essay on language discrimination

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The pervasive problem of 'linguistic racism'

(Credit: Getty Images)

Last summer, Triangle Investigations, a New York-based HR consultancy, examined allegations of accent discrimination at a global non-profit organisation. An Ethiopian-accented staff member had reported that his colleagues frequently interrupted him during Zoom calls, commented on the unintelligibility of his English and excluded him from meetings. He became self-conscious during the meetings that he was able to attend, and ended up using the chat feature instead of speaking up, says Kia Roberts, Triangle’s founder and principal.

When Roberts and her team looked into the matter, they found that the allegations had substance, and that employees of colour had been treated differently; they were being spoken to disrespectfully, as if they weren’t competent to hold their positions, and their opinions and suggestions weren’t being taken seriously. The investigation ultimately led the non-profit to introduce employee training and periodic HR check-ins to try and remedy the issue.

Of course, this case of linguistic discrimination wasn’t an isolated episode. Globally, more people are using English than ever, and it’s a dominant language in business , science and government . English is constantly evolving, because of the diverse ways different nations and groups use it. Yet instead of embracing this linguistic diversity, we still rank particular types of English higher than others – which means that both native and non-native speakers who differ from what’s considered ‘standard’ can find themselves judged, marginalised and even penalised for the way their English sounds.

Not every type of linguistic discrimination is intentional; many people who think they’re being inclusive don’t understand that their inherent biases are pushing them to make judgements they don’t even know they’re making. Yet no matter what’s driving these kinds of incidents, workers feel lasting, often demoralising, effects. And, as these kinds of situations continue – especially when companies don’t recognise or stop them – things can get worse for workers, as they’re side-lined or flat-out excluded in the workplace. 

As the globe becomes even more connected in a remote-work world, the ability for workers to be able to speak to each other effectively and respectfully is imperative. So, how do we end linguistic discrimination – and create a more inclusive, functional use of language to benefit native and non-native speakers alike?

Speakers from some multilingual countries are thought to use less 'legitimate' forms of English than others (Credit: Getty Images)

Speakers from some multilingual countries are thought to use less 'legitimate' forms of English than others (Credit: Getty Images)

Covert or overt

Globally, non-native speakers of English outnumber native speakers three to one , although defining the term ‘native English speaker’ is complicated. The term usually refers to anyone who speaks English from early childhood, as their first language. But many children grow up learning multiple languages simultaneously – for instance, if their parents are from different places, or if a nation has several official languages.  

A particular status is attached to English that sounds as if it comes from countries that are wealthy, majority white and mostly monolingual . According to this limited view, multilingual countries like Nigeria and Singapore have less ‘legitimate’ and desirable forms of English (even though English is an official language in both). Globally, the most respected types of English are varieties such as British, American and Australian, says Sender Dovchin, a sociolinguist at Curtin University in Perth, Australia. 

Within any country, certain forms of English bring fewer benefits. To give just one example from the US, African-American English remains misunderstood and discriminated against . And on an international level, certain types of speakers face judgements based on perceptions of their nationality or race , rather than their actual communication skills. “When English is spoken by some Europeans, including for example French-, German-, Italian-accented English, they can be considered really cute, sophisticated, stylish and so forth,” explains Dovchin. But, she adds, English spoken by Asians, Africans or Middle Easterners may be viewed as challenging and unpleasant. 

English spoken by Asians, Africans or Middle Easterners may be viewed as challenging and unpleasant

This linguistic stereotyping applies even when those Asians, Africans or Middle Easterners are in fact native speakers of English. Just seeing an Asian face makes some Americans consider that speaker’s English to be hard to understand, regardless of how they actually speak or where they were born. I was born in the US, hold a UK passport and have an English degree, but like many other people of Asian descent, I’ve had the surreal experience of people complimenting my English fluency.

These perceptions feed into linguistic racism , or racism based on accent, dialect and speech patterns. The overt form of linguistic racism can involve deliberate belittling or shaming, such as “ethnic-accent bullying” that occurs despite someone’s actual English proficiency. Or it can be more covert, like the unwitting social exclusion of people with foreign-accented English, or a seemingly well-intended compliment toward an Asian American’s English.

These examples show that it may not be obvious to the perpetrators what they’re doing, because there are a number of subtle psychological mechanisms at play. Cognitively, it takes more work to understand a less familiar accent. The extra brainpower involved, as well as warmer feelings toward members of one’s own group , can lead to negative attitudes toward a person speaking a different type of English. Overall, it’s common to assume that non-native speakers are less truthful , less intelligent and less competent; psychology studies suggest that people attach less credibility to statements spoken in a foreign accent.

These subtle mechanisms feed into behaviours that can impact negatively on people speaking different forms of English. I’ve been guilty of this in practice. I’ve found myself gravitating to colleagues I can easily banter with (so that I don’t have to explain or replace Americanisms like ‘inside baseball’ or British terms like ‘take the piss’). I’ve edited away Indian English expressions in reports, like ‘upgradation’, without wondering why I treat ‘upgrading’ as the better term. And in bouts of impatience during work conversations, I’ve spoken over or finished the sentences of colleagues who are more hesitant.

Not every type of linguistic racism is intentional, but judgements are pervasive due to our inherent biases (Credit: Getty Images)

Not every type of linguistic racism is intentional, but judgements are pervasive due to our inherent biases (Credit: Getty Images)

This type of bias can take a significant psychological toll. Dovchin’s research shows that many people who are shamed or excluded because of their language develop inferiority complexes, and start to believe that they’re actually less intelligent. Lots of multilingual people report being fairly confident in their English-language skills in their home countries, then losing their confidence due to the way they’re treated in English-first countries.

At worst, linguistic racism can lead to deprivation in education, employment, health and housing . In the workplace, people with certain accents can be openly harassed (like a Puerto Rican call centre worker who was told by a customer, “your stupid accent makes me sick” ), or excluded from specific opportunities (like a Pakistani transport worker in London whose manager kept him out of conference calls ). 

The discrimination might also mean that certain people don’t even get through the door . For instance, Paul Graham, the founder of Y Combinator, which directs seed funding to start-ups, has openly admitted that the programme is biased against applicants with strong foreign accents. In an interview with business publication Inc. , he speculated that “it could be that anyone with half a brain would realise you’re going to be more successful if you speak idiomatic English, so they must just be clueless if they haven’t gotten rid of their strong accent”. An outcry followed these comments, but Graham was unrepentant, writing “you can’t make it be work to understand you” . This is a classic expression of native-speaker privilege: the minority of global English speakers demanding that the majority change.

How to chip away at linguistic racism

Linguistic racism needs to be tackled head on, both at a corporate and individual level. “If we wait for it to happen organically, it will never happen,” believes Dovchin.

First, organisations need to be strategic about having ongoing conversations about linguistic diversity as a type of diversity, educating staff about how language-related biases affect communications and opportunities and incorporating this into policies.  

But, on an individual level, speakers of English as a first language can make their English more accessible. They can slow down , and avoid inside jokes and idioms, for instance. They can talk less in meetings to give more space to non-native speakers, while also allowing non-native speakers to chair meetings and set the tone for communications. They can also pay attention to body language and improve their listening skills – for instance, by seeking out popular culture featuring varied groups of people, and thus varied ways of communicating. With greater exposure , the brain becomes better at understanding differently accented speech. Overall, everyone can become more aware of language-related biases .

Research shows that many people who are shamed or excluded because of their language develop inferiority complexes

Suresh Canagarajah, a linguist at Pennsylvania State University, US, says that given how transnational work has become, we all need to get better at communicating with people speaking all kinds of English. “You can’t afford to say ‘I don’t understand Chinglish or I don’t understand Indian English’, because you're going to lose out on that market.” This certainly applies to hiring decisions; highly qualified candidates may be overlooked if they trigger a hiring manager’s biases about less prestigious types of English. There, says Canagarajah, “You’re focusing on the wrong thing, and maybe losing on a lot of expertise.”

Yet even if companies and individuals do what they can to level the playing field, another option is to change our ideas about what constitutes ‘good’ English. In many workplace settings, it would make more sense to focus on effective communication rather than flowery prose or slangy chat. In functional settings, someone who is adept at understanding varied types of English is actually a better communicator than a person who can only understand their own form, whether it’s considered native or not.

I’ve been reflecting a lot on the extent to which my career depends on my privilege as a so-called native English speaker. To teach English in Romania, I wasn’t required to have any teaching qualifications; simply being American was enough. To be hired to write and edit publications, my primary asset has been my familiarity with the kind of English that carries global cachet.

The very least that I, and others like me, can do with this privilege is to become aware of its effects and reduce the ways that we contribute to it. Individual acts of thoughtfulness can’t dismantle the structures of power that keep North American and Western European English dominant. But they can help cultivate an appreciation of English in all its diversity.       

essay on language discrimination

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Chapter 7: English and the global perspective

7.2.4 English and linguistic discrimination (research essay)

Anonymous English 102 Writer

November 2020

After the Norman conquest of France in 1066, French rose to the seat of the world’s  lingua franca , or a language used to communicate across all other countries (Marques para. 2). French was the language of power – anybody who was anyone boasted of speaking it (Marques para. 3). All the nobility spoke it, great philosophers wrote books in it, diplomacy was conducted in it – the reach of the French language and the French influence stretched across the globe (Marques para. 4). But from what we can observe today, it does not seem to be that way anymore. Instead, there is a new language that has replaced the once dominate French – and that language is English. But how did this happen? It was not an overnight thing, where suddenly everyone woke up speaking English and living under its influence. So how, exactly, did English come to reside in this position at the top of the language hierarchy? And after it did happen, how did it come to a point where any other languages were considered inferior?

As mentioned before, English did not used to hold the seat of power against all other languages. For much of history, it was French that controlled the globe. But entering 18th   century, it started to look like French would not reign supreme for much longer (Marques para. 6). The Industrial Revolution in England pushed the country, through technological and scientific advancements, to the fore front of the scene (Marques para. 7). In addition, the British Empire began to stretch its sphere of influence across the globe, bringing English culture, and the English language, along with it (Marques para. 8). By the 19th century, the British impact spanned to all reaches of the Earth, and the barely formed, economically skyrocketing United States contributed its influence as well (Marques para. 9). According to the article “How and Why Did English Supplant French As the World’s Lingua Franca?” by Nuno Marques, “French may have been spoken in the courts of Europe all the way to Russia…. but English was the language of money, and money talks louder than philosophy.” And this certainly held true when the United States stole the spotlight from bankrupt England after WWII. In its competition against Russia during the Cold War, all eyes were on the U.S as it put forth unprecedented technologies and continued on its steady rise in power. And things only escalated from there. Today, roughly 1.5 billion people speak English – that is about 20% of the entire population on Earth (Stevens para. 2). Of those 1.5 billion, 75% of them are nonnative speakers, indicating the globality and rise the in influence of English (Stevens para. 2). It is the language of almost everything of importance – business, diplomacy, medicine, and so much more. And with English being the forefront of everything, it can be assumed that native speakers of English are given the upper hand. Any individuals speaking other languages as their primary are forced to learn English in order to spread their ideas or hold any sort of power in the gobal fields.

And there is certainly much evidence to attest to this. In the academic article “Language Bias in Randomized Controlled Trials Published in English and German,” the authors, Matthias Egger and Tanja Zellweger-Zähner, relayed their study on academic articles published English medical journals versus journals of other languages. They found that it was more likely for authors to publish statistically significant findings in English medical journals that it was for them to publish their articles in journals of their first language. According to the article “The Hidden Bias of Science’s Universal Language,” “in some non-English speaking countries… English-language academic papers outnumber publications in the country’s own language several times over (para. 1)”. This reveals that researchers are ultimately forced to publish their findings in English in order to reach a wider audience and global recognition. It also suggests the possibility of significant scientific findings being overlooked because they were not published in English and thus reached a more limited audience. In another academic article, “The Inferior Science and the Dominant Use of English in Knowledge Production: A Case Study of Korean Science and Technology,” author Kumju Hwang interviewed Korean scientists and engineers living in the U.K on perceptions of English usage. She noted that many of the Korean interviewees felt that they had a significant disadvantage because they had to devote more time and effort to learning English that could have been used elsewhere in their scientific activities (p. 407). In one interview, a scientist said “In order to learn English, we lose 20 percent of the time that could normally be spent concentrating on science. We cannot fully concentrate con science. This means that our scientific results will be reduced by 20 percent (p. 407)”. The interviewee also expressed difficulty in communication at conferences and national meetings, which she felt could lead to a disadvantage for everyone (p. 407). And yet still, if researchers want their findings to be recognized, they have to learn English and publish in an English journal. As one interviewee said, “It is…much easier to be accepted into Korean journals, due to the fact that papers of poorer quality are submitted [there]. If I discovered something important, I would not submit it to a Korean journal (p. 412).” Yet another interviewee said that there are prejudices against non-native speakers of English in the sciences that affected their ability to be successful in publishing their papers and gaining recognition for their work (p. 413).

But it’s not only countries’ academic journals that have been affected by English’s rise to power, but also their languages and cultures themselves. This first came to my attention in my German class, when my teacher was talking about something in German about the internet and she used the word  googlen  – to google. I thought that honestly quite amusing and it led me to think about what other words from the English language have been incorporated into the vernacular of other languages. In fact, the answer to that is – a lot. The article “The Influence of English” by R.L.G, details many examples of this, such as  downloaden (download) (para. 5), and also ways in which English sentence structure has rubbed off on other languages. For example, in German you would traditionally say  Es hat mir Sinn  (It has sense to me), but recently people have begun to say  Es macht Sinn  (It makes sense) (para. 3). I find this particularly interesting seeing how the tables have turned. Before the German language borrowed words from English, they were borrowing words from French. One that when I hear for the first time had me a little bewildered is the word  Chance ( same meaning in English too). The pronunciation of the word,  shaunz,  sounded so much more fluid that the normally harsher tone of the language that I was used to. But English isn’t innocent in this endeavor either. In fact, the language had a large habit of stealing words from other languages that has contributed to many of the common words we use today. These so called “loanwords” (I’d call them stolenwords) make up so much of our speech that we don’t even realize how much of our language we have absorbed from other languages. For example, the word ketchup comes from the Hokkien Chinese word  ketsiap  – which is a sauce made from fermented fish (Coleman para. 15) . Another one is cookie, which comes from  koekjes , or “little cakes”, in Dutch (Coleman para.17). But not only language has changed because of English, culture has as well. What I have noticed with specifically the influence of the United States is the seemingly “Americanization”, so to speak, of other countries. The article “America’s Cultural Role in the World Today” goes into detail about this, attributing the first huge rise of American cultural influence on other countries to the United States’s consumer economy after the Second World War (Damm para. 2).  One of the factors that the article attributes the influence of American culture to is the media. The technological advances, such as tv broadcasting, put American media at the head of the scene, and gave them a wider audience (Damm para. 6). Other factors include the arts – film, music, literature, art – all of which put international eyes on the United States. For example, the popularity of Hollywood and American films have sold the ‘American dream’ to people around the world (Daam para. 8). Unfortunately, the power the English language has acquired hasn’t only resulted in loanwords and domination of the film industry. It has also brought about biased beliefs that English is superior and prejudice against non-native speakers of English and speakers of other languages.

The occurrence of prejudice against non-native speakers of English and speakers of other languages is nothing new. Linguistic discrimination, or when someone is treated unfairly based on the language that they speak (or do not speak) and the way in which they speak (ex. accent, span of vocabulary) (Loehrke 2), has occurred all throughout history. This goes hand in hand with linguistic imperialism, which Rober Phillipson defines in his book  Linguistic Imperialism  as “the notion that certain languages dominate internationally on others. It is the way nation states privileged one language, and often sought to eradicate others, forcing their speakers to shift to the dominant language (p. 780).” Phillipson also discusses the idea of a “linguistical hierarchy” where languages are ranked as superior or inferior to one another, with the dominating language being at the top of the hierarchy (p. 2). He describes a similar pattern that has occurred in instances of linguistical hierarchy throughout history, which includes stigmatization, glorification, and rationalization (p. 2). Beginning with stigmatization, any other languages, accents, or vernaculars other than the current dominate language are deemed inferior (p.2). For instance, ancient Greeks called non-speakers of Greek  barbarians,  or outsiders (p. 2). Through glorification, speakers of the dominate language raise their language up on a pedestal above other languages, and with rationalization, establish a justification for why their language remains at the top of the hierarchy (p. 2).  A good example of this is the belief of German as the dominate language in Nazi ideology. The Nazis glorified the German language as a language of Aryan race, a people “physically and genetically superior to others” (Smith p. 151). Stigmatization, discrimination, and biased thoughts like this are present throughout the history books, but that doesn’t mean that modern people have not been affected by it.

Linguistic discrimination is still a very real occurrence and is very harmful for everyone involved. But how and why does it occur? TEDx writer Olena Levitina, in her article “Is Language Discrimination Still a Thing?”, writes that prejudice against non-native speakers stems from a lack of understanding (para. 6). When native-speakers talk with non-native speakers and cannot understand what they are saying because of their accent, they might associate their misunderstanding with the non-native speaker not being intelligent (para 6). This thought process is extremely harmful and can lead to future beliefs that anyone with that accent is not as intelligent as someone without. For example, in the academic article title “Why Don’t We Believe Non-native Speakers?”, authors Shiri Lev-Ari and Keysar Boaz recounted experiments in which they found that people were more likely to report statements spoked by native speakers as believable than those spoken by non-native speakers (p. 1093). They noted that when listeners hear accented speech, their “processing ability”, or how well they are able to take in information and understand it, decreases, but instead of just deeming what the speaker says as harder to understand, they perceive what they are saying to be less trustworthy (p. 1095). Always being thought of as less believable than native speakers is extremely detrimental, and even in some case they can become prepared for it. This phenomenon, described by Agata Gluszek and John Dovidio in their academic article “Speaking with a Non-native Accent: Perceptions of Bias, Communication Difficulties, and Belonging in the United States”, is called “anticipated stigmatization” in which the non-native speaker already expects the native speaker to have biases against them before they even open their mouth. The authors found that accented speakers of English in the United States who previously experienced conversational problems and difficulties in communication were more likely to feel anticipated stigmatization (p. 227). They suggested that if native speakers expect non-native speakers to have a harder to communicating than they actually do, they might be more likely to avoid instances with accented speakers or similar situations where they might have communication difficulty (p. 227). Thus, Gluszek and Dovidio also reported from their experiments that non-natively accent speakers expressed more feelings of not belonging in the United States, which they attributed to anticipated stigmatization and difficulty communicating (p. 288).

Linguistic discrimination directed in any situation is harmful, but it has been especially destructive in the education system. In going back to Phillipson’s book, he says about teaching English as a second language: “the spread of English shows clearly that the ‘development’ of this language has been structurally related to and contingent upon the underdevelopment of others (p. 348).” In addition, in her article “Education Equality: Mitigating Linguistic Discrimination in Second Language Teaching”, Laura Matson says that the “ideology of English language teaching is rooted in a power structure of linguistic imperialism brought about by a history colonialism in which English speaking countries have kept non-English speaking countries in a position of subordination (p. 14)”. For example, Matson details an explanation on how anxiety affects language learners’ performance and how the ideologies of teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) have contributed to this. Generally, learners at lower proficiency levels are more reserved when learning and less willing to participate because they are afraid of making mistakes and sounding “non-native” (p. 16). This is something that I can relate to as well with my journey learning languages. Especially when I was just starting out, I was afraid to answer question or speak out loud because I didn’t want to seem “stupid”. Whenever I read something out loud, I would internally cringe because even  I  could hear how bad my pronunciation was. Matson believes that the reason for anxiety in learning ESL is a direct result of the way in which the language is taught. By stressing that the “native speaker” accent is the correct, and essentially the ‘perfect’, way of speaking, pressure is put on the learner emulate this speech, and when they have difficulty with this, their willingness to participate at the risk of making mistakes decreases (p. 16). This ultimately enforces the idea of standard language ideology, which is defined by Rosina Lippi-Green in her book  Language in the USA  as “a bias towards an abstracted, idealized, non-varying spoken language (p. 289)”. This can be an extremely damaging belief, as, in referring to English, it promotes one way to speak it as the ‘right’ way, when in fact this ideology is a fallacy (p. 289). For example, Lippi-Green says that accents can be hard to change when they do not do anything to make communication difficult (p. 289) this makes it hard for there to be one language and only one way to speak it that is ‘correct’. In the article “The Silencing of ESL Speakers”, Barbara Seidlhofer, professor at the University of Vienna, says “it is easy to dismiss [various accented forms of English] as the use of incorrect English by people who have not learned it very well, but it is an entirely natural linguistic development, an example of how any language varies and changes as it is appropriated by different communities of users (para. 11).”

Another situation in which linguistic discrimination has been detrimental is in the workplace. In the academic article “Political Skill: Explaining the Effects of Nonnative Accent on Managerial Hiring and Entreprenurial Investment Decisions”, Laura Huang et. al investigate whether there is persistent bias associated with non-native speakers having weak political skills, and thus being less likely to advance in their careers (p. 1). The bias being tested in this article, called glass-ceiling bias, occurs when an individual is barred from attaining a higher position because of implicit bias against them (p. 1). Thus the ‘glass-ceiling’ refers to the idea that the individual is so close to reaching the position that they can see it through the glass, but bias has created a ceiling between them, preventing the individual from being able to climb higher up the corporate ladder (p. 1). In the experiments, Huang et. al found that native speakers of English received higher recommendations for promotions and more entrepreneurial funding than did non-natively accent individuals, therefore signaling that non-native speakers were considered to have lower political skill (p. 10). This is particularly alarming, because it shows that although non-natively accented individuals may have the same qualifications and experience (maybe even better) as native speakers, native English speakers are more frequently chosen for promotions and advancements in their careers.

But it is also important to note that not only non-native speakers of a language are discriminated against, but even native speakers as well. The most prominent example of this is discrimination against people who speak African American English, or AAE. African American English, which also has been referred to as Ebonics, African American Vernacular English, or Black English, is a dialect spoken by many African Americans in the United States (Mufwene para. 1). The linguistic features of AAE have often been criticized and denounced as grammatically incorrect compared to ‘standard’ English. For example, the usage of “double negatives” such as in “You  ain’t  getting  no  thanks from it.”(Poplack para. 3) would garner much denunciation according to standard English grammatical rules. But the fact of the matter is, that AAE is a part of the cultural identity of many African Americans just as any other accent is a part of anyone else’s. Unfortunately, due to lack of understanding and racist based biases, speakers of AAE have been, and continue to be, discriminated against. In the book  Why Are So Many Minority Students in Special Education? Understanding Race and Disability in Schools , authors Beth Harry and Janet Klinger offer a powerful example. As we discussed before, discrimination against non-native speakers of English in the education system is extremely detrimental, and the same is true for speakers of AAE in schools. Harry and Klinger found that speakers of AAE were found more often to be diagnosed with a language disorder and thus be placed in special education. The reasoned that it was often the assessors’ lack of knowledge regarding AAE and its linguistical traits that led to this diagnosis (p. 30). Assessors unfamiliar with the way that AAE functions might hear a student say something such as “he walk to school” instead of the standard English “he walks to school” and conclude that they have a language disorder, when in fact they were just speaking their native dialect. This disproportionately affects African American students, and students with other accents and dialects, giving them a disadvantage in their education. Discrimination also occurs with regional accents, most notably the Southern accent. Long held stereotypes of Southern ‘hillbillies’ and ‘rednecks’ have twisted many people’s minds, leading them to have biased views of Southerners being less educated or competent that other Americans. In the article titled “Perceptions of Competency as a Function of Accent”, Cheryl Boucher et. al found in their experiments that participants were more likely to view individuals with Southern accents as less competent that those with ‘neutral accents’ (p. 27). Participants rated the neutral speakers as being more grammatically correct and professional than speakers with Southern accents. This is similar to the common bias that African American English is grammatically incorrect compared to standard English. And it is harmful because it put speakers of AAE, those with Southern accents, and any other speakers of other stigmatized accents or dialects at an unfair disadvantage and puts untrue labels on them.

So how, then, can we stop linguistic discrimination, whether in the education system, workplace, or anywhere else? Going back to the academic article by Laura Matson, the author suggests promoting anti-racist education (p. 18). Matson argues that anti-racist education encourages a deeper look into the imbalances created between linguistically dominant and linguistically marginalized groups (p. 19). She writes that “‘merely celebrating differences (Kubota 36)’ … creates an illusion of equality that still maintains ‘existing power relations that the people on the margins are expected to assimilate to (Kubota 37)’ (p. 18)”. Matson proposes teaching English in a way that leads learners to look critically at the standard language, which allows them to question its role as a dominate language (p. 20). In the workplace and in the hiring process, writer Bridget Miller suggests in her article “Avoiding Discrimination in the Workplace” for employers to avoid “English-only” policies and train anyone related to the hiring process in unbiased interviewing (para. 3). She also wrote that it was important to note that 100% English fluency does not necessarily correlate to high job performance (para. 3). Dr. Pragya Agarwal, in her article “Accent Bias: How Can We Minimize Discrimination in the Workplace?”, says that making a conscious effort to look past bias and prejudice can create a more inclusive and amicable environment (para. 6). Through these ways, we can become more aware of our own, possibly unconscious, biases towards other non-natively accent speakers and work on ending them.

Works Cited

Lev-Ari, Shiri, and Boaz Keysar. “Why Don’t We Believe Non-Native Speakers? The Influence of Accent on Credibility.”  Journal of Experimental Social Psychology , vol. 46, no. 6, 2010, pp. 1093–1096., doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2010.05.025.

Gluszek, Agata, and John F. Dovidio. “Speaking With a Nonnative Accent: Perceptions of Bias, Communication Difficulties, and Belonging in the United States.”  Journal of Language and Social Psychology , vol. 29, no. 2, 2010, pp. 224–234., doi:10.1177/0261927×09359590.

Egger, Matthias, et al. “Language Bias in Randomized Controlled Trials Published in English and German.”  The Lancet , vol. 350, no. 9074, 1997, pp. 326–329., doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(97)02419-7.

Hwang, Kumju. “The Inferior Science and the Dominant Use of English in Knowledge Production.”  Science Communication , vol. 26, no. 4, 2005, pp. 390–427., doi:10.1177/1075547005275428.

Agyekum, Kofi. “Linguistic imperialism and language decolonisation in Africa through documentation and preservation.” In Jason Kandybowicz, Travis Major, Harold Torrence & Philip T. Duncan (eds.), African linguistics on the prairie: Selected papers from the 45th Annual Conference on African Linguistics, 87–104. Berlin: Language Science Press.

Phillipson, Robert. 2009. Linguistic imperialism. In Jacob L. Mey (ed.), Concise encyclopedia of            pragmatics, 2nd edn., 780–782. Amsterdam: Elsevier Ltd.

Smith, Woodruff D.  The Ideological Origins of Nazi Imperialism . Oxford University Press, 1986.

Matson, Laura. “Educational Equality: Mitigating Linguistic Discrimination in Second Language Teaching.”  Leviathan: Interdisciplinary Journal in English , 2019.

Huang, Laura, et al. “Political Skill: Explaining the Effects of Nonnative Accent on Managerial Hiring and Entrepreneurial Investment Decisions.”  Journal of Applied Psychology , vol. 98, no. 6, 2013, pp. 1005–1017., doi:10.1037/a0034125.

Harry, and Klinger. “Why Are so Many Minority Students in Special Education?: Understanding Race and Disability in Schools.”  Choice Reviews Online , vol. 52, no. 05, 2014, doi:10.5860/choice.185613.

Boucher, Cheryl J., et al. “Perceptions of Competency as a Function of Accent.”  Psi Chi Journal of Psychological Research , vol. 18, no. 1, 2013, pp. 27–32., doi:10.24839/2164-8204.jn18.1.27.

Mufwene, Salikoko S. “African American English.”  Encyclopædia Britannica , Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.,

“America’s Cultural Role in the World Today.”  Access International , 2008,

Huttner-Koros, Adam. “Why Science’s Universal Language Is a Problem for Research.”  The Atlantic , Atlantic Media Company, 14 Sept. 2015, .

“Did You Know Many English Words Come from Other Languages? Here Are 45!”  FluentU English ,

Levitina, Olena. “Is Language Discrimination Still a Thing?  • TEDxVienna.”  TEDxVienna , 21 Feb. 2020,

Miller, Bridget. “Avoiding Language Discrimination in the Workplace.”  HR Daily Advisor , 7 Jan. 2018,

Agarwal, Dr. Pragya. “Accent Bias: How Can We Minimize Discrimination In The Workplace?”  Forbes , Forbes Magazine, 30 Dec. 2018, .

R.L.G. “Deep Impact.”  The Economist , The Economist Newspaper,

Stevens, Paul. “Viewpoint: The Silencing of ESL Speakers.”  SHRM , SHRM, 28 Feb. 2020,

Marques, Nuno. “How And Why Did English Supplant French As The World’s Lingua Franca?”  Babbel Magazine , 2017,

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Understanding Literacy in Our Lives by Anonymous English 102 Writer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Language Discrimination in Modern Society Research Paper

English is the simplest form of communication available between people from different parts of the world. It remains an indisputable fact that most people continue to speak with an accent even after many years of learning the language. This fact generates a vast wave of discrimination, especially from native speakers. The truth is that even they begin to twist their language to achieve a certain uniqueness and dissimilarity, especially in the creative sphere. The accent, which is so difficult to get rid of when speaking another language, is that our ear gets used to filtering out frequencies from childhood that are not needed to understand native speakers. It is essential to realize that speaking with an accent is normal, that this is not a reason to discriminate against a person. Still, on the contrary, it is an excellent opportunity to help them improve their language.

The policy of multiculturalism, which is the parallel coexistence of different cultures, is adjacent to the social movement “The English only movement.” The latter actively advocates establishing uniform norms of the American literary language for whites and African Americans (Park Hong). Various political and socio-economic measures designed to rid the country of racist prejudices have not yet been crowned with success. In modern sociolinguistics, a special place is given to language as a social practice that establishes power relations between representatives of various racial and class groups.

The feeling of their alienness, “otherness” in a largely still segregated American society generates tensions between immigrants and the indigenous population. The color of the skin, the size of the eyes or nose remain an unbreakable barrier separating the world of immigrants from the rest of Americans. Although in recent decades, there has been a significant improvement in the material and social situation (Park Hong). The Asian experience is not the only one that shows that language discrimination is still intense, although its boundaries are significantly blurred (Kim 4). Immigrants from Russia, Latin America, and the Middle East constantly face discrimination. It is mainly due to the complexity of their native language, which is not so easy to master perfectly (Ingham). The English language will be perceived very poorly in such conditions, even with many years of study experience.

Linguistic appropriation as one of the forms of cultural appropriation is perceived in the USA as a continuation of the privilege of the white population. White America does not correctly refer to primary sources, ignores the historical context, and perpetuates stereotypes about immigrants. The language of immigrants becomes the object of constant criticism from the public and the basis for linguistic discrimination (Kim 7). This language is associated not with a marker of ethnicity and a means of self-identification of its speakers but with their level of education and intellectual abilities.

Nevertheless, it is worth recognizing that discrimination is beginning to improve, largely thanks to creativity. Many musical artists most often become famous in the United States as migrants (Ingham). They succeed by intentionally simplifying or complicating the language, not just profanity. This experience shows blurred boundaries, and there is a smoothing of corners about a conversation with an accent. It is not important where you are from, South Asia or the Middle East, Africa, or Russia; this will not become an obstacle to dialogue.

The asymmetric relationship between Americans and immigrants is directly reflected in linguistic phenomena. With any level of English proficiency, you can be understood and heard, not only in the USA but also around the world. It is necessary to let go of the fear of talking and writing on social networks in a language that is not native to you. It is a critical awareness that leads to language freedom in the USA.

Works Cited

Ingham, Tim. English-Language Music is Losing Its Stranglehold on Global Pop Chart and YouTube is Driving the Change. Music Business Worldwide , 2020, Web.

Kim, Eunbi. “Perceived discrimination as legacy: Korean immigrants’ job attitudes and career prospects at Korean multinational enterprises in the USA.” Asian Ethnicity, vol. 1 no. 9, 2020, pp. 1-19.

Park Hong, Cathy. “Bad” English Is Part of My Korean American Heritage. BuzzFeed News, 2020, Web.

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Language & Social Justice in the United States: An Introduction

Walt Wolfram , a Fellow of the American Academy since 2019, is one of the pioneers of sociolinguistics. He is the William C. Friday Distinguished University Professor at North Carolina State University, where he also directs the Language and Life Project. He has published more than twenty books and three hundred articles on language variation, and has served as executive producer of fifteen television documentaries, winning several Emmys. His recent publications include Fine in the World: Lumbee Language in Time and Place (with Clare Dannenberg, Stanley Knick, and Linda Oxendine, 2021) and African American Language: Language Development from Infancy to Adulthood (with Mary Kohn, Charlie Farrington, Jennifer Renn, and Janneke Van Hofwegen, 2021).

Anne H. Charity Hudley is Associate Dean of Educational Affairs and the Bonnie Katz Tenenbaum Professor of Education and African and African-American Studies and Linguistics, by courtesy, at the Graduate School of Education at Stanford University. She is the author of four books: The Indispensable Guide to Undergraduate Research (with Cheryl L. Dickter and Hannah A. Franz, 2017), We Do Language: English Language Variation in the Secondary English Classroom (with Christine Mallinson, 2013), Understanding English Language Variation in U.S. Schools (with Christine Mallinson, James A. Banks, Walt Wolfram, and William Labov, 2010), and Talking College: Making Space for Black Linguistic Practices in Higher Education (with Christine Mallinson and Mary Bucholtz, 2022). She is a Fellow of the Linguistic Society of America and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Guadalupe Valdés , a Fellow of the American Academy since 2020, is the Bonnie Katz Tenenbaum Professor of Education, Emerita, in the Graduate School of Education at Stanford University. She is also the Founder and Executive Director of the English coaching organization English Together. Her books Con Respeto: Bridging the Distances Between Culturally Diverse Families and Schools: An Ethnographic Portrait (1996) and Learning and Not Learning English: Latino Students in American Schools (2001) have been used in teacher preparation programs for many years. She has recently published in such journals as Journal of Language, Identity, and Education; Bilingual Research Journal; and Language and Education.

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Walt Wolfram , Anne H. Charity Hudley , Guadalupe Valdés; Language & Social Justice in the United States: An Introduction. Daedalus 2023; 152 (3): 5–17. doi:

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In recent decades, the United States has witnessed a noteworthy escalation of academic responses to long-standing social and racial inequities in its society. In this process, research, advocacy, and programs supporting diversity and inclusion initiatives have grown. A set of themes and their relevant discourses have now developed in most programs related to diversity and inclusion; for example, current models are typically designed to include a range of groups, particularly reaching people by their race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, gender, and other demographic categories. Unfortunately, one of the themes typically overlooked, dismissed, or even refuted as necessary is language. Furthermore, the role of language subordination in antiracist activities tends to be treated as a secondary factor under the rubric of culture. Many linguists, however, see language inequality as a central or even leading component related to all of the traditional themes included in diversity and inclusion strategies. 1 In fact, writer and researcher Rosina Lippi-Green observes that “Discrimination based on language variation is so commonly accepted, so widely perceived as appropriate, that it must be seen as the last back door to discrimination. And the door stands wide open.” 2

Even academics, one of the groups that should be exposed to issues of comprehensive inclusion, have seemingly decided that language is a low-priority issue. As noted in a 2015 article in The Economist :

The collision of academic prejudice and accent is particularly ironic. Academics tend to the centre-left nearly everywhere, and talk endlessly about class and multiculturalism…. And yet accent and dialect are still barely on many people's minds as deserving respect. 3

As such, as the editors of this collection, we have commissioned thirteen essays that address specific issues of language inequality and discrimination, both in their own right and directly related to traditional themes of diversity and inclusion.

Recent issues of Dædalus have addressed immigration, climate change, access to justice, inequality, and teaching in higher education, all of which relate to language in some way. 4 The theme of the Summer 2022 issue is “The Humanities in American Life: Transforming the Relationship with the Public.” As an extension of that work, the essays in this volume focus on a humanistic social science approach to transforming our relationship with language both in the academy and at large.

There is a growing inventory of research projects and written collections that consider issues of language and social justice, including dimensions such as raciolinguistics, linguistic profiling, multilingual education, gendered linguistics, and court cases that are linguistically informed. Those materials cover a comprehensive range of language issues related to social justice. The collection of essays in this Dædalus volume is unique in its breadth of coverage and extends from issues including linguistic profiling, raciolinguistics, and institutional linguicism to multilingualism, language teaching, migration, and climate change. The authors are experts in their respective areas of scholarship, who combine strong research records with extensive engagement in their topics of inquiry.

The initial goal of this Dædalus issue is to demonstrate the vast array of social and political disparity manifested in language inequality, ranging from ecological conditions such as climate change, social conditions of interand intralanguage variation, and institutional policies that promulgate the notion and the stated practice of official languages and homogenized, monolithic norms of standardized language based on socially dominant speakers. These norms are socialized overtly and covertly into all sectors of society and often are adopted as consensus norms, even by those who are marginalized or stigmatized by these distinctions. As linguist Norman Fairclough notes in Language and Power , the exercise of power is most efficiently achieved through ideology-manufacturing consent instead of coercion. 5 Practices that appear universal or common sense often originate in the dominant class, and these practices work to sustain an unequal power dynamic. Furthermore, there is power behind discourse because the social order of discourses is held together as a hidden effect of power, such as standardization and national/official languages, and power in discourse as strategies of discourse reflect asymmetrical power relations between interlocutors in sets of routines, such as address forms, interruptions, and a host of other conversational routines. In this context, the first step in addressing these linguistic inequalities is to raise awareness of their existence, since many operate as implicit bias rather than overt, explicit bias recognized by the public.

Unfortunately, and somewhat ironically, higher education has been slow in this process; in fact, several essays in this collection show that higher education has been an active agent in the reproduction of linguistic inequality at the same time that it advocates for equality in many other realms of social structure. 6 Two essays in particular explore underlying notions of standardization and the use of language in social presentation and argumentation. The essays also address language rights as a fundamental human right. In “Language Standardization & Linguistic Subordination,” Anne Curzan, Robin M. Queen, Kristin VanEyk, and Rachel Elizabeth Weissler discuss how ideologies about standardized language circulate in higher education, to the detriment of many students, and they include a range of suggestions and examples for how to center linguistic justice and equity within higher education.

Curzan and coauthors give us an important overview of language standardization:

We have suggested some solutions to many of the issues we've highlighted in this essay; however, implementing solutions in a meaningful way first requires recognition of how important language variation is for our everyday interactions with others. Second, implementing solutions depends on recognizing how our ideas about language (standardized or not) can pose a true barrier to meaningful change. Such recognition includes the understanding that much of what we think about language often stands as a proxy for what we think about people, who we are willing to listen to and hear, and who we want to be with or distance ourselves from. 7

In “Addressing Linguistic Inequality in Higher Education: A Proactive Model,” Walt Wolfram describes a proactive “campus-infusion” program that includes activities and resources for student affairs, academic affairs, human resources, faculty affairs, and offices of institutional equity and diversity. Wolfram's essay shows directly and specifically how academics aren't always the solution but, as a whole, are complicit in linguistic exclusion. He writes:

A casual survey of university diversity statements and programs indicates that a) there is an implicitly recognized set of diversity themes within higher education and b) it traditionally excludes language issues. 8 Topics related to race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual preference, and age are commonly included in these programs, but language is noticeably absent, either by explicit exclusion or by implicit disregard. Ironically, issues of language intersect with all of the themes in the canonical catalog of diversity issues. 9

The absence of systemic language considerations from most diversity and inclusion programs and their limited role in antiracist initiatives is a major concern for these programs, since language is a critical component for discrimination among the central themes in the extant canon of diversity. Language is an active agent in discrimination and cannot be overlooked or minimized in the process.

Some of the essays in this volume of Dædalus address the sociopolitical dominance of a restricted set of languages and its impact on the lives of speakers of devalued languages. The authors of these essays consider the effects of climate, social, educational, legal, and political dissonance confronted by speakers of nondominant languages. They also show how the metaphors of “disappearance” and “loss” obscure the colonial processes responsible for the suppression of Indigenous languages. People who speak an estimated 90 percent of the world's languages have now been linguistically and culturally harmed due to the increasing dominance of a selected number of “world languages” and changes in the physical and topographical ecology. The authors describe the implications of this extensive language subjugation and endangerment and the consequences for the speakers of these languages. Both physical and social ecology are implicated in this threat to multitudes of languages in the world.

Linguistics in general, and sociolinguistics in particular, has a significant history of engagement in issues of social inequality. From the educational controversies over the language adequacy of marginalized, racialized groups of speakers in the 1960s, as in linguist William Labov's A Study of Non-Standard English , to ideological challenges to multilingualism and the social and cultural impact of the devaluing of the world's languages, as described in the essays by Wesley Y. Leonard, Guadalupe Valdés, and Julia C. Fine, Jessica Love-Nichols, and Bernard C. Perley, the role of language is a prominent consideration in the actualization and dispensation of social justice. 10

In addition, this collection addresses areas of research that are complementary to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ 2017 report by the Commission on Language Learning, America's Languages: Investing in Language Education for the 21st Century . 11 In spite of the long-term presence of the teaching of languages other than English in the American educational system, concern over “world language capacity” has surfaced periodically over a period of many years because of the perceived limitations in developing functional additional language proficiencies. The consensus view (as in Congressman Paul Simon's 1980 report The Tongue-Tied American ) has been that foreign/world language study in U.S. schools is generally unsuccessful, that Americans are poor language learners, and that focused attention must be given to the national defense implications of these language limitations. 12 In the 2017 Language Commission report, foreign/world language study is presented as 1) critical to success in business, research, and international relations in the twenty-first century and 2) a contributing factor to “improved learning outcomes in other subjects, enhanced cognitive ability, and the development of empathy and effective interpretive skills.” 13

The Academy's report presents information about languages spoken at home by U.S. residents (76.7 percent English, 12.6 percent Spanish). It also includes a graphic illustrating the prevalence of thirteen other languages (including Chinese, Hindi, Filipino and Tagalog, and Vietnamese) commonly spoken by 0.13 percent to 0.2 percent of the population, as well as a category identified as all other languages (a small category comprising 2.2 percent of residents of the United States). 14 The report focuses on languages - rather than speakers-and recommends: 1) new activities that will increase the number of language teachers, 2) expanded efforts that can supplement language instruction across the education system, and 3) more opportunities for students to experience and immerse themselves in “languages as they are used in everyday interactions and across all segments of society.” It also specifically mentions needed support for heritage languages so these languages can “persist from one generation to the next,” and for targeted programming for Native American languages. 15

While it effectively interrupted the monolingual, English-only ideologies that permeate ideas on language in the United States, the conceptualization of language undergirding the report needs to be greatly expanded. The report focuses on developing expertise in additional language acquisition as the product of deliberative study. For example, in the case of heritage languages (defined as those non-English languages spoken by residents of the United States), the report highlights efforts such as the Seal of Biliteracy. Through this effort (now endorsed by many states around the country), high school students who complete a sequence of established language classes and pass a state-approved language assessment can obtain an official Seal of Biliteracy endorsement. Unfortunately, the series of courses and the assessments required to obtain the Seal are only available in a limited number of languages. The report mentions other efforts, including dual language immersion programs, yet it does not recognize family- and community-gained bilingualism and biliteracy. Notably, the report specifically laments what are viewed as limited literacy abilities of heritage language speakers and recommends making available curricula specially designed for heritage language learners and Native American languages.

The view of language that the report is based on is a narrow one and does not represent the linguistic realities of the majority of bilingual and multilingual students. In her contribution to this volume, “Social Justice Challenges of ‘Teaching’ Languages,” Guadalupe Valdés “specifically problematize[s] language instruction as it takes place in classroom settings and the impact of what I term the curricularization of language as it is experienced by Latinx students who ‘study’ language qua language in instructed situations.” 16 Valdés shows us how these specific issues play out in what is typically viewed as the neutral “teaching” of languages. She writes that challenges to

linguistic justice [result] from widely held negative perspectives on bi/multilingualism and from common and continuing misunderstandings of individuals who use resources from two communicative systems in their everyday lives. My goal is to highlight the effect of these misunderstandings on the direct teaching of English. 17

In “Refusing ‘Endangered Languages’ Narratives,” Wesley Y. Leonard draws from his experiences as a member of a Native American community whose language was wrongly labeled “extinct”:

Within this narrative, I begin with an overview of how language endangerment is described to general audiences in the United States and critique the way it is framed and shared. From there, I shift to an alternative that draws from Indigenous ways of knowing to promote social justice through language reclamation. 18

Leonard encourages us to directly refute “dominant endangered languages narratives” and replace the focus on the actors of harm in Indigenous communities with a focus on the creativity and resolve of native scholars working to revitalize native language and culture. As he states, the “ultimate goal of this essay is to promote a praxis of social justice by showing how language shift occurs largely as a result of injustices, and by offering possible interventions.” 19

In “Climate & Language: An Entangled Crisis,” Julia C. Fine, Jessica Love-Nichols, and Bernard C. Perley

note that these academic discourses-as well as similar discourses in nonprofit and policy-making spheres-rightly acknowledge the importance of Indigenous thought to environmental and climate action. Sadly, they often fall short of acknowledging both the colonial drivers of Indigenous language “loss” and Indigenous ownership of Indigenous language and environmental knowledge. We propose alternative framings that emphasize colonial responsibility and Indigenous sovereignty. 20

Fine, Love-Nichols, and Perley present models of how language and climate are intertwined. They write, “Scholars and activists have documented the intersections of climate change and language endangerment, with special focus paid to their compounding consequences.” The authors “consider the relationship between language and environmental ideologies, synthesizing previous research on how metaphors and communicative norms in Indigenous and colonial languages influence environmental beliefs and actions.” 21

The essays in this volume profile a wide range of language issues related to social justice, from everyday hegemonic comments to legislative policies and courtroom testimony that depend on language reliability and the linguistic credibility of witnesses who do not communicate in a mainstream American English variety. In 1972, the president of the Linguistic Society of America, Dwight Bolinger, gave his presidential address titled “Truth is a Linguistic Question” as a forewarning of the linguistic accountability of public reporting of national events. In his other work, he describes language as “a loaded weapon.” Through these essays, we find both concepts to be true. 22

Over recent decades, the field of linguistics has developed a robust specialization in areas that pay primary attention to the application of a full range of legal and nonlegal verbal, digital, and document communication that is at the heart of equitable communication strategies. Language variation is also a highly politicized behavior, extending from the construct of a “standardized language” considered essential for writing and speaking to the use of language in negotiating the administration of social and political justice. The essays on linguistic variation and sociopolitical ideology, by Curzan and coauthors, Jonathan Rosa and Nelson Flores, and H. Samy Alim, examine both the ideological underpinnings of consensual constructs such as “standard” versus “nonmainstream” and their use in the political process of persuasion and sociopolitical implementation. 23 The authors in this section address key issues of language variation and language discrimination that demonstrate the vitality of language in issues of social justice, both independent of and related to other attributes of social justice. This model includes standardization in media platforms, as described in Rosa and Flores's essay, demonstrating the systemic othering of those who do not speak this variety as their default dialect.

In “Rethinking Language Barriers & Social Justice from a Raciolinguistic Perspective,” Rosa and Flores show how “the trope of language barriers and the toppling thereof is widely resonant as a reference point for societal progress.”

We argue that by interrogating the colonial and imperial underpinnings of widespread ideas about linguistic diversity, we can connect linguistic advocacy to broader political struggles. We suggest that language and social justice efforts must link affirmations of linguistic diversity to demands for the creation of societal structures that sustain collective well-being. 24

Rosa and Flores present and update their raciolinguistics model in current spaces where race meets technology. With this emerging technology as a reference point, they demonstrate why “it is crucial to reconsider the logics that inform contemporary digital accent-modification platforms and the broader ways that purportedly benevolent efforts to help marked subjects modify their language practices become institutionalized as assimilationist projects masquerading as assistance.” They also note that disability has always been part of the story-and needs to be brought back to light-sharing that Mabel Hubbard and Ma Bell, who were both influential on modern linguistic technology, were deaf women. 25

In “Black Womanhood: Raciolinguistic Intersections of Gender, Sexuality & Social Status in the Aftermaths of Colonization,” Aris Moreno Clemons and Jessica A. Grieser “call for an exploration of social life that considers the raciolinguistic intersections of gender, sexuality, and social class as part and parcel of overarching social formations.” They center the Black woman as the prototypical Other, her condition being interpreted neither by conventions of race nor gender. As such, we take “Black womanhood as the point of departure for a description of the necessary intersecting and variable analyses of social life.” Clemons and Greiser “interrogate the intersections of gender, sexuality, and social status, focusing on the experiences of Black women who fit into and lie at the margins of these categories.”

They highlight the work of semiotician Krystal A. Smalls, who “reveals a model for how interdisciplinary reading across fields such as Black feminist studies, Black anthropology, Black geographies, and Black linguistics can result in expansive and inclusive worldmaking.” 26

In “Asian American Racialization & Model Minority Logics in Linguistics,” Joyhanna Yoo, Cheryl Lee, Andrew Cheng, and Anusha Ànand “consider historical and contemporary racializing tactics with respect to Asians and Asian Americans.” Such racializing tactics, which they call model minority logics,

weaponize an abstract version of one group to further racialize all minoritized groups and regiment ethnoracial hierarchies. We identify three functions of model minority logics that perpetuate white supremacy in the academy, using linguistics as a case study and underscoring the ways in which the discipline is already mired in racializing logics that differentiate scholars of color based on reified hierarchies. 27

The authors consider the often-overlooked linguistic experiences of Asian Americans in linguistics and show how “ideological positioning of Asian Americans as “honorary whites” is based on selective and heavily skewed images of Asian American economic and educational achievements that circulate across institutional and dominant media channels.” 28

In “Inventing ‘the White Voice’: Racial Capitalism, Raciolinguistics & Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies,” H. Samy Alim explores

how paradigms like raciolinguistics and culturally sustaining pedagogies, among others, can offer substantive breaks from mainstream thought and provide us with new, just, and equitable ways of living together in the world. I begin with a deep engagement with Boots Riley and his critically acclaimed, anticapitalist, absurdist comedy Sorry to Bother You in hopes of demonstrating how artists, activists, creatives, and scholars might: 1) cotheorize the complex relationships between language and racial capitalism and 2) think through the political, economic, and pedagogical implications of this new theorizing for Communities of Color. 29

Alim digs deep into models of aspirational whiteness in Sorry to Bother You and shows how it goes past the mark. In the script, Boots states, “It's not really a white voice. It's what they wish they sounded like. So, it's like, what they think they're supposed to sound like.” All of the authors in this section examine varied kinds of intervention strategies and programs in institutional education and social action that can raise awareness of and help to ameliorate linguistic subordination and sociolinguistic inequality in American society.

From our perspective, it is not sufficient to raise awareness and describe linguistic inequality without attempting to confront and ameliorate that inequality. Thus, our third and final set of papers by John Baugh, Sharese King and John R. Rickford, and Norma Mendoza-Denton offer legal and policy alternatives that implement activities and programs that directly confront issues of institutional inequality. As linguist Jan Blommaert puts it, “we need an activist attitude, one in which the battle for power-through-knowledge is engaged, in which knowledge is activated as a key instrument for the liberation of people, and as a central tool underpinning any effort to arrive at a more just and equitable society.” 30 Our authors illustrate the communicative processes involved when we use our human capacity for language to work toward justice.

In “Linguistic Profiling across International Geopolitical Landscapes,” Baugh “explore[s] various forms of linguistic profiling throughout the world, culminating with observations intended to promote linguistic human rights and the aspirational goal of equality among people who do not share common sociolinguistic backgrounds.” 31 Baugh extends his previous work on linguistic profiling into the international geopolitical landscape and notes, in countries that have them, the role that language academies play in reinforcing narrow norms, showing how those practices relate to practices in countries where these processes are more organic and situated in the educational systems.

In “Language on Trial,” King and Rickford draw on their case study of the testimony of Rachel Jeantel, a close friend of Trayvon Martin, in the 2013 trial of George Zimmerman v. The State of Florida . 32 They show that despite being an ear-witness (by cell phone) to all but the final minutes of Zimmerman's interaction with Trayvon, and despite testifying for nearly six hours about it, her testimony was dismissed in jury deliberations. “Through a linguistic analysis of Jeantel's speech, comments from a juror, and a broader contextualization of stigmatized speech forms and linguistic styles,” they show that “lack of acknowledgment of dialectal variation has harmful social and legal consequences for speakers of stigmatized dialects.” 33 Their work complements legal scholar D. James Greiner's essay on empiricism in law, from a previous volume of Dædalus , to show how empirical linguistic analysis should be included in such models. 34 As King and Rickford state:

Alongside the vitriol from the general public, evidence from jury members suggested that not only was Jeantel's speech misunderstood, but it was ultimately disregarded in more than sixteen hours of deliberation. With no access to the court transcript, unless when requesting a specific playback, jurors did not have the materials to reread speech that might have been unfamiliar to most if they were not exposed to or did not speak the dialect. 35

In “Currents of Innuendo Converge on an American Path to Political Hate,” Norma Mendoza-Denton shows that politicians’ “innuendo such as enthymemes, sarcasm, and dog whistles” gave us “an early warning about the type of relationship that has now obtained between Christianity and politics, and specifically the rise of Christian Nationalism as facilitated by President Donald Trump.” She demonstrates that “two currents of indirectness in American politics, one religious and the other racial, have converged like tributaries leading to a larger body of water.” 36

Anne H. Charity Hudley concludes the collection with “Liberatory Linguistics,” offering the model as “a productive, unifying framework for the scholarship that will advance strategies for attaining linguistic justice […] [e]merging from the synthesis of various lived experiences, academic traditions, and methodological approaches.” She highlights promising strategies from her work with Black undergraduates, graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, and faculty members as they endeavor to embed a justice framework throughout the study of language broadly conceived that can “improve current approaches to engaging with structural realities that impede linguistic justice.” 37 Charity Hudley ends by noting how this set of essays is in conversation with the 2022 Annual Review of Applied Linguistics on social justice in applied linguistics, and the forthcoming Oxford volumes Decolonizing Linguistics and Inclusion in Linguistics , which “set frameworks for the professional growth of those who study language and create direct roadmaps for scholars to establish innovative agendas for integrating their teaching and research and outreach in ways that will transform linguistic theory and practice for years to come.” 38

As our summaries suggest, this collection of essays is diverse and comprehensive, representing a range of situations and conditions calling for justice in language. We hope these essays, along with other publications on this topic, broaden the conversations across higher education on language and justice. We are extremely grateful to the authors who have shared their knowledge, research, advocacy, and perspectives in such lucid, accessible presentations.

See, for example, the statement by the Linguistic Society of America, “LSA Statement on Race,” May 2019, .

Rosina Lippi-Green, English with an Accent: Language, Ideology, and Discrimination in the United States (New York: Routledge, 2012).

R. L. G., “The Last Acceptable Prejudice,” The Economist , January 29, 2015, .

Cecilia Menjívar, “The Racialization of ‘Illegality,’“ Dædalus 150 (2) (Spring 2021): 91-105, ; Jessica F. Green, “Less Talk, More Walk: Why Climate Change Demands Activism in the Academy,” Dædalus 149 (4) (Fall 2020): 151-162, ; D. James Greiner, “The New Legal Empiricism & Its Application to Access-to-Justice Inquiries,” Dædalus 148 (1) (Winter 2019): 64-74, ; Irene Bloemraad, Will Kymlicka, Michèle Lamont, and Leanne S. Son Hing, “Membership without Social Citizenship? Deservingness & Redistribution as Grounds for Equality,” Dædalus 148 (3) (Summer 2019): 73-104, ; and Sandy Baum and Michael McPherson, “The Human Factor: The Promise & Limits of Online Education,” Dædalus 148 (4) (Fall 2019): 235-254, .

Norman Fairclough, Language and Power , 2nd ed. (New York: Routledge, 2001).

Stephany Brett Dunstan, Walt Wolfram, Andrey J. Jaeger, and Rebecca E. Crandall, “Educating the Educated: Language Diversity in the University Backyard,” American Speech 90 (2) (2015): 266-280, .

Anne Curzan, Robin M. Queen, Kristin VanEyk, and Rachel Elizabeth Weissler, “Language Standardization & Linguistic Subordination,” Dædalus 152 (3) (Summer 2023): 31, .

Kendra Nicole Calhoun, “Competing Discourses of Diversity and Inclusion: Institutional Rhetoric and Graduate Student Narratives at Two Minority Serving Institutions” (PhD diss., University of California, Santa Barbara, 2021), .

Walt Wolfram, “Addressing Linguistic Inequality in Higher Education: A Proactive Model,” Dædalus 152 (3) (Summer 2023): 37, .

William Labov, A Study of Non-Standard English (Washington, D.C.: Center for Applied Linguistics, 1969), ; Wesley Y. Leonard, “Refusing ‘Endangered Languages’ Narratives,” Dædalus 152 (3) (Summer 2023): ; Guadalupe Valdés, “Social Justice Challenges of ‘Teaching’ Languages,” Dædalus 152 (3) (Summer 2023): ; and Julia C. Fine, Jessica Love-Nichols, and Bernard C. Perley, “Climate & Language: An Entangled Crisis,” Dædalus 152 (3) (Summer 2023): 84-98, .

American Academy of Arts and Sciences, America's Languages: Investing in Language Education for the 21st Century (Cambridge, Mass.: American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2017), .

Paul Simon, The Tongue-Tied American: Confronting the Foreign Language Crisis (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1980), .

American Academy of Arts and Sciences, America's Languages , vii.

Valdés, “Social Justice Challenges of ‘Teaching’ Languages,” 53.

Leonard, “Refusing ‘Endangered Languages’ Narratives,” 69.

Fine, Love-Nichols, and Perley, “Climate & Language,” 84.

Dwight Bolinger, Language: The Loaded Weapon—The Use and Abuse of Language Today (New York: Routledge, 2021).

Curzan et al., “Language Standardization & Linguistic Subordination”; Jonathan Rosa and Nelson Flores, “Rethinking Language Barriers & Social Justice from a Raciolinguistic Perspective,” Dædalus 152 (3) (Summer 2023): 99-114, ; and H. Samy Alim, “Inventing ‘The White Voice’: Racial Capitalism, Raciolinguistics & Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies,” Dædalus 152 (3) (Summer 2023): 147-166, .

Rosa and Flores, “Rethinking Language Barriers & Social Justice from a Raciolinguistic Perspective,” 99.

Ibid., 101-102.

Aris Moreno Clemons and Jessica A. Grieser, “Black Womanhood: Raciolinguistic Intersections of Gender, Sexuality & Social Status in the Aftermaths of Colonization,” Dædalus 152 (3) (Summer 2023): 115, 117, 119, 124, .

Joyhanna Yoo, Cheryl Lee, Andrew Cheng, and Anusha Ànand, “Asian American Racialization & Model Minority Logics in Linguistics,” Dædalus 152 (3) (Summer 2023): 130, .

Ibid., 134.

Alim, “Inventing ‘The White Voice,’“ 147.

Jan Blommaert, “Looking Back, What Was Important?” Ctrl+Alt+Dem, April 20, 2020, .

John Baugh “Linguistic Profiling across International Geopolitical Landscapes,” Dædalus 152 (3) (Summer 2023): 167, .

John R. Rickford and Sharese King, “Language and Linguistics on Trial: Hearing Rachel Jeantel (and Other Vernacular Speakers) in the Courtroom and Beyond,” Language 92 (4) (2016): 948-988, .

Sharese King and John R. Rickford, “Language on Trial,” Dædalus 152 (3) (Summer 2023): 178, .

Greiner, “The New Legal Empiricism & Its Application to Access-to-Justice Inquiries.”

King and Rickford, “Language on Trial,” 181.

Norma Mendoza-Denton, “Currents of Innuendo Converge on an American Path to Political Hate,” Dædalus 152 (3) (Summer 2023): 194, .

Anne H. Charity Hudley, “Liberatory Linguistics,” Dædalus 152 (3) (Summer 2023): 212, .

Alison Mackey, Erin Fell, Felipe de Jesus, et al., “Social Justice in Applied Linguistics: Making Space for New Approaches and New Voices,” Annual Review of Applied Linguistics 42 (2022): 1-10, ; Anne H. Charity Hudley and Nelson Flores, “Social Justice in Applied Linguistics: Not a Conclusion, but a Way Forward,” Annual Review of Applied Linguistics 42 (2022): 144-154, ; Anne H. Charity Hudley, Christine Mallinson, and Mary Bucholtz, eds., Decolonizing Linguistics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, forthcoming); and Anne H. Charity Hudley, Christine Mallinson, and Mary Bucholtz, eds., Inclusion in Linguistics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, forthcoming).

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In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Linguistic Profiling and Language-Based Discrimination

Introduction, general overviews.

  • Foundations and Extensions
  • Phonetic and Acoustical Analyses
  • Linguistic Discrimination in the Workplace
  • Evidence of Linguistic Bias in Housing Markets
  • Educational Studies: Bilingual and Bidialectal Considerations
  • Language and Gender: Evidence of Bias in Linguistic Style and Conversation
  • Language Usage among Racial and Ethnic Minorities
  • Linguistic Prejudice and the Law
  • Linguistic Human Rights
  • Alternative Perspectives

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Linguistic Profiling and Language-Based Discrimination by John Baugh LAST REVIEWED: 17 April 2023 LAST MODIFIED: 12 January 2021 DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0267

Linguistic profiling and other forms of linguistic discrimination were first attested in the Old Testament. The coinage of the word shibboleth traces its origin to the Book of Judges 12:6, where the inability to pronounce that word correctly would result in death; “They told him, ‘Please say shibboleth.’ If he said, ‘sibboleth,’ because he could not pronounce it correctly, they seized him and killed him at the fords of the Jordan.” Since then, other manifestations of human conflict and discrimination frequently exhibit linguistic demarcation in one form or another, and these shibboleths evolve over time. Warring factions may eventually make peace, as old rivalries come to be displaced or resolved. Advances in technology exacerbated these trends, as more-rapid modes of transportation increased contact and conflict among speakers of mutually unintelligible languages, accompanied by the development of increasingly efficient deadly weaponry that coincided with global expansionism along with sporadic conquests and the ensuing oppression of human enclaves throughout the world. The advent of global markets and multinational immigration has further accelerated circumstances where diverse human factions may use linguistic (dis)similarities as one of several means through which individuals formulate perceptual boundaries between groups that are familiar or unfamiliar. When compared to the historical longevity of discrimination based on language, linguistic evaluations of this phenomenon are relatively recent.

Haugen 1972 is among the first works by many professional linguists to call attention to the stigmatization of bilingualism as experienced by various immigrant groups in the United States. Lambert 1972 and Tucker and Lambert 1969 are experimental studies that expose further evidence of linguistic bias in bilingual (e.g., French and English in Canada) and bidialectal circumstances (e.g., mainstream Standard American English and African American vernacular English in the United States). Preston 1989 is a formulation of perceptual dialectology that provides orthogonal confirmation of such biases, through elicitations of opinions about superior-to-inferior varieties of American English. Explicit accounts of linguistic profiling are described in Purnell, et al. 1999 regarding housing discrimination and in Baugh 2000 in relation to testimony about different speakers’ dialects and racial identities during murder trials. Squires and Chadwick 2006 produces complementary analyses by uncovering differential dialect discrimination against minorities seeking to purchase homeowners’ insurance. In Zentella 2014 , evaluations of linguistic profiling share echoes of Einar Haugen’s early observations about prejudice against bilinguals, albeit with specific relevance to native speakers of Spanish who were obliged to speak English exclusively at their places of employment. Jones, et al. 2019 discovers unintended bias against black Americans by professional court reporters who regularly mischaracterized their statements during trials. When viewed collectively, matters of linguistic profiling and language discrimination persist in many social domains, thereby confirming the existence of one demographic dimension of human inequality.

Baugh, John. 2000. Racial identification by speech. American Speech 75.4: 362–364.

DOI: 10.1215/00031283-75-4-362

A survey of legal cases devoted to murder trials where the dialect of suspects or defendants was central to witness testimony. The phrase “linguistic profiling” first appeared in this article, and that concept has since expanded to include prejudicial, and often illegal, reactions to the speech or writing of individuals whose language usage was used as the basis of discrimination against them.

Haugen, Einar. 1972. The ecology of language . Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press.

A collection of interdisciplinary chapters that describe the intersection between linguistic diversity and America’s expanding global immigrant population. “The Stigmata of Bilingualism” is most relevant to linguistic discrimination, and it stands out among an array of other chapters dealing with a wide range of bilingual considerations that address linguistic prejudice against those who are not native speakers of English, with special relevance to the United States.

Jones, Taylor, Jessica Rose Kalbfeld, Ryan Hancock, and Robin Clark. 2019. Testifying while black: An experimental study of court reporter accuracy in transcription of African American English. Language 95.2: 216–252.

DOI: 10.1353/lan.2019.0042

Court stenographers in Philadelphia repeatedly produced inaccurate transcriptions of African American English (AAE), including different morphosyntactic and phonological features of AAE. These errors were consequential, changing official court records that would have significant legal repercussions for typical speakers of AAE.

Lambert, Wallace. 1972. Language, psychology and culture: Essays . Selected and introduced by Anwar S. Dil. Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press.

Foundational research on societal and personal dimensions of bilingualism and biculturalism, including results from carefully controlled matched-guise experiments that revealed differential attitudes toward French and English in Canada. These attitudinal differences were measured with Likert scales that considered friendliness, trustworthiness, and educational status, among other traits.

Preston, Dennis. 1989. Perceptual dialectology: Nonlinguists’ views of areal linguistics . Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Foris.

Opinions about language usage were solicited in Indiana and Hawaii regarding perceptions about dialect differences, with primary emphasis on preferred manners of speaking in contrast to speech that was deemed less desirable, or incorrect. The field of perceptual dialectology is introduced and formulated in this volume.

Purnell, Thomas, William Idsardi, and John Baugh. 1999. Perceptual and phonetic experiments on American English dialect identification. Journal of Language and Social Psychology 18.1: 10–30.

DOI: 10.1177/0261927X99018001002

Controlled experiments were conducted that showed bias against vernacular African American and vernacular Mexican American varieties of English in contrast to the dominant Standard American English dialect, which was preferred by landlords. Accurate identification of the race of speakers was determined with high rates of accuracy upon hearing the single word “hello.”

Squires, Greg, and Jan Chadwick. 2006. Linguistic profiling: A continuing tradition of discrimination in the home insurance industry? Urban Affairs Review 41.3: 400–415.

DOI: 10.1177/1078087405281064

An audit-pair study that exposed linguistic and racial bias against minority speakers who were seeking to purchase homeowners’ insurance. These findings confirm that some insurance agents would deduce the race of prospective clients during telephone calls. In many instances, these agents then denied minority prospects from purchasing homeowners’ insurance that would otherwise be available.

Tucker, Richard, and Wallace Lambert. 1969. White and Negro listeners’ reactions to various American-English dialects. Social Forces 47.4: 463–468.

DOI: 10.2307/2574535

An experimental study of diverse AAE speech styles that includes well-educated and less well-educated black speakers who were evaluated by diverse white and black (i.e., Negro) listeners. Each listener evaluated individual speech samples with a Likert scale that included various demographic categories such as education, wealth, and friendliness.

Zentella, Ana Celia. 2014. TWB (talking while bilingual): Linguistic profiling of Latina/os and other linguistic torquemadas . Latino Studies 12.4: 620–635.

DOI: 10.1057/lst.2014.63

Bilingual New Yorkers who were native speakers of Spanish were forced to speak English at their workplace under all circumstances, including personal conversations that were unrelated to their job. A survey was conducted, revealing differences of opinion about the importance and appropriateness of demanding exclusive usage of English.

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Making the case for linguicism: revisiting theoretical concepts and terminologies in linguistic discrimination research

In an effort to foreground the concept of linguicism, this article provides a critical review of the research literature on linguistic discrimination, focusing on common concepts and terms applied to characterise the issue. Giving particular attention to studies which directly consider discrimination based on language or linguistic factors, we identify three main groups of concepts and terms which are widely used, including (a) race-based concepts, (b) language variation-based concepts and (c) general terms. The construction, meaning and usage of the concept of ‘linguicism’ are discussed separately from these three groups. Although race-based concepts, language variation-based concepts and general terms are extremely useful for particular research purposes, they may not be applicable to describe all or other forms of linguistic discrimination. It is argued that linguicism is a powerful theoretical construct, which can be used as an umbrella concept to capture the full range of linguistic discrimination issues. Suggestions are also presented for future research in relation to social factors associated with linguistic discrimination and research context, which is important to shed light on otherwise potentially unheard voices in linguistic discrimination scholarship.

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Many nations provide a combination of public and/or private education for (some?) children who represent their future citizens, and many of these schools have classrooms of different sizes that also vary considerably in their linguistic composition. Some schools, or classes within schools, may be linguistically homogeneous — while other schools, or classes within them, may be dissimilar from a linguistic point of view.

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Language Discrimination in the USA

Introduction, discrimination reasons, manifestations of language discrimination, addressing language discrimination, concluding thoughts.

One can hardly imagine the modern world without any language. It would have been impossible to achieve the current level of development in the spheres of economics, culture, and others if people had not had an opportunity to express their thoughts verbally. It is challenging to overestimate the role of speech and language for humankind.

However, I should note that the essential phenomena above are not free from any disadvantages. Among them, it is necessary to emphasize the fact that language discrimination has emerged based on how people use language to express their thoughts. So, one can claim that language discrimination manifests itself in various spheres of the modern United States. Still, the given blog will focus more on the reasons that are found behind this adverse notion.

To begin with, one should explain why the US has this kind of discrimination. It is mainly because the United States is a multinational country that is home to many minorities. In addition to English, they often speak their native languages, which demonstrates their culture. The picture below by Kiersz et al. (2020) will show what minority languages are the most widespread in the US.

Most common language spoken at home other than English or Spanish

At the same time, cultural identity often results in a partial image. For example, Germans are considered boring and hypercorrect, while Frenchmen seem to eat everything that they can catch and cook, and these stereotypes result in discrimination as per a cultural ground. This kind of a prejudiced attitude often impacts indigenous people who are forced to learn and speak English (de Varennes & Kuzborska, 2016). As a result, some American Indians can be discriminated against because they want to use their native language.

English speaking citizens also witness some kinds of discriminating behavior because of numerous regional dialects that are present in the US. It means that people from the South and the North of the nation use different variations of English, which evokes stereotypes. For example, people with a Southern accent are considered stupid (Todd, 2020). Here, Abadi (2018) offers an image that presents one of many differences between the Southern and Northern English language.

What words do you to address a group of two or more people?

When people say “y’all,” they are considered less intelligent because this phrase is a common feature of a Southern accent (Todd, 2020). It is not valid, but one can suppose that this situation has a historical background that dates back to the Civil War of 1861. Then, there was a significant difference between the two regions, and the North was said to be more developed and innovative.

Finally, various social classes use language differently. Here, more educated people from the upper class often follow all the grammar rules, while less literate representatives of the middle and lower classes tend to violate grammar, pronunciation, and other norms. For example, it is often when less-educated individuals use “he has” or others and fail to agree on the correct verb form with a singular noun.

It is a typical case when such people face a prejudiced attitude according to their social ground. If a person uses the language in the manner mentioned above, others can think that this individual is from lower social classes. All these people can experience various kinds of discrimination, and they will be described further.

Firstly, it is possible to note that people who speak foreign languages or some dialects face numerous social disadvantages, such as limited access to employment. It is so because representatives of minorities are often considered less educated and experienced irrespective of their current levels of knowledge and skills. If a manager chooses between two employees, an American and, for example, an Asian, an American citizen is more likely to get a job. Hernández (2015) also states that such people often become discriminated against when they are asked to say something in their native language.

Secondly, language discrimination also results in economic problems for individuals. According to Todd (2020), people with strong accents, either foreign or regional, earn less. It refers to the fact that citizens who fail to have language proficiency tend to apply for less significant jobs that imply lower salaries.

Thirdly, the prejudiced attitude under consideration can relate to the issues of life and death. The health care industry is based on interpersonal relationships, and if there are some communication problems between medical professionals and patients, it is challenging to reckon on positive health outcomes. Thus, Schinkel et al. (2019) explain that low language proficiency is a significant barrier for individuals to utilize medical services of decent quality. According to Schinkel et al. (2019), some patients believe that they are treated differently because of their linguistic peculiarities in comparison with native Americans.

The issue described above is essential for modern society that should be democratic and equal for everyone. That is why the US government tries to provide all its citizens, irrespective of their peculiarities, with equal rights. It refers to the Affordable Care Act that implies some penalties for health care providers who “discriminate against patients based on race, color, national origin,” and others (Kornack et al., 2019, p. 879). Language issues relate to a national origin, and medical specialists have to deliver the same service to individuals who use either a foreign language or a dialect. It is possible with the help of interpreters.

However, the information above does not mean that language discrimination is addressed successfully. It is sad to say that cases of a prejudiced attitude are typical in the modern world, and can demonstrate it with a personal story. One of my friends is Chinese, and he is tired of this discrimination. He tries to avoid going to doctors because one of them discriminated against him. The doctor imitated a Shaolin monk while describing a treatment process.

As a public intellectual, I am sure that this state of affairs is damaging to society. However, it requires significant individual effort to address the issue and eliminate this kind of prejudiced behavior.

Language discrimination is a severe problem in the USA, and it refers to both foreigners and people who use regional variations of English. This issue is caused mainly by the fact that the US is a multinational country that is full of stereotypes. Consequently, this problem negatively influences individuals in many ways. Even though the government tries to improve the situation, successful results are not present. I can suppose that the given kind of discrimination will disappear when everyone understands that all people are equal irrespective of their native language.

Abadi, M. (2018). 27 fascinating maps that show how Americans speak English differently across the US . Business Insider. Web.

De Varennes, F., & Kuzborska, E. (2016). Language, rights, and opportunities: The role of language in the inclusion and exclusion of indigenous peoples. International Journal on Minority and Group Rights, 23 (3), 281-305.

Hernández, A. (2015). 8 harmful examples of Standard American English privilege . Everyday Feminism. Web.

Kiersz, A., Luce, I. D., & Hoff, M. (2020). Most common language spoken at home other than English or Spanish . Web.

Kornack, J., Cernius, A., & Persicke, A. (2019). The diversity is in the details: Unintentional language discrimination in the practice of applied behavior analysis. Behavior Analysis in Practice, 12, 879-886.

Schinkel, S., Schouten, B. C., Kerpiclik, F., Van Den Putte, B., & Van Weert, J. C. M. (2019). Perceptions of barriers to patient participation: Are they due to language, culture, or discrimination? Health Communication, 34 (12), 1469-1481.

Todd, S. (2020). Have a strong accent? Here’s how that hurts your paycheck. Yahoo Finance. Web.

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Language Discrimination

Language discrimination is a subset of national origin discrimination. Language discrimination refers to the unfair treatment of an individual based solely upon the characteristics of their speech; such as, accent, size of vocabulary, and syntax. It can also involve a person’s ability or inability to use one language instead of another. Because language discrimination is a form of national origin discrimination, the same body of law prohibits it. This type of discrimination generally makes it illegal to prefer one language over another, though there are many exceptions. The driving force behind the illegality of language discrimination is whether or not an individual was hired, fired, or required to speak one language over another for a discriminatory purpose. For more information about national origin discrimination,   national origin discrimination .

Language discrimination is the unfair treatment of an individual solely because of their native language or other characteristics of speech, such as accent, size of vocabulary, and syntax. Language discrimination does not include discrimination based upon an individual’s appearance, but rather focuses upon the style of speech used by an individual. This is not to say that discrimination based upon appearance is illegal, for more information on that please see our pages on  national origin discrimination ,  dress codes , and  religious discrimination .

Below are some real world examples of language discrimination:

  • You have worked at a company for several years, while on break you are talking with other Chinese coworkers, you usually speak in Cantonese. Your company recently announced a “speak-English-only” policy, and your supervisor has told you not to ever speak Cantonese to your coworkers while at work.
  • A new customer service position opens up in your company. You apply for the job because it pays a higher salary and more regular work hours. Even though you are fluent in English, you are told by the supervisor that you cannot be considered for the position because you speak with a Spanish accent. Another employee who speaks with a British accent is interviewed for the position.
  • English is not your native language, although you are proficient in English and have no difficulty doing your job as a computer programmer. On your last performance review, you received high marks in every area except communication skills. When you ask your supervisor the reason for your low marks, which prevent you from getting a merit raise, you are told the reason is your English skills, even though your job rarely requires you to communicate with coworkers or the public.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964  are federal laws that protects individuals from discrimination based upon national origin and race. Some courts and government agencies have said that discrimination based on language is a form of national origin discrimination because primary language is closely related to the place a person comes from. So if you are being discriminated against for using your native language, or because of characteristics having to do with that language, it may be considered the same as if you were being discriminated against because of your national origin. This area of the law is still developing, however, so you should also consult with a  local attorney  for more information.

Your employer or potential employer can test your English proficiency (ability to speak or write in English) as long as it tests all applicants. If the employer or potential employer denies someone an employment opportunity because of English proficiency, the employer must show a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason. Whether or not it is illegal to use the English test will depend on the qualifications of the employee, the nature of the position, and whether the employee’s level of English proficiency would have a negative effect on job performance. Requiring employees or applicants to be fluent in English may violate the law if the rule is not related to the requirements of the position or job performance, and it appears that the rule was adopted to exclude individuals of a particular national origin.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ( EEOC ), which is the federal agency that interprets and enforces the laws prohibiting discrimination, has pointed out that the degree of fluency required varies from job to job, even within the same company. This implies that blanket fluency requirements might be illegal, for example, the level of fluency expected from the customer service department is not necessarily the same as that expected from warehouse workers.

These rules also apply when a job requires fluency in a language other than English. For example, a company that has a substantial amount of customers who speak only Hindi could legally require that employees who interact with those customers also speak Hindi.

Treating an employee differently based on accent is problematic if it is unrelated to job performance – especially if the accent does not obstruct their ability to communicate in English. 

Preference for a particular type of accent may also violate the law. For example, if a candidate with a British accent is favored for a receptionist position, while candidates with Cantonese or Spanish accents are rejected, the employer may have engaged in unlawful discrimination by showing a bias against the accent associated with some national origins, but not against others.

Similar to employees who speak with accents, an employer must show a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason to deny you of an employment opportunity because of proficiency (how well you speak or write) in English. Whether or not it is illegal to discriminate against you will depend on your qualifications, the nature of the position, and whether your level of English proficiency would have a detrimental effect on your job performance. Requiring employees or applicants to be fluent in English may violate Title VII if the rule is adopted to exclude individuals of a particular national origin and is not related to job performance.

A rule that requires employees to only speak English at work is illegal if it was adopted for a discriminatory purpose, if it is not uniformly enforced, or – most commonly – if it is not related to and necessary to the specific job it applies to.  As long as the English-only rule is not motivated by discriminatory intent, it will be considered legal so long as it is necessary for the safe or efficient operation of the business.

Before adopting an English- only rule, employees have to be told when they must speak English and the consequences for violating the rule. Any negative employment decision based on breaking the English-only rule will be considered evidence of national origin discrimination if the employer did not tell employees of the rule, there are some exceptions to this general rule, mainly in several western states, they are noted below.

In  California , as of January 1, 2002, there is a specific legal provision which makes it illegal for an employer to adopt or enforce a policy that limits or prohibits the use of any language in any workplace, unless both of the following conditions exist: (1) the language restriction is justified by a business necessity; and (2) the employer has notified its employees of the circumstances and the time when the language restriction is required to be observed and of the consequences for violating the language restriction. “Business necessity” is defined as “an overriding legitimate business purpose such that the language restriction is necessary to the safe and efficient operation of the business, that the language restriction effectively fulfills the business purpose it is supposed to serve, and there is no alternative practice to the language restriction that would accomplish the business purpose equally well with a lesser discriminatory impact.”

In addition to the law stated above, the law in  Alaska ,  Arizona ,  California ,  Hawaii ,  Idaho ,  Montana ,  Nevada ,  Oregon , and  Washington  requires one of the following two circumstances for an employee to challenge a “speak-English-only” policy in the workplace under federal law:

  • the rule is applied to employees who speak no English or who have difficulty speaking English; or
  • the policy creates, or is part of, a work environment that is hostile toward national origin minority employees.

If, initially, an employee is able to show that either of those conditions applies, the employer must show some “business necessity,” a sufficiently compelling and clearly job-related need, for the policy. Even if the employer does demonstrate business necessity, the policy is still illegal if there are less discriminatory alternatives to the policy that achieve the same goals just as effectively.

At this point, although the law on language discrimination continues to evolve, employees  in the U.S., except in the states noted above , do not have to show either of the two conditions. The mere existence of a policy, whether or not it affects or targets national origin minority employees, is evidence of discrimination which may only be overcome by the employer’s business necessity.

  • Employers must provide non-English-speaking workers with required written information about the job and obtain the person’s signature on a statement acknowledging having received that information before hiring.
  • Employers are required to provide bilingual employee interpreters to assist non-English speaking workers in carrying out their job responsibilities and to provide them with information on community services.
  • Employers are also required to transport employees who quit within 4 weeks back to the locations from which they were recruited.

The Department of Justice’s  Office of Special Counsel for Immigration Related Unfair Employment Practices  (OSC) is responsible for investigating charges of job discrimination related to an individual’s language or national origin in  workplaces with 4 to 14 employees .

The  Equal Employment Opportunity Commission  (EEOC) is responsible for investigating charges of job discrimination related to an individual’s language or national origin in  workplaces of 15 or more employees .

Depending on where you live, you may also go to a state or local fair employment agency. See  filing a discrimination complaint  for more information.

If there are  4-14 employees at your workplace , contact the  OSC .

If there are  15 or more  employees at your workplace, contact the  EEOC  or your state fair employment agency. See  filing a discrimination complaint  for more information.

Victims of national origin discrimination at workplaces of 4 to 14 employees can recover back pay, job offers and reinstatement. IER cases may require settlements require employers to stop discriminatory practices, pay civil penalties, undergo monitoring, and receive anti-discrimination training.

Victims of national origin discrimination at workplaces of 15 or more employees can recover remedies that include:

  • reinstatement
  • reasonable accommodation
  • other actions that will make an individual “whole” (in the condition he or she would have been but for the discrimination).

Remedies may also include payment of:

  • attorneys’ fees
  • expert witness fees
  • court costs.

Under most laws enforced by the EEOC, compensatory and punitive damages also may be available where discrimination is found to be intentional. Damages may be available to compensate for actual financial losses, for future financial losses, and for mental anguish and inconvenience. Punitive damages may also be available if an employer is found to have acted with malice or reckless indifference. Punitive damages are not available to employees of federal, state or local governments.

An employer may be required to post notices to all employees about discriminatory violations and advising them of their rights to be free from discrimination and retaliation. Such notices must be accessible, if necessary, to workers with disabilities that affect reading.

The employer may also be required to take corrective or preventive actions against the person or persons responsible for the discrimination and minimize the chance that it will happen again, as well as stop the specific discriminatory acts.

Your state may have similar or different remedies not available under federal law. For further information, see our page on  filing a discrimination complaint .

t is always best to contact an attorney if you believe you have a claim for discrimination by your employer. The time to file depends on who you are filing with – such as if you are requesting an administrative investigation or are filing a lawsuit.

You may file a charge with the IER to investigate your employer’s conduct; On average, IER investigations take seven months.

Before a private lawsuit may be filed for workplaces with 15 or more employees, charges for any laws which are enforced by the EEOC must be filed with the EEOC within 180 days of the alleged discrimination. This is extended to 300 days , however, if state law also prohibits employment discrimination on the same basis. 

Visit Workplace Fairness’ page on filing a discrimination complaint for more information.

National origin discrimination

EEOC Enforcement Guidance on National Origin Discrimination – including language discrimination

Department of Justice’s Immigrant and Employee Rights Section ( IER )

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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa is a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism. With her legal research and writing for Workplace Fairness, she strives to equip people with the information they need to be their own best advocate.

Language Discrimination: Everything You Need to Know

Language discrimination falls under a class of unlawful discrimination known as national origin discrimination & illegal to prefer one language over another. 7 min read updated on February 01, 2023

Language Discrimination

Language discrimination falls under a class of unlawful discrimination known as national origin discrimination. Barring exceptions, it is illegal to prefer one language over another. Language discrimination does not include discriminations based on a person's appearance.

It is important to understand what exactly is meant by language discrimination in order identify if you are being discriminated against.

It applies to an individual who is being treated unfairly due to the nature of their speech, including their accent, vocabulary, and syntax. Broadly, it is an individual's grasp of a language that is not their first language.

Language discrimination is mainly focused on the illegality of hiring, firing or requiring a person to speak a certain language due to discrimination. It may also apply if an individual is barred from access to government or business services due to the fact they cannot speak or write English sufficiently.

These are some real world examples of language discrimination to assist in helping you better understand language discrimination :

  • You are fluent in Cantonese and use the language to speak to colleagues. Suddenly one day your company announces an "English only" policy, and your manager further tells you to never speak Cantonese to your colleagues again.
  • You are denied an interview for a job in customer service due to the fact that, although you speak English fluently, you have a Spanish accent. You find out that another candidate was interviewed, and they have a British accent.
  • You are passed over for a promotion, which you are qualified for, because of your lack of language skills. The job requires little or no communication with colleagues or the public.

What Federal Laws Cover Language Discrimination?

Individuals are protected from discrimination based upon national origin and race Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 .

The federal agency that is responsible for the interpretation and enforcement of the law is known as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Is It Permitted to Require an Individual to Take an English Test in Order to be Hired?

A company may or may not test for English fluency depending on the situation. (This also applies to roles requiring fluency in other languages besides English)

If a company tests all candidates for English skills, then English tests are permitted.

A company may deny employment based on a candidate's English proficiency, but they must be able to prove that their reasons are nondiscriminatory. The reason for denial needs to take into account the nature of the job, the candidate's credentials, and whether the candidate's level of English proficiency would negatively impact their ability to perform satisfactorily.

The employer will be in violation of the law if it is found that English fluency is not a requirement of the role and instead the requirement is being used as a way to deny persons of a certain national origin. The EEOC states that the level of English proficiency needed is different depending on the job, even if the job is at the same company. This means that the law prohibits company-wide English fluency policies.

As an example of acceptable language proficiency requirements, an organization that has a large customer base of Hindi speakers could, without being in violation of the law, require individuals who deal with those customers to be fluent in Hindi.

What If I Am Treated Differently Because of My Accent?

An employer would be in violation of the law if they show a preference for certain accents. If an individual with a British accent is shown preference over an individual with a Cantonese accent, this would be considered unlawful discrimination against the Cantonese individual's national origins.

If a person's accent hinders their ability to communicate clearly in English in a certain role, an employer may have the right to deny hiring or promoting the individual.

Can an Employer Discriminate Against Me for Poor English Communication Skills?

An employer may not discriminate against an employee for poor English communication skills if the employee's job does not require fluency in English.

Employers are prohibited from implementing English-only policies, broadly or to specific workers, in order to exclude individuals from particular national origins.

If an English-only policy is put in place, for it to be legal, the employer must be able to prove that is not for discriminatory purposes but rather the policy exists to create a more effective business.

Furthermore, before implementation of the English-only policy, employees must be notified of when English must be spoken and be provided with an outline of the penalties that will apply if the policy is broken. If an employee is in violation of the policy but is unaware of the policy's existence, and the employer alters their employment state, the employer could be found guilty of national origin discrimination . It must be noted that several western states have exceptions to this rule.

Enforceable Circumstances of an English-Only Rule

It can be difficult to find evidence that the law is being broken when the English-only policy is only applied to workers who are fluent in English and their first languages, particularly in California and other western states.

If a job does not require fluency in English but an employer still implements English-only policies directed toward employees who do not speak English very well, this may be unlawful.

Employers may not penalize employees for speaking a little of their own language during working hours or away from work, and they may not subject the employees to never-ending monitoring.

If a team has members that only speak English, an English-only policy would be acceptable in order to allow for efficient communication between team members.

Employers are permitted to request that employees speak only English when dealing with English-speaking customers. It is, however, not permitted for an employer to forbid employees from speaking any other language or from speaking their own language to a customer who is also fluent in it.

California Legalities Around English-Only Rules

A legal provision put in place in California January 1, 2002, prevents employers from implementing any policy that restricts the use of another language. This provision excludes circumstances where the employer implements the policy due to business necessity. If the employer adopts a language policy, they need to let employees know why it is being implemented when it is coming into effect, and what the penalties for violating the policy will be.

Under federal law, the following states permit individuals who wish to challenge an English-only policy to do so:

However, this can only be done in the following circumstances:

  • The policy is specifically applied to non-English speaking and poor-English speaking employees.
  • The policy causes, or exacerbates, hostility to national origin minority workers.

Other states in the U.S. do not, at this time, require employees to show conditions of discrimination.

Unless the employer does so out of business necessity, an English-only policy is proof of discrimination.

Nebraska Legalities Around English-Only Rules

For employees in the state of Nebraska whose first language is not English, the Protection for Non-English Speaking Employees Law exists to help protect them.

There are a number of limitations on this law in Nebraska. It only applies to the following types of employers:

  • Employers with 100 or more employees.
  • Employers that hire or recruit non-English-speaking employees who live more than 500 miles from the employer.
  • Employers whose workforce consists of more than 10 percent non-English-speaking employees, who speak the same language (non-English).

Before hiring, businesses need to supply their non-English speaking employees with written information regarding the job and ensure the employees sign the document to acknowledge receipt.

If an employer has non-English speaking employees, they are required to support these employees by using interpreters to assist the employee with their job. It is also necessary, if an employee quits, to provide transport back to the recruitment location of the employee.

What Is Business Necessity?

A business necessity in terms of language discrimination refers to a real business purpose that requires employees to speak a certain language or be proficient in a certain language. An example would be a customer service representative who primarily deals with English-speaking customers. If the organization used customer service representatives who could not speak English proficiently, there would be a lot of miscommunication and frustration from both sides. This could negatively impact the business and thus is it a business necessity that the employer implements certain language policies.

Who Enforces the Law for Language Discrimination?

For companies of four to 14 workers, the Department of Justice's Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices (OSC) is responsible.

For companies with more than 15 workers, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is responsible.

Depending on where you live, you may also go to a state or local fair employment agency.

What Remedies Are Available for Language Discrimination?

Employees who have suffered from discrimination can recover back pay , job offers, and reinstatement.

OSC settlements require companies to refrain from discriminating against employees from other national origins, pay fines, undergo monitoring, and institute anti-discrimination training.

EEOC settlements offer remedies such as back pay, hiring, promotion, reinstatement , front pay, and reasonable accommodation. These remedies may include attorney and expert witness fees as well as court costs. Compensatory and punitive damages may also be available where discrimination is found to be intentional. The punitive damages, however, are not available to employees of federal, state, or local governments.

It should be noted that certain states may have different remedies not available under federal law.

How Long Does It Take to File a Charge of Discrimination?

It is important to contact your attorney or federal administrative agency as soon as you suspect discrimination has taken place. This protects your rights.

For companies with a workforce of four to 14 employees, the charge should be filed with the OSC within 180 days of the date you suspect you were discriminated against.

For companies in California with a workforce larger than 15 employees, you should make a complaint at the EEOC within 300 days of the date when the violation occurred. If an organization has more than five workers, a charge can be filed with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) within one year. If you believe you are being harassed or subjected to a hostile work environment, the DFEH has no minimum number of employees in order to file with them.

For larger companies (15 or more employees), the law requires the charge be filed with the EEOC before any private lawsuit is filed.

For workplaces with four or fewer employees or the federal government, employees should contact an attorney.

Is Language Discrimination Unlawful?

Language discrimination is considered to be discrimination on the basis of national origin. This is prohibited by federal and California law.

If you need help understanding or combating language discrimination, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.

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Hear Something, Say Something: Navigating The World Of Racial Awkwardness

Listen to this week's episode.

We've all been there — confronted with something shy of overt racism, but charged enough to make us uncomfortable. So what do you do?

We've all been there — having fun relaxing with friends and family, when someone says something a little racially off. Sometimes it's subtle, like the friend who calls Thai food "exotic." Other times it's more overt, like that in-law who's always going on about "the illegals."

In any case, it can be hard to know how to respond. Even the most level-headed among us have faltered trying to navigate the fraught world of racial awkwardness.

So what exactly do you do? We delve into the issue on this week's episode of the Code Switch podcast, featuring writer Nicole Chung and Code Switch's Shereen Marisol Meraji, Gene Demby and Karen Grigsby Bates.

We also asked some folks to write about what runs through their minds during these tense moments, and how they've responded (or not). Their reactions ran the gamut from righteous indignation to total passivity, but in the wake of these uncomfortable comments, everyone seemed to walk away wishing they'd done something else.

Aaron E. Sanchez

It was the first time my dad visited me at college, and he had just dropped me off at my dorm. My suitemate walked in and sneered.

"Was that your dad?" he asked. "He looks sooo Mexican."

essay on language discrimination

Aaron E. Sanchez is a Texas-based writer who focuses on issues of race, politics and popular culture from a Latino perspective. Courtesy of Aaron Sanchez hide caption

He kept laughing about it as he left my room.

I was caught off-guard. Instantly, I grew self-conscious, not because I was ashamed of my father, but because my respectability politics ran deep. My appearance was supposed to be impeccable and my manners unimpeachable to protect against stereotypes and slights. I felt exposed.

To be sure, when my dad walked into restaurants and stores, people almost always spoke to him in Spanish. He didn't mind. The fluidity of his bilingualism rarely failed him. He was unassuming. He wore his working-class past on his frame and in his actions. He enjoyed hard work and appreciated it in others. Yet others mistook him for something altogether different.

People regularly confused his humility for servility. He was mistaken for a landscape worker, a janitor, and once he sat next to a gentleman on a plane who kept referring to him as a "wetback." He was a poor Mexican-American kid who grew up in the Segundo Barrio of El Paso, Texas, for certain. But he was also an Air Force veteran who had served for 20 years. He was an electrical engineer, a proud father, an admirable storyteller, and a pretty decent fisherman.

I didn't respond to my suitemate. To him, my father was a funny caricature, a curio he could pick up, purchase and discard. And as much as it was hidden beneath my elite, liberal arts education, I was a novelty to him too, an even rarer one at that. Instead of a serape, I came wrapped in the trappings of middle-classness, a costume I was trying desperately to wear convincingly.

That night, I realized that no clothing or ill-fitting costume could cover us. Our bodies were incongruous to our surroundings. No matter how comfortable we were in our skins, our presence would make others uncomfortable.

Karen Good Marable

When the Q train pulled into the Cortelyou Road station, it was dark and I was tired. Another nine hours in New York City, working in the madness that is Midtown as a fact-checker at a fashion magazine. All day long, I researched and confirmed information relating to beauty, fashion and celebrity, and, at least once a day, suffered an editor who was openly annoyed that I'd discovered an error. Then, the crush of the rush-hour subway, and a dinner obligation I had to fulfill before heading home to my cat.

essay on language discrimination

Karen Good Marable is a writer living in New York City. Her work has been featured in publications like The Undefeated and The New Yorker. Courtesy of Karen Good Marable hide caption

The train doors opened and I turned the corner to walk up the stairs. Coming down were two girls — free, white and in their 20s . They were dancing as they descended, complete with necks rolling, mouths pursed — a poor affectation of black girls — and rapping as they passed me:

Now I ain't sayin she a golddigger/But she ain't messin' with no broke niggas!

That last part — broke niggas — was actually less rap, more squeals that dissolved into giggles. These white girls were thrilled to say the word publicly — joyously, even — with the permission of Kanye West.

I stopped, turned around and stared at them. I envisioned kicking them both squarely in their backs. God didn't give me telekinetic powers for just this reason. I willed them to turn around and face me, but they did not dare. They bopped on down the stairs and onto the platform, not evening knowing the rest of the rhyme.

Listen: I'm a black woman from the South. I was born in the '70s and raised by parents — both educators — who marched for their civil rights. I never could get used to nigga being bandied about — not by the black kids and certainly not by white folks. I blamed the girls' parents for not taking over where common sense had clearly failed. Hell, even radio didn't play the nigga part.

I especially blamed Kanye West for not only making the damn song, but for having the nerve to make nigga a part of the damn hook.

Life in NYC is full of moments like this, where something happens and you wonder if you should speak up or stay silent (which can also feel like complicity). I am the type who will speak up . Boys (or men) cussing incessantly in my presence? Girls on the train cussing around my 70-year-old mama? C'mon, y'all. Do you see me? Do you hear yourselves? Please. Stop.

But on this day, I just didn't feel like running down the stairs to tap those girls on the shoulder and school them on what they damn well already knew. On this day, I just sighed a great sigh, walked up the stairs, past the turnstiles and into the night.

Robyn Henderson-Espinoza

When I was 5 or 6, my mother asked me a question: "Does anyone ever make fun of you for the color of your skin?"

This surprised me. I was born to a Mexican woman who had married an Anglo man, and I was fairly light-skinned compared to the earth-brown hue of my mother. When she asked me that question, I began to understand that I was different.

essay on language discrimination

Robyn Henderson-Espinoza is a visiting assistant professor of ethics at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, Calif. Courtesy of Robyn Henderson-Espinoza hide caption

Following my parents' divorce in the early 1980s, I spent a considerable amount of time with my father and my paternal grandparents. One day in May of 1989, I was sitting at my grandparents' dinner table in West Texas. I was 12. The adults were talking about the need for more laborers on my grandfather's farm, and my dad said this:

"Mexicans are lazy."

He called the undocumented workers he employed on his 40 acres "wetbacks." Again and again, I heard from him that Mexicans always had to be told what to do. He and friends would say this when I was within earshot. I felt uncomfortable. Why would my father say these things about people like me?

But I remained silent.

It haunts me that I didn't speak up. Not then. Not ever. I still hear his words, 10 years since he passed away, and wonder whether he thought I was a lazy Mexican, too. I wish I could have found the courage to tell him that Mexicans are some of the hardest-working people I know; that those brown bodies who worked on his property made his lifestyle possible.

As I grew in experience and understanding, I was able to find language that described what he was doing: stereotyping, undermining, demonizing. I found my voice in the academy and in the movement for black and brown lives.

Still, the silence haunts me.

Channing Kennedy

My 20s were defined in no small part by a friendship with a guy I never met. For years, over email and chat, we shared everything with each other, and we made great jokes. Those jokes — made for each other only — were a foundational part of our relationship and our identities. No matter what happened, we could make each other laugh.

essay on language discrimination

Channing Kennedy is an Oakland-based writer, performer, media producer and racial equity trainer. Courtesy of Channing Kennedy hide caption

It helped, also, that we were slackers with spare time, but eventually we both found callings. I started working in the social justice sector, and he gained recognition in the field of indie comics. I was proud of my new job and approached it seriously, if not gracefully. Before I took the job, I was the type of white dude who'd make casually racist comments in front of people I considered friends. Now, I had laid a new foundation for myself and was ready to undo the harm I'd done pre-wokeness.

And I was proud of him, too, if cautious. The indie comics scene is full of bravely offensive work: the power fantasies of straight white men with grievances against their nonexistent censors, put on defiant display. But he was my friend, and he wouldn't fall for that.

One day he emailed me a rough script to get my feedback. At my desk, on a break from deleting racist, threatening Facebook comments directed at my co-workers, I opened it up for a change of pace.

I got none. His script was a top-tier, irredeemable power fantasy — sex trafficking, disability jokes, gendered violence, every scene's background packed with commentary-devoid, racist caricatures. It also had a pop culture gag on top, to guarantee clicks.

I asked him why he'd written it. He said it felt "important." I suggested he shelve it. He suggested that that would be a form of censorship. And I realized this: My dear friend had created a racist power fantasy about dismembering women, and he considered it bravely offensive.

I could have said that there was nothing brave about catering to the established tastes of other straight white comics dudes. I could have dropped any number of half-understood factoids about structural racism, the finishing move of the recently woke. I could have just said the jokes were weak.

Instead, I became cruel to him, with a dedication I'd previously reserved for myself.

Over months, I redirected every bit of our old creativity. I goaded him into arguments I knew would leave him shaken and unable to work. I positioned myself as a surrogate parent (so I could tell myself I was still a concerned ally) then laughed at him. I got him to escalate. And, privately, I told myself it was me who was under attack, the one with the grievance, and I cried about how my friend was betraying me.

I wanted to erase him (I realized years later) not because his script offended me, but because it made me laugh. It was full of the sense of humor we'd spent years on — not the jokes verbatim, but the pacing, structure, reveals, go-to gags. It had my DNA and it was funny. I thought I had become a monster-slayer, but this comic was a monster with my hands and mouth.

After years as the best of friends and as the bitterest of exes, we finally had a chance to meet in person. We were little more than acquaintances with sunk costs at that point, but we met anyway. Maybe we both wanted forgiveness, or an apology, or to see if we still had some jokes. Instead, I lectured him about electoral politics and race in a bar and never smiled.

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Utah passes religious freedom bill with language to prevent discrimination

Lawmaker says utah’s bill will serve as a ‘backstop’ to residents of the beehive state should congress make changes or repeal the federal statute.


The Utah Legislature on Thursday passed a version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act with unanimous support from lawmakers.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Utah lawmakers on Thursday passed a version of a decades-old federal law protecting religious freedom rights, with language declaring their intent that the bill won’t impact the state’s ban on conversion therapy and other anti-discrimination policies.

SB150  is similar to the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act — which was passed more than 30 years ago — making Utah the latest state to put the protections in state code. Bill sponsor Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, has previously said Utah’s version will serve as a “backstop” to residents of the Beehive State.

The federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act protects the religious rights of Americans, but the Supreme Court ruled in  City of Boerne v. Flores  that the law applies only to federal laws, not those passed by state or municipal governments.

The bill would apply the highest level of legal scrutiny to any state law or municipal code that potentially violates a person’s religious beliefs. It also prohibits government entities from placing a burden on a person’s beliefs “unless the burden is essential to furthering a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.”

Like the federal religious protection act, "SB150 offers judicial relief to a person whose religious exercise is burdened by a government office or official that falls short of meeting that compelling standard," Rep. Jordan Teuscher, R-South Jordan, the floor sponsor of the bill, told House colleagues Thursday morning. "In a world that's increasingly hostile to religion, these amendments are an important expression of Utah's long-established commitment to religious freedom."

SB150 is similar to religious freedom laws in other states, but Utah's version include non-codified language to clarify that the bill isn't meant to override previous bills that balance religious freedom with other rights. Equality Utah, the state's premiere LGBTQ+ rights organization, said it was initially concerned the bill could overrule anti-discrimination policies in housing and the state’s ban on conversion therapy .

"We are grateful the sponsor, Sen. Weiler, heard our concerns and incorporated language in the bill to make clear that the rights conferred in these previously enacted bills are preserved and protected," the group said in a statement last week.

After the bill passed the Senate last week, Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, called it "one of the best religious freedom bills in the country."

SB150 passed the House unanimously Thursday and now heads to Gov. Spencer Cox for a signature. If signed, the new law will take effect on May 1.

Correction:  An earlier version incorrectly stated that Religious Freedom Restoration Act protections are already in place in Utah. While the law protects religious rights, the Supreme Court decided in City of Boerne v. Flores that the law applies only to federal laws, not statutes passed by state or municipal governments.

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Black Student’s Suspension Over Hairstyle Didn’t Violate Law, Texas Judge Rules

The trial was the latest development in a case that has prompted scrutiny of education policies and race in the United States.

A portrait shows Darryl George wearing his hair in locs, or long ropelike strands of hair, that he pins on his head in a barrel roll. He has a diamond earing in his left ear.

By Christine Hauser and Patrick McGee

Patrick McGee reported from Anahuac, Texas.

A Texas judge ruled on Thursday that a school district’s dress code, which it used to suspend a Black student last year for refusing to change the way he wears his hair, did not violate a state law meant to prohibit race-based discrimination against people based on their hairstyle.

The student, Darryl George, 18, has locs, or long ropelike strands of hair, that he pins on his head in a barrel roll, a protective style that his mother said reflected Black culture. Since the start of his junior year last August, he has faced a series of disciplinary actions at Barbers Hill High School in Mont Belvieu, about 30 miles east of Houston, after refusing to cut his hair. He was separated from his classmates, given disciplinary notices, placed in in-school suspension and sent to an off-campus program.

The hearing on Thursday, in the 253rd Judicial District Court in Anahuac, was in response to a lawsuit filed in September by the Barbers Hill Independent School District. The lawsuit argued that Mr. George was “in violation of the District’s dress and grooming code” because he wears his hair “in braids and twists” at a length that extends “below the top of a T-shirt collar, below the eyebrows, and/or below the earlobes when let down.”

The district asked State District Judge Chap B. Cain III to clarify whether the dress code violated a state law called the Texas CROWN Act, as the defendants, Mr. George and his mother, Darresha George, assert. The act, which took effect on Sept. 1, says a school district policy “may not discriminate against a hair texture or protective hairstyle commonly or historically associated with race.” It does not specifically mention hair length.

“The CROWN Act does not render unlawful those portions of the Barbers Hill dress and grooming restrictions limiting male students’ hair length,” Judge Cain said.

“I am not going to tell you that this has been an easy decision to make,” the judge said. Addressing the family, he encouraged them to “go back to the Legislature or go back to the school board because the remedy you seek can be had from either of those bodies.”

Allie Booker, a lawyer for the Georges, said she would appeal the ruling and seek an injunction to prevent the district from punishing Mr. George pending the outcome of a federal civil rights lawsuit that he and his mother filed last year against the state’s governor and attorney general.

The Georges left without commenting to reporters, more than a dozen of whom had gathered at the courthouse. State Representative Jolanda Jones said she walked them to their car.

“When I accompanied Darryl and his mom to the car, I saw a child that was crying, and he was upset and he didn’t understand,” Ms. Jones, a Democrat, said in an interview. “His mother was visibly shaking.”

Dr. Greg Poole, the superintendent of the Barbers Hill Independent School District, said in an emailed statement that the ruling “validated our position” that the dress code does not violate the state law, which “does not give students unlimited self-expression.”

The trial was the latest development in a case that has prompted scrutiny of education policies and race in the United States. At least 24 states have adopted laws that make it illegal to discriminate against students or workers because of their hairstyle.

The case involving Mr. George began soon after officials at the school objected to his locs and told Ms. George that the length of her son’s hair, even though it was pinned, violated the district’s dress code. The district subjected him to punishments, including suspension, after he refused to cut it.

Ms. George and her son filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas in September against Texas’ governor, Greg Abbott, who signed the law, and the state’s attorney general, Ken Paxton, saying they allowed the school to violate the act.

Their lawsuit is seeking a temporary order to stop Darryl’s suspension while the case moves through the federal court system, and accuses Mr. Abbott and Mr. Paxton of “purposely or recklessly” causing Ms. George and Darryl emotional distress by not intervening.

Supporters of the family, including legislators and activists, also said the measures violated the CROWN Act .

The family’s lawsuit said that Mr. George wears locs as an “expression of cultural pride” and claims that his protections under the federal Civil Rights Act are being violated because the dress code policy disproportionately affects Black male students.

In October, Mr. George was transferred to an off-campus disciplinary program. In December, he was allowed to return to his high school but then was given another in-school suspension , this time for 13 days.

In January, Mr. Poole, the superintendent, defended the policy in an advertisement published in The Houston Chronicle , saying that districts with dress codes are safer and have higher academic performance, and that “being an American requires conformity.”

Kitty Bennett contributed research.

Christine Hauser is a reporter, covering national and foreign news. Her previous jobs in the newsroom include stints in Business covering financial markets and on the Metro desk in the police bureau. More about Christine Hauser

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Remove a code repository from this paper, mark the official implementation from paper authors, add a new evaluation result row, remove a task, add a method, remove a method, edit datasets, effects of underlying topology on quantum state discrimination.

21 Feb 2024  ·  Aatif Kaisar Khan , Yasir Hassan Dar , Elias C. Vagenas , Salman Sajad Wani , Saif Al-Kuwari , Mir Faizal · Edit social preview

In this work, we show that quantum state discrimination can be modified due to a change in the underlying topology of a system. In particular, we explicitly demonstrate that the quantum state discrimination of systems with underlying discrete topology differs from that of systems with underlying continuous topology. Such changes in the topology of a spacetime can occur in certain quantum gravity approaches. In fact, all approaches to quantum gravity can be classified into two types: those with underlying continuous topology (such as string theory) and those with an underlying discrete topology (such as loop quantum gravity). We demonstrate that the topology of these two types of quantum gravity approaches has different effects on the quantum state discrimination of low-energy quantum systems. We also show that any modification of quantum mechanics, which does not change the underlying topology, does not modify quantum state discrimination.

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