Linguistic discrimination (also called linguicism and languagism) is the unfair treatment of an individual based solely on his or her use of language. This use of language may include the individual's native language or other characteristics of the person's speech, such as an accent, the size of vocabulary (whether the person uses complex and varied words), modality, and syntax. It may also involve a person's ability or inability to use one language instead of another; for example, one who speaks Occitan in France will probably be treated differently from one who speaks French. Based on a difference in use of language, a person may automatically form judgments about another person's wealth, education, social status, character or other traits. These perceived judgments may then lead to the unjustifiable treatment of the individual.
In the mid-1980s, linguist Tove Skutnabb-Kangas, captured this idea of discrimination based on language as the concept of linguicism. Kangas defined linguicism as the "ideologies and structures which are used to legitimate, effectuate, and reproduce unequal division of power and resources (both material and non-material) between groups which are defined on the basis of language". Although different names have been given to this form of discrimination, they all hold the same definition. It is also important to note that linguistic discrimination is culturally and socially determined due to a preference for one use of language over another.
It can be noted that use of language such as certain accents may result in an individual experiencing prejudice. For example, some accents hold more prestige than others depending on the cultural context. However, with so many dialects, it can be difficult to determine which is the most preferable. The best answer linguists can give, such as the authors of "Do You Speak American?", is that it depends on the location and the individual. Research has determined however that some sounds in languages may be determined to sound less pleasant naturally. Also, certain accents tend to carry more prestige in some societies over other accents. For example, in the United States speaking General American (i.e., an absence of a regional or working class accent) is widely preferred in many contexts such as television journalism. Also, in the United Kingdom, the Received Pronunciation is associated with being of higher class and thus more likeable. In addition to prestige, research has shown that certain accents may also be associated with less intelligence, and having poorer social skills. An example can be seen in the difference between Southerners and Northerners in the United States, where people from the North are typically perceived as being less likable in character, and Southerners are perceived as being less intelligent.
It is natural for human beings to want to identify with others. One way we do this is by categorizing individuals into specific social groups. While some groups may be readily noticeable (such as those defined by ethnicity or gender), other groups are less salient. Linguist Carmen Fought explains how an individual's use of language may allow another person to categorize them into a specific social group that may otherwise be less apparent. For example, in the United States it is common to perceive Southerners as less intelligent. Belonging to a social group such as the South may be less salient than membership to other groups that are defined by ethnicity or gender. Language provides a bridge for prejudice to occur for these less salient social groups.
Linguistic discrimination is often defined in terms of prejudice of language. It is important to note that although there is a relationship between prejudice and discrimination, they are not always directly related. Prejudice can be defined as negative attitudes towards an individual based solely on their membership of a social group, while discrimination can be seen as the acts towards the individual. The difference between the two should be recognized because an individual may hold a prejudice against someone due to their use of language, but they may not act out on that prejudice. The following are examples of linguistic prejudice that may result in discrimination.
Linguistic prejudice and minority groupsEdit
While, theoretically, any individual may be the victim of linguicism regardless of social and ethnic status, oppressed and marginalized social minorities are often its most consistent targets, due to the fact that the speech varieties that come to be associated with such groups have a tendency to be stigmatized.
Quebec and Anglophone communityEdit
The Charter of the French Language, first established in 1977 and amended several times since, has been accused of being discriminatory by English speakers. The law makes French the official language of Quebec and mandates its use (with exceptions) in government offices and communiques, schools, and in commercial public relations. Though the proportion of English speakers had been in decline since the 1960s, the law accelerated this, and the 2006 census showed there had been a net drop of 180,000 native English speakers.
Conversely, the law has been seen as a way of preventing linguistic discrimination against French speakers, as part of the law's wider objective of preserving the French language against the increasing social and economic dominance of English. Speaking English at work continues to be strongly correlated with higher earnings, with French-only speakers earning significantly less. Despite this, the law is widely credited with successfully raising the status of French in a predominantly English-speaking economy, and has been influential in other countries facing similar circumstances.
In the European UnionEdit
Linguistic disenfranchisement rateEdit
The linguistic disenfranchisement rate in the EU can significantly vary across countries. For residents in two EU-countries that are either native speakers of English or proficient in English as a foreign language the disenfranchisement rate is equal to zero. In his study "Multilingual communication for whom? Language policy and fairness in the European Union" Michele Gazzola comes to the conclusion that the current multilingual policy of the EU is not in the absolute the most effective way to inform Europeans about the EU; in certain countries, additional languages may be useful to minimise linguistic exclusion.
In the 24 countries examined, an English-only language policy would exclude 51% to 90% of adult residents. A language regime based on English, French and German would disenfranchise 30% to 56% of residents, whereas a regime based on six languages would bring the shares of excluded population down to 9–22%. After Brexit, the rates of linguistic exclusion associated with a monolingual policy and with a trilingual and a hexalingual regime are likely to increase.
In the United StatesEdit
Perpetuation of discriminatory practices through terminologyEdit
Here and elsewhere the terms 'standard' and 'non-standard' make analysis of linguicism difficult. These terms are used widely by linguists and non-linguists when discussing varieties of American English that engender strong opinions, a false dichotomy that is rarely challenged or questioned. This has been interpreted by linguists Nicolas Coupland, Rosina Lippi-Green, and Robin Queen (among others) as a discipline-internal lack of consistency that undermines progress; if linguists themselves cannot move beyond the ideological underpinnings of 'right' and 'wrong' in language, there is little hope of advancing a more nuanced understanding in the general population.
Because some African-Americans speak a particular non-standard variety of English which is often seen as substandard, African-Americans are frequently the targets of linguicism. African American Vernacular English (AAVE) is often perceived by members of mainstream American society as indicative of low intelligence or limited education. Furthermore, as with many other non-standard dialects and especially creoles, AAVE sometimes has been called "lazy" or "bad" English.
The linguist John McWhorter has described this particular form of linguicism as particularly problematic in the United States, where non-standard linguistic structures are frequently judged by teachers and potential employers to be "incorrect," in contrast to a number of other countries such as Morocco, Finland and Italy where diglossia (a single person being able to switch between two or more dialects or languages) is an accepted norm, and use of non-standard grammar or vocabulary in conversation is seen as a mark of regional origin, not of intellectual capacity or achievement.
For example, an African-American who uses a typical AAVE sentence such as "He be comin' in every day and sayin' he ain't done nothing" may be judged as having a deficient command of grammar, whereas, in fact, such a sentence is constructed based on a complex grammar which is different from, and not a degenerate form of, standard English. A hearer may judge the user of such a sentence to be unintellectual or uneducated when none of these is necessarily the case. The user may be proficient in standard English, and may be intellectually capable, and educated but simply have chosen to say the sentence in AAVE for any one of a number of social and sociolinguistic reasons such as the intended audience of the sentence, a phenomenon known as code switching.
Hispanic Americans and linguicismEdit
Another form of linguicism is evidenced by the following: in some parts of the United States, a person who has a strong Mexican accent and uses only simple English words may be thought of as poor, poorly educated, and possibly an illegal immigrant by many of the people who meet them. However, if the same person has a diluted accent or no noticeable accent at all and can use a myriad of words in complex sentences, they are likely to be perceived as more successful, better educated, and a legitimate citizen.
American Sign Language usersEdit
For centuries, users of American Sign Language (ASL) have faced linguistic discrimination based on the perception of the legitimacy of signed languages compared to spoken languages. This attitude was explicitly expressed in the Milan Conference of 1880 which set precedence for public opinion of manual forms of communication, including ASL, creating lasting consequences for members of the Deaf community. The conference almost unanimously (save a handful of allies such as Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet), reaffirmed the use of oralism, instruction conducted exclusively in spoken language, as the preferred education method for Deaf individuals. These ideas were outlined in eight resolutions which ultimately resulted in the removal of Deaf individuals from their own educational institutions, leaving generations of Deaf persons to be educated single-handedly by hearing individuals.
Due to misconceptions about ASL, it was not recognized as its own, fully functioning language until recently. In the 1960s, linguist William Stokoe proved ASL to be its own language based on its unique structure and grammar, separate from that of English. Prior to this, ASL was thought to be merely a collection of gestures used to represent English. Because of its use of visual space, people mistakenly believed its users to be of a lesser mental capacity. The misconception that ASL users are incapable of complex thought was prevalent, although this has decreased as further studies about its recognition of a language have taken place. For example, ASL users faced overwhelming discrimination for the supposedly “lesser” language that they use and were met with condescension especially when using their language in public. Another way discrimination against ASL is evident is how, despite research conducted by linguists like Stokoe or Clayton Valli and Cecil Lucas of Gallaudet University, ASL is not always recognized as a language. Its recognition is crucial both for those learning ASL as an additional language, and for prelingually-deaf children who learn ASL as their first language. Linguist Sherman Wilcox concludes that given that it has a body of literature and international scope, to single ASL out as unsuitable for a foreign language curriculum is inaccurate. Russel S. Rosen also writes about government and academic resistance to acknowledging ASL as a foreign language at the high school or college level, which Rosen believes often resulted from a lack of understanding about the language. Rosen and Wilcox's conclusions both point to discrimination ASL users face regarding its status as a language, that although decreasing over time is still present.
In the medical community, there is immense bias against deafness and ASL. This stems from the belief that spoken languages are superior to sign languages. Because 90% of deaf babies are born to hearing parents, who are usually unaware of the existence of the Deaf Community, they often turn to the medical community for guidance. Medical and audiological professionals, who are typically biased against sign languages, encourage parents to get a cochlear implant for their deaf child in order for the child to use spoken language. Research shows, however, that deaf kids without cochlear implants acquire ASL with much greater ease than deaf kids with cochlear implants acquire spoken English. In addition, medical professionals discourage parents from teaching ASL to their deaf kid to avoid compromising their English although research shows that learning ASL does not interfere with a child's ability to learn English. In fact, the early acquisition of ASL proves to be useful to the child in learning English later on. When making a decision about cochlear implantation, parents are not properly educated about the benefits of ASL or the Deaf Community. This is seen by many members of the Deaf Community as cultural and linguistic genocide.
Linguicism, of course, applies to written, spoken, or signed languages. The quality of a book or article may be judged by the language in which it is written. In the scientific community, for example, those who evaluated a text in two language versions, English and the national Scandinavian language, rated the English-language version as being of higher scientific content.
The Internet operates a great deal using written language. Readers of a web page, Usenet group, forum post, or chat session may be more inclined to take the author seriously if the written language is spelled and constructed in accordance with the written norms of the standard language.
In contrast to the previous examples of linguistic prejudice, linguistic discrimination involves the actual treatment of individuals based on use of language. Examples may be clearly seen in the workplace, in the advertising industry, and in education systems. For example, some workplaces enforce an English-only policy. This policy is part of a larger political movement in the U.S. where English is being pushed towards being accepted as the official language of the U.S. In the United States, the federal law, Titles VI and VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects non-native speakers from being discriminated against in the workplace based on their national origin or use of dialect. There are state laws that also address the protection of non-native speakers, such as the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. However, industries often argue in retrospect that clear, understandable English is often needed in specific work settings in the U.S.
- Anglophone Cameroonians: the central Cameroonian government has pushed francophonization in the English-speaking regions of the country despite constitutional stipulations on bilingualism. Measures include appointing French-speaking teachers and judges (in regions with Common Law) despite local desires.
- The Coptic language. At the turn of the 8th century, Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan decreed that Arabic would replace Koine Greek and Coptic as the sole administrative language. Literary Coptic gradually declined within a few hundred years and suffered violent persecutions, especially under the Mamluks, leading to its virtual extinction by the 17th century.
- Language policy of the British Empire in Ireland, Wales and Scotland.
- Cromwell's conquest, the long English colonisation and Great Irish Famine made Irish a minority language by the end of the 19th century. It had no official status until the establishment of Republic of Ireland.
- In Wales, speaking of the Welsh language in schools was prohibited.
- Scottish Gaelic also had no official status until the end of 20th century; it was banned from the educational system because it was "one of the chief, principal causes of barbarity and incivility" in the words of one statue.
- Scots was in 1946 not considered "a suitable medium of education or culture".
- Basque: Public usage of Basque was restricted in Spain under Franco, 1939 to 1965. Galician and Catalan have similar histories.
- Kurdish: Kurdish remains banned in Syria as of 2005. Until August 2002, the Turkish government placed severe restrictions on the use of Kurdish, prohibiting the language in education and broadcast media.
- Vergonha is the term used for the effect of various policies of the French government on its citizens whose mother tongue was one of so-called patois. In 1539, with Article 111 of the Ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts, French (the language of Ile-de-France) became the only official language in the country despite being spoken by only a minority of the population. Use of regional languages, such as those of Southern France (Occitan, Catalan, Basque) and of Breton in education and administration, was prohibited. The French government still has not ratified the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.
- Magyarisation in the 19th-century Kingdom of Hungary.
- Norwegianization: Former policy carried out by the Norwegian government directed at the Sami and later the Kven people of the Sapmi region in Northern Norway.
- Germanisation: Prussian discrimination of Western Slavs in the 19th century, such as the removal of the Polish language from secondary (1874) and primary (1886) schools, the use of corporal punishment leading to such events as Września school strike of 1901.
- Russification: 19th century policies on the territories seized due to partitions of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, such as banning the Polish, Lithuanian and Belarusian languages in public places (1864), later (1880s), Polish was banned in schools and offices of Congress Poland. Ukrainian was also discriminated against. Under the Russian Empire there were some attempts in 1899–1917 to make Russian the only official language of Finland. In the Soviet Union, following the phase of Korenizatsiya ("indigenization") and before Perestroika (late 1930s to late 1980s), Russian was termed as "the language of friendship of nations" to the disadvantage of other languages of the Soviet Union.
- Suppression of Korean during Japanese rule in Korea, 1910 to 1945.
- Quebec's language policies are controversial because some believe them to represent linguistic discrimination against English speakers while others believe them to necessary to prevent discrimination against French speakers (see Legal dispute over Quebec's language policy).
- Anti-Chinese legislation in Indonesia
- Anti-Hungarian Slovak language law
- Dutch in Belgium after its independence in 1830. French was for a long time the only official language and the sole language of education, administration, law and justice despite Dutch being the language of the majority of the population. This has led to a massive language shift in Brussels, the capital. Discrimination slowly diminished over the decades and formally ended in the 1960s, when the Dutch version of the constitution became equal to the French version.
- The policy of Ukrainization in post-1991 Ukraine is considered discriminatory towards the Russian-speaking population of Ukraine's Eastern and Southern regions.
- The brutality and linguicism against Tamils in Sri Lanka that took the lives of thousands of Tamil lives because of the language they spoke. This was rooted from "The Sinhala Only Act", formerly the Official Language Act No. 33 of 1956, that was passed in the Parliament of Ceylon in 1956. Black July was the peak of the violence against Tamils in 1983.
- South Africa: Carolyn McKinley is highly critical of the language policy in the South African educational system, which she describes as 'anglonormatif', because the increasing anglicisation becomes 'normative' in the education system. The universities of Pretoria, Free State and Unisa want to anglicise completely. Stellenbosch University has accepted a language policy that considers Afrikaans speakers and their language to be inferior. Constitutional law expert and Stellenbosch University alumni Pierre de Vos says : any university language policy that directly or indirectly excludes non-Afrikaans speakers (because some courses are only taught in Afrikaans) would not comply with section 29(2) of the Constitution. On the other hand, section 29(2) of the Constitution does not guarantee equality as it states that "everyone has the right to receive education in the official language or languages of their choice in public educational institutions such as schools or universities, but qualifies this by stating that this can only occur "where that education is reasonably practicable".
- China: In the 2000s the Chinese government began promoting the use of Mandarin Chinese in areas where Cantonese is spoken. In 2010 this gave rise to the Guangzhou Television Cantonese controversy. This has also been a point of contention with Hong Kong, which is located in the general area where Cantonese is spoken. Cantonese has become a means of asserting Hong Kong's political identity as separate from mainland China.
Carolyn McKinley is critical of a dominant language because it does not only discriminate against speakers of other languages, it also disadvantages monolinguists because they remain monolingual. Instead of using the indigenous languages along with the colonial languages, as McKinley also advocates, most African states still use the colonial language as the primary medium of instruction. Furthermore, in authoritative reports by Unesco, it was found that the use of the former colonial languages in Africa benefited only the elite and disadvantaged the bulk of the populations. Although English has global meaning as a language of discourse, it is not a neutral, unbiased instrument as it leads too much to a culture-dependent perspective in thinking and talking by the use of culturally bound value concepts, often being invisible value judgments and frames of reference inherent to and shaped by “Anglo culture”, according to Anna Wierzbicka.
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- Associate professor in the education department of the University of Cape Town and author of 'Language and Power in Post-Colonial Schooling: Ideologies in Practice'
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- Anna Wierzbicka, Professor of Linguistics, Australian National University and author of 'Imprisoned by English, The Hazards of English as a Default Language, written in Natural Semantic Metalanguage (NSM), the universally convertible currency of communication, that can serve as a common auxiliary inter-language for speakers of different languages and a global means for clarifying, elucidating, storing, and comparing ideas” (194) (book review)