2 September 2022

The second instalment of our new extension to our Bulletin ‘In the Journals’ focuses broadly on language and linguistics and the impact of colonialism on these in practice.

The aim of this feature is to bring some research to the fore that members may want to consider in their practice. It highlights and summarises pieces of recent research in a range of areas, relevant to anti-racism, equality, diversity and inclusion in the health professions and among service users, and offers short commentary pulling the themes together, as well as some thoughts on the potential implications.

We will not offer a critical appraisal of the article. We encourage members to always cast a critical eye on information they read and interpret findings and conclusions to an appropriate degree, based on the specifics of the study itself. Inclusion of articles in this feature does not represent RCSLT endorsement or alignment with the views presented.

If you’d like to get involved in writing the next instalment or suggesting some papers to feature, please email katie.chadd@rcslt.org.

Colonialingualism

This discussion paper is written in the context of English language education (ELE) and aims to explore the socio-political-historical context of the dominance of English language and how this may damage educational practices. It highlights issues related to the oppressive colonial legacy of the English language and suggests how damaging practices must be ‘unlearnt’.

As predominantly a discussion piece, the article does not have a set methodology.

Some of the issues discussed, include: the history of imperialism and colonialism and how the English language has been imposed on ‘nondominant’ cultures, the presumed supremacy associated with it, the absence of this history in education and the simultaneous erasure of other cultures and languages.

Other issues align imbalances in power and oppression across countries directly associated with English language dominance, how English has become to be viewed as useful, and how it is learnt/taught for this purpose, which further oppresses minoritized languages.

The author introduces a concept termed colonialingualism, which “upholds colonial legacies, imperial mindsets, and inequitable practices”. Approaches to addressing colonialingualism in education practices are presented.

The article concludes: “It is hoped that, by recognizing the symptoms of colonialingualism, we can prevent future harm and enable a respectful dialogue for more culturally and environmentally responsive practice in ELE and education more broadly.”

Linguistic standards

This article is a theoretical sociological paper, focusing on the disproportionate representation of linguistic minority students in special education settings in the US, including for ‘speech and language impairment’.

It aims to present an argument that this disproportion is underpinned by the operation of ‘colonial frameworks’ rather than implicit bias or competence of clinicians/educators. The author uses raciolinguistic genealogies of the Parsley Massacre (the mass killing of Haitians in the Dominican Republic in 1937) and bilingual education in the US to explore the key issues.

In the Parsley Massacre, people were instructed to say the name of the herb, Parsley, to examine their production of a Spanish voiced alveolar trill. Those who did not produce this (the Haitians) were subjugated and often killed. The author builds on this example to explain how a sustained, colonial, focus on ‘fidelity to linguistic standards’ manifests as a form of systemic violence, and racialises and pathologises individuals. They argue that such standards are entrenched in education practises , and underpin the over-representation of students of colour who are linguistic minorities in special education programmes.

The second part of the argument addresses how the focus on standardisation of language is related to a resistance to linguistic evolution, even though language is known to not be static. The author posits that curriculums use ‘colonially derived’ vocabulary and are rooted in the ‘customary’ pronunciations of words. The author highlights how these ‘colonial logics’ are embedded in education practices itself, and thus disadvantages minority language speakers who may then be deemed as ‘less than’.

The author then presents an example of how language instruction programmes have further perpetuated ‘damaging’ approaches through using standards to decide who does and doesn’t get on to programmes, thus further promoting colonial ideals, which may impact equity.

The author culminates in advocating: “until we decolonise applied linguistics and stop assessment people’s fidelity to linguistic standards, we will continue to see the disproportionate representation… thereby deepening racial inequity”.

Commentary

These two articles explore complex topics relating to English language and linguistics, and how the legacy of colonialism and imperialism perpetuates into our practice today. Whilst rooted in an education context, the relevance to several areas of speech and language therapy (for example, pertaining to language use, language disorder and potentially even speech sounds) is evident.

Both papers unveil some items which may require further reflection for the profession and support the goal to become fully inclusive and anti-racist, and to decolonise our practice. Understanding the impact of colonialism on areas related to speech and language therapy, that go beyond an individual’s journey will be important for change to occur.

Implications

Speech and language therapists should strive to be aware of the potential of ‘colonialinguialism’ in practice, especially when working with service users who use a language other than English or speak multiple languages. Assessments or approaches which risk penalising such individuals, or indeed further oppress minoritized languages, should be considered.

This relates to the notion of a ‘standard’ version or pronunciation of English brought to light in the second article. Some aspects of speech and language therapy practice might risk producing judgements on ‘fidelity to linguistic standards’, such as in standardised assessments and especially those which are ‘normed’ on white, monolingual English speakers. Reflection on the tools and approaches SLTs provide to service users who speak minoritized languages and/or language other than English, in light of these concepts, would be a valuable exercise.

Inclusive practice journals roundup: part one

First instalment focuses broadly on evidence around bias in healthcare professionals

Diversity, inclusion and anti-racism hub

Information, resources and guidance

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