Multilingualism, Second Language Learning, and Gender

Multilingualism, Second Language Learning, and Gender

Multilingualism, Second Language Learning, and Gender

Multilingualism, Second Language Learning, and Gender

Excerpt

Multilingualism, second language learning (SLL), and gender? Don't we already know that women are 'better at languages' and more willing to interact in their second language (L2)? Or that immigrant women don't learn the language of their new country because their husbands don't let them out of the house? Or that women are more prestige-conscious, which leads them to spearhead language shift? And that they are a subordinate group with no option but to maintain minority languages? Even this short list of widely held assumptions about multilingualism, SLL, and gender reveals how contradictory these assumptions are. So, no, as a matter of fact, we don't know any of these things. The main goal of the present volume is not only to problematize these and other commonly held assumptions about 'women', 'men', 'second language acquisition', and 'bilingualism', but to deconstruct the very categories and to argue for alternative approaches to the study of multilingualism, SLL, and gender. In order to do so, in what follows, we will use the accepted terms 'bilingualism' and 'SLA' to refer to already existing fields of study, and favor the more comprehensive and inclusive terms 'multilingualism' and 'SLL' in the discussion of our own theoretical approach.

1. Monolingual bias in the study of language and gender

In recent years, many researchers in the field of language and gender have abandoned the assumption that the meaning of gender is shared across cultures and that it is fixed, unproblematic, and can be easily isolated from other aspects of social identity such as class, race, ethnicity, culture, sexuality, age, nationality, (dis)ability, as well as from power relations, social setting, context, and discourse functions. They have steered away from variationist sociolinguistic approaches where language was taken to be the phenomenon to be explained and gender constituted the explanation (Cameron 1996). Instead, many feminist researchers started talking about 'doing' and 'performing' gender (Butler 1990; West and Zimmerman 1987), and came to view language and gender as rooted and jointly constructed in particular communities of practice (Eckert and . . .

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