by Sheryl Marlar and Katie Stepp

The University of West Georgia anthropology department recently hosted Dr. Jonathan Rosa, an assistant professor at Stanford University, as the featured speaker in the Waring Distinguished Lecture Series.

Dr. Jonathan Rosa talks with studentsRosa’s talk, titled “Looking Like a Language, Sounding Like a Race: Inequality and Ingenuity in the Learning of Raciolinguistic Identities,” focused on his research on how youth are socialized into particular understandings about the relationship between race and language, and how those views shape student achievement and administrative intervention in school-based contexts.

“Ideas about language are never just about language,” said Rosa, who serves as assistant professor at Stanford University in the Graduate School of Education. “They’re always about identity on some levels.”

Rosa earned his bachelor’s degree in linguistics and educational studies from Swarthmore College and went on to earn his master’s degree and Ph.D. in socio-cultural and linguistic anthropology from the University of Chicago.

He is the author of the forthcoming book, “Looking Like a Language, Sounding Like a Race: Raciolinguistic Ideologies and the Learning of Latinidad.” In addition, his work has appeared in scholarly journals, such as the Harvard Education Review, American Ethnologist, American Anthropologist and the Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, as well as media outlets such as MSNBC, NPR, CNN and Univision.

In his lecture, Rosa spoke on themes that represent the stereotypes of language and learning.

“Ideas about language and culture become profound sites for the reproduction of inequality,” Rosa said. “It’s no longer acceptable to suggest that populations are biologically inferior, yet we hear ideas about various groups suffering from a so-called ‘culture of poverty’ or ideas that certain groups don’t know how to use language properly.”

Rosa encouraged audience members to think about alternative orientations to language and culture that would allow us to understand the reproduction of these stigmatizing views.

Rosa brought up the idea that society’s expectations are always changing and that as soon as one demonstrates that some behavior is good enough, a new standard will be put into place that stigmatizes that behavior.

“If we stop trying to prove that stigmatized groups are equal to or as good as these standards, what other possibilities could emerge?” Rosa asked.

Rosa gave two examples of students in the United States, Tamara and Estela, who have been ridiculed by their peers for the way they speak – even though nothing particular can be identified. Rosa suggested perhaps it is the racial position of the speakers rather than their language practices themselves that are shaping people’s perception of who they are.

Dr. Jonathan Rosa speaks at a podiumRosa explored the idea of looking like a language and sounding like a race in which particular languages are understood to be radically embodied and particular forms of race or categories of race are understood as linguistically perceivable.

“When one looks at someone, he or she expects a particular language to emanate from them,” Rosa explained. “If one just hears a voice on the phone, he or she expects a particular embodiment to correspond to that voice. Even if the voice on the phone is an English user, their use of the English language makes them seem inferior.”

Rosa concluded his lecture with the thought that perhaps these problems are something that society needs to grapple with everywhere rather than just reducing them to one region or to one population – and that everyone is responsible for perpetuating this.

Posted on April 26, 2018