New Language and Culture Series on Anthropology News

Anthropology News has a new series that is launching this week on language and culture. Check out the latest piece from Jonathan D. Rosa, entitled Contesting Representations of Immigration. This piece is the first in a series of four pieces on the vital issue of immigration from the perspective of linguistic anthropology that will appear over the course of the next week.  It is also the inauguration of a new set of formalized discussions on specific issues related to language and culture.

Here is an excerpt from Rosa’s article:

Ongoing debates about U.S. immigration reform have sparked calls for the media and the public to refrain from using terms like “illegals,” “illegal immigrants,” “illegal aliens,” etc. to refer to unauthorized migrants. As scholars who study the ways that language constitutes culture and vice versa, it is intellectually and ethically imperative for linguistic anthropologists to contribute to this discussion.

Much of the current debate surrounding this issue focuses on whether the term “illegal” is a truthful characterization of certain people’s migration status. For example, in the explanation that accompanied a 2011 update to the Associated Press Stylebook, widely regarded as the U.S. news media industry standard, Deputy Standards Editor David Minthorn suggested that “illegal immigrant” should be the preferred term because it is “accurate and neutral for news stories.” In contrast, organizations such as the Society of Professional Journalists have described “illegal immigrant” as a “politically charged” phrase that should be reevaluated for its potential violation of the widely embraced journalistic practice of assuming innocence until guilt is proven. Others have made the related case that “illegal” is at best a misleading generalization, at worst a slur. A person diagnosed with cancer is not described as cancerous; however, “illegal” becomes a way of characterizing not just one’s migration status, but also one’s entire person. This perspective has galvanized a campaign to “Drop the I-Word.”

The “Drop the I-Word” campaign resonates with a central tenet of linguistic anthropology: language is a not merely a passive way of referring to or describing things in the world, but a crucial form of social action. Thus we need to ask: What forms of social action take place in and through popular representations of immigration?

Read the entire article on Anthropology News.