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UCLA professors Abigail C. Saguy and Juliet A. Williams recently published a piece in the Scientific American titled, “Why We Should All Use They/Them Pronouns.” They sparked a conversation around the idea that gendered identifiers can lead to more bias and discrimination, so instead, maybe we should all use gender neutral pronouns: they/them. This article received a range of responses, which led to a follow-up piece written in the Scientific American by Drs. Saguy and Williams as well as Drs. Robin Dembroff (Yale University) and Daniel Wodak (University of Pennsylvania).

Their article, “We Should All Use They/Them Pronouns…Eventually,” responds to critics who may not fully understand the recommendation to why gender-neutral language should be universal. The authors further explain their research and perspectives by countering critiques that bring up concerns addressing gender equality, gender justice, gendered language, Western-centric language, trans perspective, misgendering, grammatical gender and how gendering avoidance can be a form of violence.

The authors realize that moving towards using gender-neutral pronouns will not happen overnight, however, as we begin to comprehend the importance of the change to use gender-neutral pronouns as default, then we can truly move closer to gender equality. To read more details about the significance of gender neutrality, click HERE.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Armenian_Americans_in_Los_Angeles

By Lilit Ghazaryan

UCLA Graduate Student, Department of Anthropology

Immigrant families living in the United States are often faced with the challenge of either raising their children monolingual or putting the emphasis on also teaching them their ancestral language. The Armenian community in Los Angeles lives in a bilingual and bicultural reality where they must navigate their way through at least two languages and two cultures on a daily basis. Trying to maintain one’s traditional and cultural norms as well as pass them down to the next generation is as important to the Armenian community as it is to any other minority group in the greater Los Angeles area. Language is one of the biggest aspects of heritage identity and plays a crucial role in maintaining that part of one’s self.

Within the Armenian community, parents are faced with decisions about how to facilitate their children’s language development in their heritage language. Choosing Armenian daycares, which are quite popular in Los Angeles, has been a widespread means for introducing Armenian children to their national identity, language, and traditions at a young age. Many of these Armenian daycares are home based and have been operating for 10 to 20 years caring after many children of Armenian descent.

My research interest towards the topic of raising bilingual children led me to one of these Armenian daycares. I was curious and wanted to understand how Armenian children navigated between the two languages, English and Eastern Armenian, especially during play time when the children were given creative freedom to choose what to play, who to play with, and most importantly which language to communicate with their peers. I spent around two months observing these children. The information documenting their interactions were gathered mainly through video recordings. In addition, I provided questionnaires for parents to share details regarding their family’s unique linguistic background, which included observations of their children’s language use in the home. These parents were all first-generation immigrants from the Republic of Armenia. The primary language spoken by all the families was Eastern Armenian (one of the two varieties of Armenian, the other variety is Western Armenian).

My observations exceeded my expectations as I witnessed children’s ease in manipulating language in both English and Eastern Armenian. Throughout their designated play time, the children learned from one another, efficiently tutoring each other in two languages while also developing a sense of identity as multilingual speakers. For instance, children translated words and/or phrases for each other; switched the language of dialogue based on the proficiency of the listener, and asked each other questions about both languages including specific meanings to given words. All of these speech practices showcased their metalinguistic awareness (speaker’s awareness of the languages they speak) of their own linguistic abilities as well as the proficiency of their peers in either of the languages. By focusing on the metalinguistic aspect of their communications, my goal is to show the advantages of growing up as simultaneous bilinguals, which helps children develop a strong sense towards the linguistic nuances earlier then their monolingual peers. My aim is to illustrate the masterful ways children play with language and incorporate language in play, while simultaneously developing their linguistic skills and understanding of language politics and practices.

This project brings awareness to the underrepresented community of the Armenian American diaspora and fills the gap within the field of similar studies conducted with children. It also highlights the important role children play in their own language socialization and the socialization of their peers. Although this study concentrates on the Armenian community, it opens a window into the world of immigrant children growing up in the linguistically dynamic city of Los Angeles navigating their way through two (in some cases even more) languages while also developing an understanding of their own identity as a multilingual person. As I continue to develop this project further with the goal of co-authoring a publication with Dr. Erica Cartmill, I hope that my work will be useful not only to scholars, but also policy makers, language teachers, parents, and caretakers. My goal is to show the vibrant linguistic environment that children grow up in, highlight the benefits of bilingualism and multilingualism, and encourage the maintenance of the heritage language within the diaspora communities.

 

Lilit Ghazaryan is a graduate student in the UCLA Department of Anthropology. Her fields of study are Linguistic Anthropology, Language Socialization, and Multilingualism. Her research focus includes metalinguistic awareness, peer-group socialization among children, and the Armenian-American community in Los Angeles.

 

By Tyanna Slobe

PhD student, Linguistic Anthropology, UCLA

‘Mock White Girl’ (MWG) is a concept that I started developing in my MA thesis in Linguistics at the University of Colorado Boulder, and began formulating into an article when I came to UCLA, where I received valuable feedback from several faculty members in UCLA’s Department of Anthropology and Center for Language, Interaction, and Culture (CLIC), as well as feedback from UCLA’s Center for the Study of Women. I use the term to describe performances that parody a linguistic style ideologically associated with a stereotypical, upper middle-class, white girl in the U.S. I got the idea for this research one day while ordering a latte at a hipster Boulder café, after I told the barista my order and he repeated it back in an exaggerated ‘girl’ sounding voice. While he was clearly joking, I realized that he was mocking something related to gender, maybe age, and a particular speaking style, and I became interested in the stigma at root of his mocking performance.

This research, recently published in the journal Language In Society examines how the linguistic, embodied, and social features of MWG are taken up and (re)produced by different social actors across various cultural contexts. Performances are invoked through hyperbolic use of a bunch of linguistic and stylistic variables, including things like uptalk, vocal fry, dynamic intonation, texting language, blondeness, and objects associated with material consumerism, like Starbucks and iPhones. The persona is widely-circulated in U.S. pop culture, and the relevant linguistic variety is often associated with the ’80s and ’90s Valley Girl from Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley, represented in cult classic films, such as Clueless and Legally Blonde. While this particular stereotype may be iconic of LA and California, the persona has transcended the Valley and is associated with cosmopolitan white femininity all over the US. She does not “live” anywhere in particular; instead she is more recognized through elite institutions and social practices, like Starbucks and shopping.

MWG is grounded in linguistic anthropological research that uses mock as a framework for understanding code switching, social meaning, and power first proposed by Jane Hill in her work on Mock Spanish.[1] Hill defines Mock Spanish as a practice where dominant groups (in this case white, monolingual English speakers) appropriate Spanish words/phrases into their talk for added humor or other social meaning, which, in effect, racializes Latinas/os and perpetuates negative stereotypes of the Spanish language and its speakers as ‘not serious.’ More recently, linguistic anthropologists have explored how mock-like practices are also used in ways that challenge hegemonic power relations, rather than only reinforcing them. MWG is situated in both of these bodies of work. While it’s something that can be used to make fun of voices—like in my encounters with so many hipster baristas—it still draws from a linguistic style associated with a relatively privileged segment of the population: white girls and women. In MWG performances, the mocked linguistic variety is closely related to Standard American English, and its speakers live in a society where white femininity is overrepresented in media representations of girlhood, which normalizes these girls’ experiences at the expense of all other forms of girlhood. For these reasons, it’s important to consider the diverse cultural contexts in which MWG performances occur.

I highlight three genres of MWG performances from videos found on YouTube and Vine. The first, Savior MWG, involves middle-aged white women who use MWG as a means of positioning girls’ voices as sounding unprofessional, inauthentic, and annoying. Here, MWG performances stem from middle class anxieties about girls’ ability to achieve socioeconomic stability in male-dominated corporate spheres. The second genre involves the viral YouTube videos Shit White Girls Say, wherein girls of color use MWG to draw attention to and parody racist things that white girls frequently say and do. In these examples, mock is a resource used to humorously call out white racism. The last genre examines videos made by teenage boys on Vine who use MWG to cast the mocked persona as superficial, irrational, and comical in ways that position teenage girls’ homosocial peer groups as vapid, and thus illegitimate sites of sociality.

Each genre of MWG involves a different moral stance relative to the white girl persona, and these stances vary depending on a performer’s experiences with, and ideologies about, white girls. The ways that white girls in the U.S. are interpreted and evaluated varies significantly among different segments of the population, and MWG gives insight into this phenomenon. My article thus stresses the importance of taking an intersectional approach to studies of linguistic variation and social meaning.

 

Tyanna Slobe is a PhD student in Linguistic Anthropology at UCLA. Her dissertation research, funded by the National Science Foundation, compares how teenagers in public and private Chilean high schools come into linguistic practices associated with different class and political identities. She also has a major side interest in how ‘teenager’ emerged as a social category in the U.S. through 20th century media representations that primarily portrayed the experiences of upper middle-class, white girls, which is how this work on MWG originated.

[1] Hill, J. (2008). The everyday language of white racism. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

By Kristella Montiegel

PhD Student, Sociology, UCLA

It’s estimated that California educates 14,000 Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing (D/HH) students annually. D/HH children have unique needs towards the successful development of communication abilities and social skills, and federal and state laws have established guidelines for assisting families and educators in successfully meeting these needs. One guideline is the requirement of a child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP), which involves a team of members assessing children’s communication needs and placing them in the least restrictive educational environment possible. Today, most states have laws mandating hearing screenings and services for newborns. California implemented these requirements in 2000, making all diagnosed children eligible for D/HH education programs.

While there are several options for young children who are deemed eligible for D/HH educational services, two options are considered the main approaches to education: the American Sign Language (ASL) option and the Auditory-Verbal option. However, these approaches have competing ideologies that are commonly at the center of debate about which is the better approach. The ASL approach, rooted in Deaf culture, champions signing as language equality and teaches it as the primary form of communication. Alternatively, the Auditory-Verbal approach does not teach ASL, and instead emphasizes the development of spoken language with the goal of transitioning children into mainstream society.

As a sociology student whose research interests lie primarily in the subfield of language and social interaction, I became interested in what the ASL/Auditory-Verbal approach looks like ‘on the ground,’ or, the ways in which these approaches are accomplished in the institutional setting of a D/HH preschool classroom. I was given the opportunity to pursue these interests in November of 2017, when I gained access as a volunteer and student observer in an Auditory-Verbal preschool classroom of an LA school district. I have been volunteering on a weekly basis, assisting in the daily routines and taking ethnographic notes on the learning activities and naturally occurring interactions between the students and classroom educators.

I quickly learned that a key component of the Auditory-Verbal approach is a hyper-emphasis on vocalization. Speech permeates all activities of the school day: free play, meals, and lessons. The educators encourage the students to “talk through” any activity in which they’re engaged, whether speech would be strictly necessary or not, including episodes of bad behavior. Vocalization is not only prioritized, it’s also managed with preferences, such as using complete sentences, avoiding baby-talk, and knowing the appropriate times to say certain things. Talk is the desired means for students to adequately participate and demonstrate their competence in lessons, even if their understanding of something is or could be made clear nonverbally. My curiosity grew: What does all of this vocalization in the D/HH preschool do for the children and their families?            

Students’ spoken language is monitored by the class educators and school specialists who gather assessments for periodic IEP reviews. Thus, the value of a student’s use of speech in the class transcends beyond the immediate context in that it’s consequential for their overall IEP progress. Upon graduation from preschool, parents and the IEP team must decide among options for kindergarten, which typically involves general education integration to various degrees. I began to wonder: If the Auditory-Verbal class is specialized for children who are eligible for D/HH services, yet conducts learning and literacy development according to social life in mainstream society, then how do the educators facilitate student participation in a way that is sensitive to the children’s needs while also preparing for mainstreaming?

I’m exploring these questions on talk in an Auditory-Verbal class as an ethnographic project for my Master’s thesis, keeping an emic (or participant) perspective toward the cultural context of the Auditory-Verbal classroom, so I try to always consider what things mean for the educators and children themselves. Importantly, in conducting this research, I by no means am claiming the Auditory-Verbal approach as somehow more advantageous than the ASL approach. Rather, for purposes of time, I’ve chosen not to make this a comparative research project, and am choosing to focus on the Auditory-Verbal approach since I’m already a volunteer. I’ll continue volunteering in the class for the 2018-2019 academic year, and will ideally extend the study into a larger project involving video-recorded classroom interactions, as well as video-recorded home visits to explore how and to what extent the children are participating in family interactions. I hope the impact of my research will address important factors that influence the language practices and social-skill development of D/HH children, in order to develop a communicative framework for educational support both in the classroom and in their homes.

Meeting the needs of D/HH children anywhere has its challenges. In LA, some of these challenges are exacerbated by the fact that the LA Unified School district is large, services providers are spread out across the district, and the cost of living is high. Parents are often working across town, and thus getting to all of the relevant appointments (including school IEPs) is challenging. Teachers face an extremely heterogeneous class with multiple language backgrounds, and different socioeconomic statuses and understandings of the situation. In my future work, I hope to explore how the unique LA context shapes the D/HH classroom.

 

Kristella Montiegel (BA Department of Communication, Media and Culture at Coastal Carolina University; MS, Department of Communication at Portland State University) is a PhD student in UCLA’s Department of Sociology, and the Coordinator for the UCLA Center for Language, Interaction, and Culture (CLIC).

UCLA

Dr. Luft co-authored a blog piece for The Washington Post‘s Monkey Cage.  This powerful piece discusses how dehumanizing discourse can prepare the way for violence over time.  The authors cite important social science research regarding the subject.  To read it, click HERE.

Aliza Luft is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at UCLA, and her research focuses on ethnic, racial, and religious boundary processes, gender, high-risk mobilization, and the causes and consequences of violence.