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.


Flores, N., & Rosa, J. (2015). Undoing Appropriateness: Raciolinguistic Ideologies and Language Diversity in Education. Harvard Educational Review, 85(2), 149–171.


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

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


Commentary on Catherine Mulder’s ” Mondragon, its Cooperatives, and its University’s Role” by Laxman Timilsina & Fadime Demiralp

An Alternative to Capitalist University: The case of Mondragon University

Presented By: Catherine Mulder

Professor Mulder claimed that most academic programs assume capitalist structure and they do not regard anything to its alternatives. Since workers are the ones who know their job the best and who run the companies, it is best for the companies and institutions to rely on its workforce to make various decisions. Therefore, one of the alternatives to a capitalist system, she believes, is cooperatives which are broadly classified into three types: consumer, producer and worker cooperatives.

By invoking, Yanis Varoufakis, she claimed that capitalism might be undermining itself! Due to technological innovation and other things, capitalism is becoming obsolete. Will the world fall apart if capitalism stops now? she asked. Probably not, we will have a different system and maybe we could have more time for fishing and voting? She introduced Mondragon worker cooperatives as an alternative the current system.

Mondragon is located at Basque Region of northern Spain.  Mondragon companies are worker cooperatives where workers make rules and regulations. First Mondragon firms were opened in 1956. There are now about 260 firms and 15 technological centers, which employs over 80 thousand people. While Mondragon companies are subject to market forces and business cycle, they have faced very little bankruptcy case. It is primarily because they value workers over capital and planned market over the free market. In the areas where there were Mondragon companies there was very little unemployment because, if workers were laid off, they were absorbed in another company or given retirement benefits. She summarizes her critique of capitalism: what is the difference between a government ruling top-down and private companies doing the same?

While Mondragon companies are all over the world, her main focus was on Mondragon University. It is a knowledge sector of the companies. It has bachelor`s, masters and Ph.D. with various subjects from mechanical engineering to culinary arts. All stake-holders administer the university including faculty, staff, and students. They apply Mendeberri Learning Model whose components are training students to work cooperatively in teams, to learn how to direct projects, how to make decisions, how to negotiate and communicate. In this model, students have the central role.

In classrooms, in all subjects, they do not just assume capitalist models, but they learn about strategic management, market forces and how to be cooperative. The objectives of the university are: Broad social access to knowledge about the company and the global economy, developing interpersonal as well as critical and quantitative analytics, and the art of communication, team decision making (how to come up with mutually beneficial projects) and democratic principles (which is the whole idea: economic justice.).

At Mondragon, they elect their general manager. They elect a board of directors and then those people pick a governor body that does the daily stuff. Everything is done in a democratic manner and with a focus on its employees and the sustainability of labor. Major roadblock on forming such cooperatives is the lack of funding. To overcome that, Mondragon has its own bank which itself is a cooperative. While the ratio of average worker to CEO often ranges from $300-700 to $1 in several western companies, at Mondragon, it can only be maximum of 7 to 1.

Following her remarks, one can raise some questions: Where does the money come from? Does it not follow the same capitalist system to generate its money? If so, then how is it different among other from the current capitalist model? Why does a Mondragon company abroad have low paid workers who are not members of the cooperative while workers in Mondragon are the members of the cooperative?

Authors: Laxman Timilsina & Fadime Demiralp

Commentary on Michael Paris’s “Radical Liberalism and School Desegregation”

Over sixty years ago, the Supreme Court, in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), determined that separating children into white and black schools was inherently unequal and that schools must integrate, “with all deliberate speed.” Despite the successes of the 1954 case, segregation based on race and class is on the rise, most especially for poor Latino students. Dr. Michael Paris, political scientist and professor of law at the College of Staten Island, presented on Thursday, October 19th at the Graduate Center, on the developments of his future book (working title), The Death and Life of School Desegregation: Racial Liberalism and American Constitutionalism. The book is based on his extensive research on the school desegregation case in Hartford, Connecticut: Sheff v. O’Neill (1996).

With the assistance of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Sheff v. O’Neill case originated with 18 school aged children and their parents (black, Hispanic and white) in Hartford, Connecticut. In 1989, they filed a lawsuit against the state of Connecticut (including Governor William O’Neill), citing the state had violated students’ state constitutional positive right to an equal educational opportunity, due to racial isolation and concentrated poverty. Specifically, the case cited the state spent fewer resources on public schools with majority Black/Latino populations, compared to schools with majority White populations.

The trial took 35 trial days, with testimony from 58 witnesses and some 1,000 documents of evidence. In 1995, the judge ruled in favor of the State, stating that the plaintiffs did not provide enough evidence to show that the state helped cause school segregation.  One year later, in 1996, the Connecticut Supreme Court reversed the ruling and held that the state constitution “requires the legislature to take affirmative responsibility to remedy segregation, regardless of whether it has occurred de jure or de facto” (Paris, 2017). The court didn’t specify the particular remedies to be taken, but urged branches of state government to make de facto segregation a top priority. Due to the lack of specification, since 1996, the case has experienced five trips back to court, five consent decrees or agreements, several reform laws, approximately $2 billion in new expenditures and significant citywide school desegregation. The mechanism for desegregation has been voluntary for families and suburban districts, with the creation of inter-district magnet schools and a one-way urban to suburban transfer program. The result has been that by 2016, about 9,200 Hartford School District children or 45% total, attended desegregated schools, compared to 700 students or 3% in 1997. A desegregated school is defined as one in which the school population is 75% or less minority.

 Professor Paris’s analysis of why Hartford has been relatively successful at integrating schools where, in other cases, integration has failed so dramatically, starts with a critique of school desegregation efforts written by the legal scholar, Dr. Derrick Bell. Bell wrote his critique in 1976 in a Yale Law Journal article entitled “Serving Two Masters: Integration Ideals and Client Interests in School Desegregation Litigation.” Bell argued that these desegregation efforts were limited in several ways. The first is about the clients in cases like this, where Bell argues that these lawsuits claim to speak for the African American community as a whole, without actually establishing that the African American community shares the same goals as presented in the case. Paris believes that Sheff addressed this issue through community engagement, buy getting buy-in from the community, and having community members give vivid testimonies. Bell also believed that the focus of desegregation cases should be better education, not an ideological commitment to desegregation, per se. Sheff took this tact as well. Additionally, Bell made clear that previous desegregation efforts had been too legalistic and reliant on the courts, when the truth is that institutions and people don’t always follow the law in a way that is productive in meeting the goal of desegregation. Sheff made great efforts to have an educational and policy aspect to its work, thus avoiding the trap of relying too much on legalistic remedies. Lastly, Bell recognized the importance of focusing not on what courts say but instead what they actually do. Sheff took this into account through a framework of of moving from “needs to rights,” drawing on a previous court victory. Additionally, Paris argues that it was very important that Hartford built some excellent magnet schools in the central city, thus incentivizing suburban parents to bus their kids into the city for school.Despite the successes of the Sheff case and its attempts to uphold students’ rights to equal educational opportunities, Dr. Paris argues that schooling for students separated by race and class can never be equal. He cited the following social conditions: high rates of joblessness, crime & neighborhood violence, single parent households & family disruptions, recurrent evictions & housing relocations and frequent incidences of health problems, developmental disabilities and hunger. Additionally, schools where students are starkly separated by race and class, generally have less prepared teachers, high dropout rates, pre-packaged curriculum, high levels of student attrition, less parental involvement and fewer resources. Hence, Dr. Paris argues that housing policy is school policy. In order to achieve equal educational opportunities for all students, it is essential to re-create housing policy, the tax code for school funding and the distribution of social resources. What type of social movement is needed to achieve such legal changes? Who are the stakeholders that need to turnkey? What is the role of students and teachers in this movement? Where do we begin?

Written by: Rachel J. Chapman and Christopher Maggio

Paris, M. (2017). Racial Liberalism and School Desegregation: The Connecticut Case of Sheff v. O’Neill (1996). Presentation presented at the Advanced Research Collective, The Graduate Center, New York, NY.

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 Cornelia Kristen’s “The Costs of a Non-Standard Accent in the Early Hiring Process” by ARC Student Fellow Arita Balaram

Professor Kristen’s compelling talk on the costs of a non-standard accent in the early hiring process fills a major gap in the literature—this topic has rarely been studied outside of laboratory settings in the U.S. There have also been few experimental studies on the costs of a non-standard accent on immigrants in the European context, and hardly any evidence from field experiments.

The research Professor Kristen presented on searches for some clarity on why Turkish immigrants in Germany (constituting one of the largest migrant populations in Western Europe) often have difficulties in the labor market. Because many Turkish immigrants were recruited for low-skilled labor to work in Germany, low socio-economic background explains part of the story. Professor Kristen suggests that foreign accents may further contribute to less favorable outcomes Turkish immigrants face in the labor market.

Professor Kristen acknowledges the ways that language proficiency is a crucial human capital resource relevant for immigrant labor market success (Chiswick and Miller, 2005). While language has many different components, she and her team of researchers are interested in one specific aspect—the way people speak. Research has shown that foreign accents are a particularly salient aspect of speech and a strong cue of group membership. It is important in impression formation, even more so than other attributes like names or someone’s physical appearance. Literature on this topic also argues that individuals with non-standard accents are more likely to be rated negatively; they are rated as less pleasant to listen to, less competent, and of belonging to a lower status (Gluszek and Dovidio, 2010). Turkish immigrants in Germany have been considered to be one of the toughest to integrate (Cruel and Vermeulen, 2003) and there have been ongoing debates about the alleged unwillingness of Turkish (but also of other Muslim groups) to adapt, yet there are few available experimental studies to provide some evidence on hiring discrimination.

Professor Kristen’s research study explored initial contact between potential applicants and employers. It consisted of a phone call in response to a job advertisements; interaction was entirely speech-based so that a wide range of potentially confounding factors could be eliminated. Kristen anticipated that the data would show that the costs of the Turkish accent would be particular relevant for jobs with greater communicative demands, in contexts where the employers or customers have greater biases (as the accent is a strong trigger for the activation of stereotypes), in smaller vs. larger firms, and whether or not diversity is mentioned in the advertisement. All callers were fluent in both Turkish and German; the question callers asked was, “Is the position still available?”

The data showed that there was a significant difference in whether the call recipient responded ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the above question depending on whether the caller had a Turkish accent or a German accent. Kristen also found interaction effects between firm size (the costs of a non-standard accent are greater in a small firm than a large firm), diversity mentioned (the costs are greater if diversity is not mentioned), and regional attitudes towards immigrants (if you live in an area in which many people have strong aversions to immigrants, the costs will be higher).

The talk closed with many provocative questions including those related to the distinctions between discrimination towards a specific ethnic group vs. an immigrant group. All agreed that Professor Kristen’s study was incredibly impressive and a great contribution to the literature on the potential barriers immigrant groups face in entering the labor market.


Commentary on Bill Haddican’s “Multilingualism and Language Change in New York City: Insights from the Corpus of New York City English,” by ARC Student Fellow Maria Cioe Pena

Fishman and Garcia (2001) have called New York City “The multilingual apple.” While the Advance Research Collaborative lecture series has taken us to many different places over the course of the semester, Bill Haddican’s final lecture in the series brought us all home – to that amazing and ever changing multilingual apple.

In his presentation, titled “Multilingualism and Language Change in New York City: Insights from the Corpus of New York City English,” Haddican introduced us to the ways in which New York City English (NYCE) is changing as a result of the multilingual infusions introduced by its culturally and linguistically diverse population. The topic of the lecture – deeply grounded in linguistic theory – could have been rather inaccessible and dense yet Haddican did a great job of creating multiple entry points for a diverse audience. In order to make the topic not only accessible but also interesting to all, Haddican showed a dynamic MRI video of how the tongue engages in vowel production – which results in the high/low front/back assignation given to vowels in relation to tongue placement in the mouth cavity. He also explained how linguist think about vowels, had the audience say words and engage in a shared task. Additionally, he explained sound production and speaking patterns using visual representations of the phenomena he was discussing.

All of these considerations, while small, made a significant impact on the understanding and engagement of the audience. This increased understanding made it possible to appreciate Haddican’s findings in relation to the ways that NYCE is changing. While Haddican spoke about two different variationist studies that looked at the evolution of the NYCE in relation to accent, specifically the contrast between 2 vowels, both related to the ways in which NYCE was changing and the influence that parents – and parents’ home language – had on the application and phonetics/phonology of English presented by their children. While the results are preliminary and require further exploration there seems to be some indication that children/adults who are born into families with a parent who is a “native” speaker of NYCE tend to maintain the sound separation that is slowly disappearing from the speech practices of children/adults who were born into families with two parents whose native language was not English. Another interesting finding of Haddican’s study is that NYCE is changing even for some White “non-heritage” speakers. The reasons for this are unclear and Haddican intends to explore the possibilities in future work with larger samples.

In this final lecture, Haddican was able to bring the audience together under the topics of language, immigration and family relationships. In many ways bringing together many of the topics covered across the semester. I look forward to seeing where Dr. Haddican takes this research and where NYCE goes from here.

~Maria Cioe Pena


García, O., & Fishman, J. A. (Eds.). (2001). The multilingual apple: languages in New York City. Walter de Gruyter.

Haddican, B. (2016). Multilingualism and Language Change in New York City: Insights from the Corpus of New York City English. Presentation, New York, New York.



Rachel Rakov: Commentary on Vicky Chondrogianni’s “Identifying Language Impairment in Bilingual Children”

On October 20th, 2016, Vicky Chondrogianni presented a talk entitled “Identifying Language Impairment in Bilingual Children”.  Ms. Chondrogianni is visiting from the University of Edinburgh this year, and as a member of the Advanced Research Collaborative, is working with students in the Multilingual cluster.  Before introducing her work, Chondrogianni first specified that the work she would be discussing would be from the perspective of linguistic analysis, rather than clinician analysis.  This was an important distinction to make, and allowed for her work to be taken within its correct context.

Chondrogianni began her talk by first defining the terms of her research, Specific Language Impairment, and Childhood Bilingualism.  Specific Language Impairment (SLI) is a language disorder wherein there is developmental asymmetry between cognition and language abilities.  Some of the linguistic properties of SLI include difficulties with past tense and 3rd person -s in English, as well as difficulties with complex sentence structures, finding and producing words, repeating nonsense words, and organizing a higher order discourse.  Both language expressive and language receptive skills may be affected by SLI, and the profile of SLI changes over time, due to SLI being a developmental disorder.  This disorder affects language primarily, in the absence of other impairments (exclusion criteria include normal hearing, no emotional problems, normal performance IQ, normal neurological status, and no history of ear problems).  Students with SLI tend to perform less well in school, and SLI occurs with high prevalence (7%)  in school-aged children.

Next, Chondrogianni defined childhood bilingualism, and described the details of the specific group her work focuses on: bilingual children with SLI.  As bilingual children are a heterogenous group, there is a lot of variance within this group that can affect SLI, such as the age of onset of the two languages, length of exposure to the languages, the linguistic properties of the two languages, and proficiency in each language.   The children she defines in this work are sequential bilingual children, who learned their second language around the ages of 3 or 4.  It is important to note that bilingual children with SLI  show language impairment in both languages they speak; low proficiency in one of two languages does not indicate SLI.

Identifying Specific Language Impairment in children, particularly bilingual children, can be tricky.  There are standardized assessments that can be used to try to identify SLI, but these gold standards have mostly been developed for monolingual children.  To assess SLI in bilingual children, clinicians can chose to use monolingual  assessments to establish bilingual norms, or can chose to develop bilingual assessments.  The latter presents a challenge, of course; in order to properly create bilingual assessments, additional trained personnel would needed to administer the assessment, and we would need more knowledge about language development in under-researched languages (to have truly comprehensive and language-inclusive SLI assessments for any range of bilingual children).

After presenting this overview,  Chondrogianni pointed out that bilingual children tend to have more severe difficulties than monolingual children with Specific Language Impairment.  This lead us to one of her primary research questions: is there a cumulative effect of bilingualism on language impairment?  She went on to describe two different research studies that begin to shed light on this research question.

In the first study she described, a cross-linguistic comparison study,  Chondrogianni explored what factors actually affect children’s development and ability to meet typical status (or language “norms”). Investigating three groups (monolingual children with SLI, monolingual typical children, and Turkish L1 English L2 bilingual kids), the researchers expected that typically developing bilingual kids would have lower levels of production but not comprehension; they expected that age-matched SLI peers would have lower levels of comprehension because their grammatical apparatus is flawed.  They additionally expected that the level of maternal education would predict a child’s “inability to reach age appropriate norms”, as well as the amount of exposure to each language.

The task that was set for this experiment (a word monitoring task) was designed to test whether children are sensitive to ungrammatical conditions based on response times.  Children with SLI are known to not be sensitive to omissions of inflection associated with clinical markers in English.  In this experiment, the researchers transferred this same task to bilingual children.  The results of this word monitoring task showed that children with SLI didn’t have the same sensitivity to grammatical violations in monolingual tests (as measured by their reaction times).  When the prediction task was applied to bilinguals, both typically developing bilingual children and SLI individuals had slower reaction times than typically developing monolingual individuals overall, but typically developing bilinguals were sensitive to grammatical violations (again, as shown by reaction times).  The production task data was not similarly predictive.

The second study focused on Welsh-English bilingual children with Specific Language Impairment.  This study focused on bilingual children with and without SLI, who were between the ages of 4 and 6.  All children were tested in both languages (with the dominant language being Welsh).  The researchers found that when tested in English, typically developing bilingual children and bilingual children with SLI performed similarly on tense tasks; however, when tested in their home language (Welsh), typically developing children showed significant differentiation with regard to how they performed on the task.

So where do we go from here?  Chondrogianni proposed several possibilities for future directions of this work.  There is a great need to development assessments in under-researched languages so that testing for SLI can be carried out in both languages a bilingual child speaks.  There is also a need to develop bilingual norms, to differentiate typically developing bilingual children from those bilingual children who have SLI.  Finally, making use of subtler psycholinguistic techniques could help to unravel some additional underlying problems with Specific Language Impairment in bilingual children.

~Rachel Rakov

Demet Arpacik: Commentary on Angela Reyes’ Language, Mix, and the Postcolonial Elite

This week’s presentation by Dr. Reyes was a very good analysis of the convoluted relations of coloniality, class, race with the language in the center in the Philippines today. She first gave a historical trajectory of coloniality in the country under the Spanish and American rules. Then, she analyzed the current discourse around the Conyo register, a term that was historically used to refer to different groups of people who were the power holders, but lately came to also assume a form of linguistic register of the rich elite. Conyo is a Spanish word that literally refers to women’s genitals, but it was assigned new meanings throughout the colonial times; first used to refer to people of Spanish origin, and then to mixed races and lately to the Philippine elite.  She then, by putting the listening subject at the center, instead of the speaking subject, tried to understand the implications of Conyo language register (a mix of English and Tagalog with certain iconized features) after colonial times.

Reyes first described the Philippines as a bifurcated national state with non-Christian darker skinned savages (as it is generally referred) on one end of the spectrum and white Christians or mixed breeds on the other end of the power relations. During colonial times, the Mestizos (a mix of Spaniards and the local people) were the middle people, who on the one hand were seen as inferior to the Spanish rulers and but who, on the other hand, were holding higher status compared to the local people. For this reason, Mestizos had a very dubious representation in the eyes of the Spanish because while they were Spaniards’ best collaborators to enact colonial rules, Mestizos were still seen as having the blood of the local people and therefore were perceived by Spanish as treacherous and dangerous. After the end of colonial rule, there was a visible case of new subjectivity of the colonial elite (Mestizos mainly), who still ensures the enactment of colonial structures in the absence of a colonial rule. This privileged group keeps colonial structure intact and uses it for their own advantage. The most recent indicator of this situation is language. “Language is mapped on the race” stated Dr. Reyes and it holds an essential meaning in terms of the questions of coloniality. Since language has been a determining aspect in colonial times, those who spoke English or Spanish, have had de facto access to knowledge and positions of power.

The current language trends or ways of speaking are illustrations of changing interior alterities in the Philippines. Conyo is a type of speech that is believed to be characteristic of the rich elite Filipinos who mix English with Tagalog and use certain features of speech to differentiate themselves from the rest of the people. The term is now used not only to define a certain form of register, but also to describe a certain group of people who speak this register. It does not refer to real people, but rather to the objects of commentary.

Reyes stated that Mestizos or Filipino elite has middle class nationalist consciousness, a consciousness that is not completely restricted to an economic class, but to a class that aspires to have some material strength. Formation of this class cannot be understood without the analysis of Tanglish and Conyo way of speaking. After the end of colonial rule, the subject positions were redefined around different axis; distinct forms of speech being the most effective in determining subject positions. Conyo also came out of this consciousness and it is now coded as a different form of register. Two features are iconized in this register; mixedness (mix of English and Tagalog) and excessiveness (too many features that are highly used and are viewed as exaggeration). Mixedness and excessiveness extend beyond the description of Conyo register and are also used to describe Conyo people as speakers of this register. Conyo people are seen to aim for modernity and are very invested in keeping colonial relations. As a result of their representations by listening subjects, Conyo people (both an abstract and an embodied term) grapple with their postcolonial subjectivities. Dr. Reyes showed us a few listening subjects, who can be either rich people but not speak this register or local people who have other registers, interpreting this register and analyzing its features. Among these were videos of a young Filipino boy and an American Filipina woman who imitated Conyo speakers and used pejorative words to describe them. The boy even wrote an article called “10 Conyo Amendments” that listed 10 rules of Conyo register.

The presentation was a very good analysis of intersectionality of language, race, class to determine current forms of representation and power relations in today’s Philippines. It revealed the non-formal, yet very real forms of linguistic register, Conyo’s reinterpretation along the lines of race and class. Term Conyo carries the legacy of colonial times and the fact that it is still used to define a group of people, Filipino elite, tells much about the current relations between different groups of people. I would like to hear more about the term Conyo’s sexist reference and historical evolution. While distinct forms of linguistic registers are common among elite groups of almost any society, the Conyo case in the Philippines is special because it is also imbricated with race relations and colonial subjectivities.

~ Demet Arpacik

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