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Identity, language and prejudice

Language connects us at Language Professionals’ Networking Event. Each and every one of us speaks a different way, since our personal and cultural experiences are manifested in the way we express ourselves. At our August event Ana Ilievska Završnik raised the question how identity is constructed and expressed by language.

Based on her presentation a discussion started on language and accents – and the concept of linguistic discrimination or linguicism, that is

“ideologies and structures which are used to legitimate, effectuate, and reproduce unequal division of power and resources (both material and non-material) between groups which are defined on the basis of language”

Tove Skutnabb-Kangas

But how exactly is language discrimination present?

Nonstandard dialects are often – wrongly- associated with lack of intelligence, criminality, lack of trustworthiness, etc. Thus language becomes a tool for stereotypes to reflect power differences in society. And these attitudes towards non-standard dialects and foreign accents have a very real impact on the speaker’s credibility or employability, not to mention the psychological consequences. According to Dr. Alex Baratta’s findings, even though accent modification is common, it can cause frustration, depression, anger – it can threaten our identity.

Safwat Saleem’s honest and funny talk on perceived linguistic discrimination

To continue our discussion on language and accents, we would like to highlight the Accentism Project. Their aim is to uncover and challenge language discrimination and to give the opportunity for people to share their own experiences. It is run by Dr Erin Carrie and Dr Rob Drummond, who are both sociolinguists at Manchester Metropolitan University. Apart from encouraging people to share their personal experiences, they’ve also collected related academic papers and media links.

Linguistic discrimination is – as any type of discrimination – a difficult topic to talk about. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t! If you have any thoughts, questions, comments, please share with us so we can think and learn together.

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