Because I wrote so much (I am particularly passionate about this subject) I'm putting the discussion stuff up here so you can see. Questions to answer or discuss:
1. Should there be an official language in the United States?
2. Have you ever had trouble understanding someone foreign to you? As a student or otherwise?
3. Do you speak another language? If so, is English your second? If so, have you ever dealt with language stigmatization?
4. Other stuff related to this topic (Language, other countries and language, Bilignualism, multilingualism, etc)
5. If there would be one language you'd like everyone to speak throughout the world, what would it be?
6. If you're not a United States resident, and are in a different country, tell us about how language is seen there in comparison!
If you don't want to read it all, that's fine with me. Just don't gimme that, "Man, ain't nobody got time for that," nonsense. D:
There's been debates about whether or not the United States should make English our "official language" for decades. I think, 6 or 7 years ago a law was put forth to only hire Teachers or TA's in Universities who speak "clear English" in Minnesota Universities and colleges (I'm from Minnesota.) This was because of a rise in complaints against foreign TAs and instructors at universities, whom the students felt could not communicate effectively and therefore caused them to misunderstand material and inevitably fail the course.
There has been very little in response toward this argument, because we feel as a country that if you come here and want to be a part of the country, that you must learn English. While I agree that if you are going to move to a country, you should definitely learn the language of the country you're planning on living in (that's just common sense,) I don't feel that laws should be placed hindering those who want to move here and do not know English very well.
Now something that I find very interesting, and I hope you will see it too, is the concept of racism, and other stigmas being tied to language.
Racism is heavily frowned upon in our society now, but people still are racist (it happens, we're growing out of it ?) When someone uses racist expletives about someone who is of any particular ethnicity or skin color, we shame them and call them a biggot.
However, it is completely fine to make remarks and stigmatize a language or even an accent. I'll explain why this is important.
To make base remarks about a culture outside of your own, regardless of intent, can be seen as offensive. "All ___ are ____." "I don't really like ___, because they ____." We can't SAY that without some sort of repercussion. However, we can say, "I don't like the accent that people have from the south, it drags on and I can't understand what they're saying. It's such a lazy way to talk, why can't they just speak normally?" There's a stigma then placed on people who have that specific accent, that those people are lazy. The same goes for people who speak another language but have accented English because of that accent.
I had an excellent TA two semesters ago who had a Masters degree in some scientific field (I think biology) and she spoke English well enough that I could understand her. Sometimes we as a class would have to help her with pronunciations of pronouns (like historical names) and latin-based scientific terms. She was very smart, but the other students would always make fun of her when she wasn't around. I heard one of them even whine, "Why doesn't she just go back to China or wherever?"
This is where the line has been crossed from language stigmatization to racism and where motivations are particularly clear. It's not because you can't understand her, it's because you don't want her in your country.
SO HERE'S THE PART THAT ACTUALLY MATTERS. Or, you know, tl;dr.
A study done by Donald Rubin in 1992 had groups of undergraduate students listen to a short lecture (under 5 minutes.) The lecture was given by a woman from Ohio, where the general whole of the United States claims to "not have an accent" or "speaks clear English." The students listened to the lecture, but did not see the woman who spoke. They, instead, put a picture of a white woman in front of them in one group, and a Chinese-American woman in the second group.
The first group scored higher in a comprehension quiz after the lecture was given, and the second group had students complain that the lecturer was incomprehensible. Keep in mind that this was the same exact lecture given through recording. The only difference was that the students saw an Asian-American giving the lecture in their minds rather than a Caucasian American.
As speakers of any language, we both do work to communicate. Speakers attempt to speak clearly and listeners attempt to make sense of the messages received. Work is done by both parties. However, we have been told that it is mostly on the speaker when a problem occurs. If I don't understand you, it is because you are not speaking clearly. Not because I have decided not to try and understand what you say.
Because of our preconceptions of what is easy or difficult to understand, if we talk to someone who is speaking with an accent, we unconsciously forgo trying to listen actively because we feel as though this person is not comprehensible and we shouldn't have to work to understand them.
DISCUSS LANGUAGE AND CULTURE AND COUNTRIES AND STUFF NAO..?