Enterprising and Imagining Multilingual Subjects

Beyond Commodity-Centered Discourses of Language Learning in the U.S.


  • Chantelle Warner University of Arizona
  • Borbala Gaspar University of Arizona
  • Wenhao Diao University of Arizona


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.

Author Biographies

Chantelle Warner, University of Arizona

Chantelle Warner is Associate Professor of German and Second Language Acquisition and Teaching at the University of Arizona, where she also co-directs the Center for Educational Resources in Culture, Language and Literacy (CERCLL). Her research focuses on how language is involved in struggles for social and symbolic power and the educational potential of playful, literary language use and creative multilingualism. She has published on a variety of topics including play and gaming in foreign language education, aesthetic and experiential dimensions of language learning, and literary pragmatics and stylistics.

Borbala Gaspar, University of Arizona

Borbala Gaspar is a Lecturer of Italian at the University of Arizona. Her research focuses primarily on foreign language learners’ perceptions and engagement in language learning, with a specific interest in agency, positioning, multiliteracies, literacy, social justice and project-based learning.  

Wenhao Diao, University of Arizona

Wenhao Diao is an Associate Professor in the Department of East Asian Studies and the graduate program of Second Language Acquisition and Teaching at the University of Arizona. Her research deals with the identities and ideologies that are (re)produced and (re)negotiated through language teaching and learning. In particular, she has published on Chinese language learning/teaching in the contexts of study abroad and K-16 schools.