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University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Rafters and skylights in the English Building

Colloquium Archive

Katherine Flowers

Name: Katherine Flowers, English Department

Presentation Title: "Resisting and Rewriting Local English-Only Policies”

Date: April 14, 2016


Monolingual language ideologies and policies are persistent and popular across the United States, even as they also tend to be unjust (and unrealistic). Most states have English as their official language, as do many schools, classrooms, organizations, and, increasingly, local governments. More than 50 communities have passed English-only policies in recent years. In the face of such policies, how do people work to resist and rewrite them, and to what effects? To examine these questions, I draw on a recent archival, discourse-analytic, and ethnographic study of people involved in local language policy. In this talk, I focus especially on the perspectives and activities of people who protested and later successfully repealed one local English-only policy in 2015. I argue that critics and supporters of monolingual policies actually use many of the same strategies and express many of the same ideologies about language and literacy, in ways that can facilitate incremental change, but which may constrain more long-term or meaningful transformation. These shared ideologies include language as an economic resource, English as domestic/traditional and other languages as foreign/new, and writing and speech as mutually exclusive. I conclude by considering the implications of this argument for how writing studies scholars might research and intervene in other sites of language policy. Ultimately, I call for an approach to language that acknowledges the affordances of both multilingual and translingual orientations, as well as the value of meshing the two.