As a foreigner learning the Spanish language, I have had my own experiences with linguistic discrimination, from seemingly innocent remarks, to downright discriminating other varieties of a certain language, by deeming them “vulgar” or “of bad taste”. With this said, the intention of this article is not to shame my past teacher(s), but rather, enlighten the reader the consequences of linguistic discrimination.
But before anything else, what is linguistic discrimination? Linguistic discrimination is a distinct treatment based on the language or dialect being used, a good example is when Tagalog speakers mock Cebuano speakers for their accent, or when European Spanish speakers deem the American varieties of Spanish as unworthy or low class.
My first encounter with linguistic discrimination was during my childhood, when my school started implementing “English Only Policy”, this policy penalizes students who speak their native tongue by paying 5 pesos per word. Although the intention is to increase fluency rate in students, studies have shown that this practice is counterproductive as it affects the child’s psychology by making the child feel inferior amongst their peers, as well as promoting elitism, because it makes the child associate the English language as a measure of intelligence and privilege.
Another form of linguistic discrimination that I have observed in the Philippines is how often T.V shows portray other ethnic groups, especially the Visayans, as maids for the wealthy Manila-Tagalog elite. The worst part is, most of the time these characters are satirized and caricaturized on television as dimwitted characters. In my personal experience, I have witnessed students mock the accent of a Cebuano speaker when speaking English or Tagalog, and most of the time the teacher only does not stop the discrimination from happening, but also shames the student for not knowing how to pronounce or use the correct word. Sadly, this is a common occurrence in many classrooms in the Philippines.
The next form of linguistic discrimination normally occurs inside Foreign Language classrooms. While I understand that a language is best learned through immersion, prohibiting or shaming the use of the learner’s dominant language as reference is counterproductive, because it demotivates the learner and it may even lead to linguistic resentment later on. The learner uses his or her dominant language to associate and compare certain structures to the target language, thus reinforcing the structure or vocabulary learned in the target language. After all, they are learning another linguistic system and using their dominant language as a reference will aid them in learning the target language. Aside from prohibiting the use of the dominant language as reference, linguistic purism is also a form of linguistic discrimination. Linguistic purism refers to the usage of the standard form of a language. Let’s face it, nobody speaks the standard form of any language, as standardizations are social conventions made by institutions to establish what is “academic”, however in everyday usage, nobody speaks “academically”, and the learner will learn the dialect or variety from his or her teacher. In my personal experience, my professor did not allow me to use words from México and she even penalized me for using vocabulary from non-peninsular dialects of Spain. Her excuse was “we are teaching you the standard, the one used in Madrid”, but this is not an excuse, because the Madrid dialect doesn’t follow the standard norms per se as recommended by the Real Academia Española, but to be fair, her degree was not Linguistics nor Philology, but it is not an excuse to shame someone for using another variety.
To conclude this article, linguistic discrimination or any form of discrimination should not be tolerated, this is a horrendous and medieval practice that needs to be stopped. To stop this horrible practice, 1) we must hire teachers that are culturally sensitive, 2) we must educate our peers, that there are many languages around the world and there can be multiple languages within the same country or territory and lastly, see languages as passports, rather than barriers, like I said in my previous article, languages are a window to other cultures, furthermore, we should remember that we are in a multilingual space and every language deserves to be loved, respected and be studied.