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ARC Book Talk: Stuck by Margaret Chin

Amazon.com: Stuck: Why Asian Americans Don't Reach the Top of the ...

Photo Credit: NYU Press

Date: October 23, 2020

Time: Friday 3pm 

Co-sponsored with the New York Immigration Seminar. 

Registration Link: https://tinyurl.com/ARC-BookTalks

In Stuck, Chin shows that there is a “bamboo ceiling” in the workplace, describing a corporate world where racial and ethnic inequalities prevent upward mobility. Drawing on interviews with second-generation Asian Americans, she examines why they fail to advance as fast or as high as their colleagues, showing how they lose out on leadership positions, executive roles, and entry to the coveted boardroom suite over the course of their careers. An unfair lack of trust from their coworkers, absence of role models, sponsors and mentors, and for women, sexual harassment and prejudice especially born at the intersection of race and gender are only a few of the factors that hold Asian American professionals back.

Chin, an Associate Professor of Sociology at Hunter College and The Graduate Center, CUNY, was an Advanced Research Collaborative (ARC) Distinguished Fellow.

Commentary on Emily Raboteau’s Endurance: A Novel by Martin Aagaard Jensen

In her presentation “Endurance: A Novel: Gentrification and Its Effects in Washington Heights,” Emily Raboteau invited us into the process of writing her novel Endurance about life in an apartment building in the upper-Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights. Featuring Manny, a superintendent of Dominican descent, as its protagonist, Endurance depicts the lives of residents in a building on 180th Street. While Manny takes care of the never-ending job of building-maintenance, he simultaneously labors to raise his teenage son Angel who is diagnosed with autism. Confronted with gentrification and changing demographics of Washington Heights, the personal struggles of Endurance’s characters are bound up with social and economic forces that they seek to resist and navigate despite increasingly difficult conditions.

Describing her approach to writing as interdisciplinary, Raboteau explains her methodology to writing Endurance as a process of historical research and ethnographic observation, a methodology meant to capture the changing nature of a neighborhood. Practically, this has meant shadowing her building’s super on a regular basis to understand his job as well as volunteering with kids with autism to better depict Angel’s character. In terms of research, Raboteau studied immigration history and investigated the urban ethnography of Washington Heights.

Explaining how storytellers can bring to life the lived experience hidden behind our statistical knowledge of economic inequality, Raboteau describes a realist commitment to social justice. That is to say, realism’s job is to produce critical reflections on behalf of the reader by conveying the social conditions and conflicts of our shared reality. Thus, the critical question is: how do you capture a phenomenon like gentrification through literary representation? Raboteau’s suggestion is to make the economic forces of gentrification a dramatic driving component of the narrative, by placing Manny’s job at risk due to new management of the building. In turn, this instance of economic change similarly puts Angel’s future at risk.

At the same time, focusing on the life of and in a building—a sort of social microcosm mediating the urban structure at large—allows a novelist to activate gentrification through individual characters. Through this slice of social reality, depicting a group of people with diverse ethnic and economic backgrounds, large-scale conflicts of dispossession and displacement can be articulated in personal stories. This leads Raboteau to reflect on questions such as: what does it mean to be part of a community? What are our responsibilities toward our neighbors? And what is the role of public institutions in taking care of its most vulnerable citizens, here dramatized through Angel’s autism? Ultimately, asking the question, “to whom does an apartment building belong?” is to inquire about the right to the city.

In Henri Lefebvre’s classic rendering, the right to the city is a political practice in which we collectively transform ourselves by changing the city. I believe it’s fair to say that the same concern informs Raboteau’s literary writing on gentrification, the effect of which is precisely the dispossession of the collective, political claim to reshape the urban spaces we all share.

Written by Martin Aagaard Jensen

Commentary on Ray Allen’s ”Jump Up! West Indian Carnival Music in Brooklyn” by Misty Crooks and Claudia Rey Crowie

Ray Allen is the first ethnomusicologist ARC faculty fellow. His work focuses on American folk and popular music within New York City music cultures. His latest project deals with the stylistic characteristics of calypso and soca in the 20th century. Allen’s work makes valuable contributions to understanding diasporic transnationalism, globalization, the politics of hybridity, and the relation between music and cultural identity.  Allen complicates these theoretical frameworks by thinking through the contextualized lives and development of these musical styles. He has three major interventions into these areas of research. First, diasporic transnationalism is cyclical, reflected in the flow of calypso and soca between the Caribbean and New York. Allen also questions the center-periphery model of globalization theory by showing how Trinidad and Brooklyn each served as centers and peripheries at different points in the life cycle of calypso and soca. Finally, the power relations between sites of artistic emergence can have effects on musical hybridity, as seen in the mass marketing of calypso music in the United States. Despite the unity fostered through this music, there were still island specific identities, that are clearly reflected in the annual Caribbean carnival in Brooklyn, for example.

Allen traces the development of Harlem and Manhattan calypso music from the 1920s to the 1960s, and after that the emergence and decline of soca, which now tends to enjoy only seasonal popularity in New York. The mobility of Trinidadians across the Atlantic from Trinidad to New York was reflected in the circulation of Harlem calypso between these sites in the first half of the twentieth century, and audiences included English speaking Caribbean islanders, as well as Harlem Trinidadians. Through playing a selection of songs, Allen points out that the  lyrics of this musical genre reveal that the songwriters and singers (including Wilmoth Houdini and Rupert ‘Lord Invader’ Grant) were inspired by their immigrant experiences. They drew from the Trinidadian tradition of using music as a medium of sociopolitical commentary. For the first time, calypso was generated by musicians in hybrid form: containing sounds from Africa, as well as new jazz sounds from the  United States. Calypso began to reflect elements of everyday life in New York, including the movement of the Trinidadian community from Harlem to  Brooklyn. It also incorporated local and universal political experiences, such as racism in the city, pride in African identity, and the growth of the Black nationalist movement globally. Allen traces the historical trajectory of calypso in the post-war period to illuminate the effects of capitalism and U.S. cultural imperialism in both its content and its production and distribution. For example, for the first time in 1956, calypso was appropriated for mass consumption through crossover appeal  in the United States by record companies such as RCA, and sung by artists such as Harry Belafonte, who mimicked West Indian linguistic traits.

With the Hart Keller Act of 1965, there was a surge in Caribbean immigration to New York, and the center of the NYC Caribbean community moved from Harlem to Brooklyn. This growing community created a demand for calypso music, leading to the establishment of record stores and recording studios in Brooklyn. This led to a flow of calypso music written in Trinidad that was recorded and produced in Brooklyn where the technology was available. Two of these record stores still stand in Brooklyn: Straker Records and Charles Records.

It was during this time that the musical style of calypso began to change as well. Songs began to incorporate electric guitar with more prominent basslines. Elements of funk and soul were also incorporated. These novel sounds became known as Brooklyn soca. Soca lyrics were not as politically themed as in calypso, but were associated with party going and dance scenes. Soca was a thoroughly transnational musical style. Artists from Trinidad saw their songs recorded in New York while these records were then popularized and sold in Trinidad. For example, the acclaimed soca artist Calypso Rose was born in Trinidad, toured the world and the Caribbean, and was based in Queens. The rise of soca in the 80s and 90s is attributed to its pan-Caribbean audience across the islands and Brooklyn, as well as its influence from soul, funk, and disco. However, there was a lull in soca music sales in the 1990s due to CD piracy and music streaming services. As a result, soca is no longer recorded in Brooklyn, and its popularity is limited to the Caribbean community and the festivity of annual Caribbean carnival in New York City.

Written by Misty Crooks and Claudia Rey Crowie

 

Commentary on Finex Ndhlovu’s ”The Language Nesting Model” by Matthew Glenn Stuck

In his numerous publications, Finex Ndhlovu has critically examined the relationship between language and issues of multilingualism, identity formation, migration, politics, and policy/planning. At the heart of his recent work, Prof. Ndhlovu is concerned with the complex interplay of social and political factors that make up the sociolinguistics of migration, and how to reshape heritage language planning and policy to better align with the needs of immigrant communities.

Prof. Ndhlovu impresses upon us the need to understand where someone comes from in order to understand who they are, stating “you can’t say you know me if you don’t know the people that I live with.” This notion perfectly captures the spirit of his recently developed Language Nesting Model (Ndlovu, 2014). As Prof. Ndhlovu shows, the model provides a more holistic profile of the unique language-based needs of immigrant communities than has previously existed.

A recurring theme throughout his talk is a call to challenge the “commonsense” assumptions about how we conceptualize heritage languages.  While language planning and policy typically assumes a direct relationship between ethnicity and language, this assumption is often contradicted by the linguistic realities of immigrants, whose language choices are largely influenced by complex migratory patterns and exposure to a wealth of linguistic diversity. Prof. Ndlovu’s research is centralized around two overarching questions: What are the actual multilingual practices of people on the move, and how do specific migration paths influence their linguistic experiences?

In building the Language Nesting Model, Prof. Ndhlovu conducted an in-depth ethnographic study of speakers from East, Central, and West Africa who were residing in Australia. Interviews comprised of people offering personal stories about their migration experiences. Prof. Ndhlovu finds that his participants often speak a HL that is not their native one. In fact, several individuals report speaking pigeons and creoles (new languages having emerged through extended contact between different languages) in their interviews. Pigeons and Creoles receive little to no government support due to their subordinated social status. Prof. Ndhlovu argues it is precisely these languages that serve to bridge relationships and create new and vital social networks. These narratives demonstrate the severe need for governments to provide institutional support for such languages.

Prof. Ndhlovu proposes the Language Nesting Model to account for these and other crucial findings that surfaced through his ethnographic research. The model leverages commonalities across the language experiences of African immigrants to paint a picture of rich linguistic diversity. Central to his model are the diverse language codes and varieties a HL speaker can deploy as linguistic resources. These include varieties of English, discoursal and cultural practices, African cross-border languages, small ethnic languages, and refugee “journey” languages, which are those languages picked up while in transit. The model achieves its goal of breaking down our common-sense assumptions about HLs by showing that the linguistic repertoires of transient populations must be better understood. Prof. Ndhlovu closes his talk by arguing that language policy and planning cannot address the needs of immigrant communities unless it shifts its focus to considering the lived experiences and linguistic realities of people on the move, which show much more nuance than what census data alone is capable of revealing.

Written by

Matthew Glenn Stuck

 

Reflections on Language and Power – Tatyana Kleynat at ARC By Sara Vogel

Language and power are tightly intertwined. That was my takeaway from November 16th’s ARC talk featuring the thoughtful, engaged, and critical scholar Tatyana Kleyn, who is an Associate Professor and Director of Bilingual Education and TESOL in the Department of Teaching, Learning, and Culture at the City College of New York.

This message about language and power came through in the substance of Kleyn’s talk and the film she screened about how transborder young people navigate language, family, and school as their families repatriate small towns in Oaxaca, Mexico after years of living in the United States. The power of words was also a theme that resonated in the post-talk conversation, including in ways that revealed some tensions in our ARC community that we would do well to address moving forward.

I’ll unpack that conversation in a bit. But first: the talk.

Tatyana is someone I have had the privilege to work with through the CUNY-New York State Initiative on Emergent Bilinguals, a project that brings K-12 teachers, administrators, and professors in bilingual education from across the CUNY campuses together to study and improve education for bilingual kids. As Don mentioned in his opening remarks, Kleyn’s work truly embodies the values and mission of ARC. Her research is interdisciplinary, straddling all of ARC’s clusters. She views phenomena such as immigration and multilingualism through the lens of theories that take into account racial, economic, and linguistic power hierarchies. And she is a public scholar, not content simply to write for narrow audiences of academics. Her films about the experiences of undocumented and transborder youth, as well as curriculum and guides for teachers based on the content of the films, are accessible for free online.

Before showing her film Una Vida, Dos Paìses (One Life, Two Countries), Kleyn asked us to consider the power of film as its own language. She argued persuasively that film can be mobilized as a research method, a medium of dissemination, and as service and activism. At the same time that she celebrated the capacity of the medium to “reprioritize whom we listen to” and to bring research participants’ stories alive for wider audiences, she also described some of the limitations and challenges of this type of scholarship. She has had to build strong relationships with her participants, many of them folks targeted in today’s political climate for their or their family members’ undocumented status. In addition, while she prefers not to use voice-overs in her films so that audiences hear participants “direct from the source,” she acknowledged her and her collaborators’ roles in editing and juxtaposing clips to create cohesive narratives.

The film she screened at ARC introduced us to a group of transborder young people living in Oaxaca, Mexico who call themselves “New Dreamers.” The film captures the complex, mixed emotions that come with “going home” — the feeling of belonging, but also of being “ni de aqui ni de alla” (from neither here nor there). One of the core themes discussed by participants was the role of language in their transitions to life in Mexico. Across contexts in the US and Mexico, languages are used for different purposes and have different statuses attributed to them. While the youth expressed love for the English language, and were often called upon by peers to tutor them in English, they also found themselves lost in classes delivered in Spanish, and felt peers and teachers in Oaxaca sometimes viewed them as stuck-up for their knowledge of English and experiences in the US. In her talk, Kleyn also described how indigenous languages, often regarded as less prestigious in their communities, are a key part of students’ linguistic repertoires, enabling them to communicate especially with older generations.

After Kleyn’s presentation, an audience member asked a question about the young people’s accents. It elicited a strong reaction from some of those present, including one who found it so offensive that he walked out. Rachel Chapman, a fellow ARC student, has provided her take on the question, and her response can be read on our blog here. Kleyn responded by critiquing the premise of the question, arguing that language ideologies about accent are rooted in socially and historically constructed hierarchies that rank speakers based on race, economic status, perceived education, ethnicity, and other markers (see Flores & Rosa, 2015 for more on this).

To me, the strength of ARC is its ability to foster critical conversations about dynamic and complex issues — immigration, inequality, multilingualism, and our digital world — with people at different stages in their academic careers, from different disciplinary, racial, and cultural backgrounds, in order to deepen research and practice in our fields.

Having conversations about complex issues across difference is not easy, however, and this moment at ARC brought those tensions into sharp relief.

Despite a professed desire for open, democratic dialogue, academic communities can reproduce many of the hierarchies they seek to dismantle. As we learned from the student when he returned to the conversation, for people of color, academia can be a violent space. Too often, people of color shoulder the burden and invest much emotional labor into correcting the oppressive dynamics which permeate our institutions. Others (read: white people) need to step up.

At ARC, there are some first steps we can take. There are many incredible organizations such as Border Crossers and the New York Coalition of Radical Educators, among others, which have figured out how to facilitate critical and constructive conversations across difference. I’ve drawn on resources from these organizations as I navigate my role as a white scholar and educator engaged in work with youth of color and their teachers, and have found them exceptionally useful.

To have critical and constructive conversations across difference, relationship-building and setting community norms are key. I noticed that when I began my time as an ARC student, there wasn’t a space devoted to building this community — perhaps such a space could be useful in the future. Some questions for ARC students and fellows to consider as we build community might include:

  • What are the challenges of coming together as an interdisciplinary community?
  • What norms might help ensure our conversations are both critical and constructive?
  • Who gets to study, publish about, and profit from research on inequality, multilingualism, and immigration? Why? In what ways does our community challenge those trends? In what ways does it reproduce them?
  • How might ARC fellows and students not just share our research, but work together to ensure we are also engaged in making our fields more equitable and just?

In many ways, Tatyana’s work offers us a compelling example of engaged, critical scholarship. She began her talk by discussing her own positionality — her own background and experiences, and how she arrived to her topic. She is transparent about how her own power and privilege shape her teaching and research. She forges strong bonds with her study participants, reciprocating in the communities that provide her with data. And her scholarship and teaching go hand in hand with her social justice activism.

I hope the talk from this week is a catalyst for some soul-searching at ARC. Not only might we strengthen and deepen our own work, but we might continue the hard work of dismantling oppressive structures within academia too.

Citation:

Flores, N., & Rosa, J. (2015). Undoing Appropriateness: Raciolinguistic Ideologies and Language Diversity in Education. Harvard Educational Review, 85(2), 149–171. https://doi.org/10.17763/0017-8055.85.2.149

 

By Sara Vogel

PhD Student in Urban Education, CUNY-Graduate Center

Commentary on Tatyana Kleyn’s ”Transborder Children and Youth (Back) in Mexico” by Kahdeidra Monét Martin

According to a recent Pew Research Report, between 2009 and 2014, one million people repatriated from the United States to Mexico. As a qualitative researcher, Dr. Tatyana Kleyn is interested in the stories behind these numbers. In particular, she studies the experiences of children and young adults who undergo these crossings—physical, social, linguistic, and educational. “Transborder youth are crossing many borders,” she said. Indeed, some recurring themes both in her research program and in reactions to her research are the power of language to form community and the need to cross borders in order to understand multiple perspectives. This blog piece begins by exploring the research topics, methodology and general findings of Kleyn’s work, and it ends by discussing the reactions to her lecture and offering practical suggestions for moving forward.

The Research

Kleyn, who is Associate Professor in the Bilingual Education and TESOL programs at the City College of New York, began her study entitled “The Other Side of Deportation Repatriation” as a Fulbright scholar in Mexico from 2014 to 2015.

Through interviews, classroom observations, and collections of art and poetry, Kleyn assembles portraits of transborder youth in elementary, secondary, and tertiary schools in Oaxaca, Mexico. Additionally, she uses documentary film as both a research method and tool for disseminating research findings to larger audiences. She said, “Film is accessible across borders. It does not matter your educational level or what language you speak.” Ethnographic data from her research on transborder youth in Oaxaca is highlighted in the documentary film “Una Vida, Dos Paises: Children and Youth (Back) in Mexico.” The complete film and accompanying unit plans are freely available at www.UnaVidatheFilm.com.

So, what are her findings? First, transborder youth bring their assets of multilingualism and multiculturalism that can be harnessed in the classroom. Differentiating classroom instruction to exploit their English language skills and knowledge of United States cultures can better support everyone in the learning community.

Second, it is important to note that transborder children are multifaceted and have varying degrees of fluency in the languages that they speak. Their linguistic repertoires are formed from the multiple speech communities that they have lived in. For example, one could hear features of U.S. English from the Midwest, Florida, and California; features of Spanish spoken in Latinx communities in Southern California; and Zapoteca, a language indigenous to Mexico. Generally, most of the youth in her study are more fluent and comfortable speaking English than Spanish, and they are least fluent in Zapoteca, which is stigmatized and mostly reserved for speaking with grandparents.

Naming themselves the New DREAMers, transborder youth negotiate their identities using language practices that are rooted in cultural and political hierarchies. Sociolinguists often refer to stigmatized language varieties or specific features of language, what lay people refer to as “accents,” in regards to prestige. We often criticize the less prestigious, stigmatized variety of a language while praising the dominant, higher prestige variety. Furthermore, higher prestige speech patterns that are considered normative or standard; one focuses on the content that their speakers are conveying. On the other hand, lower prestige varieties are considered irregular and substandard. Listeners tend to focus more on phonology and syntax rather than the substance of what the speaker is saying. These New DREAMers may speak varieties of Spanish that are lower prestige because they are different than what is spoken in Oaxaca. Conversely, their fluency in English is an asset that may be perceived as threatening by their teachers. These power dynamics and cultural fissions reflect the politicized nature of language.

The Reactions

After hearing about the project and viewing the 30 minute documentary on immigration, language, race, and class, audience members undoubtedly were feeling a mass of emotions. Personally, I was thrilled. I was impressed by Dr. Kleyn’s integration of mixed methods qualitative research and multimedia to magnify underrepresented voices. Her scholarship provides a model for me in several ways. As an Urban Education Ph.D. student who has been studying sociolinguistics since my freshman year of college in 1999, one could say that I have a close relationship with these topics. I’ve had time to mull them over, clarify questions, process strong emotions, and formulate my positions. But, this is not the norm.

Scholars from other academic disciplines and thematic clusters were processing their thoughts in the moment, perhaps unaware of the potential volatility in the atmosphere. The very first comment expressed in the discussion period was an anecdote about teaching multilingual children and a separate comment that drew attention to the fact that although youth had lived in the United States for several years, they still spoke English with a “Spanish accent.”

I am not sure where the comment was leading, or if there were a follow-up question planned after the anecdote and comment. However, I noticed that several audience members appeared to be uncomfortable and perplexed. What I heard in the comment was a lack of awareness about linguistic repertoires and the role of speech communities in shaping our linguistic repertoires. At the same time, I heard an ideological assumption of linguistic purity in the United States that is false and has been used as an instrument of racism in education, housing, and employment. It is this last piece that triggered some audience members, including my colleague who stated, “I’m sorry, but that is a racist statement!” He made other comments about being tired of racism at the Graduate Center before hurriedly leaving the room.

What happened? It was a charged context. We all hear and process information according to our own individual experiences and social positions. Bodies matter. Words matter. In recent months, my colleague and other Ph.D. students have experienced blatantly racist remarks such as being called ‘the N-word’ and ‘oriental’ in classes devoted to the scholarly study of language, power, and culture. They also have been subjected to sexist remarks in the same classes, and the individual rights of the offending parties—who are White—were prioritized over the rights of students of color and women.

Despite news articles to the contrary, I can attest that professors at the Graduate Center do in fact support the views of “conservative” and “right wing” students. They do in fact support academic dissent, even when it appears that comments teeter on racial and sexual harassment. And in this context, we students seek refuge in the lectures held at the Advanced Resource Collaborative with its stated commitment to promoting equity and critical, interdisciplinary dialogue. This work will not happen by itself. We must be intentional about forging community across boundaries of academic title, race, ethnicity, class, gender, linguistic background, and religion.

If a graduate student becomes enraged, do not question his intelligence or maturity. As Audre Lorde told us in “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power,” there is a place for eros in the academy. There is a place for rage as a defensive mechanism against the protracted, systematic oppression of our psyches. The academy is not neutral. There is a place for passion that can be transformative in our relationships, but reflexivity is key. What triggered our strong reactions to certain comments or actions? What are our “non-negotiables” as scholars? What experiences and teachings inform the values that we bring with us? Is it possible to understand someone else’s values and perspective? Can we apologize for our offenses and forgive others for offending us? Let’s assume the best of each other and receive each other with patience and compassion. Those are the first steps to navigating these often dangerous crossings of memory, of lived experience, and of perspective. As an ARC community, this is the work that we are uniquely called to do in these times, and to the extent that we are successful, the reverberations of our efforts are manifold.

 

Written by Kahdeidra Monét Martin, M.S.Ed.

Ph.D. Student in Urban Education

The Graduate Center, CUNY

Mellon Humanities Alliance Graduate Fellow

 

Response to November 16, 2017 ARC Q&A on Accents in Relationship to Race & Nationality by Rachel Chapman

I felt the question on why the speaker had a Mexican accent and not an American accent was inappropriate and offensive as it others the speaker, in relationship to Standard English or “American accent.” I write this because CUNY has historically been a place of struggle and resistance against the white & patriarchal supremacy that is often upheld in the knowledge production of academia.  My response to the question regarding the American accent in relationship to the Mexican accent is a response and resistance to the hegemony of English and its attachment to white supremacy. This has a history of what Joel Spring describes as “cultural genocide” or deculturalization, by which an individual is stripped of their language and culture most predominantly through schooling institutions within the U.S. to uphold the dominant culture. Thus, the language and curriculum of schools privilege & legitimize the dominant culture & language, silencing & delegitimizing non-dominant voices and languages.

The upholding of the Standardization of English without question in a space we seek to liberate, creates strong emotion among those of us who have been subject to the deculturalization process and who work to reverse this process through our research, teaching and activism at the Graduate Center and at CUNY. The problem in marking a Mexican accent versus an American accent is that the term “American accent” is connected to the Standardization of English or Standard English, which carries privilege and domination (Bonfiglio, 2002). Those that deviate from the standard due to characteristics of their speech, such as accent, vocabulary and syntax, are marked as other. Standardizing a language creates a hierarchy on the basis of language, in that the standard form is given greater preference and legitimacy. Thus, those who speak the standard or “American accent,” hold greater privileges and are perceived as speaking “better” or without an accent, than those who don’t.

To illustrate the othering within the standardization of a language as well as its relationship with race, the article, “Expectations and Speech Intelligibility,” published in The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, shows how stereotypes regarding race and ethnicity influence our perception in how we listen to people speak. Conducted in Canada with Chinese Canadians and White Canadians, Babel & Russell found that participants expected a particular signal based on skin color; specifically, that if an individual wasn’t white, they were perceived to be a non-Native speaker of English. Babel & Russell conclude that expectations and stereotypes of how people should sound are used when we understand spoken language.

The question regarding why the speaker has a Mexican accent and not an American accent, marks the speaker as other and perhaps assumes the American accent is more desirable. This in turn upholds the superiority and standardization of English in the U.S. In addition, the question failed to recognize language acquisition of the speaker. While in the United States for 10 years as a child, the speaker learned to communicate in English. Based on the speaker’s narrative, English was the primary language they used to communicate and used little Spanish during this time. When the speaker moved to Mexico, the speaker started learning Spanish, their then primary language used to communicate, influencing the speaker’s English “accent,” as we heard in the video.

The notion of an “American accent” being the Standard or correct form to speak English, upholds superiority and privilege that is unfair to those who do not speak the Standardized or “American accent” English.

 

Written by Rachel J. Chapman

PhD Student of Urban Education, The Graduate Center

Teaching Fellow, Queens College

 

References

Babel, M., & Russell, J. (January 01, 2015). Expectations and speech intelligibility. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 137, 5, 2823-33.

Bonfiglio, T. P. (2002). Race and the rise of standard American. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Spring, J. H. (2016). Deculturalization and the struggle for equality: A brief history of the education of dominated cultures in the United States. New York : Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

 

 

 

 

 

Commentary on Cecelia Cutler’s “The Corpus of New York City English Outreach Project” by Kelsey Swift

While Cecelia Cutler has an impressive record of academic research and publication, her current project focuses on something a little different: community outreach.
This endeavor comes out of her work on the Corpus of New York City English (CoNYCE) Project, which focuses on collecting data on varieties of English spoken in the five boroughs and the surrounding areas and will ultimately comprise of an on-line, freely accessible, audio-aligned and grammatically annotated corpus. Through this work, Prof. Cutler and her colleagues have contributed to linguistic knowledge of non-mainstream varieties of English, documenting distinctive phonological features and patterns of dialect leveling.
Documentation work like this has radically altered the way that many academics view so-called ‘nonstandard dialects’, highlighting the systematic nature of underlying rules, but this sort of change is yet to happen on a larger scale. Outside of the community of linguists who do this sort of work, negative attitudes towards non-mainstream varieties, including New York City English, persist, and many speakers are plagued with linguistic insecurity.
Prof. Cutler hopes to address that disparity by sharing the findings of the corpus with the public. This is an opportunity to both give back to the communities that have contributed to the CoNYCE project and to challenge mainstream ideologies of language in pursuit of sociolinguistic justice.
Inspired by various existing initiatives, including the Language and Life Project at NC State, the Wisconsin Englishes Project, and the SKILLS (School Kids Investigating Language in Life and Society) program at UC Santa Barbara, Prof. Cutler is using the ARC fellowship as a starting point for this endeavor. Ultimately, she hopes to develop teaching resources, design an interactive website, and organize public events.
Drawing on her experience in teacher education at Lehman College, Prof. Cutler is currently developing specific ideas for activities that could be incorporated into social studies and English language arts curriculum. These include an investigation of the relationship between NYC’s immigrant past and language forms that have arisen as a result of multilingual contact, an exploration of common words with varying pronunciation, and translating rap texts into Standard American English.
Prof. Cutler ended on the importance of actively disseminating our work to a general audience because “if knowledge is worth having, it’s worth sharing”. If we are responsible researchers committed to a vision of justice, we cannot just assume that the message will ‘trickle down’ from academic journals; we have to do the work to make it happen. This is a valuable reminder for all of us engaged in scholarly work, regardless of our field.

Kelsey Swift

Commentary on Jeffrey Reitz’s “Behind Immigration Debates” by Philip Johnson

What impact does public discourse about immigration have on the lives and experiences of immigrants? The expected answer to this question would be that a generally positive public discourse should have a positive overall consequence for immigrants. As Prof. Reitz demonstrates, however, there are a number of ways to problematize this expectation. On one hand, the positivity of public discourse is shaped by factors such as geography. On the other hand, variation in immigrant experience does not line up neatly with the benevolence of public discourse.

Prof. Reitz examines these varying effects by examining discourse and immigrant experience in France and Canada, with Quebec providing a third case, that fits somewhere between the other two. He probes the expected answer through a broad sweep of measures, from likelihood of reporting discrimination, to labor force participation. Overall, once the differences in immigrant demographics are taken into account, public discourse does not appear to decisively shape experience. Other factors, such as generational effects, exert more consistent influences across cases.

Of particular interest (at least to me) is Prof. Reitz’s close attention to the content of public discourse. While Canadian discourse might be generally characterized as very positive, with French discourse appearing far more negative – or at least, negating – about immigration, there is far more to the respective conceptions of immigration than just a positive/negative divide. Prof. Reitz sketches out the profile of the typical (according to public discourse) immigrant each country – the educated South Asian immigrant to Canada contrasting to the uneducated, poor North African immigrant to France – and notes the importance of history, geography, and other large, structuring factors in shaping these images. He also notes the shift after 9/11, with various immigrant identities suddenly congealing into a stark Muslim/non-Muslim divide.

As is so often the difficulty in social science, some of Prof. Reitz’s theorized mechanisms left me wondering about alternative explanations. In using reported discrimination as a measure of immigrant experience, is the discrimination, or the willingness and ability to report this more important? And if each of these might have a different effect, what overall effect can they be expected to have when bundled together into one variable? Should we even expect any one, overall effect?

 

September 28, 2017

Philip Johnson