Note: This draft is being provided for the explicit purpose of seeking comments from LSA members and others who wish to do so. LSA members may log in to the LSA website and use the comment feature at the very bottom of this page to provide input (enter your comments in the "comments" field and click the "Save" button), and anyone may submit anonymous feeback using this form.  Please provide comments no later than February 1, 2019. Thank you.

 

Preamble

The Linguistic Society of America recognizes the essential intellectual contributions of people with various racial identities to the study of language. Furthermore, given our distinct insights into communication and culture, linguists are well positioned to contribute to social justice and equality in ways that benefit our discipline, speakers, communities, and academia. Following statements and resources on race issued by the flagship organizations of our neighboring disciplines, including the American Anthropological Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Sociological Association, we issue this living statement to foster dialogue and encourage linguists to critically reflect on the changing nature of our academic, social, cultural, and linguistic understandings of race.

It is a fundamental insight of sociolinguistics that the ideologies that frame the language practices of racialized communities as inherently deficient play a key role in reproducing White racial supremacy. It is therefore important for all linguists to consider the racial implications of our work. A consideration of race and racialization is important for linguists who study the relationship of social factors to language as well as those for whom social factors are not the primary focus of linguistic research, as all linguistic research has the potential to reproduce or challenge racial notions.

We also recognize that there is a greater need for racial inclusion in linguistics. The critical knowledge and knowledge systems of scholars from backgrounds underrepresented in higher education are invaluable to the study of language. The work of White scholars has historically been privileged in linguistics, including in the LSA, while the work of scholars from other racial backgrounds has not been at the forefront of the field. This inequality both results from and leads to a lack of diversity among students and faculty in linguistics departments.

Accordingly, this statement has several, interrelated aims: to address inequality in linguistics, to inform research on language and race and its intersections, to help empower and welcome people from various racial backgrounds into linguistics, and to broaden the conversation on race so that future work can best promote diversity and inclusion. At the end of this statement, we provide a section with resources and strategies for linguists to work toward greater inclusion on individual, programmatic, and institutional levels.

 

Advances in the Study of Language and Race in Linguistic Scholarship

While definitions of race have changed over time, race is widely viewed by scholars in numerous disciplines as a social construct, rather than a biological fact. Racial identities, ideologies, and practices are expressed locally and vary widely, with models of race differing throughout history and across the world. At the same time, issues of race, color, gender, class, education, and disability, among other categories, are often interrelated in historical and contemporary ways that extend across national lines due to forces of colonialism and capitalism. Social constructs of race additionally intersect with other forms of social identification and grouping, in ways that also intersect with language.

Historically, definitions of language and race have been inextricably linked. Language has been central to how race has been theorized and expressed in linguistics, and the concept of race has been integral to how languages have been defined and studied. Taxonomic approaches to language classification that developed as part of processes of colonialism were reliant on racial categorizations, which have served to racialize human groups and have informed the construction of race in linguistics.

The study of linguistics has also contributed to cultural description, understanding, and empowerment of people from various racial groups. Language is a social resource through which culture and identity are expressed. The study of language has allowed individuals and communities to describe, pass on, and share their rich social and cultural legacies with a mind toward cultural preservation, transmission, agency, and sovereignty. Scholars from various racial backgrounds have contributed to linguistics in ways that shape our understanding of race and how language plays a role in racial identification and racialized processes.

 

Areas of Linguistic Research and Advocacy in Relation to Race

In the United States in particular, racial classification has been central to government and social policy. Linguistics has examined and addressed the linguistic consequences of racist policies and practices on an institutional level, including the systematic eradication of Native American languages, Deaf schools operating under the approach of Oralism, the xenophobic English Only Movement, and educational classifications that derive from damaging beliefs about the relationship between race and intelligence. Linguists have also worked assiduously to dismantle deficit notions that surround the languages and language varieties spoken by members of racial groups, including African-Americans, Latinx populations, Native Americans, and Asian-Americans, though more work remains to be done.

Linguistic research has also investigated the relationship between language and personally mediated racism, which concerns prejudicial attitudes about abilities, motives, and intentions of others according to race. Such racism can manifest as linguicism or linguistic prejudice—for instance, devaluing and marginalizing certain languages in public and institutional spheres, or suggesting that members of racial or ethnic groups who do not communicate in dominant ways are deviant or deficient. Personally mediated racism may therefore contribute to internalized racism, which is the acceptance by members of stigmatized races of negative ideologies and messages about their own abilities and intrinsic value. Linguistic research shows that internalized racism has generally manifested through the concept of linguistic insecurity; it also can relate to the refusal to speak or value one’s own stigmatized language or language variety due to assumptions of cultural or intellectual inferiority.

 

Future Directions: Needed Research on Race and Language in Linguistics

More research in linguistics is needed to explore how race intersects with other social categories and forms of social identification and grouping, particularly in ways that are not presented in a binary frame. Such work must also be triangulated with evidence deriving from rich, detailed social and cultural information, to ensure that speakers of languages and language varieties can express their own ideas about their own racial identities and that those ideas are represented in linguistic research. Such an approach is especially important with speakers who do not fit easily within the closed set of racial categories often used in sociolinguistic research.  This insight is particularly relevant when working with speakers who identify as more than one race, as academic awareness and inclusion of this population has lagged behind rapidly changing demographic patterns. Thus, not only is it the ethical responsibility of linguists to accurately reflect speakers’ identities in research, but monoracial classifications also may obscure important aspects of identity that prove important to how we interpret and describe ethnolinguistic variation.

It is also important for linguists to explicitly examine the connection between racism and capitalism as well as racism and colorism, both within and outside communities of color. We also note that, at present, scholarship and inclusion efforts in linguistics have focused primarily on personally mediated and internalized versions of racism but have not fully addressed institutional racism or the nature of our relationship to it, as scholars and as a discipline. Finally, we also call for future work to integrate qualitative and quantitative examinations of race in ways that aim for social justice. Rather than having a focus on linguistic features or merely counting speakers, we assert the necessity of moving toward models that more explicitly aim to empower, rather than simply describing or valuing, the voices of underrepresented speakers.

 

Resources and Strategies for Supporting Anti-Racist Efforts within Linguistics 

There is no linguistic justice without racial justice. We invite all linguists to join efforts, both to include those within our discipline and to extend our efforts outward, to promote equity and social justice in ways that benefit underrepresented scholars and communities of color. This section offers resources and strategies that can serve as a blueprint for moving forward as we strive toward greater inclusion on individual, programmatic, and institutional levels.

Creating a racially inclusive community:
We must be active participants in creating an intellectually inclusive community. For linguists seeking to mentor and support students of color, listening to and respecting their experiences is crucial, as is acknowledging and addressing rather than overlooking or denying our discipline’s role in the reproduction of racism. To ensure equity and inclusion in the theory, practice, and teaching of linguistics, we also must frame our efforts with a linguistic empowerment approach, so that the institutional racism that leads to linguistic injustice is disrupted.

Building community and engaging in constructive conversations:
We must reject the marginalization of the intellectual interests of those who are traditionally underrepresented in our discipline and the profession. We must continue to scrutinize and dismantle privilege within linguistics, particularly resisting within-discipline exclusionary practices and rhetoric that position some scholars, sub-disciplines, institutions, research areas and so forth as worthier than others and that thereby make racially restorative work more challenging. We must embrace an inclusive cross-disciplinary approach, one that avoids reifying exclusionary boundaries and instead draws underrepresented scholars and those who work with underrepresented communities into our discipline’s conversations and takes seriously what they have to say, even when it departs from the taken-for-granted assumptions of our field.

Carrying out research that furthers these lines of inquiry:
Some of the questions that can guide future, fruitful research on issues related to race and linguistics include:  

  • How are theories of race and previous work on race operationalized in linguistics and linguistic research?  What methods or forms of analysis should we use to best capture the contemporary realities of how race and language intersect?
  • What racial questions are currently being asked in linguistics and does devaluation of certain questions lie along racial lines?
  • How might linguistic research itself, in its questions, methods, assumptions, and norms of dissemination, reproduce or work against racism?
  • What existing racial theories is linguistics drawing from and which ones should we work to further include?
  • What can linguistics contribute to the understanding of race in other disciplines? What can linguists learn from other disciplines to contribute to our understanding of race?
  • How can people from underrepresented racial groups be empowered in linguistics?

 

Conclusion

We recognize that any effort such as this statement is never complete and that our notions of race, and discussions about it, are constantly expanding, changing, and even in dispute. As this is a living statement, we invite comments from LSA members, other linguists, and readers of all academic and personal backgrounds.  We also invite scholars to read the response papers in the Perspectives section of Language, which expand upon the discussion offered in this statement, provide additional academic discussion of relevant concepts and points, and present further critical exploration of race and linguistics.

We invite you to contact us directly, and we have also set up a website to receive comments at: https://charityhudleymallinson.com/LSARace. We look forward to continuing the conversation.

 

References:

Charity Hudley, Anne H., Christine Mallinson, Mary Bucholtz, Nelson Flores, Nicole Holliday, Elaine Chun, and Arthur Spears. (2018). “Linguistics and Race: An Interdisciplinary Approach Towards an LSA Statement on Race.” Proceedings of the Linguistic Society of America volume 3, p. 8:1-14. https://journals.linguisticsociety.org/proceedings/index.php/PLSA/article/view/4303 doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.3765/plsa.v3i1.4303.

 

Statement drafted by:

Anne H. Charity Hudley

Christine Mallinson

With contributions from Mary Bucholtz, Nelson Flores, Nicole Holliday, Elaine Chun, Arthur Spears, and Wesley Y. Leonard

 

Timeline:

3/10/2018: First draft submitted for review online at http://charityhudleymallinson.com/ and to LSA 2018 “Towards an LSA Symposium on Race” Panelists; feedback incorporated

5/5/2018: Second draft submitted for review to the LSA Executive Committee

8/6/2018: Revision submitted to LSA Executive Committee with LSA EC feedback incorporated

 

Comments

I'm proud to have the scholars who drafted this statement in our field. The statement demonstrates each of their commitments to make linguistics a more racially equitable field, which I am extremely grateful for. I only wish the statement emphasized more the necessity for having an organization like the LSA issue a statement like this. The statement starts with a discussion of how the LSA and linguistics, in general, has prioritized the work of white scholars while marginalizing the work of scholars of color, but it doesn't mention that white scholars can actively reproduce racism through their work if they are not careful, considerate, and engaged with the communities they work in until the end of the statement. I think this should be echoed early and throughout the statement. White scholars should be intimately aware of this, as we have the capacity to not only reproduce racism, but a track record of doing just that.

The statement includes presupposed ideological slants with terms like "xenophobic English Only movement" (it's more accurately the Official English issue), pervasive anti-capitalist comments, and disparagement of research that "merely" describes rather than "empowers". In its effort to be racially inclusive, it (I hope inadvertently) marginalizes Society members and other linguists who don't share these assumed values.

When I read a statement like this, I ask “1) what is its purpose, and 2) who is the intended audience?” The four stated aims in the Preamble are quite ambitious and more suited for an extended program, rather than a “Statement.” But “Let’s get the conversation going” is the implication. The basic sentiment behind this Statement, to encourage all races in the field of linguistics, is one I’d heartily endorse.

The intended audience seems to be the LSA itself and linguistics programs in the USA. (The general public and any larger academic audiences – e.g. AAA, APA, and ASA – are not likely to be influenced by this). So in the most concrete terms, we are hoping to influence our own discipline in the USA. For this, I’d have two suggestions.
First, have a group with varied political persuasions examine this and cut ideologically-oriented language that is not directly related to the central goal. There is an ideological stance/slant here, perhaps not visible to those who hold it, but will detract from some supporting it. The more specific – and, yes, concrete – the goals, the better the chance of achieving them.
Second, related to the above, have a good editor cut the total length down - significantly. It could easily be cut in half.

Finally, if there is some research that reveals actual bias in, e.g. selection of linguistics grad students or faculty, I’d definitely like to see that referred to. We do have to beware of the “correlation vs. causation” trap. The dearth of non-White linguists may be a result of bias, or not, or partially. (Compare, for example, with the dearth of political conservatives in most linguistics departments – is this self-selection, or bias? I don’t know.)