Linguistic discrimination

Linguistic discrimination (also called linguicism and languagism) is the unfair treatment of an individual based solely on his or her use of language. This use of language may include the individual's native language or other characteristics of the person's speech, such as an accent, the size of vocabulary (whether the person uses complex and varied words), modality, and syntax. It may also involve a person's ability or inability to use one language instead of another; for example, one who speaks Occitan in France will probably be treated differently from one who speaks French. Based on a difference in use of language, a person may automatically form judgments about another person's wealth, education, social status, character or other traits. These perceived judgments may then lead to the unjustifiable treatment of the individual.

In the mid-1980s, linguist Tove Skutnabb-Kangas, captured this idea of discrimination based on language as the concept of linguicism. Kangas defined linguicism as the "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". Although different names have been given to this form of discrimination, they all hold the same definition. It is also important to note that linguistic discrimination is culturally and socially determined due to a preference for one use of language over another.

It can be noted that use of language such as certain accents may result in an individual experiencing prejudice. For example, some accents hold more prestige than others depending on the cultural context. However, with so many dialects, it can be difficult to determine which is the most preferable. The best answer linguists can give, such as the authors of "Do You Speak American?", is that it depends on the location and the individual. Research has determined however that some sounds in languages may be determined to sound less pleasant naturally. Also, certain accents tend to carry more prestige in some societies over other accents. For example, in the United States speaking General American (i.e., an absence of a regional or working class accent) is widely preferred in many contexts such as television journalism. Also, in the United Kingdom, the Received Pronunciation is associated with being of higher class and thus more likeable. In addition to prestige, research has shown that certain accents may also be associated with less intelligence, and having poorer social skills. An example can be seen in the difference between Southerners and Northerners in the United States, where people from the North are typically perceived as being less likable in character, and Southerners are perceived as being less intelligent.

It is natural for human beings to want to identify with others. One way we do this is by categorizing individuals into specific social groups. While some groups may be readily noticeable (such as those defined by ethnicity or gender), other groups are less salient. Linguist Carmen Fought explains how an individual's use of language may allow another person to categorize them into a specific social group that may otherwise be less apparent. For example, in the United States it is common to perceive Southerners as less intelligent. Belonging to a social group such as the South may be less salient than membership to other groups that are defined by ethnicity or gender. Language provides a bridge for prejudice to occur for these less salient social groups.

Linguistic discrimination is often defined in terms of prejudice of language. It is important to note that although there is a relationship between prejudice and discrimination, they are not always directly related. Prejudice can be defined as negative attitudes towards an individual based solely on their membership of a social group, while discrimination can be seen as the acts towards the individual. The difference between the two should be recognized because an individual may hold a prejudice against someone due to their use of language, but they may not act out on that prejudice. The following are examples of linguistic prejudice that may result in discrimination.

While, theoretically, any individual may be the victim of linguicism regardless of social and ethnic status, oppressed and marginalized social minorities are often its most consistent targets, due to the fact that the speech varieties that come to be associated with such groups have a tendency to be stigmatized.

This page was last edited on 23 December 2017, at 19:42.
Reference: under CC BY-SA license.

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