Enterprising and Imagining Multilingual Subjects
Beyond Commodity-Centered Discourses of Language Learning in the U.S.
Keywords:multilingualism, language learning, subjectivity, discourse analysis, commodification of language
The foundation of this study is a contrastive analysis of mainstream discourses of the learning of languages other than English (LOTEs) in the U.S. and some of the alternative ways in which individuals enrolled in university language programs imagine the multilingual futures that might be afforded to them through the study of a new language. The data for the first part includes public-facing documents from three discourse planes: popular news media, public documents from governmental agencies and NGOs, and public-facing advocacy from language educators themselves. For the latter part, the article relies upon data from case studies of four students at U.S. institutions of higher learning: two learners of Italian and two of Mandarin, all in some sense embodying underrepresented identities in university education and second language research. These analyses reveal that in contrast to the prevalent commodifying discourses, the student participants experience language learning not as first and formemost the acquition of a disembodied skill, but as deeply ensconced in their social, affective, and moral lives in ways that extend beyond economic interests. Through the exploration of the contrast between these two data sets, it is argued that the treatment of multilingualism as a commodifiable skill perpetuates the ideological double standard (Pavlenko, 2002) that foreign language learning is the privilege of certain individuals, and consequently, leads to the misrecognition of language learners’ actual intentions and desires. The article concludes with a discussion of possible implications for the ways in which educators and language advocates might frame the learning of languages other than English.
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