Language, Immigration and Naturalization

This month we are publishing Language, Immigration and Naturalization edited by Ariel Loring and Vaidehi Ramanathan. In this post, Ariel introduces the main themes of the book

Language, Immigration and NaturalizationLanguage, immigration, and naturalization – the title of this book in fact – are three topics with a steady influence across both time and space. Historically, language policies and ideologies have affected, and continue to affect, immigration and naturalization laws, immigration quotas, citizenship tests and nationalistic discourse. Geographically, recent world events have ignited impassioned disagreements concerning im(migration) and national borders. Prior research on citizenship has been embedded in numerous fields of inquiry (including applied linguistics, sociology, education, legal studies and policy studies) and often views “citizenship” through its legal definition of “rights and responsibilities.” What characterizes this volume is its holistic consideration of citizenship in terms of access, participation, engagement and culture.

Our edited volume not only considers the everyday legalities of naturalization but also broader identity and sociopolitical concerns. Its chapters are organized into three subsections – Policies, Pedagogies and Discourses – and includes discussions about:

  • The means by which a particular country accepts naturalized citizens
  • The language of citizenship tests and classes
  • The labeling of who is or isn’t a “citizen” or “member” of society
  • The lived experiences of immigrants in bordered areas
  • The depictions of citizenship and immigration in media discourse

The authors pursue these topics from various research backgrounds and in different areas of the world. Collectively, they explore the experiences of immigrants/outsiders as they make a life in their adopted/native country. In addressing these issues, the following three questions come to light:

  • What does the process of becoming a citizen look like?
  • In what ways are people excluded from full participation?
  • How does language position and frame insiders and outsiders?

We, the editors, are drawn to this research because of the universality of immigration and naturalization issues and the debates and policies that ensue. We realize that even those who live far from a national border are still exposed to political language that dehumanizes migrants and fears differences. And those who themselves are descendants of immigrants are able to rationalize the exclusion of new immigrants. As ramifications of citizenship and naturalization are infused in everyday meaning-making and constructions of identity, this volume brings a needed critical and linguistic lens to these topics.

Ariel Loring, University of California, Davis and California State University, Sacramento, USA
afloring@ucdavis.edu

Refugee Resettlement in the United StatesFor more information about this book please see our website or contact the Ariel Loring at the address above. If you found this interesting, you might also like Refugee Resettlement in the United States edited by Emily M. Feuerherm and Vaidehi Ramanathan.

Sabrina Billings on Language and Tanzanian Beauty Pageants

Sabrina Billings, author of  Language, Globalization and the Making of a Tanzanian Beauty Queen, describes how she came to research Tanzanian beauty pageants.

When people learn that I have just written a book about language and Tanzanian beauty pageants, one of several questions typically surfaces. Those who are not familiar with the often relatively obscure research interests of anthropologists, including linguistic anthropologists such as myself, ask, How did you become interested in such an unusual topic? Others wonder, What do beauty pageants have to do with language? Many query, How are standards of beauty different in the US and East Africa? And sometimes, people sheepishly ask, Did you yourself ever participate in beauty pageants?

Language, Globalization and the Making of a Tanzanian Beauty QueenI am taking this invitation to blog about my book as an opportunity to set the record straight: No, I never participated in beauty pageants! In fact, I grew up seeing pageants as a rather antiquated and sometimes disturbing, albeit occasionally entertaining, form of quintessentially American popular culture. And beyond watching with some delight the question and answer portions of the events on TV, it never once occurred to me to consider the happenings at pageants from a scholarly, let alone sociolinguistic, point of view.

Rather, my interest in beauty pageants began as a fluke during my first ever visit to Tanzania as a graduate student participating in an intensive Swahili language program in the lovely, mid-size city of Morogoro. After seeing banners advertising an upcoming pageant I convinced several of my classmates to come with me, purely for the novelty of the experience. From the moment I stepped in the doors, I knew I would have to rethink my assumptions about beauty pageants. While sharing many of the trappings of pageants familiar to me – a decorated stage, bantering MCs, choreographed dance numbers, and besequined contestants – what was going on at these events was vividly different. Perhaps most surprisingly, the audience had come for a party. Young people, dressed to the nines in fashionable clothing, mixed and mingled, enjoying bar drinks and lively dance music. Well-dressed older people were there too, visiting, laughing, or waiting patiently.

After the event got started, I started paying attention to language use. One of the MCs engaged in a lot of English-Swahili codeswitching, while the other one used mostly pure Swahili. At one point, with my fledgling Swahili skills and the ample amount of English used by the one MC, I was able to understand them discussing the fact that Swahili was the national language and important for everyone to know, though contestants were allowed to speak either English or Swahili. I also picked up on threads of a discussion between the two MCs about the relative importance of each language, a topic which struck me as unusual for such a jovial atmosphere. Some of the comments seemed to be grappling with the fact that one of the contestants was from East Asia and did not know Swahili at all. Though there was much that night I did not understand, two main points became clear to me: 1) that these pageants were hip, which in my mind, was the antithesis of those with which I was familiar, and 2) that these pageants allowed for some kind of display and negotiation of local linguistic practices, policies, and ideologies.

For a couple of years, while I was completing my coursework and exams for my PhD, I ruminated over the events of that night, and as I learned more about language ideologies, East Africa, and beauty pageants, I decided to run with it and make these events the focus of in-depth fieldwork on pageants in three cities across Tanzania, research which would culminate in my dissertation.

While my original fieldwork and dissertation focused primarily on language ideologies exhibited in and around pageants, the present book is much expanded in scope and moves well beyond strictly linguistic considerations. The book reflects a decade of engagement with pageants and their participants, allowing, among other things, for a longitudinal glimpse of women’s lives after pageants. Most broadly, my book addresses how young Tanzanian women attempt to craft satisfying lives for themselves, how pageants play a role in their efforts, and how language use facilitates or constrains these dreams.

Three main themes are threaded through the book: education, globalization, and opportunity. In terms of education, I consider how contestants are able to manipulate their often rudimentary knowledge of English to present themselves as elite, and how such contestants often win over their fluent Swahili-speaking counterparts. In terms of globalization, I examine how global norms for language, dress, and beauty circulate in Tanzania and get reinterpreted in locally meaningful ways, and also how linguistic and non-linguistic signs are linked together in clusters to convey recognizable identities. Finally, in terms of opportunity, pageants provide contestants the occasion to engage in a cosmopolitan femininity, and speaking English is often a key component. Most importantly, for many contestants, the primary reason they compete is the hope of winning money in order to return to school, and especially, to continue learning English.

In the end, while participating in pageants is a positive experience for many young women, it does not provide the opportunity for upward and outward mobility that many seek. Unequal access to education, to elite varieties of language, as well as to preferred models of femininity, means that at the highest levels of national competition, only those contestants who have been raised in elite urban households have any chance of winning the crown. The irony then is that at the Miss World competition, the best contestant in all of Tanzania tends to find herself ranked very low, as her linguistic skills become commonplace there while other structural inequalities have resulted in her being much less prepared than competitors from other nations.

The book is informed theoretically and thematically by broad topics such as language ideologies, language in education, and language policy. I have attempted to write an accessible, engaging, and pertinent book, of wide interest to students and teachers of sociolinguistics, applied linguistics, anthropology, cultural and gender studies, and more. I hope readers enjoy it!

To find out more about Sabrina’s book take a look at our website

Getting to #15

Series editor Alastair Pennycook writes about how the Critical Language and Literacy Studies series began and how his own book is the latest to be published in the series.

We have just published the 15th book in our Critical Language and Literacy Studies series, a fact that fills me with a mixture of pride, surprise, satisfaction, and exhaustion. It’s also with slightly mixed emotions – again some pride and surprise but also a bit of embarrassment and the usual insecurity, oh, and exhaustion too – that I should confess that book #15 in the series is my own, Language and Mobility: Unexpected Places (more of which later).

Given that the first book, Collaborative Research in Multilingual Classrooms (Denos, Toohey, Neilson and Waterstone) was only published in 2009, that’s a lot of books in a short period. Our goal was to bring different critical perspectives (with a focus on power and new ways of thinking about language) to studies of multilingualism, and to encourage work by new authors and from new contexts.

The series was not conceived as being based around normative critical approaches to linguistic diversity (focusing on the assumed benefits of multilingualism, for example, or orienting towards language maintenance), but instead aimed to open up questions of linguistic diversity in relation to broader political concerns. Several critical features therefore distinguish this series: Throughout, there is a strong focus on race, gender, class, colonialism, and other forms of disadvantage and discrimination, as well as a readiness to take on difficult topics. The ways these come together can be seen in books such as Laurel Kamada’s Hybrid Identities and Adolescent Girls: Being ‘Half’ in Japan, Christina Higgins and Bonny Norton’s edited Language and HIV/AIDS, Nasser, Berlin and Wong’s edited book, Examining Education, Media and Dialogue under Occupation: The Case of Palestine and Israel, or Andrea Sterzuk’s The Struggle for Legitimacy: Indigenized Englishes in Settler Schools.

Gender is a strong focus in Kamada’s book, as well as Ros Appleby’s ELT, Gender and International Development: Myths of Progress in a Neocolonial World, Julia Menard-Warwick’s Gendered Identities and Immigrant Language Learning or Christina Higgins’ English as a Local Language: Post-colonial Identities and Multilingual Practices. And watch out for another exciting book on the way: Kimie Takahashi’s Language Learning, Gender and Desire: Japanese Women on the Move.  Questions of class, poverty, access and literacy are given various treatments in Gregorio Hernandez-Zamora’s Decolonizing Literacy: Mexican Lives in the Era of Global Capitalism, Chris Stroud and Lionel Wee’s Style, Identity and Literacy: English in Singapore, and Inge Kral’s Talk, Text and Technology: Literacy and Social Practice in a Remote Indigenous Community.  Interwoven with these themes are significant concerns to do with immigration, indigenous communities, development, language ideologies, identity, technology, pedagogy and the media.

Although we have included books that critically explore the role of English in multilingual contexts, we’ve carefully avoided doing yet another book on the global spread of English or its varieties. Rather, when books have focused on English, central concerns have been on English as a local language in the multilingual contexts of East Africa (Higgins), language ideologies of English in Philip Seargeant’s The Idea of English in Japan: Ideology and the Evolution of a Global Language, English in relation to identity in China, in China and English: Globalisation and the Dilemmas of Identity (Lo Bianco, Orton and Gao, Eds) or English and globalization, Contending with Globalization in World Englishes (Saxena & Omoniyi, eds).  We have also tried to ensure that all the books in the series are theoretically strong, well researched, and, crucially, readable.

We have aimed to achieve a fairly wide coverage of contexts, including Mexico, Tanzania, Kenya, East Timor, Israel/Palestine, India, Uganda, Burkina Faso, South Africa, West Africa, Iran, Bulgaria, China, Japan and Singapore, as well as indigenous communities in Australia and Canada and immigrant communities in the USA. Clearly, there’s scope for much more diversity and wider coverage.  One final aspect of this series to which we have given serious attention is the prefaces. Taking the view that prefaces are far more than introductions, and noting that they are a fairly unregulated genre, we have worked hard on the prefaces as collaborative texts, and have taken the opportunity not only to locate the books within a wider field but also to draw attention to important points about critical approaches to language and literacy that matter to us.

So, finally, back to book #15, Language and Mobility: Unexpected PlacesI set out to do several things: to explore the themes of languages turning up in unexpected places (and why things may be unexpected), and language and mobility; to try out different styles of writing – there are travel stories, personal anecdotes, poems (not by me, thank heavens), and personal and familial history (such as my own exploration of my grandparents’ lives in India).

How well all this works, whether this hangs together, whether it appears indulgent or superficial, too linked to personal and affective histories, or whether these connections between the personal and political by contrast shed more light than other approaches to these topics, will be for the reader to decide. But I’ve used this opportunity to write about a range of topics of interest to me, including colonial India, intercultural communication, native speakers, cricket and Cornish. I hope readers find some thought-provoking ideas here, and if not, there are 14 other books in this series to enjoy, and more on the way, including upcoming books on linguistic landscapes in Antwerp (the first book in the series to focus on a European context, though a focus on the linguistic landscape of any such European city also points in many non-European directions), domestic workers from the Philippines  (bringing together issues of gender, migration, class, language policy and lots more), and literacy practices in West Africa (literacies, languages, graffiti, and many things besides). Stay tuned.

Alastair Pennycook