Hispanic or Latino? A Sociolinguistic Perspective

We recently published Speaking Spanish in the US by Janet M. Fuller and Jennifer Leeman. In this post Jennifer writes about the difference between the terms ‘Hispanic’ and ‘Latino’.

Recent growth in the share of the US population that identifies as Hispanic or Latino (as well as feminine Latina and the gender-neutral and non-binary Latinx) has been accompanied by increased attention to the labels themselves. There are ongoing debates about whether these pan-ethnic labels correspond to an ‘authentic’ identity, or people’s own sense of themselves as well as their lived experience or if, conversely, they are an ‘artificial’ creation of the US government. Nor is there consensus among scholars, advocates or anyone else whether that identity, assuming it actually exists, should be considered ‘ethnic’ or ‘racial.’ While we explore both of these issues in our new book, the focus of this post is on a third point of contention: the labels themselves. Specifically, is there a difference between Hispanic and Latino/a/x, and if so, what is it? The meaning of these labels is a perennial topic of lively discussion. It is especially timely this year, given that 2020 is a census year and the US census includes a question on Hispanic or Latino origin. Sociolinguistic perspectives on language, and on the relationship of language to identity, can offer insights into the meaning of the terms as well as into why such discussions are important and never seem to reach resolution.

On one hand, many dictionaries present Hispanic and Latinx/o/a as synonyms, as does the US Office of Management and Budget (the federal agency that mandates the race and ethnicity categories to be used on the census), and many speakers use the two terms interchangeably. One the other hand, numerous scholarly essays, news articles, and social media posts insist that they are not in fact the same. Although there is some variation in popular and scholarly explanations of the purported differences, etymology typically figures prominently. Specifically, most authors trace the origins of the word Hispanic to Hispania, the region of the Roman empire that comprised the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal today); some accounts also describe Hispanic as an Anglicized shortening of hispanoamericano, an inhabitant of Spain’s former American colonies. For its part, Latino is described as a deriving from latinoamericano, and many authors note that Latin America is a 19th century construction differentiating the areas in the Americas colonized by France, Portugal and Spain from those colonized by England. Thus, many claim that Hispanic refers to people with a connection to former Spanish colonies (but not Brazil) while Latina/x/o includes all Latin Americans and their descendants (but not people from Europe). Ethnoracial and linguistic diversity within Latin America and Spain is often glossed over in such discussions.

For the most part, etymologically-based accounts of the difference between Hispanic and Latinx/a/o assume a straightforward and enduring one-to-one correspondence between words and their meanings, as well as a similarly rigid understanding of identities and their relationship to labels. In this view, once we know the origin of a word, we know its meaning. However, one of the basics of human language is that it is always undergoing change; not only do pronunciations and sentence structures change over time, so do the semantic and social meanings of words. Thus, while etymology is interesting, and it can tell us something about how words have been used historically, it doesn’t reveal their complete meaning. For sociolinguists, the meaning of words is not contained within the words themselves but in the way they are used and understood in a given context. In the case of ethnoracial labels, this often goes hand-in-hand with varied social constructions of ethnoracial categories, which can vary from place to place as well as over time.

In addition to characterizing identities as socially constructed, sociolinguist approaches also stress that language plays a central role in the creation and performance of identities. Indexicality, or the way that particular linguistic forms or practices ‘point to’ particular attitudes, stances or identities, is key to this process. Specifically, when speakers speak in a particular way, or use one particular word, they rely on socially shared associations between linguistic forms and social meanings to signal something about themselves. Symbolic and indexical meanings play an especially important role in shaping people’s preferences for either Hispanic or Latino/x/a. For many people, the term Hispanic is seen as elevating European heritage and erasing Native and African cultures, peoples and languages. Despite the equally Eurocentric etymology of Latino/x/a, this term for many people indexes a more inclusive recognition of diversity.  In some contexts, using Latino/x/a (and especially when pronounced with Spanish, rather than English, phonology) is a way of enacting a particular kind of ethnoracial pride and/or sociopolitical awareness. In addition, the use of Latinx can signal one’s support for gender inclusivity. In sum, the choice between Hispanic and Latino/x/a (as well as other identity labels) depends not only on the specific ethnoracial identity of the person it refers to, but also on the sociopolitical stance and identity of the speaker. Importantly, indexical meanings are also variable and contextually dependent, rather than fixed within the words themselves. As such, it’s not surprising that the precise meanings of these labels, as well as which one is ‘better’, is highly contested, as are debates about just what it means to be either one.

Jennifer Leeman

For more information about this book please see our website

If you found this interesting, you might also like Learning and Not Learning in the Heritage Language Classroom by Kimberly Adilia Helmer.

What Does It Mean To “Be Chinese”?

This month we published Language, Culture and Identity in Two Chinese Community Schools by Sara Ganassin. In this post the author talks about the book’s discussion of identity in contexts of migration. 

The past decade has seen a growing international interest in China, Chinese language education, ‘Chinese culture’ and Chinese communities including Chinese migrants. At the same time, often media attention has contributed to an enforcement of stereotypical constructions of a collective Chinese identity by depicting Chinese people, including Chinese migrants, in particular ways: successful, hard-working, but also conservative, unwilling to integrate and often ‘invisible’ in their new countries.

This book offers a snapshot of Chinese migrant experiences in Britain. It is important to acknowledge that ‘Chineseness’ is not necessarily related to an affiliation with a particular political entity, but it is rather related to the complex nature of the ‘Chinese world’ including its multinational and multicultural dimensions.

Chinese homework from a child at one of the schools in the book

This book is located in the context of Chinese community schools in the UK. These are educational and social spaces where migrants nurture their language, cultures and identities and transmit them to the younger generations. The question ‘is there more than one way of being Chinese?’ is addressed from the perspectives of children, parents and teachers attending two Mandarin schools. These perspectives include both those from ‘new’ migrants from Mainland China and those from more ‘traditional’ Cantonese, Hakka, and Hokkien speaking communities.

The book explores how ‘being Chinese’ covers a complex range of political, ethnic, linguistic, and cultural positions and identities that play out in the context of language community education. With their focus on non-dominant languages and ‘cultures’ community schools represent a space for adults and children to explore who they are and what ‘being Chinese’ means to them.

Postcards at the Librairie Avant-Garde in Nanjing

The topic of ‘Chinese’ and, more broadly, ‘migrant’ identity is central in the book. However, the book is not just about ‘being Chinese’. Identity is a crucial and controversial topic in any context of migration and displacement. Social-constructionism enables us to see identity as a process constructed through the relationships that we establish with the world around us. Our sense of who we are, especially but not exclusively as migrants, is shaped by our sense of identification with particular communities, but also by our self-understanding of our own unique personal journeys and family histories.

Furthermore, identification and affiliation with certain groups — e.g. ‘being native speakers of a certain language’, ‘being citizens of a certain country’ — afford us privileges and opportunities others might not have and, at the same time, shape how we see ourselves and the world. A key message in this book concerns the importance of acknowledging how different life trajectories are a source of enrichment rather than obstacles as people move, settle in new contexts and negotiate who they are in relation to the ‘other’.

I hope that readers — those who study and have an interest in intercultural and migrant education, teachers and learners of Chinese or any other community language — may engage with the narratives reported in this book and enhance their understanding of their own personal and professional stories in intercultural spaces.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Learning Chinese as a Heritage Language by Guanglun Michael Mu.

Does a Language Teacher’s Identity Matter?

Next month we are publishing Language Teacher Recognition by Alison Stewart. In this post the author explains how the book came about and what readers will learn from it. 

Does a language teacher’s identity matter? What about the case of Filipino teachers of English working in Japan?

Filipinos used to be denied access to jobs as English teachers in Japan because they weren’t regarded as “native speakers”, and hence not the right kind of people to teach English. Nowadays, they are being hired in large numbers to work across the range of public and private schools, particularly in elementary and preschool education. What has changed? And how has this affected the lives of Filipinos living in Japan?

I first came across a group of Filipino English teachers a decade ago and have been following the group’s activities and progress since then. The successes of many of the group’s members inspired me to start collecting their stories. Through the narratives of eight women and one man, we can see how the changing social conditions of Japan – from migration patterns to educational reforms to shifts in ideologies about language and identity – are reflected in the career paths and aspirations, the disappointments and the triumphs, of Filipino teachers in Japan.

Seven of the teachers belong to an organization, Filipino English Teacher in Japan (FETJ), which supports and trains would-be English teachers. The different narratives allow us to trace the various, at times conflicting, interests and motivations that have propelled the rapid growth of this organization from informal study group to social activism on behalf of a marginalized minority in Japan to teacher training NPO and conduit to potential employers.

Identity is a hot topic in language education research these days, but this is the first time that it has been explored through the lens of Recognition Theory. In the book I’ve attempted to explain why recognition deserves our attention, how it differs from the poststructuralist approach that currently dominates the field, and how it can underpin a “moral turn” in the field. A focus on mutual recognition in different social domains – between those we care for, in large social groups, and in society at large – places social justice firmly at the center of our research endeavors.

The narratives of the nine Filipino teachers, and my own story as well, are presented in their entirety. This too is a break away from current research practices. Readers will find their own resonances in the stories, but I have used them as stepping-stones into discussions on privilege and marginalization, on language teacher associations, on language teaching as a career, and on the very language that we use to talk about identity in language education research.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Identity, Gender and Teaching English in Japan by Diane Hawley Nagatomo.

Exciting New Multilingual Matters Titles for 2020

We can’t believe the first month of 2020 is almost over! It seems like only yesterday we were decorating the office and singing along to our Christmas playlist. However, if January has seemed like a very long month to you, we have plenty of exciting new titles coming up to fend off the winter blues. Here’s a selection of what we’ve got in store for you this spring…

Global TESOL for the 21st Century by Heath Rose, Mona Syrbe, Anuchaya Montakantiwong and Natsuno Funada

This book explores the impact of the spread of English on language teaching and learning. It provides a framework for change in the way English is taught to better reflect global realities and to embrace current research. The book is essential reading for postgraduate researchers, teachers and teacher trainers in TESOL.

Speaking Spanish in the US by Janet M. Fuller and Jennifer Leeman

This book introduces readers to basic concepts of sociolinguistics with a focus on Spanish in the US. The coverage goes beyond linguistics to examine the history and politics of Spanish in the US, the relationship of language to Latinx identities, and how language ideologies and policies reflect and shape societal views of Spanish and its speakers.

Teaching Adult Immigrants with Limited Formal Education edited by Joy Kreeft Peyton and Martha Young-Scholten

This book aims to empower teachers working with adult migrants who have had little or no prior formal schooling, and give them the information and skills that they need to reach the highest possible levels of literacy in their new languages.

Essays on Conference Interpreting by James Nolan

This book, drawing on the author’s 30-year career, seeks to define what constitutes good interpreting and how to develop the skills and abilities that are conducive to it. It places interpretation in its historical context and examines the uses and limitations of modern technology for interpreting.

 

The Dynamics of Language and Inequality in Education edited by Joel Austin Windle, Dánie de Jesus and Lesley Bartlett

This book contributes new perspectives from the Global South on the ways in which linguistic and discursive boundaries shape inequalities in educational contexts, ranging from Amazonian missions to Mongolian universities, using critical ethnographic and sociolinguistic analyses.

The Emotional Rollercoaster of Language Teaching edited by Christina Gkonou, Jean-Marc Dewaele and Jim King

This book focuses on the emotional complexity of language teaching and how the diverse emotions that teachers experience are shaped and function. The book covers a range of emotion-related topics on both positive and negative emotions, including emotional labour, burnout, emotion regulation, resilience, emotional intelligence and wellbeing.

 

Seen something you like? All these titles are available to pre-order on our website and you can get 50% off this month when you enter the code JANSALE at the checkout!

The Politics of Language and Identity

This month we published Choosing a Mother Tongue by Corinne A. Seals. In this post the author describes an encounter with language, identity and politics on a visit to Ukraine in the winter of 2017.

While I was writing Choosing a Mother Tongue: The Politics of Language and Identity in Ukraine, I was constantly reflecting on language choice and use, especially when I would find myself at a Ukrainian community event with a Ukrainian language conversation happening to my left and a Russian language conversation happening to my right. However, the power of the politics of language and identity struck me particularly during a visit to Ukraine in the winter of 2017.

I had been in L’viv (Western Ukraine), traveled to Kyiv (Central Ukraine), and had just arrived back again in L’viv to the same hotel and same restaurants in which I had spent time during the first part of the trip. However, while I had been very conscious of my language use when first in L’viv (sticking to Ukrainian to align with the preference of most people in this city), I had just been in Kyiv where language choice and use was more fluid and where my hosts were Russian dominant speakers. Additionally, my trip back to L’viv had been during a snowstorm, and in an exhausted state I was not as conscious of my language use.

L’viv during the snowstorm

When I went to grab a quick dinner at the restaurant next to where I was staying, I was bemused by the insistence of the maître d’ that she couldn’t understand me. “Surely,” I thought, “there must be something I’m doing wrong if this hasn’t happened to me before.” It was then that I realized I had been speaking to her in Russian (due to having just returned from Kyiv), but I was in a Crimean Tatar restaurant in L’viv.

This context is significant, as the Crimean Tatars have repeatedly been displaced by both the Soviet and Russian governments in history and had just been displaced again from Crimea not long before my trip to Ukraine. Recognizing my major faux pas, I switched to Ukrainian and apologized before repeating my request in Ukrainian. The maître d’ smiled slightly, nodded in acknowledgement, and proceeded with our conversation.

A Ukrainian poem in L’viv about language and identity by famous poet, Lesya Ukrainka

Now, Russian and Ukrainian are similar enough that most people can at least loosely understand one if you speak the other. So, this was highly unlikely to be a case of not having proficiency in a language. Rather (and as further informed by our interaction), this was a political statement reflecting linguistic history and identity. It was more important for the maître d’ to uphold her linguistic principles than to make the transaction. However, my awareness and acknowledgement of this, as well as my subsequent linguistic alignment with her, meant that all was again equal.

This is one of many examples that speaks to the strength of connection between language and identity, as well as the importance of being aware of current and historical events related to language and politics wherever you are.

Corinne Seals (Mykytka), Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand

corinne.seals@vuw.ac.nz

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Language, Identity and Education on the Arabian Peninsula edited by Louisa Buckingham.

Language Teacher Agency Matters!

This month we published Theorizing and Analyzing Language Teacher Agency edited by Hayriye Kayi-Aydar, Xuesong (Andy) Gao, Elizabeth R. Miller, Manka Varghese and Gergana Vitanova. In this post the editors explain how the idea for the book came about.

We witnessed scholars’ and teachers’ growing interest in language teacher agency throughout the process of producing this volume. This book idea was hatched over dinner at AAAL (2016 in Orlando, Florida) before a colloquium on language teacher agency in which we editors had all participated. The colloquium attracted a large number of keen attendees and ended with a lively discussion that we all enjoyed. It became clear that many of the attendees were also doing research on teacher agency, and we decided that it was important to bring these developing research studies together into an edited collection. A few months later we posted a Call for Papers, and we were overwhelmed by the response: we received more than 100 submissions! Language teacher agency clearly matters everywhere as these submissions include studies based in urban schools and rural schools, in university classes and church-based volunteer-provided classes, located in diverse national contexts including Australia, China, India, Japan, Mexico and the US. Now, several years later, we are delighted to see a good number of these submissions developed into chapters.

Language teacher agency is not easily defined, in part, because it is always contextually mediated. It thus seems inevitable that scholars will use different methods and focus on a range of topics in order to understand teacher agency in the particular contexts they are exploring. The chapters in this book explore teacher agency in relation to social justice and equity efforts, teacher identity and professional development, teacher evaluation processes, curricular decisions and innovations, and the creation of new teaching practices. It is likewise clear that scholars will adopt different theoretical approaches to help them make sense of the on-the-ground practices and activities that they observe. In this volume, authors draw on ecological theory, sociocultural theory, actor network theory, critical realism, and positioning theory. Our book is not prescriptive in nature; in other words, we do not tell teachers what they should do to be an agent. However, through systematic data collection, the chapters successfully document the complexities associated with language teacher agency in strikingly different contexts, which we believe offers unique insights, implications, and strategies for language teachers. Given the range of perspectives offered in this collection, we are hopeful that it will spark new and continually diversifying research approaches and methods.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Language Teacher Psychology edited by Sarah Mercer and Achilleas Kostoulas.

 

“What Happened to My Language?” Working to Reclaim Indigenous Languages

Earlier this year we published A World of Indigenous Languages edited by Teresa L. McCarty, Sheilah E. Nicholas and Gillian Wigglesworth. In this post Teresa and Sheilah discuss how they came to participate in the global movement for Indigenous language reclamation.

Sheilah Nicholas remembers the rude awakening when, as an adult, her mother said to her, “When you were a child, you were fully Hopi,” referring to the fact that she was a first-language speaker of Hopi as a child. Teresa McCarty, a White scholar-educator, remembers a parallel moment when a Diné (Navajo) elder, referring to the legacy of colonial schooling, said to her, “If a child learns only English, you have lost your child.” Reflecting on this, Sheila and Teresa identify the point when their life trajectories came together and they became participants in a nascent global movement for Indigenous language reclamation.

Sheilah: The very first time I thought about language issues was in a pilot study I conducted for your class at the University of Arizona. I wanted to understand how a K-8 community school on the Hopi reservation was implementing their Hopi language program. At the time my focus was on Hopi language and literacy and the role of Hopi education practitioners as literacy specialists.

Teresa: That would be about the mid-1990s. At that time I was working with Diné teachers at a community school within the Navajo Nation. The teachers were Indigenizing their literacy curriculum. I had been working with this community for many years and we were starting to see a noticeable shift from Navajo to English among the children entering kindergarten.

Sheilah: In 1995, while there were still a large number of Hopi speakers across the reservation, in this particular community school the Hopi education practitioners were also observing a visible shift to English among their students.

These experiences inform our work together and individually in the field of Indigenous language revitalization and reclamation. For both of us, an important site of this work was the American Indian Language Development Institute (AILDI) at the University of Arizona, an international program to train educators and language practitioners in strategies to revitalize and promote the use of Indigenous languages across generations.

Sheilah: I was a graduate student at AILDI and found myself unable to integrate Hopi into my assignment. I asked my instructor, Akira Yamamoto, “What happened to my language?” He said, “It didn’t go anywhere. It’s deep inside you—you just need to pull it up.”

Teresa: Akira Yamamoto, Lucille Watahomigie (Hualapai) and Leanne Hinton cofounded AILDI in 1978, with long-time AILDI director Ofelia Zepeda (Tohono O’odham) joining shortly after. I had been working with them for several years. Each summer the Institute brings together Indigenous community members and educators, and non-Indigenous allies, in collaborative partnerships around language revitalization, documentation, and outreach.

Sheilah: AILDI became the catalyst for my current work.

Our stories are part of a larger story told in the pages of our edited volume with Gillian Wigglesworth of the University of Melbourne, A World of Indigenous Languages. Gillian has worked for many years with Australian Aboriginal communities on the languages Aboriginal children in remote communities learn, the complexity of their language ecologies, and how these interact with English once children enter the formal school system.

Our book exemplifies a movement we characterize with the “4 Rs”: resurgence, reclamation, revitalization, and resilience. From Aotearoa/New Zealand, to South Africa, the Yukon Territory, Western Australia, Latin America, Ojibwe and Hopi in the USA, Aanaar Saami in Finland, Limbu in Nepal, Nahuatl in Mexico, and the “world of Indigenous languages” in cyberspace, every chapter – authored or coauthored by an Indigenous scholar-activist – illuminates the vitalities of this movement.

In gathering these accounts, we are honored to present the diversity of pedagogical innovations and the persistence of this movement. These are not accounts about languages as abstract entities to be “preserved,” but rather a dynamic display of Indigenous voices being heard.

For more information about this book please see our website.

 

The Linguistic Foundations of Homophobic Discourses

This month we are publishing The Discursive Ecology of Homophobia by Eric Louis Russell. In this post the author explains how he came to study homophobia in far right groups.

The cover image for this book shows les Hommen during a protest

“But… they’re SO GAY, right?”

A*** and I stared back at our mutual friend B*** [not their initials], somewhat incredulous. Gay? These guys? How could he possibly think that?!

It was early 2013 and the three of us were observing protests against same-sex marriage legalization in France. Among the more conventional opponents on the streets were les Hommen, young men in colorful pants and white opera masks, strutting around shirtless with messages painted on their mostly-chiseled chests, chanting arm-in-arm. For B***, an American anglophone, they would fit in the Marais or Dupont Circle, but were out of place at an anti-gay march. A*** and I understood things differently. Colorful jeans, bare-chested sloganeering, yelling in unison? Not just traditionally hetero-masculine, but exaggeratedly so.

Discussion soon turned to how it is we “read” the Hommen so divergently, without really thinking about it. Particularly curious to me was the inseparability of cultural and linguistic knowledge required in such moments, and the ways in which these are grounded and embodied. With common Francophone backgrounds, A*** and I called on shared knowledge of language and their intersection with cultural practices, concluding the Hommen to be examples of rather blatant heteronormative masculinity. Our American friend misinterpreted these signs at nearly all levels. All three of us, however, struggled to articulate exactly how or why we came to our judgements.

As a linguist, I focus on language forms, structures, shapes and patterns. When I read text or hear speech, I dissect and deconstruct the communicative package – much the way an engineer looks at a bridge or a musician listens to a symphony, I imagine. With some time to reflect on this and similar moments, I became increasingly uneasy at how rarely scholars like myself contributed to conversations around hate speech, regardless of target, context, or participants. It was as if we were only scratching the surface of language, and therefore only looking to a small part of how meaning is created, transmitted, and received. Perhaps worse, so much of the work being done seemed to depart from a “one-size-fits-all” perspective, as if sexualities and identities, as well as reactions to them, were universal or could be understood in linguistic and cultural translation. Being a bit mule-headed – and always up for a challenge – it seemed a good idea to wade into this controversy. Which is what led to this book: an attempt to pierce the surface of language performances and unravel communicative practices at a deeper level.

Is it complex? Certainly. Is this the type of thing that everyone needs to do? Probably not. But I believe it’s important to bring more understanding of language into the critique and confrontation of homophobia (and much else), and to engage in a more culturally-grounded way when doing so. With any luck, this sort of examination can shed light – a potent disinfectant – on hegemonies and hate, especially when they lurk in the shadows and their authors maintain a veneer of civility. At least, that is my hope.

For more information about this book please see our website