Multilingualism and Social Justice

Language and multilingualism provide crucial vantage points into understanding and supporting social justice. Language diversity, particularly the diversity that stems from today’s multilingualism, can be the site for overt and covert oppression and marginalization. Language difference can be constructed as stigma and attract discrimination (i.e., linguicism), and multilingualism can be lived by some as a gift and by others as a curse. This differential experience of multilingualism as a gift or a curse patterns along structural forces related to unequitable distribution of material and symbolic resources in the world and to histories of (post)colonial domination and transnational mobility. Moreover, language difference compounds injustice related to other socially constructed and contested differences, such as differences in ethnicity/race, class, sex/gender/sexual orientation, age, (dis)ability, and religion. Social (in)justice related to language diversity affects many multilinguals from marginalized communities, including immigrants and refugees, Indigenous peoples, and Deaf communities, all of whom share the central human experience of the learning, unlearning, relearning, and non-learning of multiple languages over the life span. For these groups more than any other groups, language learning can either open or obstruct access to basic human rights, such as equitable access to health and education; personal and academic well-being; economic prosperity; fair treatment in courts; political participation; and even collective security. Thus, the right to language and multilingualism is a basic human right.

The IMS is committed to advancing knowledge about how language-related injustice can curtail people’s rights and well-being, and what can be done about it. It encourages faculty and student research initiatives about multilingualism and social justice that target a variety of languages, geographies, identities, inequalities, institutional settings, and historical contexts. It seeks to illuminate the following questions:

  • What processes, ideological and micro-interactional, enable linguicism and language-related injustice, at the individual-personal level and at the institutional-systemic level?
  • How does difference in language and communication repertoires intersect with ethnicity, race, class, sex/gender/sexual orientation, age, (dis)ability, religion, and other markers of identity to create deep vulnerabilities and to compound injustices?
  • How can those processes be disrupted, and what work towards more just life-world experiences for all, and particularly for multilinguals who are linguistically marginalized?