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Language Ideologies

Norma González, University of Utah

One area of interest that has not received adequate attention in considering the intergenerational transfer of heritage languages is the concept of language ideologies. In particular, it is important to investigate the role that language ideologies play in schools and in children's interest in maintaining their HLs and developing biliteracy skills.

As a construct that emerged from linguistic anthropology (Woolard, Schieffelin and Kroskrity 1998), the concept of language ideologies is related to the concept of "regimentation." Regimentation refers to the fact that utterances do not have their meanings easily available for decoding, but are regimented or framed by larger "metadiscourses" or ideologies (González and Arnot-Hopffer 2002). The articulation between micro-level interactional and macro-level patterns can be studied in schools and communities by examining, on the one hand, what HL learners say about language, who they say it to and under what circumstances, and on the other hand, circulating metadiscourses about language, the purpose and use of language, learning about language, and learning through language. The term "regimentation," however, might imply a lock-step unilineal correlation between particular micro-interactional instances and corresponding macro-level discourses. This, of course, is not the case, especially in the borderlands area where the complexities of language use are undergirded by social and historical landscapes (González 2001).

Our first challenge would be to differentiate how various studies in language ideology use the term "ideology". Some conceptualizations adopt an Althusserian (1971) take on ideology, that is, that ideology "interpellates" or "hails" individuals within social structure. This type of ideology is unconscious and it functions to maintain social stratification and becomes evident in particular speech practices. Other conceptualizations do not refer to social stratification, instead seeing ideology as simply tacit or explicit metalinguistic discourse, or a body of assumed notions (See Woolard 1992 for an interpretive framework tracing "ideology" and its conceptual underpinnings). Despite these different conceptualizations, as Woolard notes, "What most researchers share, and what makes the term useful in spite of its problems, is a view of ideology as rooted in or responsive to the experience of a particular social position..." (Woolard and Schieffelin 1994: 58). What also appears to be shared is that "ideology" implicates power, the exercise of power, and the reproduction of dominant/subordinate relations.

The operationalization of the term language ideology in this context, and its relationship to HL learners can present us with methodological dilemmas. One area of tension in studies of language ideology concerns the problem of the alternate sitings of ideologies (Woolard 1998). Are ideologies discoverable in language practices themselves? Is metapragmatic discourse - talk about how language is used - the window to how we think about language? Or must studies of language ideologies focus on what is unsaid, that is, the implicit framing of texts that does not always rise to discursive consciousness? If we assume that language ideologies both constitute and are embedded in social practices, that is, in actual activity, then they can be observed, recorded and subjected to analysis. They can also be connected to an array of semiotic systems at work within the institution of the school and within the larger community. Thus, in order to capture the breadth and depth of possible ideological sitings and to read across multiple layers of language use, both explicit and implicit, we can concentrate on multiple sites of data collection (González and Arnot-Hopffer 2002).

Another area of tension between theories of ideology and the context of HL learners is the relevance of such theory to the language ideologies of children. Locating sites of children's language ideologies can be a complex research endeavor. Can the theoretical constructs that have emerged in studies of adults be transferred to children? Do results obtained in studies of adults apply to children? What is the effect of public discourses on children in a Dual Language or HL program? How can we capture children's words and worlds and frame them within adult conceptualizations? Children are exposed to an array of overt and covert language ideologies through media, politics, parents, peers and schooling. They must engage with what even adults are not able to untangle: contradictions and ambiguities about who typically and normatively speaks what language to whom and under what circumstances.

Theoretically, we consider children's utterances concerning language use as a kind of apprenticeship, a trying out and trying on of language ideologies. This theoretical orientation can lead us to investigate a variety of data sources, including household interviews, classroom observations, and children's own utterances. While we cannot pretend to freeze the shifting social landscapes on which children's linguistic formations develop, we can attempt to grasp the multidimensional phenomenon by gathering data from multiple sources.

The research questions that I would pose, then, would be:

  • How can we trace the formation and transformation of language ideologies within school settings? Do these ideologies change over time, and if so, how? How do language ideologies influence the implementation of dual language programs?
  • How can we study the formation and transformation of children's language ideologies? How do these ideologies influence HL Learners in formal and informal contexts? How are language ideologies related to literacy ideologies? How do language ideologies intersect/impact the development of biliteracy for HL learners?

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