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Linguistic xenophobia and why it should be resisted

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 18 July 2016

by the TLANG team.
Like many around the country, the Translating and Translanguaging team have been shocked by the upsurge of xenophobia and racist hate crime which the police believe have been triggered by the BREXIT vote. The outcome of the vote seems to have been interpreted by some as permission to hate, or rather to express that hatred through abuse and violence. As part of the TLANG Project we are working with the East European Advice Centre, housed in the Polish Social and Cultural Association (POSK) building in Hammersmith, London. As widely reported in the media, POSK came under racist attack with graffiti smeared over its front door the day after the EU Referendum.
Aspects of the BREXIT campaign, designed to raise fear and anxiety over migration, have encouraged this response, as has the campaign of disinformation on migration conducted by some sectors of the press. As concerned citizens we join with others in deploring this increase in xenophobic and racist hate crime, and in demanding legal penalties for those who engage in it, as well as seeking ways of preventing such incidents in future.
We also note with concern reports of abuse arising from linguistic xenophobia. Linguistic xenophobia or symbolic linguistic violence involve abuse directed to others who are speaking another language, or speaking with a ‘foreign’ accent. It can range from subtle disapproval, to open expressions of hostility, to extreme physical violence. This is how Barbara Drozdowicz, director of the London-based East European Advice Centre, describes the issue and its impacts on its victims:

Poles and other Eastern Europeans [EU 2004 and 2007 accession nationals] have been victims of racially-motivated harassment at work and in schools for the last 10 years at least. Symbolic linguistic violence, for example singling Polish workers out to ban them from using the Polish language during breaks, has been so deeply normalised that many of us treat it as a deal we have to accept when moving to the UK. Linguistic responses follow: many Eastern Europeans refusing to use their mother tongue among friends on public transport, or changing first names to make them sound more British. The post-referendum wave of hate speech acts only as a reminder that migrant and BME communities are always vulnerable to tensions lurking under the cover of political correctness and words hurt as much as slap in the face.

It is a basic human right that people feel free to express themselves in their own language without exposing themselves to abuse. Instances of such abuse should be documented and recorded, and reported to the police.
Li Wei (Professor, IOE, UCL Institute of Education, Education and Applied Linguistics)
Mike Baynham (Professor, University of Leeds, Education)
Adrian Blackledge (Professor, University of Birmingham, Education)
Jan Blommaert (Professor, Tilburg University, Cultural Studies)
Jessica Bradley (Doctoral Researcher, University of Leeds, Education)
John Callaghan (Researcher, University of Leeds, Education)
Angela Creese (Professor, University of Birmingham, Education)
Don Flynn (Director of the Migrants Rights Network)
Lisa Goodson (Lecturer, University of Birmingham, Social Policy)
Ian Grosvenor (Professor, University of Birmingham, Education)
Amal Hallak (Researcher, Cardiff University, English, Communication and Philosophy)
Jolana Hanusova (Researcher, University of Leeds, Education)
Rachel Hu (Researcher, University of Birmingham, Education)
Elizabeth Lanza (Professor, University of Oslo, Center for Multilingualism in Society across the Lifespan)
Jayne Magee (Director of Operations, Business in the Community)
Bharat Malkani (Lecturer, University of Birmingham, Law)
Emilee Moore (Researcher, University of Leeds, Education)
Jenny Phillimore, (Professor, University of Birmingham, Social Policy)
Daria Jankowicz-Pytel (Researcher, Birkbeck, University of London, Applied Linguistics)
Mike Robinson (Professor, University of Birmingham, Ironbridge Institute)
Frances Rock (Reader, Cardiff University, English, Communication and Philosophy)
James Simpson (Senior Lecturer, University of Leeds, Education)
Caroline Tagg (Lecturer, Open University, Applied Linguistics)
Janice Thompson (Professor, University of Birmingham, Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences)
Kiran Trehan, (Professor, University of Birmingham, Entrepreneurship & Local Economy)
Zhu Hua (Professor, Birkbeck College, University of London, Applied Linguistics and Communication)
Steven Vertovec (Professor, Max-Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity)
Piotr Wegorowski (Doctoral Researcher, Cardiff University, English, Communication and Philosophy)

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