Seminar Series to Raise Awareness of Language Discrimination

Seminar Series to Raise Awareness of Language Discrimination

A seminar series focused on language discrimination in fragile and precarious communities proposed by faculty in the Trinity College of Arts & Sciences at Duke has attracted key funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The project has been designated a Sawyer Seminar Series and awarded a grant of $225,000 over two years. Institutions must be invited to apply for the opportunity.

Leading the effort are professors Edna Andrews, chair of Linguistics; Lee Baker, chair of Cultural Anthropology; and Liliana Paredes, director of the Spanish language program in Romance Studies.

Their grant application defines fragile communities as “areas with high proportions of residents who struggle financially in their daily lives and have limited opportunities for social mobility.”

“Language discrimination is one of the most ubiquitous yet ignored forms of discrimination,” the team wrote. “Linguistic forms can signal who has privilege and who does not, who has more power and agency, and who does not.”

The series will explore four central themes:

  • Minorities, underrepresented communities and language-based discrimination
  • Linguistic diversity in education
  • Multilingualism, immigration and identities
  • Indigenous and endangered languages

“Within a particular language, people who use the linguistic form associated with privilege and power typically claim that they are more civilized, refined, or advanced; they certainly have more access to institutions essential for upward mobility,” the team explained.

“Conversely, those who do not speak the prestige dialect face stereotypical characterizations of being uncivilized, stupid, and even criminal. Language use is a powerful social construct with very real and material consequences.”

The series is expected to launch in fall of 2020 and will feature approximately 20 guest speakers from around the globe addressing the many layers of social and cultural tension in language discrimination. Four neighboring North Carolina universities will partner with Duke on this effort, and graduate students will have the opportunity to be involved throughout the series.

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