The Linguistics Department recently developed a Standard Language Ideology Statement. The statement came about as the result of the deep commitment of many of our students and faculty, who took part in the collaborative process to bring the statement together. The statement will inform our own teaching and mentoring in the Linguistics Department, and we hope it can serve as a relevant resource for other units and instructors regarding this important matter.
Standard Language Ideology Statement
Statement about Standard Language Ideology and Equity among Languages
Have your ears ever perked up as you overhear someone saying something in a way that’s not quite ‘proper English’? Or been on the receiving end of someone telling you ain’t isn’t a word or that two negatives cancel each other out? Encounters like these illustrate a truism of the human experience: our languages, like the identities they reflect, are rich, multi-faceted, and variable. However, these encounters also illustrate another familiar human experience (and one that we can all help make un-true!): the differences between us - in language, in skin tone, in gender identity - are not valued equally. And much like racism has little to do with actual skin color, linguistic discrimination has little to do with the actual structures and sayings of language and everything to do with histories of oppression and who we associate with different linguistic practices.
We, the Linguistics Department at the University of Michigan, affirm the equity of all people and we stand firmly against any implicit or explicit societal beliefs that value one person more than another. Moreover, as linguists, we oppose without reservation any and all practices of linguistic discrimination that reflect these oppressive belief systems. Dominant narratives that certain ways of using language—in writing, speaking, signing, or alternative and augmented communication—are more valuable than others have no linguistic validity: no language is superior or inferior to another, and no way of using language is better or worse than others. Notions of language prestige and linguistic stigmatization are rooted not in actual differences but rather in the sociohistorical context and power structures in which individual languages have been used and developed. As linguists, we are committed to bringing to light these oppressive forces and to helping undo them. Realizing that there is no intrinsic value to certain varieties allows us to begin pushing back against norms of “correct”, “professional”, and “proper” usage in language, and can help us co-create a better present and future.