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 Paul Statham’s “Public ‘Barriers’ to Islam? Examining How Political Debates and Public Opinion Shape the Inclusion of Muslims in Four European Countries” by ARC Student Fellow Susie J. Tanenbaum

Paul Statham is Professor of Migration and Director of the Sussex Centre for Migration Research (SCMR) in the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK.  The Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies (JEMS), his extensive publications include the books Contested Citizenship: Immigration and Cultural Diversity in Europe (2005), The Making of a European Public Sphere (2010), and The Politicization of Europe (2013).  A political sociologist, Dr. Statham’s current research focuses on “the political accommodation of Islam and Muslim minorities in their Western societies of settlement” (ARC website).  On March 2nd, we had the opportunity to hear his presentation, “Public ‘Barriers’ to Islam?  Examining How Political Debates and Public Opinion Shape the Inclusion of Muslims in Four European Countries.”


In contrast to immigrant societies of North America, Western Europe has a permanent minority population of only five to nine percent, and multicultural debates in European societies tend to focus specifically on accommodation of Muslim populations.  Scholars have conducted cross-national studies of Muslim incorporation, and some have suggested that Islam is in conflict with European societal institutions and national identities rooted in Christianity (Alba & Foner 2008).  Others have countered that European states uphold liberal norms by extending religious group rights to Muslims, often in spite of public dissent (Joppke & Torpey 2013).


Dr. Statham is among the first scholars to have conducted an empirical study with the aim of assessing “ordinary people’s views” on extending group rights to Muslim populations in four European countries: Britain, the Netherlands, France, and Germany.  Group rights, which exceed the rights of individual citizenship, accommodate the particular needs of minority groups.  To avoid reification, Dr. Statham included Muslims of four different national origins: Pakistanis, Turks, Yugoslavs, and Moroccans.  Interview questions gauged opinions on “contested boundaries over Muslims” — building mosques with visible minarets, allowing teachers to wear religious symbols, and offering religious education in public schools.  The ‘gaps’ in responses within countries served as indicators of socio-cultural distance between non-Muslim majority and Muslim minority populations (Statham 2016).


Dr. Statham provided context for his analysis by reviewing church/state separation in each of the countries under consideration.  This revealed wide variation in the degree of Muslim accommodation and Christian group privilege.  In Britain, the Church of England is highly privileged, but the state extends paternalistic support to minority religions.  In Germany, the state recognizes particular religious groups as public corporations but has denied this status to Muslims.  The legacy of “pillarization” in the Netherlands offers state support for broad-based religious pluralism.  Meanwhile, the concept of laïcité in France restricts all religious activity in the public sphere.  Despite the differences, patterns can be detected: Britain and the Netherlands are more accommodating of Muslim group rights; Britain and Germany privilege their Christian churches; and the Netherlands and France maintain religious parity, with the Netherlands practicing inclusion and France enforcing exclusion.


The first research phase involved examining relevant national political debates, which play a role in mediating public opinion on Muslim group rights.  Claims data about Muslims and Islam were drawn from newspapers spanning a ten-year period.  Four sets of actors were identified: representatives of the state and judiciary, legislative and political parties, non-Muslim civil society organizations and groups, and Muslim organizations and groups.  The results indicated that in Britain, the state and civil society support Muslim group rights; in the Netherlands, the radical right Party for Freedom challenges the state’s and civil society’s position on this issue; in France, the state and civil society actually lend support to Muslim involvement in the debate over group rights; while in Germany, the state, political parties, and civil society are neutral on extending Muslim group rights.


Recognizing the differences in national contexts, the second research phase measured ‘gaps’ within each country between non-Muslim and Muslim opinion on group rights.  Telephone survey interviews were conducted (in languages other than English, as needed) with a sample of 7,000 majority and Muslim minority respondents.  While the first section of the survey posed one question about constructing mosques with visible minarets, specifically gauging views on Muslim group rights, the second section posed one question about teachers wearing Christian clothes or symbols and another question about teachers wearing the Islamic veil.  Similarly, the third survey section posed one question about Christian education and another about Muslim education in public schools.  The structure of the second and third sections allowed for comparisons as well as a more nuanced analysis of majority and Muslim minority views on religious rights.  A two-way analysis of covariance was conducted, controlling for age, education, and income.  Gender was included as an independent variable.


The research results permitted a cross-national comparison.  The findings were noteworthy, and some were unexpected.  Dr. Statham reported that, in all four countries, there were statistically significant ‘gaps’ in majority and minority respondents’ views on Muslim group rights.  Muslim respondents supported parity with Christian group rights, while majority opinion shifted from supporting Christian group rights to opposing Muslim group rights.  Most surprisingly, British majority respondents expressed the strongest opposition to extending Muslim group rights, even though Britain had the most accommodating state policies and the most supportive public debate on religion of all four countries.


Dr. Statham emphasized the methodological importance of including majority populations in comparative studies on the accommodation of minority group rights, also called “opportunity structures”.  In this study, the shift in majority opinion was responsible for the significant ‘gap’ between Muslim and non-Muslim responses, indicating socio-cultural distance and a potentially high level of controversy over Muslim group rights.  Dr. Statham’s working hypothesis for understanding the British case was that the absence of a “pressure valve effect” in the form of an anti-Islam political actor in Britain, similar to the Party for Freedom in the Netherlands, may have resulted in low-level resentment in everyday life interactions, which went undetected by the political elites.  This is a troubling dynamic to consider, especially at a time when right-wing nationalism is on the rise in Western Europe and the United States.  During the question-and-answer section of his presentation, a few alternative explanations were proposed.  It will be interesting to see how Dr. Statham develops his analysis in subsequent phases of this groundbreaking study.


~Susie J. Tanenbaum


Commentary on Sara McDougall’s “Bastards and their Families in Medieval Europe” by ARC Student Fellow Priscilla Bustamante

Sara McDougall is an Associate Professor of History and French at John Jay and the CUNY Graduate Center. Her work broadly focuses on investigating the practices and consequences of adultery in fifteenth century France with an emphasis on the roles of gender and social hierarchy. Her most recent book entitled Royal Bastards: The Birth of Illegitimacy was published this past December, and is the single dedicated history of illegitimate children in Medieval Europe to date. On Thursday, February 23, we were fortunate to have Professor McDougall present her latest research on the topic.

Professor McDougall began by contextualizing her work, painting a vivid picture of the world of Medieval Europe in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, along with its obsession with sin and the punishing of minorities. She described her initial desire to study identity within this context—identities tied to labels such as woman, wife, Christian and illegitimate child. McDougall was more specifically interested in how these identities interacted with the law, which at the time was understood as far from universal with many recognizing their position above law. Contradictions abounded as church and state sought to regulate marriage, and nepotism was simultaneously reviled and widely accepted.

Prior to McDougall’s work, scholarship revealed very little about illegitimate birth and its consequences, with available research focusing almost exclusively on fathers. Yet McDougall began to unravel these complexities for us, with a much-needed focus on their consequences for children and mothers. Born outside of legitimate marriage, illegitimate children were widely excluded, and neither able to inherit from parents nor attain high-status societal positions. Interestingly, false ideas circulating around illegitimate birth were founded on two misconceptions: 1) that the church was the leading cause of illegitimate children’s dispossession and 2) that illegitimate children were oppressed because of adverse societal notions about illicit sex. Catholic teachings and ideas of who could count as an heir certainly came into play; however, concerns about marriage were mistaken for concerns about lineage. McDougall illuminated the lineage and social status of both parents as the primary source of the oppression of illegitimate children.

According to McDougall in fact, prior to the thirteenth century, maternal lineage mattered far more than any ideas of legitimate birth. During this time, there were no binding rules of inheritance that uniformly governed variables for heir in/exclusion. Eldest sons of kings could be excluded for any number of reasons unrelated to being illegitimate. Status depended on a combination of paternal and maternal descent, and a child with a high-status mother could be considered an heir regardless of illegitimate birth. It was only after the ushering in of a new dynasty that an altered concept of marriage was utilized to solidify control.

Perhaps most significantly, in studying who counted as illegitimate children and what that meant for them, McDougall complicated a misunderstood reality, challenging many preconceptions about the circumstances of illegitimate children and women in premodern Europe. Between 1449-1533 at least 38,000 illegitimate children had dispensations, with thousands becoming priests. Many children of illegal marriages were a part of royal and famous families, while many more regularly inherited property. Moreover, people in Medieval Europe took advantage of many different familial relationships. Mothers successfully passed their illegitimate children off as the sons and daughters of their husbands, with no hard evidence of any public or private punishment for these mothers.

Professor McDougall’s work reminds us that we cannot project the knowledge we hold of current societal norms onto other historic periods. In questioning what constitutes marriage and family, she illuminates the concept of illegitimacy as a socially constructed spectrum. She breaks down the common binary that exists between our ideas of what marriage is and is not. In doing so, her work highlights a continuum of shifting legal/illegal, marital/non-marital relationships, and prompts us to historically contextualize the trajectory of gender roles today.

~ Priscilla Bustamante





Commentary on Marnia Lazreg’s “Gendered Pathways to Culturalism and Cosmopolitanism on the Islamic Periphery” by ARC Student Fellow China Sajadian

Dr. Marnia Lazreg is a professor of Sociology at Hunter College. Raised in Algeria, she received her Baccalaureate in Mathematics and Philosophy and a licence-ès-lettres from the University of Algiers and received her Ph.D. in Sociology from New York University. She is the author of several books, including  The Emergence of Classes in Algeria:  A Study of Colonialism and Socio-Political Change (1976), The Eloquence of Silence: Algerian Women in Question (1996), Torture and the Twilight of Empire: From Algiers to Baghdad (2008), and Questioning the Veil: Open Letters to Muslim Women (2010). She has also recently completed a manuscript about Michel Foucault’s struggles with how to theorize cultural difference.

In her talk at the Advanced Research Collaborative, “Gendered Pathways to Culturalism and Cosmopolitanism on the Islamic Periphery,” Dr. Lazreg shared her ongoing research, which explores contemporary examples of what she calls “de-centered universalism” and “practice-oriented cosmopolitanism” in Iran and Algeria. Drawing inspiration from Immanuel Kant’s definition of cosmopolitanism as knowledge of man as a “citizen of the world,” she grounds her theoretical discussion in relation to several specific case studies — the anti-fracking movement in the oil-rich desert town of In Saleh in Southern Algeria, an anti-veiling campaign sponsored by an Algerian Sufi order, Iranian Islamic scholars’ efforts to read and rethink Western cosmopolitan thought, and cases of Islamic feminism.

The title of her talk refers to two intellectual traditions: Euro-American literature on cosmopolitan studies, on one hand, and scholarship on unequal exchange between countries of the “center” and those of the “periphery” under global capitalism, on the other. She argues that the trend toward “decentered cosmopolitanism” in Iran and Algeria poses a challenge to the unequal exchange of ideas by “de-localizing Western thought and practices while redrawing the intellectual boundaries of local as well as Western cultures.” In this context, her endeavor is to develop a comparative transnational and transcultural analytical framework focused on how regions on the “periphery” engage in cosmopolitan practices and ideas in times of crisis. In doing so, she aims to reframe some of the central questions in debates on cosmopolitanism and multiculturalism: Are cultures incommensurable? Is cosmopolitanism Eurocentric?

The conceptual background of Dr. Lazreg’s talk covered three main bodies of literature which each deal differently with what she calls the “conundrum of cultural difference”: cosmopolitan studies and debates on multiculturalism, Ulrich Beck’s critique of sociological theory, and anthropological approaches of “local knowledge” (idealized knowledge from the periphery). She finds fruitful the well-known debate between Nancy Fraser and Axel Honneth focusing on the relationship between movements aimed at the recognition of cultural rights and those centered on the pursuit of redistributive justice, but finds that the debate still obviates the central question of cultural difference. She argues that Seyla Benhabib’s question about whether universalism is Eurocentric is also problematic in its implicit assumption that cosmopolitanism, by definition, is theorized only in Western contexts. In contrast, she finds more useful Ulrich Beck’s concept of “second stage modernity” which foregrounds “risk” as a ubiquitous feature of late-modern social existence, in which “relations of definition” (analogous to Marx’s relations of production) are a defining factor in the unequal production and valuation of cultural difference. Finally, Dr. Lazreg praises the trend among anthropologists who seek to turn to knowledge produced by countries of the periphery in an attempt to rejuvenate their theories, from Levi-Strauss to Jean and John Comaroff.  However, in “going south,” Dr. Lazreg argues, such anthropologists do not necessarily ask whether the theories of “local knowledge” they are adopting actually work for the people they are studying. Building from her critical engagement with this literature, she suggests an exploration instead of what she calls “de-centered universalism,” through which she aims to develop a non-reified conception of cultural difference. She asks: “How do non-Western peoples in the present historical conjuncture read and mark the very systems of knowledge that are being either questioned or broadened at the center?”

Segueing from this theoretical discussion, Dr. Lazreg presented two different cases in Algeria as examples of “practice-oriented cosmopolitanism.” She began with the anti-fracking movement in the Southern Algerian town of In Saleh that began in January 2015 in response to the Algerian government’s plans to begin exploratory drilling for shale oil. In Saleh is a town of 32,000 in the heart of Algeria’s oil and gas region, which is dominated by multinational oil corporations. Dr. Lazreg argued that the protests were a culmination of grievances against Algerian state policies which exploit the South as a resource for energy export, but which systematically neglect the socioeconomic needs of the population. Water is a scarce resource in this extremely arid region, and local residents depend on non-renewable groundwater resources for their livelihoods. Recognizing that fracking poses a threat to the ecological sustainability of their region, In Saleh residents gathered in the town square which they called Sahat as-sumud (resistance square), echoing the famous Tahrir square in Cairo, demanding an immediate halt to shale oil exploitation. Nearby cities staged solidarity protests with In Saleh residents, eventually attracting international solidarity.

According to Dr. Lazreg, the In Saleh anti-fracking movement has had more enduring power than almost any other movement since the Algerian civil war from 1992-2002. Further, in contrast to other social movements in the Middle East, protesters did not demand a change of government or single out particular politicians, but instead framed their demands as citizens concerned for the environment. When the Algerian government alleged that protesters were committing a sin by opposing the exploitation of a “God-given” resource, protesters responded with a discourse of civility, attachment to land, and love for water as a shared resource, creatively reorienting the idea “local” cultural patrimony toward a broader planetary cause inclusive of others beyond borders. The protests also became a stage from which to challenge long-standing elitism from North Algeria against the South, epitomized by “Samidoune,” a joint North-South collaboration of Algerian rappers, Lotfi DK and the Desert Boys, expressing solidarity with In Salah.

Dr. Lazreg’s second case of “practice-oriented cosmopolitanism” is an anti-veiling campaign led by a Sufi order in the coastal city of Mostaghanem, Algeria. Much like the anti-fracking movement, this anti-veiling campaign is notably female-led. Dr. Lazreg discussed an exhibition launched by this Sufi order, which subtly calls into question the growing centrality of the veil within Islamist and Islamic feminist discourse, by pointing to its pre-Islamic origins and historicizing the multiple uses of the veil across time and space. In this way, the exhibition shows that the veil is a culturally and historically variable formation, not an immutable tradition. Though Dr. Lazreg avers that the anti-veiling campaign is more symbolic than substantive when compared to the anti-fracking movement, she draws parallels between the two as acts “blurring custom and faith” – water and faith, on one hand, and veil and faith, on the other.

Finally, Dr. Lazreg moved on to discuss intellectual trends in post-1979 revolution Iran as examples of “reframing universal thought.” Over the past three decades, a range of Islamic philosophers in Iran have sought to engage with Euro-American Enlightenment philosophy through interpretation, translation, and inviting Western scholars to lecture in Iran. Her discussion focused on Abdolkarim Soroush, a prominent contemporary Islamic philosopher who teaches at the University of Tehran. According to Soroush, religious knowledge, though sacred in subject matter, is fallible and ephemeral because it, like any other branch of knowledge, is a product of human understanding. Because of its contextuality, time-boundedness, and relativity to external circumstances, he argues, any form of religious knowledge is subject to expansion and contraction. Soroush, in this sense, is relinking to an earlier hermeneutic tradition in Islam, the mu’tazilah, a school of Islamic theology that emerged in Basra and Baghdad during the 8th–10th centuries. What is interesting for Dr. Lazreg is that Soroush is also reading Kant and Hegel, thus reframing the perceived aporia between Islamic studies and Enlightenment philosophy.

Building upon the topic of cosmopolitanism, Dr. Lazreg also mentioned that Soroush is critical of the cultural nationalism put forth by some Iranian revolutionary thinkers, as well as African liberation thinkers, such as Aime Cesaire and Frantz Fanon. Paraphrasing Dr. Soroush, she asks: does “learning from others (meaning the West) threaten one’s identity?” Challenging essentialist definitions of cultural or national identity, Dr. Lazreg suggests that Soroush’s writings problematize the epistemological premise of a “return” to one’s authentic self, whether in the form of culturalist nationalism, anti-religious nationalism, or fundamentalist religious revisionism. He also broaches the vexing status of “reason” within Islam in Reason, Freedom, and Democracy in IslamIn this context, Dr. Lazreg drew parallels to Kant’s conception of critique and the universalism of human nature.

Ultimately, Dr. Lazreg’s talk demonstrates that serious intellectual engagement with these examples of “practice-oriented cosmopolitanism” and “reframing universal thought” can each inform a notion of the “supra-cultural good,” with converges Ulrich’s cosmopolitan conception of exposing oneself to the risk of decentering the self. One possible limitation regarding Dr. Lazreg’s approach, which she mentioned during the Q&A, is that there is a subtle epistemological split between her approaches to Iran and Algeria – “theory” in one country (Iran) and “practice” in another (Algeria). As the project takes shape, Dr. Lazreg suggested that she will explore ways to bridge this through engagement with more “theory” in the Algerian context, such as the work of French-Algerian-Kabyle scholar Mohammed Arkoun. Notwithstanding such considerations, which will no doubt be resolved with further development, Dr. Lazreg’s work poses a very compelling challenge to the insularity of debates about cosmopolitanism and multiculturalism in the United States and Europe by treating social movements and intellectual traditions in two Muslim-majority countries not merely as an adjunct to Euro-American theorizing, but as producers of theory and practice in their own right.

~ China Sajadian


Luis Guzmán Valerio: “The Myth of Latino Fraud and Illegal Latino Voters” by Professor Robert Smith


Professor Robert Smith is a professor of Sociology at Baruch College and at The Graduate Center. He was trained as a political scientist at Columbia University and describes himself as an ethnographer who likes numbers and masquerades as a sociologist. His book Mexican New York is based on 18 years of ethnographic research and makes a practical contribution to the lives of immigrants. His research interests arose when he taught English at a labor camp in college and most workers were Mexican. In his talk at the Advanced Research Collaborative, he shared with us some of the findings for a book he is writing with Andy Beveridge titled This is Still America! Voting Rights and Immigration.

His ethnographic research takes place in the 100-Acre Wood Community, a pseudonym for a small, suburban town. Professor Smith’s involvement in the town began when he received an e-mail from the U.S. Department of Justice to serve as an ethnographer and expert witness in a case involving voting rights. The 100-Acre Wood Community is small town that used at-large voting. This meant that there were no voting districts. Conflicts began to arise when the Latino population of the town grew outnumbering African Americans who have moved out because of the lack of opportunities. The at-large voting meant that all voters cast their ballots for all candidates in the town (NAACPLDF, 2016). These circumstances made it impossible for minority candidates to be elected. As minority populations all over the U.S. grow, jurisdictions with at-large voting rules are faced with the challenge of fairly representing their communities. Conflict in the town intensified after the voting rights act trial began and public hearings were held to decide whether to continue with at-large voting or have districts.

Professor Smith has been in the field in the 100-Acre Wood Community since 2006. As part of his research, he interviewed and recorded participants, attended school board meetings and church seminars about immigration, and joined Facebook groups. While conducting his interviews of people’s experiences in the town as voters and political candidates, Professor Smith found that Latinos were continually seen by the majority white gaze as illegal, not eligible to vote, immoral, and illegitimate. Illegality makes immigrants into a moral point. The logic of illegality allows those who believe they do not break the law to position themselves on a moral high ground compared to those who are perceived as breaking the law by entering the U.S. without proper documentation. This led Professor Smith to ask how the discriminatory narratives about race and voters are enacted. In interviews with poll workers and in public speeches by leaders in the town, people expressed moral panic about immigration in the U.S. and a feeling of white dispossession. This was part of a discourse that stigmatized Latinos as illegal and framed them as not enjoying moral righteousness. In this discourse, Hispanics are not in the same moral category of worth as others and are dehumanized. When the issue of taking out a bond to pay for education in the town came up, people expressed a sentiment that illegal children should not be entitled to education, and the bond was voted down. Even if they are immigrants themselves, the participants interviewed feel a moral hierarchy and think that Latinos are all illegal.

The U.S. Department of Justice eventually won the voting rights lawsuit. The 100-Acre Wood Community became a town at war with itself and incidents were reported in the press. This led Professor Smith to conduct 153 doorstep interviews. He found that about a quarter of those interviewed believed that illegal voters would vote. Older, retired white people who have a difficult time paying taxes, white people who live in places that used to be mostly white and are now Latino, and very white districts reported feeling dispossessed.

In town council and community school board meetings, Latinos constantly had their U.S. citizenship brought into question and hence their right to participate in the democratic process. Latinos were even called “illegal” by some of the other attendees at these meetings. When they went to vote, those asking for a Spanish interpreter or perceived as speaking English with an accent reported being asked to present identification –which is an outright violation of voting law– and were told that they either were not in the right district or that their name was not in the voter registry. These incidents occurred even though the town does a full day of training for poll workers. Did Hispanic voters not know their rights? Professor Smith ended his talk by suggesting that there should be implicit bias training for voting place poll workers. In addition to this, explicitly requiring poll workers to record every request for identification would make a difference in the bureaucratic process.

Despite these experiences of discrimination, the Hispanic and non-Hispanic participants Professor Smith interviewed were still reluctant to categorize anyone as racist. Yet, how is it that a town does not want to see Latinos elected to office? I have always ideologically imagined the U.S. as a racist place because of my own experiences of discrimination and racism. Is this not the case everywhere in the U.S.?

~Luis Guzman Valerio


NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (2016). At-large voting frequently asked questions. Retrieved from

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

Sumru Atuk: Commentary on Henrique Espada Lima “Vulnerability and Modernity Reinventing Coercion through Free Labor in the time of Abolition in Brazil”

What is freedom? Is it the opposite of slavery? Does its meaning remain unchanged across historical and geographic contexts? Does it apply to everyone equally? Professor Henrique Espada Lima’s presentation titled “Vulnerability and Modernity: Reinventing Coercion through Free Labor in the time of Abolition in Brazil” provided thought-provoking answers to these questions. Prof. Lima’s historical approach to the issue of freedom revealed that the content of freedom may vary depending on the historical and politico-economic contexts, as well as the groups of people whose freedom is at stake. In other words, freedom is not a self-explanatory concept similar to other generic concepts of liberal democracy, such as human rights and equality. Its content may be replete with exclusions, limitations and even a kind of bondage in the form of free labor.

The point of departure of Prof. Lima’s long-term research was an inquiry of poverty and precarious labor in slavery and post-emancipation. The broader subject Lima pursued was a specific narrative of freedom presented as an ever-expanding one. Lima’s study on 19th century Santa Catarina, Brazil provides a critical intervention to this progressive understanding of history using sources such as notary records, manumissions, judicial records, legal codes, collections of legislation, parliamentary debates, and legal journals. He contests this narrative by documenting that the transition from slavery to freedom did not necessarily mean an expansion of liberty for the newly freed individuals. It was instead a transition to free labor disguised as contractual freedom.

The productive tension between the large questions and local answers is one of the major sources of the critical capacity of Lima’s research. We cannot decipher the actual relationship between slavery and freedom by treating them as ahistorical and universal concepts. For instance, Lima’s research reveals that slavery had a very different meaning in 19th Century Brazil than its North American form. Far from being limited to plantations, it was deeply engrained and normalized in the society. Small property holders, poor individuals and even former slaves could have slaves. It had a significant place in social body and economic activities.

As Lima’s research reveals, the meaning of freedom was also very different from its current connotations. The historical documents Lima uses demonstrate that a slave could be freed but still be bound to their former master for extended periods of time (until they pay the price of their freedom through unpaid labor, until the master dies or even after the master’s death). According to Lima, due to the dominant mindset of the era slaves did not consider their precarious situation as an extension of their slavery. To the contrary, they regarded many aspects of these agreements as securing their and their children’s well-being since they were far from self-sufficiency right after gaining their freedom.

In this regard, one important implication of Lima’s study is that it reveals the importance of questioning the meaning and effects of taken for granted concepts. As Lima underlines, the language of freedom was important given the transforming politico-economic relations of the era. Yet its content was rather ambiguous. He insightfully points out that the notion of freedom itself has very rarely been discussed, and this is a contemporary problem as much as a historical one. The dominant discourses of a given era might cloud one’s judgment of the quality of one’s freedom as in the case of these newly freed slaves. Today’s dominant liberal discourse may also cloud our judgment about the quality and extent of our freedom. Freedom defined through a contractual logic suggests that the slaves were free to enter into the contracts that changed their status from slave to free people. Among the limited options the slave chose their freedom whose substance lacks significant characteristics of liberty. The illusion of choice here is very similar to the choices that we make in the 21st Century each time we choose to be parties to unfair labor contracts.

~ Sumru Atuk

Mert Peksen: Commentary on Linda Tropp’s “Contact, Trust, and Social Inclusion: Immigrant-Native Relations in the United States”

Linda Tropp – 10/27/2016

Does having more contact with other groups reduce prejudice? Do people welcome the groups with whom they interact, and do they feel more welcomed by them? Does frequency, quality and location of interactions between groups matter? Do people transfer good interaction experiences with one group to their interactions with other groups? These were the main questions that Linda Tropp, professor of social psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, addressed in her talk at the ARC seminar on October 27th. Her main focus was the topic of intergroup contact and the issue of welcoming different populations into communities, particularly in the context of the relations between US-born and immigrant groups.

Tropp began her talk by explaining some of the major concepts in her research and addressing the main questions in the literature. As she and her colleagues established in their meta-analysis of the literature, greater contact is associated with less prejudice. 94 percent of the approximately 500 international studies they analyzed show that there is an inverse correlation between interaction and prejudice. She pointed out that while most studies focus on the interaction of immigrant and US-born populations in terms of the exposure of one group to another, such studies are not clear about what actually happens when groups meet and have meaningful face-to-face interactions in neighborhoods, work places, and public spaces.

In her talk, Linda Tropp presented two major aspects of the research that she and her research team have been conducting over the last several years. In their overall research, they analyze the quality and frequency of interactions between US-born Whites, US-born Blacks, foreign-born Mexicans, and foreign-born Indians in the context of the Philadelphia and Atlanta metropolitan areas. Philadelphia and Atlanta were chosen because of their longstanding presence of Black and White American populations, while recent immigration to these areas have also diversified the racial composition. Moreover, these cities have been actively promoting the idea of being a “welcoming city” through various campaigns and civil society programs. The part of the research that she presented at the ARC specifically addressed the idea of welcoming. She asked whether increased interaction with other groups makes people more welcoming, and whether people feel more welcomed when they interact with other groups.

In order to answer these questions, the researchers designed a telephone survey using a total of 250 respondents from each group in each city (total N=2000). In addition to the telephone survey, they conducted around 320 in-depth interviews in the area.  In terms of overall contact with other groups, there is a generally positive level of interaction among groups, especially at work places and in public space. There is less overall contact with Mexicans, which implies a certain level of isolation that might be related to issues regarding the type of work they do, language barriers, or their legal status. These issues were later addressed in the Q and A section. In terms of welcoming others and being welcomed by their community, Tropp’s research illustrates that Whites and Blacks tend to be slightly more welcoming toward each other than they are to immigrant groups, whereas Mexicans are less welcoming than US-born populations, as well as than Indian immigrants, to outside groups. Overall, there is a positive correlation between the level of interaction and positive welcoming attitudes.

Another part of her presentation addressed the question of whether the quality and frequency of interactions with one group influence the attitudes toward another groups. Her research shows that there is a secondary transfer effect caused by interactions between groups. For instance, increased contact with Blacks enhances Whites’ receptivity toward other migrant groups.

Linda Tropp’s research has important implications. First, we can argue that spatial and social segregation create a less welcoming society for everyone, because they structurally decrease the possibility of contacts with other groups. Moreover, while it may seem at a first glance that groups have significant exposure to one another in public spaces, she pointed out that exposure and meaningful contact are two different things. High exposure to other groups with less meaningful interaction, in fact, might actually create more prejudice. Therefore, based on her research findings we can argue that in order to overcome prejudices between groups and to create a more inclusive society, there is a need to create more opportunities for interaction and to design spaces in which groups actually meet and get to know each other. These spaces could range from more inclusive public spaces to schools and work places that are more racially diverse.

Mert Peksen