Mapping Language Ideology in New York City by Daniel Kaufman

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Talk Description:

In this talk, I will present the Digital Map of the Languages of New York, the product of a multi-year collaborative effort based at the Endangered Language Alliance to produce the heretofore most detailed map of linguistic diversity in a megacity. The map, based on Perlin & Kaufman 2019, locates over 640 languages within New York City and includes information about the history of indigenous and threatened language communities throughout the city. With the help of the ARC program, I have expanded on the above work by investigating language ideologies and domains of language use within five of the most multilingual immigrant communities in the city, those of Mexico, Guatemala, Nepal, Indonesia, and the Philippines, with a focus on minoritized and Indigenous language groups. As immigration has been shown to affect indigenous peoples disproportionately in a wide range of countries, it is clear that a holistic approach to conserving global linguistic diversity must address Indigenous people in urban diaspora settings. I will highlight several success stories from New York in which endangered languages have been successfully transmitted to a new generation of learners in the home. I hope that these case studies and the strategies therein can serve as positive examples for communities facing language loss in New York and beyond.

Daniel Kaufman, Assistant Professor of Linguistics at Queens College of the City University of New York

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


Commentary on Kim Potowski’s Talk, “Maximizing Latino Spanish Proficiency Through Dual Language Education”, by ARC Student Fellow Michelle Johnson-McSweeney

In her talk, “Maximizing Latino Spanish proficiency though dual language education,” Kim Potowski  identifies two major problems with how the United States education system treats language education. The first is that the United States does a terrible job of maintaining non-English languages, and the second is that second language education is our schools (also called “foreign” language education) starts too late and is largely ineffective. Her research is focused on one educational solution that addresses both problems: Dual language education.

There are three types of educational programs that serve English Language Learning (ELL) students. The first is English-only with English as a Second Language (ESL) support. The second is Transitional Language Education (TLE) where students use their first language as a support until they have English language proficiency. The goal of both ESL and TLE is English proficiency, not dual language proficiency. They are subtractive in the sense that students often lose their first language in order to acquire their second. The goal of Dual Language programs, the third program model and unfortunately by far the least common, is dual language proficiency, meaning that students add to their skills without losing any others. All too often, however, assessment is only conducted in English. Potowski’s study seeks to address this issue by assessing the Spanish language skills of students in Spanish/English Dual Language Education programs.

The results from Potowski’s research show that among students who have some level of Spanish proficiency (i.e., they speak Spanish at home, in the classroom, or are otherwise exposed to Spanish in their lives) and are enrolled in Dual Language programs performed better than students enrolled in English-only programs on tests of academic literacy. This, in and of itself, should not be surprising and it is what Potowski predicted. Yet, sometimes the expected findings are the most important because they had never been stated before. This, in effect, was the biggest take-away from Potowski’s research at this stage, that students develop proficiency in written Spanish as well as English.

I am looking forward to the future of this research as she moves in to analyzing the spoken communication as well. It is nearly taken for granted among linguists that spoken and written language are different language forms, and that a person can be completely fluent in a language yet not know how to write it. I expect that the analysis of students’ spoken language skills will only serve to further reinforce the need for Dual Language Education in the United States. Not only is it an additive approach to education, but students who emerge from these programs are bilingual in a country experiencing a serious lack of bilingual adults.

~ Michelle Johnson-McSweeney



Commentary on Veronica Benet-Martinez’s “The Psychology of Multicultural Experiences and Identities: Social, Personality, and Cultural Perspectives” by ARC Student Fellow Eduardo Ho

The complex and intertwined world of “multicultural identit(ies)” was presented from a psychological social psychology perspective (as opposed to a sociological social psychology view), that is, from the perspective that zooms-in to the individual level, by psychologist and faculty member at the University Pompeu Fabra (Barcelona) Verónica Benet-Martínez (BM).  The connotations of the multiplicity of roles that people possess and enact nowadays are far more complex than they have ever been, as presently, people can take on roles that they did not traditionally take on before (e.g. the stay-at-home dad, the woman CEO, etc.)  People may be comfortable with the multiplicity of roles they play in their daily lives, however, they are not comfortable with their own multicultural identities – as it is “like having multiple husbands”, stated BM.  To which culture do I belong the most?  “When I am in one environment I feel X but people consider me Y and the reverse is also true.”  These are some of the ruminating thoughts that go through the multicultural citizen’s mind.  (Surprisingly, BM made no reference to postmodern theories of self-identity, which would have provided material for an excellent discussion.)  But, what exactly is a multicultural identity?  How does culture and ethnicity shape our identity and personality?  How have individuals who have internalized more than one culture develop a cohesive multicultural identity?  These are some of the questions that BM seeks to address in her research.

BM made the choice in the talk to use the terms bicultural and multicultural interchangeably.  This, perhaps, was an unfortunate choice.  Regardless, her definition of the bi(multi)-cultural individual is actually an anthropological / semiotic one: it is an individual with exposure to two (or more) cultures that has come to possess the systems of meanings and practices associated with these cultures (e.g. beliefs, values, language, etc.)  Thus, there are three domains of acculturation (i.e. practices, values, identifications), but these domains do not change all at the same time, as there are differences in the level of displayed acculturation, like for example behavior observed in the private domain versus the public domain.

BM rejects the model of Culture A vs. Culture B as indicative of anyone’s cultural affiliation, given that for her, individual relationships to cultures are not categorical, but rather partial and plural.  Instead of the Culture A vs. Culture B model, BM’s revised view falls within that of Cultural Frame Switching: there is a switch between different cultural interpretative frames or meaning systems in response to cultural cues.  During this part of the discussion BM interjected with a comparison between this framework and one which recently began to gain traction in Linguistics, namely translanguaging.  The comparison, even though interesting, raises some questions of substance.  Under the translanguaging view of language, the grammar of the speaker only contains features of what society has come to know [and label] as “languages”, and the translanguag-er deploys these resources freely, “transcending” the two or three (or more) languages that he or she manages.  It is true, there is no division between Language A or Language B in the mind of the translanguager, but the meaning and grammatical systems remain the same (i.e. for the most part static) for each feature of each language.  These meaning and grammatical systems are part of the “system” of the language shared by and with other speakers (similar to what Saussure defined as langue), and these are not necessarily permeable to the influence of cultural pressures.

The discussion about Cultural Frame Switching included a description of a series of experiments with Chinese Americans subjects, and how priming would help predict certain behaviors in the US Anglo subjects vis-a-vis the Chinese subjects, according to their culture.  When speaking about priming, BM returned to the issue of language, as she defined it as the most important primer of all, since you “effectively activate everything that is associated with that language”.  Even though this strikes me as an overarching generalization regarding the relationship of any language with a ‘specific’ culture, the point still stands.  In addition, it might be worth mentioning that the juncture at which BM’s work and linguistic theory cross each other would probably be a fascinating area of discussion and research.

The talk included a vast array of indexes and graphs.  The most salient measuring index was the BII: Bicultural Identity Integration.  The limited understanding that I was able to gain of this index is that BII measures how an individual bridges or blends different cultures.  BM made it clear that bicultural integration is not a trait, but rather it’s malleable.  An interesting fact was that BII increases when individuals recall positive bicultural experiences and it decreases when recalling negative bicultural experiences.  Biculturals, however, are more creative and innovative when compared to their monocultural cohorts in professional environments and in school settings (e.g. MBA programs).

The most powerful point of the presentation, for me personally, was the insight BM shared about how when one individual only operates within one culture, the perspective that individual has on that particular culture is less profound than the perspective another individual has on that same culture, if instead, he or she operates in a space that exchanges or constantly negotiates between two or more cultures.  That is, the bicultural owns a comparative perspective that the monocultural cannot possess.  Questions from the audience ranged from the historicity of biculturalism to the teaching and learning implications of biculturalism.  Age was a factor that was never mentioned in the talk or the Q&A: for example, is there an age range for the bicultural individual to gain a greater or lesser sense of belonging into a second culture?  That would be an interesting piece of information to have.  In sum, the talk was thought-provoking and very informative, with ideas that people may take all too for granted, and it managed to show the impressive body of research and researchers working on this very important topic.

~ Eduardo Ho-Fernández


Luisa Martin Rojo, “The Impact of the Native-Speaker Model in the Construction of Inequality”. Commentary by ARC Student Fellows Lauren Spradlin and Jennifer Hammano

ARC Distinguished Fellow Luisa Martín Rojo, Professor in Linguistics at the Universidad Autónoma in Madrid, presented her current research project The Impact of the Native-Speaker Model in the Construction of Inequality on November 12. Her presentation focused on what it means to be a ‘native’ speaker of a language and the privileges that come with it, and conversely, how inequality is structured, legitimized, and propagated through prejudices relating to notions of who is a ‘native speaker’ of a language.

Native speakers of a language are typically defined as those who have grown up hearing and speaking that language from birth, though scholars have begun to challenge both the validity of this definition and the concept of ‘native speaker’ altogether. As Martín Rojo expressed, native speakers of a given language are usually considered (by linguists and speech communities alike) to be the models and the authorities on that language. In line with this notion, there is an expectation that all speakers of a language should strive to sound like a local native speaker. Any language users who choose to use structures, words, or sounds that do not conform to the prestige variety as spoken by a native speaker are perceived as ‘non-authentic’ speakers of the language, and are policed by authentic speakers accordingly. Speakers whose language practices are non-nativelike are subjected to linguistic shame, which carries social and economic consequences.

In order to demonstrate how power is exerted using language, language policing linguistic surveillance, and notions of nativeness, Martín Rojo conducted a study on university students in Spain who had migrated at a young age from Latin America. She interviewed university students about their experiences being the subjects of linguistic surveillance, with specific reference to use of /θ/ vs. /s/. /θ/ (used to represent a th-sound) is not used in Latin American Spanish, but is used in the area of Spain where the subjects lived. This is an interesting twist in a study exploring the status of ‘native speaker’ – the speakers who took part in the study were truly native speakers of Spanish, in that they had been speaking Spanish from birth. Yet, their language practices were still ‘othered’ by speakers of the prestige variety of Spanish spoken in Northern Spain.