Ode to the City – An Ethnographic Drama

This month we published Ode to the City – An Ethnographic Drama by Adrian Blackledge and Angela Creese. In this post the authors explain the context for the book and how they went about writing it.

One of the 16 ethnographic sites we observed during the research project, Translation and Translanguaging: Investigating linguistic and cultural transformations in superdiverse wards in four UK cities (TLANG), was a large, new, city-centre library. Our guiding concern was to investigate how people communicate in public settings when they bring into contact different biographies, backgrounds and languages. The state-of-the-art Library of Birmingham was the largest regional library in Europe. It attracts a diverse constituency of users, including local people from the city, and visitors from all over the world. One of the library staff, Millie, agreed to be a key participant in the research. She was originally from Hong Kong, having moved to the UK nearly 20 years earlier. Over four months we observed her working in the library. Our colleague Rachel Hu shadowed Millie as she went about her daily routine. We (Adrian, Angela and Rachel) wrote extensive field notes which described what we saw and heard as we observed. We gave Millie a digital voice recorder, to record her spoken interactions with members of the public and colleagues. She also recorded during her tea breaks and lunch breaks.

When we first negotiated access to do the research, the library was a beacon of civic pride for the city. Record-breaking numbers of people had visited in the 12 months since it opened. The spectacular building had exceeded every criterion for success. But by the time we started our field work, six months later, the government had made cuts to local authority grants. The city’s finances were hit hard. Opening hours were significantly reduced, and the library announced that it would cut more than 50% of its staff. As we observed and listened to the people who worked in, and accessed the services of, the library, politics was at the forefront of discussion. When we recontextualised and recreated these discussions as ethnographic drama, it was almost inevitable that the narrative would be dominated by concerns beyond the linguistic.

Ode to the City – An Ethnographic Drama represents discourses in circulation at a moment of political tension. The play focuses on four customer experience assistants in the library, three women and one man. The drama opens at the point when they have been told they have the option to put themselves forward for voluntary redundancy, or apply for their own jobs, with no guarantee of success. We meet the four characters in the staff room, where they take their lunch breaks and tea breaks. All the circulating tensions in the library are played out in their conversations. They are the only characters in the play, and they are all on stage throughout. In their interactions the voices of others are heard. They discuss the positions of the interim director of the library, the trade union, their colleagues, local and national politicians, and so on. In these discussions perspectives on histories, politics and economics are played out.

The ethnographic drama is made from field notes, audio-recordings, and any other material we were able to gather. This includes fictionalised voices. The ethnographic drama is a creative documentary account of an actual situation, and a specific environment, which integrates original and constructed dialogue. We enhance the rhythm of the dialogue where we can, to drive it forward. It has to move at a good pace, and at a varied pace, or the audience will be bored. We want to bring to the attention of the audience what we saw, and what we heard during our time in the library. Ode to the City – An Ethnographic Drama is about how political decisions affect people’s lives, often unfairly. It’s about a government pushing an austerity policy which harms the lives of the least privileged. The discourse of the four characters represents a particular moment in the workplace, offering an insight into the effects on working people of the government’s austerity measures. The drama treads a line between giving in to the force of powerful structures, and seeking the possibility of escape to new horizons. Ode to the City – An Ethnographic Drama takes ethnographic material and renders it for an audience in as truthful a way as possible. The rest is up to the audience.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like the authors’ previous books: Volleyball – An Ethnographic Drama, Interpretations – An Ethnographic Drama and Voices of a City Market.

Linguistic Landscape’s Turn Towards Educational Settings

We recently published Linguistic Landscapes and Educational Spaces edited by Edina Krompák, Víctor Fernández-Mallat and Stephan Meyer. In this post the editors outline the aims of the book.

The field of Linguistic Landscape (LL) has recently taken a marked turn toward educational settings, as seen in the growing interest for the exploration of schoolscapes (Brown, 2005, 2012; Laihonen & Szabó, 2018) and its relevance to language learning and teaching (Gorter, 2018; Malinowski et al, 2020; Niedt et al, 2020), where elements of the LL itself have increasingly been used as pedagogical tools (Badstübner-Kizik & Janiková, 2018; Marten & Saagpakk, 2017).

This turn has strongly suggested that there is important potential to be found at the intersection of LL and educational spaces in the advancement of theoretical debates, methodological innovations and empirical evidence. Our contribution aims to theorize this intertwined relationship and pave the way for new approaches in the exploration of LL in sociolinguistics and the educational sciences. In our book, we define the term linguistic and semiotic educationscapes as ‘the mutually constitutive material and social spaces in which linguistic and symbolic resources are mobilised for educational purposes’ (Krompák, Fernández-Mallat & Meyer, 2021, p. 2). In doing so, our contribution comprises empirical studies in the schoolscape tradition as well as studies that apply elements of the LL for teaching purposes and that expand beyond educational institutions in the narrow sense of the term. With the diverse languages (e.g. Chinese, Dutch, English, Flemish, German, Italian, Latvian, Māori, Sámi/Saami and Swedish) and territories (e.g. Hong Kong in Asia; the United States of America in North America; Austria, Belgium, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland in Europe; and New Zealand in Zealandia) that are covered in this book, the volume gives an overview of current research in the Global North while also showing the need for thematic and geographic extension of research on educationscapes.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Migration, Multilingualism and Education edited by Latisha Mary, Ann-Birte Krüger and Andrea S. Young.

The Remaking of Language Education

This month we published Liberating Language Education edited by Vally Lytra, Cristina Ros i Solé, Jim Anderson and Vicky Macleroy. In this post the editors reveal what readers can expect from the book.

Liberating Language Education emerged from our desire to unite our passion about language, education, and lived multilingualism with our visions of what language education can mean, feel, and look like in times of unprecedented change and uncertainty. This passion is reflected in our personas of ‘the weaver’, ‘the fool’, ‘the traveller’ and ‘the activist’ in the introduction of the book: they illustrate the complexity and richness of language experience and language learning across the lifespan and highlight the entanglements of the personal and biographical with the historical and socio-cultural dimensions of language and language pedagogy.

This kaleidoscopic perspective is amplified by the plurality and heterogeneity of voices and orientations manifested in the chapter contributions. The book calls into question a single and unified approach to language, culture, and identity, dismantling monolingual and prescriptivist discourses of pedagogy that have long dominated language education. Instead, it proposes new ways of understanding language and language education that move beyond rationalist and instrumental perspectives and emphasise locally situated meaning-making practices, messiness, and unpredictability.

These new ways liberate our understanding of language to encompass the full range of semiotic repertoires, aesthetic resources, and multimodal practices. They reimagine language education from a translingual and transcultural orientation, showcasing multiple, alternative visions of how language education might be enacted. The translingual, transcultural and transformative approach to pedagogy that underpins the book rests on the following principles:

  • an integrated and inclusive view of language and language learning
  • challenging binaries and fixed positions between formal/informal learning, school/home literacies, schools/other sites of learning
  • attention to language hierarchies and linguistic and social inequalities
  • a synergetic relationship between language and culture
  • the transformative process of language learning as reconfiguring our existing communicative resources and nurturing new ways of being, seeing, feeling and expressing in the world
  • foregrounding embodied, material and aesthetic perspectives to pedagogy
  • emphasis on learner and teacher agency and making their voices heard
  • supporting multiple ways of knowing and a decolonising stance to knowledge building
  • creating trusting, respectful and collaborative relations in research and shared ownership of knowledge

This critical and creative translingual and transcultural orientation repositions teachers, learners and researchers as active language policy creators in the remaking of language education today.

Vally Lytra, Cristina Ros i Solé, Jim Anderson and Vicky Macleroy

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like The Dynamics of Language and Inequality in Education edited by Joel Austin Windle, Dánie de Jesus and Lesley Bartlett.

Relanguaging Language

This month we published Relanguaging Language from a South African Township School by Lara-Stephanie Krause. In this post the author explains the term ‘relanguaging’.

This book documents a thought experiment. It emerged from a long-term linguistic ethnography with a focus on English classrooms at a primary school in Khayelitsha, a township in Cape Town, South Africa. The thought experiment results in an attempt at a new conceptualisation of language classrooms – and, by extension, of language practices more generally. My methodological approach is unconventional and risky. Being at the school and engaging with the situated linguistic data in detail gave me the sense of overlooking something when applying existing theories of classroom language practices (like code-switching or translanguaging) to the data. This researcher’s intuition pushed me to reconsider existing analytical lenses. My hypothesis became that the phenomenon I observed could indeed not be described via the repertoire of existing theories. I pursue this hypothesis throughout the book and it drives me to develop a fresh analytical lens at the intersection of linguistics, applied linguistics and sociolinguistics. Relanguaging is what becomes visible once this lens is consistently applied.

While translanguaging focusses on flexible and fluid languaging practices, relanguaging is a relational phenomenon. It does not focus either on fluid languaging practices or on institutionally enforced, fixed named languages (nomolanguages). Rather, relanguaging focusses precisely on what is going on in the space that opens up between languaging and nomolanguages. In this particular study, this space is the Khayelitshan English classroom, which I see as constituted by the relationality between fluid, flexible classroom languaging practices and enactments of Standard English. Here, relanguaging is a linguistic sorting practice that is enacted by teachers (and sometimes learners) and that works in two directions:

  • Linguistic fluidity and heterogeneity (classroom languaging) gets sorted out to arrive at a homogenised classroom repertoire (Standard English)
  • Standard English gets reassembled with other linguistic resources into a heterogeneous classroom repertoire (classroom languaging)

Relanguaging therefore conceptualises language teaching not as a progression from a fixed L1 to a fixed L2 but as a circular sorting process constantly sorting out and bringing together again fluid, heterogeneous classroom languaging and Standard English.

Another notable difference between translanguaging and relanguaging is that the latter can make linguistic sorting practices visible. In translanguaging research, the idea of sorting also exists: People are said to sort through their individual repertoires made up of heterogeneous resources (rather than out of separate languages), choosing to actualize the resources most suitable for the interaction at hand. However, the sorting process itself is inaccessible to (socio)linguistic analysis. It remains ‘hidden’ in each individual’s head. By spatializing languaging – relying on the concept of spatial rather individual repertoires – relanguaging brings this sorting practice into the open and makes it accessible to (socio)linguistic analysis.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Assessing Academic Literacy in a Multilingual Society edited by Albert Weideman, John Read and Theo du Plessis.

How do Mobility and Immobility Manifest in Language Use?

We recently published Exploring (Im)mobilities edited by Anna De Fina and Gerardo Mazzaferro. In this post the editors reveal what readers can expect from the book.

Mobility has become a central concept for understanding the way late modern societies work. Sociologists such as Giddens and Bauman have recognized the role of the increased physical and virtual mobility that the world is experiencing in changing patterns of communication, social practices and perceptions about identities. In this book we argue, however, that mobility cannot and should not be conceived as separated from immobility. Such separation is not only artificial but carries the risk of ignoring the many ways in which the mobility of some depends on the immobility of others and the mobility of many is interrupted and punctuated by immobilities. It is also important to recognize that there are many different kinds of mobilities with different effects on people and their social and personal trajectories.

In this volume we aim to advance the investigation of issues of mobility/immobility in sociolinguistics by exploring how mobilities are affected by, and in turn affect, power dynamics and relations, the kinds of resources that people use and how they use them within communication processes that emerge in different types of (im)mobilities, and the role of agency in the management of (im)mobilities.

Our contributors focus on the tensions between institutional blocks to physical and social mobility and the desires and aspirations of mobile people, they discuss how linguistic and semiotic resources are deployed in order to resist these obstacles or to perpetrate them, to counter discourses of immobility or to impose them. Thus, they also investigate subjectivities and agentive meaning making practices through which (im)mobility is recontextualized and reconfigured by individuals and groups from their own perspective. Chapters in this volume center on migrants, refugees and other minorities whose mobility is regimented and explore a variety of situations and geographical areas including South Africa, Italy, Spain, Australia, Greece and the UK.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Multilingualism, (Im)mobilities and Spaces of Belonging edited by Kristine Horner and Jennifer Dailey-O’Cain.

Multilingual Contexts of Language Standardization and Variation

We recently published Language Standardization and Language Variation in Multilingual Contexts edited by Nicola McLelland and Hui Zhao. In this post the editors explain how the volume came together.

It’s no accident that this volume is a cooperation between two editors from quite different research backgrounds: one of us (McLelland) comes from a European tradition of language standardization studies, while the other (Zhao) is trained in variationist sociolinguistics, with a particular focus on Chinese. What brought us together for this collaboration was our shared desire to shed new light on language standardization and variation in three crucial ways.

First, we wanted to bring language standardization and language variation studies, which in effect examine two sides of the same coin within sociolinguistics, into conversation. Second, we wanted to shine the light firmly on the languages of Asia, thus far badly under-represented in our fields compared to Europe and the English-speaking world. Third, we wanted to add momentum to the growing recognition of multilingualism in sociolinguistic studies.

Every chapter in the volume, therefore, deals with language variation and/or standardization in a multilingual context in Asia. In many multilingualism case studies, one of the languages involved is English, so it’s worth noting that while English is indeed relevant in several of our case studies, all of our authors tackle contexts that are already multilingual before we factor in English.

Readers will, we trust, draw their own lessons from the volume, but as we send it into the world, it’s worth highlighting what we editors have been privileged to learn from the project ourselves. We’ve certainly learned more about the “hidden multilingualisms” of the world, not least within China: our volume includes contributions looking at minoritized languages within China’s borders, including Mongolian, Sibe, Tibetan, and Zhuang, as well as shedding light on the relationship between different Chinese languages and varieties spoken both within China (Beijing, Shanghai) and elsewhere (Malaysia).

Several studies in our volume are also a reminder to those of us schooled in the historical language standardization of certain major European languages that standardization remains a burning real-world aspect of contemporary language planning and policy, for example as it concerns Tibetan and in Patani Malay spoken in Thailand.

We’ve also been confronted once more with how intimately language standardization and/or the acceptance of variation and of language varieties are entangled with questions of social, cultural and political power – whether it’s a case of exercising power in deciding how language varieties are talked about (e.g. the case of Jejueo in South Korea), or in seeking to resist hegemonic power through language standardization (Zhuang in China), or in how language usages express identities (e.g. dialect “cosplay” or the performance of transgender identity in Japanese).

Our volume is in English, even though for us and for every one of our contributors, English is just one language among our multilingual repertoires. The irony, for a volume focussed on “multilingual contexts”, is not lost on us. But we are grateful to our contributors for giving us – and our readers – insights into rich and diverse instances of multilingual contexts of language standardization and variation in Asia. We trust that readers will share our appreciation of those new perspectives too.

This volume is the result of a conference held at the University of Nottingham Ningbo China, as part of the project Multilingualism: Empowering Individuals, Transforming Societies, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (www.meits.org ).

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Language Prescription edited by Don Chapman and Jacob D. Rawlins.

Latinx Students and their Teachers Rompiendo Fronteras sin Miedo

This month we published Transformative Translanguaging Espacios edited by Maite T. Sánchez and Ofelia García. In this post the editors tell us what readers can expect from the book.

Even before you open this book, Transformative Translanguaging Espacios, you will be confronted with the image of Latinx students raising their fists without fear, sin miedo, drawn by Ángela Paredes Montero. The Black Lives Matter movement and the murder of George Floyd, the #metoo movement, and the pause caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have given us the impetus to “lift the veil,” in the words of W.E. du Bois, to reveal the social and cognitive injustices of US language education policies for Latinx students. Sin miedo, and joined mainly by other Latinx scholars and teachers, this book shows how translanguaging spaces in education can weave a different tejido, a weave that is different from the tight knots that institutions have drawn around English and Spanish. The chapters here show how translanguaging spaces in education create openings through which we can view Latinx students and their communities desde adentro, so that from the inside, through their own knowledge system and ways of languaging, we can see their capacidad and inteligencia.

Sin miedo has been at the forefront of our trajectory with this book on the transformative power of translanguaging. Both of us have witnessed how opening up translanguaging spaces is transformative for Latinx students and the teachers who enable it. We bring the experience of CUNY-NYSIEB where Maite was project director and Ofelia was co-principal investigator. But we also have witnessed the refusal of many school leaders to allow their teachers to implement these spaces because they supposedly go against the strict language policies that are said to “benefit” students. We have seen teachers disagreeing with the possibilities of translanguaging pedagogical practices because they themselves were victims of elitist notions of academic standard language and additive bilingualism as separate languages. And we have experienced the fear of state education systems to adopt translanguaging theory and pedagogical practices because they thought that the teachers were just too unprepared, the students too deficient, and they too dependent on federal policies that made them mainly accountable for students’ “standard English.” After many years of trying to work with individual teachers and transform practices one by one, our outrage has enabled us to speak out sin miedo from the perspective of the Latinx students and communities themselves. The death of civil rights leader John Lewis, during the writing of this book, reminded us that it was time to get into “good trouble” – “Speak up, speak out, get in the way.”

Through this book, and thanks to the contributors in this volume, we get in the way of educational institutions that do not put racialized bilingual Latinx students and communities at the center of their efforts. We made a conscious editorial decision to begin the book with chapters that look at how translanguaging pedagogical practices open spaces to disrupt the trends of gentrification that are working against the interests of Latinx communities. That is, we are convinced that translanguaging pedagogical spaces must be foremost of benefit to the Latinx community for its own sociopolitical good. The question raised by Heiman, Cervantes-Soon and Hurie in their chapter – Good para quién? ­– must always be at the forefront of translanguaging pedagogical practices.

We identify and call out educational policies and practices that serve the interest of white dominant communities, families, and students, but that have been camouflaged as good for Latinx communities. The book questions, for example, the logic of the dual language/two-way immersion model that is becoming prevalent as the only way to bilingually educate Latinx students.

We have spent our academic careers working for the benefit of Latinx children and youth and upholding their right to bilingual education. At the same time, we have questioned and been critical of the assumptions that have been made about language, bilingualism, and language education policy. Career-wise, Ofelia is at the end of her academic path; but Maite and many of the other Latinx scholars in this book are moving along a camino that not only questions and disrupts established knowledge, but that also produces new knowledge. This book, in which Latinx theorists, scholars, educators, and students co-exist as agentive beings, reconfigures power and reinvents who can produce knowledge, who can name it, and who can access it.

We have insisted throughout the book that translanguaging is transformative. The chapters show ways in which real teachers and students engage with the transformative power of translanguaging.  Some chapters also envision what needs to happen so that these translanguaging transformative espacios can support the education of Latinx children and youth. The path P’alante with which Maite ends the book includes questions for educators so that they can reflect on ways in which translanguaging in education can be transformative for their own contexts. As Ramón Martínez and his colleagues say, translanguaging may not transform the material inequalities and systemic oppression that racialized bilingual students face, but it is transformative “in the everyday actions of students and their teachers.” The concepts of standard academic language and additive bilingualism that have plagued the education of racialized bilinguals in the US have only succeeded in producing academic failure and creating subjectivities of inferiority. By enabling Latinx communities and their children to become critically conscious of how language and bilingualism operates to produce their domination, translanguaging pedagogical spaces indeed are transformative. We hope that this book brings all of us – scholars, educators, students, communities — along a transformative path, as we take steps sin miedo to center the knowledge system and ways of languaging of Latinx communities in our efforts to enact a more equitable educational system.

Maite Sánchez and Ofelia García

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Bilingualism for All? edited by Nelson Flores, Amelia Tseng and Nicholas Subtirelu.

Academic Writing and Hip Hop Writin

We recently published Transcultural Voices by Jaspal Naveel Singh. In this post the author discusses the importance of challenging normative academic writing conventions.

Academics have a peculiar relationship to writing. Many of us have learnt how to read and write incredibly complex and dense sentences and paragraphs that contain jargon only an esoteric in-group of disciplinary peers can understand. Many of us perpetuate such enigmatic conventions once we become teachers, reviewers and editors. The result is that our books become impenetrable and miss having an impact among non-academic readers as well as among the people who we represent in our books.

My first monograph Transcultural Voices: Narrating Hip Hop Culture in Complex Delhi is no exception to such academic conventions. I wrote in a scholarly way, in a way that I hope emulates the style of the books that have influenced me: you will find complex theorisations, detailed description and painstakingly hyper-reflexive analyses. I deployed such overly intellectualised strategies of writing to gain recognition among my academic peers and to eventually extract cultural as well as financial capital from the academic community. To an extent, my strategy has worked. I can now say that I have a book, several journal articles and chapters in volumes, and, perhaps most importantly, a well-paid academic job. It seems that my competence to write like an academic is helping me to make a name for myself in the international field of sociolinguistics, discourse analysis, linguistic ethnography, applied linguistics and global hip hop studies.

Yet the hip hop dancers, musicians and artists from Delhi, many of them young migrant men of which only a few could afford to enter higher education, whose stories feature in my book, often complained to me that they were not able to understand what I wrote about them. Before publishing this book, I reached out to my participants in Delhi and asked them to read my drafts and tell me how they felt about my writing. Did I represent them, their stories and their communities accurately and appropriately? Most participants replied saying that they had tried to read what I wrote but soon gave up. They were not able to follow my arguments because my writing was too difficult, too academic and entirely different from how we interacted verbally during our interviews and interactions in Delhi in 2013. Most were supportive and kind enough and allowed me to publish my analyses of their narratives nevertheless. But their honest feedback left me confused and even embittered about the conventions of academic writing. Why am I writing this, if the people I am writing about cannot get anything out of it?

This question accompanied me while writing Transcultural Voices over the course of almost a decade. This question helped me to ground my writing when it went flying high as a kite into the jargonistic clouds that hang over our ivory towers. As readers of my book will find out, I was not always (some might say, hardly ever) successful in making myself understandable to a general audience (some might say, not even to an expert audience), and this is fine by me. I never wanted to dumb down or simplify the complexities of the sociolinguistic processes that shape the globalisation of countercultural movements like hip hop. Yet, readers who bear with me through these pages, will find several moments in my writing in which I break with academic writing conventions, sometimes subtly and perhaps only recognisable for hip hop cultural insiders, sometimes more dramatically and hopefully recognisable for all readers.

My textual experiments in this book are inspired by the long and rich, yet largely invisible and misrecognised, tradition of writin in hip hop culture: writin graffiti, writin rap lyrics and writin history. These are all fundamental literacies that hip hop cultural practitioners engage with and develop on a daily basis. Writin about and for hip hop, or what James Spady has called hiphopography, I believe requires us to challenge normative academic writing conventions and depart from conformity to mainstream ideas of what constitutes so-called appropriate literacies. I hope readers of my book can get a sense of what it means to write hiphopographically and perhaps apply similar strategies in their own writing, whatever and whoever this writing is about.

Jaspal Naveel Singh

For more information about this book, please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Critical Inquiries in the Sociolinguistics of Globalization edited by Tyler Andrew Barrett and Sender Dovchin.

Putting Gender Inclusive Language into Practice in English and Spanish

This month we published Hablar español en Estados Unidos by Jennifer Leeman and Janet M. Fuller, a Spanish edition of their 2020 book, Speaking Spanish in the US. In this post Jennifer discusses the translation process between the English and Spanish editions.

Although non-sexist language has long been a subject of discussion and debate, in recent years gender inclusive language has received increased attention around the world. Regardless of the context, these discussions reflect similar concerns, such as whether the use of masculine forms as the generic is exclusionary, which pronouns to use for people who don’t identity with a gender binary, and what impact the linguistic representation of gender might have on individual and societal understandings of gender identities and roles. Underlying and running through these debates are broader tensions between linguistic innovation and conservatism, disagreement about whether the emergence of new ways of expressing gender reflects ‘natural’ language change or ‘artificial’ social and linguistic engineering, and different understandings on the locus of linguistic authority: language academies and other institutions or language users themselves. Despite these commonalities, there are also language- and context-specific differences.

In the English-language edition of our book Speaking Spanish in the US: The Sociopolitics of Language (2020) we discussed the competing positions regarding gender-inclusive language, the ideologies that underlie them, and their connection to broader social and political issues. In addition to talking about gender inclusivity, we also used gender-inclusive language throughout. As we prepared the Spanish-language edition, Hablar español en Estados Unidos: La sociopolítica del lenguaje, the cross-linguistic differences between English and Spanish came into sharp relief. Specifically, although we were able to adapt our discussion about gender inclusivity for a Spanish-speaking audience without much difficulty, putting it into practice proved a bit more complicated.

Because English has a relatively limited system of gender marking, it was easy to use gender inclusive forms in the English-language edition. For one thing, except for pronouns and possessives, the majority of English nouns (including animate nouns) and adjectives lack gender marking, so phrases like many Spanish-speakers, Mexican immigrants and researchers are all gender inclusive. Whereas the masculine form was long prescribed for generic cases (e.g. Every parent wants the best for his child), the use of singular they/their is now widely accepted (i.e. Every parents wants the best for their child), and it is also fairly easy to avoid the issue by simply using the plural (i.e. All parents want the best for their children.). Along the same lines, nouns that were once gender-specific, such as those referring to professions (e.g. fireman, mailman, and waiter/waitress) have largely been replaced in common usage by gender-neutral forms (i.e. firefighter, mail carrier, server). Thus, in English, gender inclusive language is easily achievable and for the most part, uncontroversial.

One exception to English’s lack of gender marking, and one that is particularly salient in the context of our book, is the identity label Latinx/a/o, which is believed to originate with the Spanish word latinoamericano, and which exhibits patterns of gender-marking similar to those found in Spanish. In the US, the term Latinx has taken hold as the most commonly used gender inclusive form in English, and it is particularly popular among younger adults, activists and academics. We too adopted Latinx for the English-language edition, and took advantage of the opportunity to explain how our choice to do so constitutes an example of language use as a way of positioning oneself as a particular kind of person (in this case as people committed to gender inclusivity), a subject to which we dedicate sufficient attention in the book.

Achieving gender-inclusive language was far more complex in Spanish than it was in English, because almost all Spanish nouns, pronouns, adjectives and articles are marked for gender. As in English, Spanish grammars and language authorities traditionally have prescribed the use of masculine forms for generics, as well as in instances where there is even a single male among many females. For example, whether you are referring to students in general, a specific group of all male students, or a specific mixed gender group, prescriptive grammars and language authorities such as the Real Academia Española (RAE) mandate the use of the masculine generic los alumnos. Earlier critiques of this usage focused on the linguistic invisibilization of women and girls; some more recent proposals for gender inclusive language also call for greater recognition of people who do not identify with a male/female gender binary. Proposed alternatives to the masculine generic include ‘doubling’ (e.g. los alumnos y las alumnas) as well as the use of new non-binary gender morphemes such as -e (e.g. les alumnes) or -x (e.g. lxs alumnxs). Some speakers see gender-inclusive language as a way not only to recognize the diversity of human gender, but also to promote greater societal inclusivity. Others (including many well-known authors and members of the RAE), have pushed back at what they see as unnatural, arguing that the masculine generic is in fact inclusive according to the long established norms of Spanish. It’s worth noting that the RAE has also rejected ‘doubling’ as unnecessary, despite the fact that it is fully consistent with traditional Spanish grammatical patterns. The reaction to –x has been particularly harsh, in part due to the difficulty of pronouncing it when it occurs before a consonant, such as in lxs. Moreover, some critics argue that the use of –x reflects an unwelcome linguistic influence of English on Spanish in the US, a topic of concern among language purists. (It’s worth pointing out that these critiques are often also leveled against the English-language use of Latinx, seemingly advocating for maintaining Spanish norms to a word borrowed from Spanish into English, and thus raising questions about the directionality of language influence in the case of this particular neologism).

We wanted to be true to the English-language original and the US context (where Latinx is widely used) without making it overly difficult to read, especially for readers unfamiliar with non-binary gender morphemes. Moreover, we were aware that some instructors would be hesitant to adopt the book for classes in which many of the students are learning Spanish as a second or additional language. Ultimately, we opted for a multifaceted approach in which we avoided the use of masculine generics through careful rephrasing, as in the following examples;

English Masculine generic Gender inclusive rephrasing
students los alumnos el alumnado

 

‘the student body’

many Spanish-speakers muchos hispanohablantes muchas personas que hablan español

 

 ‘many people who speak Spanish’

Mexican immigrants inmigrantes mexicanos inmigrantes de México

 

‘immigrants from Mexico’

researchers los investigadores quienes han investigado este tema

 

‘those who have researched this topic’

Although somewhat laborious, this turned out to be possible in almost every case of generics and mixed gender groups, far more than I had expected. In the few isolated cases where such gender-neutral phrasings were either impossible or awkward, we settled for doubling, such as when we referred to the children of immigrants not as hijos de inmigrantes but hijas e hijos de inmigrantes (‘daughters and sons of immigrants’). However, in order to include explicit reference to non-binary gender we used the -x morpheme specifically for the word Latinx. Through this combination of approaches, we sought not only to use gender inclusive language but also to highlight the limitations of normative binary gender marking. We hope that our approach also underscores the fact that language is a type of social action and language choices are influenced by multiple, sometimes competing factors.

Jennifer Leeman

For more information about this book please see our website.

The English edition of this book is available here.

 

Vulnerabilities, Challenges and Risks in Applied Linguistics

We recently published Vulnerabilities, Challenges and Risks in Applied Linguistics edited by Clare Cunningham and Christopher J. Hall. In this post Clare explains how the book came about, as well as its main themes.

Our new edited book Vulnerabilities, Challenges and Risks in Applied Linguistics was born out of the 2018 BAAL meeting held at York St John University. The theme was Taking Risks in Applied Linguistics, chosen in recognition of the need for focused discussion of risk in applied linguistics, given rapid change and consequent uncertainty both in world affairs and in the discipline itself. As we worked more on the book, though, it became clear that the theme of ‘risk’ often spilled over into the semantically related fields of ‘vulnerabilities’ and ‘challenges’. In the end, the contributors all approach the concepts of vulnerability, challenge and risk in different ways, playing with the multiple and nuanced meanings of the words.

At various points in the collection, risk is construed as an individual matter – perhaps the potential physical or psychological risks taken in innovative or even dangerous research, such as Kate Barber’s. Risk-taking can also be face-threatening or offer the potential for reputational damage, perhaps in the classroom, as explored by Sal Consoli and Michael Hepworth. Within our discipline, it can be risky to approach one’s writing in truly innovative ways, as Hanna Ennser-Kananen and Taina Saarinen do in their chapter, taking a flight of the imagination in Finland. But risk-taking is also institutional, in curriculum policy developments such as Liana Konstantinidou and Ursula Lanvers’ chapter. The risks of taking positive action such as these can be set in contrast to the risks of inaction, of not moving with the times, as Ursula Lanvers’ work on language policy in Anglophone countries shows.

The concept of vulnerability runs alongside these risks throughout the book. Individual researchers and teachers in applied linguistics make themselves vulnerable through innovative research design producing groundbreaking work as a result. But following Judith Butler’s lead, there is a tendency throughout the collection to acknowledge the value and affordances of vulnerabilities in marginalised communities for kick-starting the action and the work that leads to social change, as seen as Helen Sauntson’s, Luz Murillo’s, John Bosco Conama’s and Kristin Snoddon and Erin Wilkinson’s chapter.

The challenges faced in our society and for applied linguistics are well known – a lack of resources and of political will for change to deal with societal ‘wicked problems’. Applied Linguistics as a discipline also has the challenge of throwing off some of the shackles of the past and there remains much work to do to ensure that all voices are heard equally and respected. Of course, it was impossible for this collection to address all of the significant challenges of the future we face as a society. We only briefly (in our introduction) discuss the way the world has been affected by the Covid-19 global pandemic, and the even more pressing challenge of the climate emergency but we have hope that, with the examples of some of the fine research and practices in this book, our discipline is ready to offer what it can to tackle the impact of some of these immense challenges.

Clare Cunningham

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Decolonising Multilingualism by Alison Phipps.