Tag: Multilingualism

Raciolinguistic ideology and Spanish-English bilingualism on the US labor market: An analysis of online job advertisements

Learn a language, they said. You’ll be more desirable on the job market, they said. Everyone needs to be multilingual to be competitive in this globalized world, they said. Get that dinero, they said.

In education and work environments language is often characterized as a skill that can be leveraged in this little system we call capitalism. Dr. Nic Subtirelu is skeptical of this. In his 2017 paper, “Raciolinguistic ideology and Spanish-English bilingualism on the US labor market: An analysis of online job advertisements,” he unpacks how the rhetoric of language skills as human capital doesn’t capture the IRL economic experience of language minorities.

Are Spanish-English bilinguals in the United States earning the promised cold hard cash? While there is evidence that Spanish-English bilinguals outearn Spanish monolinguals, it seems that Spanish-English bilinguals don’t get a pay bump over English monolinguals. Hand-wringing reports of how Americans don’t learn foreign languages and will be ill-equipped in the global economy seem to ignore the millions of bilingual Latinxs in the U.S. Raise your hand if you think racism has something to do with that.

Raciolinguistics

Subtirelu applies a raciolinguistic ideology lens to the issue. Raciolinguistics is exactly what it sounds like. It’s the study of the relationships between race and language- both how language is used to construct race and how race theory applies to linguistics. For example, people who hold antiblack and racist attitudes are likely to have a negative view of African American English (AAVE). For the record, AAVE is a legit dialect with its own sophisticated grammar and a unique phonology.


According to raciolinguistic concepts U.S. Latinxs are racialized and therefore their English and Spanish are deemed non-standard and ‘deficient’ compared to the English of white Americans or the Spanish of Spaniards.

Subtirelu argues that U.S. employers conceive of Spanish in two ways. First, It’s a world language, which has economic value because it could be leveraged in international trade to ganar dinero. (Mexico is one of the United States’ biggest trading partners.) Second, Spanish is also conceived of as a local language, which has economic value because it can be used to hablar con U.S. Spanish speakers in customer service scenarios.

When employers orient toward Spanish as a world language for fancypants corporate jobs, they disregard U.S. Latinx bilingualism, but when employers need Spanish as a local language they are likely to hire bilingual U.S. Latinx workers. But do those language skills come with a wage premium? Existing research points to no.

The Study

He pulled 74,000 job advertisements from an online job board to identify how many jobs prefer or require Spanish-English bilingualism. And what those jobs are. And the difference in pay between those jobs and similar jobs without bilingual requirements. And which job descriptions conceive of Spanish as a world or local language. And any difference in pay among those.

On average advertisements that did *not* mention Spanish had a higher salary listed than those that required or preferred Spanish-English bilingualism. Spanish was also more likely to be mentioned in ads that had low education and experience requirements. A matched sample contrasting jobs in the same states with comparable education and experience level showed that jobs that had *no* Spanish-English bilingual requirement paid an average of $3,500 more.

Digging into the jobs that require Spanish reveals even more not coolness. The handful of high paying jobs oriented to Spanish as a world language, with language about performing audits in South America, international accounting, international distribution, etc. The slightly larger number of middle paying jobs were primarily nonprofit and education jobs that oriented to Spanish as a local language. By far the largest group were low paying ($15,000-27,000) frontline customer service jobs that conceived of Spanish as a local language.

Additional uncoolness alert: the higher paying job ads were more likely to use language like speak fluent Spanish and the low wage jobs were much more likely to use the word bilingual. Subtirelu hypothesizes that the label bilingual was serving as a code for a more ‘nativelike’ authenticity than the label fluent and may carry some racial undertones. As an academic he has to hedge his impressions with qualifications and soft language, but we here at LinguaBishes are mere lowly linguistics groupies and I have no problem claiming with undue confidence that bilingual is probably code for Latinx in these ads and fluent was code for a suit who double-majored in accounting and Spanish.


Conclusion

While the job ads showed a demand for Spanish-English bilingualism, the most demand was in lower paying jobs that oriented toward Spanish as a local language and were probably recruiting Latinxs.

The electoral success of Donald Trump on a nativist platform, the botched federal government response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, and ICE ‘mistakenly’ detaining U.S. citizens that are Latinx are just a few signs that many whites don’t view Latinxs as sufficiently American. This research shows that this denigration extends to their bilingual skills, which are not financially valued in the job market despite capitalist rhetoric extolling the benefits of a multilingual workforce.

Though this has all been rather disheartening, it’s important for linguistic research to continue shedding light on whose languages and dialects have built-in privileges and who is given a pat on the head and a low wage job for their language skills.

This paper is recommended for bilingual bishes, sociolinguistics stans and anti-racists.


Subtirelu, N.C. (2017). Raciolinguistic ideology and Spanish-English bilingualism on the U.S. labor market: An analysis of online job advertisements. Language in Society, 46(4), 477-505. DOI:10.1017/S0047404517000379

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Language contact, agency and power in the linguistic landscape of two regional capitals in Ethiopia

Do you ever wish that your linguistics interests were more Instagram-friendly? Fear not, m’lady. There’s a subfield for you! Linguistic landscape is a burgeoning area of study that analyzes how language is used visually in public spaces (mostly signs) in multilingual societies. Very ‘grammable.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linguistic_landscape

Linguistic landscape speaks to the political, economic, and cultural power of the given languages in multilingual places. Which languages appear on which kind of signs? Which language is more prominent? Which one has an uglier font (cough…Comic Sans… cough)? Some linguistic landscapes are a byproduct of language policy, like in Quebec, where signs must have French text “markedly predominant” over text in other languages. Other times linguistic landscape develops more organically, like the examples we will be looking at in just a minute.

In their paper (2014) Hirut Woldemariam and Elizabeth Lanza explore the linguistic landscape of two regions in Ethiopia to reveal the effects of language policy and how the regionals languages have affected each other. This paper has everything: #linguisticlandscape, #languagecontact, #literacy, #languagepolicy, #languagerights.

Language Policy and Literacy in Ethiopia

Let’s get you up to speed on Ethiopia. Ethiopia is in the Horn of Africa and they have been doing their thing for a while. Lucy, our earliest human ancestor, was found there! When Europe was carving up Africa, Ethiopia successfully fought off the Italians making it the only uncolonized African country, the real Wakanda.

It is an ethnic federation with more than 100 million people using 80 different languages. The three we are going to talk about today are Amharic, Oromo, and Tigrinya.  

  1. Amharic is the federal language and the language of the Amhara people (27% of the population), one of the most powerful ethnic groups in Ethiopia. Amharic serves as the lingua franca for the country.
  2. Oromo is a Cushitic language spoken by the Oromo people (35% of the population). It is the official working language in the region of Oromia, and is spoken by some people across the border in Kenya.
  3. Tigrinya is the language of the Tigray region and people (6% of the population), and is also a major language of neighboring frenemy, Eritrea.

Here is a quick look at the trajectory of language policy in Ethiopia:

Long story short, the history of Amharic as the primary language of literacy, instruction, and government administration has unfairly positioned speakers of other languages in their own country even when, as in the Oromo people, they outnumber the Amhara ruling class. Reliable, up-to-date literacy statistics are not available, but Woldemariam and Lanza cite some numbers published in 2009 that indicate literacy rates in Oromo-speaking regions and Tigrinya-speaking regions were between 1% and 15%.

The Paper

Almost thirty years after the dramatic language policy shift to uphold language rights and increase literacy in regional and local languages, the role of Amharic in Oromia and Tigray provides an interesting test case on the lingering chokehold it has had on written texts.

The researchers melded together fieldwork from a few different projects, so they could zero in on Amharic language contact with Oromo and Tigrinya. Language contact is when languages interact and influence each other- vocabulary, intonation, grammar rubbing off, languages replacing or ‘killing’ each other, or new languages developing through creolization.

Woldemariam and Lanza use linguistic landscape data collected came from the capital cities Adama, Oromia and Mekele, Tigray to demonstrate language contact. In Adama the dataset was 100 photos of monolingual, bilingual, and trilingual signs. In Mekele they chose the main shopping district and took photos of 376 written texts on signs, building names, and advertisements. Because names of shops are often noun phrases this is fertile ground to investigate language contact as born out in the linguistic landscape.

Tigrinya and Oromo both differ from Amharic in the word order of noun phrases. Amharic is right-headed and Tigrinya and Oromo are both left-headed. Unfortch, that refers to sentence diagramming gobbledygook and not a two-headed dragon with a dominant head.

 

Here is an example to help a bish out:

In addition to a lot of Amharic language in the linguistic landscape in general, Woldemariam and Lanza found evidence of Amharic word order in Tigrinya and Oromo language shop signs including some interesting hybrids with embedded noun phrases. Check it:

In the above image (p.94) from Adama, Oromia we can see Oromo, Amharic and English. The Oromo literally translates to Shop Cultural Objects Maatii. (Maatii is a name.) ‘Cultural Objects’ is a right-headed noun phrase embedded in the left-headed noun phrase ‘Shop Maatii.’  ‘Cultural Objects’ is following the word order conventions of Amharic even though the lexical items are Oromo. This is just one example of Oromo and Amharic hybrid syntax observed in the linguistic landscape. The same phenomenon was identified with embedded noun phrases in Tigrinya on shop signs in Meleke, Tigray.

The heavy presence of Amharic language and Amharic word order in Oromo and Tigrinya in the linguistic landscape speaks to its history and as the language of literacy in Ethiopia.  This bish couldn’t help but wonder: what is the linguistic landscape around her and what does it say about language policy and power? Who is invited into the fold and who are the gatekeepers locking out?

This paper is recommended for linguistic landscape bishes, language policy nerds, language contact kweens, and Ethiopiaphiles.


Woldemariam, H., & Lanza, E. (2014). Language contact, agency and power in the linguistic landscape of two regional capitals in Ethiopia. International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 228, 79–103.

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Language ideology change over time: lessons for language policy in the U.S. state of Arizona and beyond

Those silly Brexiting kweens across the pond are making headlines (por ejemplo) about implementing an English language requirement deadline for UK residents.  While we wait for that sitch to shake out, it seems like a good time to dive into a bit of language policy research.

Shannon Fitzsimmons-Doolan’s (2018) paper examines the interplay between stakeholders’ language ideology and language policy in Arizona’s K-12 public schools. The related literature shows a chicken and egg situation in which language ideology drives language policy, but language policy affects language ideology. Arizona offers an interesting case study for unpacking this relationship.

Vamos a establecer la escena/Let’s set the scene

For those unfamiliar with the U.S. educational context, primary and secondary education policy is driven at the state rather than national level. In 2006 Arizona adopted the anti-bilingual/multilingual education policy Structured English Immersion, aka the 4 Hour Model, aka the No-Me-Gusta-People-That-Talk-Different model. English language learners (ELLs) are segregated into English language development classes for 4 hours a day until they reach proficiency on a state assessment. During this time these students are being withheld from content classes (math, science, etc.). These requirements can be particularly burdensome to older ELLs who are unable to get credits that would allow them to graduate from high school.

This policy was an outgrowth of the political climate in Arizona that had passed Proposition 203, a voter referendum that repealed bilingual education laws in 2000. While I would love to spend more time wagging my finger about English only policies, that’s not really why we are here.

El papel/The paper

Fitzsimmons-Doolan is interested in the change in language ideology of policy-influential people in Arizona from 2010 and 2016. She surveyed politically active Republicans and Democrats, teachers in districts with high ELL populations, and education administrators who manage language policy. From the 2010 survey data she identified 5 broad language ideologies: 1) pro-monolingualism, 2) pro-multilingualism, 3) English as a tool, 4) multiple languages as a problem, and 5) language as an intelligent standard. Check out the deetz in the table below (p.40). The 2016 survey measured shifts in orientation to the ideologies above by reaching out to the same group of respondents from 2010.

Los resultados/The results

Language ideology on the survey remained pretty stable over 6 years. There were statistically significant shifts away from pro-monolingualism and multiple languages as a problem, and higher positive orientation toward pro-multilingualism. However, those shifts were concentrated in the educator respondents, and not in the politically active Republicans and Democrats respondents, who exhibited little change.

you, a linguabish: why does it matter what some some random voters have to say about language policy, the teachers and administrators implement language policy

me, someone that googled a bit: recall that Arizona has ballot initiatives, including the aforementioned Prop 203, which voters passed to severely restrict bilingual education. democracy lol

It is unsurprising that the politically active Republicans and Democrats did not change their minds greatly over time. Fitzsimmons-Doolan notes that the average age of respondents in the 2016 survey was 62.3 years old, which makes sense when you consider how much more likely older generations are to consistently go out and vote. I think opinions about language are pretty baked-in for the layperson at that age. That said…maybe no news is good news?

Given the political climate of 2016 and Trump’s nativist rhetoric propelling him to the Republican nomination and presidency, perhaps we can be thankful the politically-active people of a fairly red state like Arizona didn’t swing *more* toward pro-monolinguism, multiple languages as a problem, and language as an intelligent standard.

Conclusión/Conclusion

While Arizona might not be ripe for reform just yet, this research shows some positive trends away from English only policies among those who work directly with language learners. Educational language policy in AZ might continue to be a hot mess for now, but don’t lose heart, linguabishes. I believe language ideology is correlated with immigration policy preferences, and the increased polarization is going both ways. As nativists and restrictionists get more vocal, they are spawning fiercer, more outspoken allies of immigrant communities. Maybe by proxy support for bilingualism and multilingualism will intensify. (Fingers crossed.)

Check this paper out if you’re a bish interested in language policy, a bilingual educator bish, or  any old, K-12 teacher bish that works with ELLs.


Fitzsimmons-Doolan, S. (2018). Language ideology change over time: lessons for language policy in the U.S. state of Arizona and beyond. TESOL Quarterly. 52 (1). 34-61.

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