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Challenging Language Ideologies: Using English As a Standard

Language Ideologies

A political cartoon about the language ideologies of a white man shows a man wearing a shirt that says "growing hispanic population" and another man with a shirt that says "change" but crossed out. The Hispanic man says words like diversity, assimilation, heterogeneous, and coalesce. The white man says, "I wish you people would speak a language I could understand".
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Language ideologies are beliefs about language informed by power dynamics in society. Society organically and tangibly reproduces language ideologies that elevate English. This is because it is a daughter-idea of historical colonialism. The ideology facilitates English as a standard language. White supremacy funnels these language ideologies into real-life discrimination against non-native English speakers or people of color. 

How People Use English

Universally, many countries implicitly establish English as the highest ranking language. People utilize English as a business language. English transforms into a tool to make a name for oneself in the global sphere. Many enshrine English as a bridge of access between all communities. 

English in International Science

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 Science reinforces the ideology of English as a globalized language. Scientists use English as a lingua franca when publishing journals. To increase visibility for one’s journal, scientists publish internationally. They feel required to communicate their research in English because their work becomes more accessible to a wider readership. However, if one publishes in their native language, they are risking less circulation. Journalistic institutions and international conferences expect scientists to have fluency in English. The problem occurs when a large portion of scientists speak English as their second language. Developing a scientific journal is already challenging enough, but translating it to English makes this feat harder. Scientists’ adherence to the English standard exhibits English’s pervasiveness. 

Language Ideologies in India

An Indian schoolboy is practicing English on the chalkboard with different English words
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In India, Indians associated English with British invaders. The British Empire took power from the 17th to the 20th century. They referred to it as an upper-class language. Affluent Indians spoke English because it drew them closer to the oppressor, and therefore closer to power. British influence compounded its dominance in everyday life as an “educated” language. It eventually came to sprawl over people of every socioeconomic upbringing. Indians have now popularized their own variety, Indian English, as the correct form of English. In other words, Indians renewed English as a language for all of India. The British government’s sponsoring of English turned it into an endonormative language. Endonormative means to use a local form of language as the norm. 


One notices that in the period of time before and after colonialism, English remained in a high position. After India gained independence, the effects of Britain never fully disappeared. Indians did not culturally abolish the use of English, since it had systematically provided them a leg up before. Despite this, Indians were not intrinsically at fault for moving towards English. British forces systematically engineered the usage of English throughout society. They implemented an English education system to gear Indians towards English-speaking jobs in government in 1835. British officials built several facets of society, such as commerce and agricultural plantations, to serve Britain. They manipulated institutions to further motivate Indians towards English.


Language Ideologies in Singapore

The painted words on a wall read "Oh Yeh Oh Yeh, Y U So Like That!!! Buy A Drink La" in front of a table and chairs
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Modern Singapore presents another example. Singaporeans use an international accent to make themselves seem more professional or intelligent. This ideology contributes to the glorification of English as the superior language. While Singlish is not presented as a lowly language by any means, the social norm still pressures people to speak with an international accent to elevate themselves. 

If the international accent has connotations of respect and more competence, one questions if a Singaporean employer would choose candidates based on their accent, intentional or not. Because the ideology already circulates in Singapore, they might not even realize a bias. What does this say about the native languages in India and Singapore?  I believe it is unnatural that people see English as more advanced than a native language that is actually associated with the country. The underlying hegemony of English is exhibited when non-English speaking countries uplift English as the better language. 

Speak Good English Movement

The Speak Good English Movement reinforces this idea. In this campaign, the government presented English as a competitive advantage in business. Singaporeans were concerned about the prevalence of Singlish in relation to entering the global economy. They did not want their lack of English proficiency to create a bad reputation among Singaporeans. The Prime Minister at the time, Goh Chok Tong, started this movement in 2000. Since then, SGEM has pioneered ways to increase use of grammatically correct English. The governmental procedure promoted English lessons and public events centered around using English. Their goal was to improve Singaporean’s English fluency and move away from Singlish. 

Racism of Language Ideologies

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Inner Circle countries are countries where most of its population speaks English as a first language. In the Inner Circle where English is the standardized language, language ideology discriminates against and disenfranchises minorities. Racism largely informs these mindsets. Using a raciolinguistic perspective, people carry a common ideology that assumes that race and language automatically mutually define each other. 

Accent Hallucination

Accent hallucination makes a great example of this harmful pigeonholing. In accent hallucination, someone hears phonetic differences in another’s voice when they are actually speaking English without an accent. This is based on visual perception of the other person’s race. Simply because of race, the person in power will typify the person as someone who can’t speak English well. Therefore, that perceived lack of English ability will reduce their perceived intelligence. That distorted perception hinders communication.  

Linguistic Profiling

Linguistic profiling is another example. People often racialize language and employ it as an invisible surrogate for race. Linguistic profiling is when someone denies another a service based on the sound of one’s voice, usually related to race.  This mechanizes racism and discrimination to channel through “linguistic difference”. In a domain where language becomes a euphemism for race, people justify their prejudices. Since people view language as intrinsically linked to race, their ideology gives rise to stereotypes. Minorities face challenges in social acceptance because of those schemas.  


For example, if an American black person has an interview over the phone using AAVE, their employer could interpret it as uneducated. As a result, the employer will not call that applicant back (or be less inclined to). Although the employer did not reject them specifically for being black, implicit bias still plays a role in that decision. Debating linguistic competence is a disguise for racist beliefs. Thus, people can inflict discriminatory practices under the cover of being “objective’ about one’s linguistic proficiency. This ideology disadvantages racial minorities.  They may be denied fair access to housing and bank lending. Medical institutions and education institutions also deliver this prejudice.  

Monolingualism Ideology

A sign that says "Do you speak English?" is next to an American flag and books on a table
Image Source: speakup-usa.com

Banal Nationalism produces the language ideology of monolingualism. Banal nationalism is defined as subtle signs of nationalism in your every-day life to foster an atmosphere of patriotism. Monolingualism is the use of one language. People endorse monolingualism as an expression of loyalty to the country. It is essentially standardizing one language for an entire country. Monolingualism over an entire nation is not realistic or representative because many languages make up a country. Many people are multilingual or bilingual, and thousands of people value language as a method to connect with one’s family, friends, and culture. While monolingualism may unite people together under the nation, promoting the use of just one language can erase the importance of other languages. It reduces diversity and reduces linguistic choices. 


People know America as being a multicultural, diverse country, but English is considered the main language of America. This can apply to the U.K. and Australia, despite their decent populations of immigrants. Due to the monolinguistic ideology, it is not as accommodating to non-English speakers. With the influence that immigrants have on those societies, one would think that those countries champion more inclusivity. 

English as a Public Language

Moreover, America prioritizes English as a “public” language. Americans believe it is more socially accepted to restrain one’s native language to the household. People switch over to speaking English when in the public sphere. In the context of cultural enclaves, only then immigrants are encouraged and recommended to speak their native language. The types of people that run and support that specialized economy usually share that language. In most places though, Americans prefer the homogeneity of language (English).  


Americans consistently stress that expectation when any immigrant family speaks their native language to each other in a public context. Many immigrant families experience a certain phenomenon where they are asked to speak in English for the sole reason that they are in the United States. Americans ask this of immigrants even when the conversation is clearly among only the members of that social group. Normalized racism reveals itself when this happens. Requesting strangers to speak in English, their non-native language, to make oneself feel comfortable is selfish. In the United States, Americans view speaking English as a way to prove American identity. Its sentiment conveys that “real” Americans do not speak languages other than English. 

English in the Americanism Movement

American society pushes forward a monolinguistic ideal in relation to American culture. The education apparatus enforces English in every aspect. In some ways, the construction of identity in America revolves around English. The influx of European immigrants preceding World War 1 triggered a huge “Americanization” rollout. Its main goal was to instill American values. Teaching English as a part of American culture spearheaded this process. Americans considered immigrants who identified with their native ethnicity as disloyal and not “real Americans”. Discourse around speaking non-English languages continued to be restrictive. The Americanization movement endured for years. As a whole, English defined what it meant to be an American. 

Language Ideologies in Intercultural Communication

An American white man is wearing sunglasses and a shirt with the American flag in front of the Eiffel Tower
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Language ideologies do not only occur in the borders of America. An ideological conflict occurs when Americans are traveling. Americans have a common experience in which they find the French people in France rude. They often speak in English to French people, and when the French are not responsive or accommodating, Americans interpret that behavior as offending. On the other side of the interaction, the French are culturally averse to using English. They do not feel obligated to speak in English to Americans if Americans don’t speak in French to them. This miscommunication is harmful for both parties and creates stereotypes. Cultural differences and historical background of the discord between French and British also inform this dynamic. 


A multitude of those same personal experiences have spawned sayings of “It is rude to speak English in France”. Americans then place labels of “rude” or “haughty” on the French. Similarly, the French think of Americans as “entitled”. If these stereotypes are already developed, people will see their future experiences as “confirming” those labels. When Americans encounter the French, their mindsets preemptively skew lines of communication. Additionally, the French behave with bias against Americans. Imposing negative views before you even let interactions go their natural course inhibits objectivity. These pre-existing ideologies serve as a major barrier to effective and respectful dialogue. 

Standard Language Ideology

Several AAVE words are shown here in bright colored text bubbles against a blue background
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Standard language ideology is defined as systematically making a variety of a language better than another variety of a language. This discrepancy is under the same umbrella of language. The variety deemed as ideal and superior comes straight from dictionaries and textbooks. These texts dictate the “correct” grammar and pronunciation of the language. The general public views other varieties as ignorant or incorrect, or reflective of a lower education. The standard language is a form of the highest education and the highest accuracy. It is the goal which people should strive to mimic and sound like. The standard variety sections off phonetic deviations and tonal deviations into non-standard varieties. 

Written language

As a standard language is conceived, authorities turn the standard language into written form. Written forms give that variety reputability and room for evaluation. Scholars that define standard language then make these rules as the measuring tape by which other varieties should be compared against. As a result, such authorities exercise incredible power in what variety is accepted and what variety is shunned. In addition, people in positions of privilege make standard language in written form credible. 


Furthermore, by making the standard language a benchmark for all speakers, educational spaces promote this standard language. Through widespread use in schooling, standard language becomes a social and cultural norm. In contrast, people stigmatize varieties that do not conform to the standard language. People tend to see those other varieties as representative of one’s lowered ethical character and intelligence. Consequently, due to that perception, those who speak non-standard varieties find it difficult to move up the social ladder. 

How Standard Language Affects People

Not surprisingly, racial minority groups speak non-standard varieties. Varieties include African American English, Chicano English, Maori English, Native American varieties of English, etc. This shows how stigmas surrounding language varieties hold racist backgrounds. Systemic discrimination hurts these ethnic minorities using these stigmas. In the United Kingdom, people inflict judgments against varieties such as Cornish, Yorkshire, Cockney, etc. Many groups of people confront discrimination in their day to day lives because of their non-standard varieties. By nature of the standard language, its boundaries will not budge to include the non-standard varieties. The definition of non-standard means that those varieties will not be accepted and will be lesser than standard language. 

Cultural Significance in Anthropology

Several icons of people of different ethnicities are speaking in different languages to each other with text bubbles
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Language ideologies carry relevance because they interfere with intercultural communication.  Communication with the interlocutor in question becomes colored by those unfair categories and misconceptions. This is especially true because language ideologies are associated with racist, white-centered ideologies. However, interaction with diverse people necessitates empathy and openness to difference. Removing your own subscriptions to language ideologies is one step to improving interactions. People can avoid participating in systemic discrimination through their rejection of language ideologies, which is important for marginalized communities. 





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