Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

The Colour of Language: Accent, Devaluation and Resistance in Latin American Immigrant Lives in Canada

Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

The Colour of Language: Accent, Devaluation and Resistance in Latin American Immigrant Lives in Canada

Article excerpt


This analysis studies the power of Standard English in the process of formation of devalued immigrant identities in contemporary English Canada. Probing the connections between Standard English, colonialism, whiteness and the immigrant experience, this piece moves from an educator's autobiography to the analysis of other immigrant lives to understand the production of a dominant discourse that reaffirms whiteness and the native speaker of English over the identity of the speaker of English as second language. The essay concludes with the argument that those whose identities have been marginalized in the name of substandard language and cultural traits emerge from this process with privilege to interpret and transform the society to which they now belong.


Cette analyse presente le pouvoir normatif de l'anglais standard dans le processus de formation devalorisante de l'identite des immigres habitant aujourd'hui au Canada anglais. Cette etude sonde les liens entre l'anglais normatif, le colonialisme, le fait d'etre un Blanc et ce que vivent les immigres, en partant de l'autobiographie d'un educateur pour analyser ensuite d'autres experiences de vie d'immigres, afin de comprendre comment la production d'un discours dominant sert a reaffirmer la superiorite d'un Blanc de langue maternelle anglaise au Canada et l'inferiorite identitaire d'une personne dont l'anglais est la langue seconde. Cet essai permet de conclure que ceux qui ont ete marginalises sous le pretexte de l'inferiorite de leur langue et de leur culture, emergent de ce processus en ayant l'avantage de pouvoir scruter et transformer la societe dont ils font desormais partie.

When we talk of 'mastery' of the Standard language, we must be conscious of the terrible irony of the word, that the English language itself was the language of the master, the carrier of his arrogance and brutality (Searle 1983, 68).

I am new. History made me. My first language was spanglish. I was born at the crossroads and I am whole

(Levins Morales 2001, 127).


While in the process of teaching an introductory theory course in sociology, I was inspired to write this piece, influenced, in particular, by two of the readings, I had chosen for my students as an invitation to engage with the field of sociological thought. One of them was Charles Lemert's (2005) Social Things and the other, Joan Acker's (1997) "My life as a Feminist Sociologist; or, Getting the Man out of my Head." For me Lemert validates a research methodology where the personal experience of the investigator has an explicit place in the investigation. Joan Acker's biographical account tells me that in the 1960s, unless feminists dared to think independently from the dominant ideas in sociology, a sociology highly dominated by patriarchy, it was not possible to contribute meaningfully to the discipline. I am a feminist academic with an immigrant background writing at the beginning of the 21st century. English is my second language (ESL). My life and work are inseparable from the dichotomy of Standard English/ESL. While through Lemert's influence I integrate my life experience into my teaching and research, through Acker's metaphor of "getting the man out of [one's] head," I have been encouraged to get the power of Standard English and whiteness out of my head to be able to reflect and write on the connections between Standard English, colonialism, whiteness, and the ESL immigrant experience. Informed by these two methodological ideas, this piece studies the pre-eminence of language in structuring Latin-American immigrant lives in English Canada. (1) I set this analysis within Omi and Winant's (1993) argument that diasporic consciousness and racially informed standpoint epistemologies are essential to understand the contemporary globalization of racial spaces. I move from my personal experience as an immigrant feminist academic to reflect on other immigrant lives to analyse the power of Standard English over non-official languages and cultures to construct immigrant identities, in particular female immigrant identities. …

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