Saturday, July 13

Translingualism for Knowledge Transfer: A Way Out of Linguistic Racism in the Midst of Language Diversity

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acknowledged language diversity for a long time; there are approximately 7000 languages worldwide (Gray et al., 2011). As the only species that acquire linguistic capability, language has a broad impact on human life. Language is not just a tool to communicate but also a form of one’s cultural identity. Language recognizes the phonemic system, how the language “sounds” and the grammatical system, also how the lexicon is combined to form a synchronous phrase (Wareing, 2005: 5). As a reflection of civilization, elements in language are also formed by the culture of its speakers. Especially in this era of massive globalization due to the development of information technology, the world is getting “narrower,” and communication is becoming more and more necessary; one can – and even be required – to master many languages. Learning a language other than the mother tongue is not easy because languages might have different phonemic and grammatical elements, even someone who has learned one language might have different phonemics. This phenomenon is referred to as accent and dialect (Wareing, 2005: 1). Accent is a pronunciation that might refer to the origin of the speaker’s region, while dialect is grammar and vocabulary (Jones, 2005: 105).

The language contains various accents and dialects. However, communication with various groups with different languages, accents, and dialects requires the presence of standards to facilitate the process. In terms of language, English is commonly used as an international language in education, business, and even politics. However, this does not necessarily solve the problem because English has different phonemics and grammatical systems from other languages, including Indonesian. The dominance of English as a “global language” creates English with other accents including accents from non-native speakers. This phenomenon shows that language systems have a mutually influencing relationship with communication processes, likewise accents and dialects, which do not construct a new language but give a new form to a language instead.
The problem is that the communication process, especially under certain conditions, such as academic or business, requires standardization in language. This standardization should not be a big problem if it only regulates what language is used, such as the use of English in various international events, but it turns out that this standardization also includes “exclusion” of accents and dialects that are considered “deviant” (McLelland, 2020). These accents and dialects are often treated as mistakes and shameful. This phenomenon is referred to as “linguistic racism,” racism based on a person’s use of language, accent, and dialect (Alim et al., 2016, in Dovchin, 2020).

Linguistic racism points to critical issues with inequality in language diversity. Various forms of “linguistic racism” can still be found. This is very destructive if it is not criticized and given a solution. De Costa (2020) describes linguistic racism as a particular problem, especially for international students, immigrants, and non-native or bilingual speakers. Dobinson and Mercieca (2020) in Dovchin (2020) found that linguistic racism often occurs in universities or educational institutions in English-dominated countries. Although some countries have implemented policies that support “language diversity,” the tendency of “language standardization” still occurs, which causes some non-native speaker students to experience “linguistic invisibility,” which can be reflected through “linguistic stereotyping” and “accent bullying.” Lindemann (2005) and Chun (2016) in Dovchin (2019) stated that linguistic racism often occurs in Asian students (non-native English speakers) in the United States in the form of labeling or other negative stigmas against them due to “speaking English with a broken accent.” Likewise, Tereshchenko et al. (2019) found that linguistic racism also occurs toward Eastern European students in the UK. Accent discrimination often happens, so most students slowly hide their native dialect and are pushed to resemble native English accents to make it easier for them to be accepted.

Linguistic racism could come from anyone, not only native speakers but also non-native speakers who consider the accent and dialect of another non-native speaker “deviant.” For example, President Joko Widodo’s English speech received negative backlash from several parties because of his Javanese accent (Usman, 2014). When learning English, most Indonesians are required to have an accent similar to English native speakers, whether it is British or American accents that are used as “standards.” Speaking a foreign language with a local accent is somehow stigmatized as “low” in terms of both intelligence and social class (Usman, 2014). Learning English is already challenging for most non-native speakers, let alone standardizing accents. For some people, learning English is even a privilege. Accent standardization will only discourage people, especially students, from learning, receiving, and transferring knowledge. It shows that the assumption that learning foreign languages will make transferring knowledge easier is not entirely true if there is still linguistic racism. The “accent and dialect standardization” prevents transferring knowledge that requires communication between parties of equal position. Knowledge transfer is not only crucial in the academic field but also the economic and business sectors (Purwaningrum, 2013). Language can be useful in the knowledge transfer process for business progress and even international cooperation (Purwaningrum, 2013).

However, as explained earlier, language is not only a matter of communication itself but also the power behind it (Jourdan, 2006: 147). Meusberger (2017: 37-38) uses the term “filter” as a power relations metaphor that filters and directs the perception, processing, evaluation, and interpretation of incoming information and the enactment of knowledge into practice. Massey (1994, in Donnelly, Gamsu, and Baratta, 2022) theorized how “places are constitutive of configured power relations which exist across space provides a means of understanding more fully connections between accent, space, and place-based subordination.” Accent, when examined from Massey’s perspective, can be observed as the manifestation of spatialized class structure, shining a light on the unequal social relations which underpin and maintain place-based hierarchies. In other words, the behavior of treating accents as “deviants” is a continuation of racism, especially regarding a person’s origin, such as Asian, Afro-America, and others. Language and science cannot be separated from the power factor that can hinder the knowledge transfer process between parties monopolizing knowledge from subordinate parties. Recognition of accents and dialects diversity is part of realizing equal knowledge and knowledge transfer. To realize this, apart from accepting the diversity of accents and dialects by not treating them as a mistake, the author uses the concept of translingualism from Dovchin (2019) as a critical solution to linguistic racism. Translingualism sees language as a process (languaging). In translingualism, linguistic diversity and creativity are appreciated.

Translingualism practices are complex linguistic practices that move beyond their cultural boundaries to form manifold communicative aims, agencies, identities, desires, and lexes (Dovchin, 2019: 86). Pennycook (2007: 47, in Dovchin, 2019: 86) defines translingualism as “the communicative practices of people interacting across different linguistic and communicative codes, borrowing, bending and blending languages into new modes of expression.” In translingualism, language is no longer understood merely as a static grammatical and phonemic system, but it also undergoes a process of borrowing words, mixing terms, or even “bending” these standards; cultural forms change and construct a new identity.

Translingualism can be a solution to overcoming linguistic racism, namely when translingual speakers participate in representing their voices and identities (Canagarajah, 2013: 1-2 in Dovchin: 2019; 86). Translingualism provides an opportunity to represent underrepresented language diversity, such as different accents and dialects. Translingualism includes a communicative way of combining linguistic resources in various manners.

Nevertheless, does this mean that language standardization is wholly avoided? Is it because language diversity is prioritized, making learning a foreign language unnecessary? Can the “non-standard languages” be used in formal settings such as business meetings or scientific conferences? Keep in mind that translingualism is based on mutual respect. Translingualism does not mean to impede foreign language learning or force business, educational, political, and other communications to use “non-standard languages.” However, the use of language in communication must uphold mutual respect between speakers, including by treating accents and dialects equally as a part of the communication process, not a mistake. Translingualism with mutual respect can facilitate the knowledge transfer process and can be used to help foreign language learning.

The application of the translingualism strategy by Rockell (2019) to overcome linguistic racism and all its impacts, especially in education, can be a concrete example. The translingualism strategy is proved to be effective in overcoming students’ shyness in speaking English and developing relations. Translingualism encourages individuals’ ability to speak a foreign language without making them feel ashamed of their original identity.

Language diversity does sound engaging, especially as a way to support the transfer of knowledge in all fields of society. However, there is a deeper issue than “learning a foreign language to gain and transfer knowledge.” Linguistic racism still occurs, one of which is the discrimination and standardization of accents. As a solution, translingualism needs to be embraced to facilitate the knowledge transfer process. Translingualism can be implemented in simple ways, such as by not shaming, labeling, and standardizing accents.

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(penulis: Louise Shania Sabela, Universitas Pelita Harapan, gambar:


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