.S. (and English) in academic discussions about race and language (learning) has revealed the profound impact that White settler colonialism continues to reproduce and redistribute (von Esch et al., 2021); however, it also reinforces Whiteness as the center of our scholarship. In order to decolonialize the research on race and language studies, our imperative is to disrupt the hegemony of English and challenge the epistemological racism that is entrenched in our research inquiries. This symposium presents five studies that are based respectively in Tanzania (Africa) and Mexico (South America), China (Asia), the Arab World (the Middle East), Brazil (South America), and New Zealand (Oceania). Individually and collectively, these studies demonstrate the nuances of racialization in diverse linguistic and sociopolitical contexts, the vulnerabilities and possibilities of racial solidarity, the complex interplay between local and global racial politics, and the intersectionality between race and language. Our findings dovetail with the important and ongoing discussion in applied linguistics about antiracist futures of language education.

Counterstorytelling as a humanizing analytical writing method for unsettling epistemological racism in applied linguistics
Jamie A. Thomas, Santa Monica College

Abstract:  Recent observations by Motha (2020) and Bhattacharya et al. (2020) note that disrupting the detachment and race-neutrality often relied upon in applied linguistics necessitates dismantling epistemological racism (Kubota, 2020). Responding to this call, I explore storytelling, and specifically, counterstorytelling, as a critical race methodological tool (Johnson et al., 2017) for decolonizing the production and consumption of scholarly knowledge in applied linguistics research. I focus on two forms of analytical writing that diverge from the traditional interactional transcript as a principal norm of data analysis and reporting; thereby acknowledging inherent subjectivities and “the myth of the objective transcript” (Green et al., 1997): (1) In composite character counterstorytelling (Cook, 2013; Baker-Bell, 2020), researchers creatively construct characters representative of an empirical amalgam of participant concerns and identities in action. This facilitates anonymity and rejects socially constructed majoritarian language ideologies. (2) An alternative method I call multilingual counterstorytelling aims to decenter English language and Western thought as scholarly mediums, and is informed by tensions and precarities of critical autoethnography and intercultural learning (Stanley, 2020). This involves presenting all talk in its source languages and orthography (with translation and transliteration) through narration anchored in participants’ conceptual terminology (e.g., sociocultural orientations to identity, difference, place, and time).

I offer two case studies of the scalar implications of anti-Black linguistic racism in language study, and discuss challenges in writing and publishing: The first features classroom data gathered in Mexico City among Spanish-speaking learners of Swahili, a language largely in use throughout East Africa. The second case study examines data gathered in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where Swahili predominates, with South Korean study abroad learners of Swahili. My analyses draw upon discursive co-construction (Aiello & Nero, 2019), raciolinguistics (Flores et al., 2020), and moment analysis of translanguaging space (Li Wei, 2011).

Everyday raciolinguistic tensions within the Global South: Nigerian students learning Mandarin in China

Hongni Gou, University of Arizona
Wenhao DiaoUniversity of Arizona

Abstract:  China has embraced Black internationalism and Third Worldism in its project of nation-building and decolonization (Gao, 2021), and it continues to align itself as a member of the Global South. This discourse of South-South solidarity is used in its investment in Africa, which includes funds for African students to study in China. China is now the second most popular destination for international students from Africa (ICEF Monitor, 2021). 

Influenced by the theorization of raciolinguistics (Alim et al., 2016), we examine here how these state discourses of collaboration become reproduced and contested in the everyday lives of Black African students in China. Our data came from an ethnographic project about Black Nigerian students in China, all of whom were enrolled in a Teaching Chinese as a Second Language program. Qualitative analysis of interviews, recorded conversations, and observations reveals complex racial and linguistic (dis)connections between China and Africa. The focal participants recognized that their experiences in China have been made affordable through the support of the Chinese government, which they perceived as an important pathway to participation in globalization. However, two focal students explicitly reject the concept of Sino-Africa solidarity by evoking the discourse in parts of Africa that stigmatizes Chinese merchants as exploitatory, exposing the grassroots tensions between Africa and China (Han, 2017). Meanwhile, although the participants were speakers of Nigerian English and were trained to teach Mandarin, their student visa status – combined with anti-Black stereotypes in China – led to difficulties for them to secure internships to teach either Chinese or English. They instead found opportunities working as translators or administrative assistants, both of which are peripheral to the workplace (Stakhnevich, 2010). They also worked as models, in which case their multilingual identity was muted while their Blackness became a commodified emblem of foreignness and Chinese companies’ global reach. 

Negotiating racialization at home and abroad: Examining the experiences of U.S. students studying in the Arab world

Emma Trentman, University of New Mexico

Abstract:  Raciolinguistic perspectives offer a critical approach to ideological links between linguistic practices and race (Rosa & Flores, 2017).  In commonly studied language learning contexts (e.g. TESOL or U.S. classrooms), there is close alignment between global raciolinguistic ideologies and local racialization practices, such as preferring White English teachers, despite a lack of teaching skills (Von Esch, Motha, & Kubota, 2020) or denigrating the English of racialized groups, regardless of the actual linguistic practices (Flores & Rosa, 2015). In less commonly studied contexts, global raciolinguistic ideologies shape racialization processes and also intersect with local raciolinguistic ideologies to impact language learning. Understanding these intersections is central to critically contesting raciolinguistic ideologies. 

This study uses interview and observation data from students, language partners, and teachers to examine the role of raciolinguistic ideologies and global and local racialization processes in the context of U.S. students studying Arabic abroad.  For example, brown-skinned students of Latinx or South Asian backgrounds found that in contrast to their experiences at home, they were racially unmarked, and were frequently identified by locals as Arabic speakers, a benefit for engaging in Arabic. At the same time, some also felt frustrated when they weren’t considered “real” Americans, or negotiated status differences based on their U.S. citizenship compared to migrant workers from their heritage country. White students experienced the discomfort of being racially marked for the first time in their lives. Based on U.S. racialization processes (where racialization and racism are always linked), they tended to interpret this racialization as racism, a position I argue perpetuates global White supremacy. Finally, I examine the intersections between racialization processes and other social categories, such as socioeconomic status and religion. I emphasize the need for continued critical attention to race and language learning in all language learning contexts.

Contestations of US-centered categorizations of race by African Americans learning Portuguese in Brazil

Uju Anya, Carnegie Mellon University

Abstract:  African American college students learning Portuguese in Afro-Brazilian communities also learn about linguistic, historical, sociocultural, ideological, and political filters through which seemingly simple choices such as racial categorization pass. The complex pigmentocracy governing racial identification in Brazil presents opportunities for African Americans to contest the dichotomy of “black and white” in the United States, but also introduces complexities in accepting notions of race that challenge their politics and self-concept. This process of shaping racialized selves through which they understand and communicate their identities according to pre-existing and newly gained understandings is what I refer to as learning to speak Blackness in Brazil. Ultimately, the African American students’ development in the Portuguese language is mutually constitutive of their growth into new consciousness of how to do and how to be Black in a new context outside the US. This new consciousness allows them to contest and resist what they describe as limitations imposed on them by a narrow view of race that does not include all they consider legitimate aspects of their racialized identities. Video-recorded interactions, personal journals, interviews, and Portuguese writing assignments show how multiple intersecting racialized identities are enacted and challenged in new language learning. Thematic, descriptive, and critical discourse analyses utilized in this paper highlight key choices African Americans make to speak their material, ideological, and symbolic selves in Portuguese, and they also show how linguistic action can reproduce or resist power and inequity.

Integrating Māori epistemology into foreign language teaching: Perspectives from students and teachers from non-Indigenous backgrounds

Danping Wang, The University of Auckland

Abstract: Māori, the Indigenous people of Aotearoa New Zealand, have experienced long-term racial discrimination and epistemic inequalities in education (May, 2013). Following the success of these efforts in slowing the decline of the Māori language (King, 2018), the New Zealand government has recently introduced a new educational initiative to acknowledge the equal status of Māori knowledge in the mainstream education system in Aotearoa New Zealand (Wang, 2023). The present study is situated within the context of a university-level curriculum transformation project aimed at integrating Mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge systems) (Royal, 2009) into learning design across all disciplinary areas. The research seeks to understand how teachers and students from non-Indigenous backgrounds perceive and interact with the initiative to incorporate Indigenous concepts and language in foreign language teaching and assessment. A total of 155 students from diverse cultures and ethnic backgrounds were surveyed and their digital compositions were analysed. Five teachers in the course were interviewed.

Drawing on the concept of translanguaging as a decolonial approach (Li & García, 2022), this research highlights the porous nature of boundaries that exist not only between named languages (Turner & Lin, 2017) but also between epistemological beliefs between knowledge systems. The findings of this study illustrate that translanguaging enables the co-existence of various bodies of knowledge, manifesting a holistic picture of the student body's diverse epistemic stances and life experiences. The results of this research suggest that more work is needed to support teachers and students in affirming the relevance of Indigenous knowledge in the university curriculum and thereby disrupt colonial approaches to language teaching and assessment (Wang, 2022). Policymakers are recommended to adopt a pluriversal stance to ensure that diverse knowledge systems can coexist and interact harmoniously rather than compete with one another.

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