“But what is your real name?”: Honoring transnational students’ complex agentive acts of identity negotiations in (re)naming practices (by Dr Sunny Man Chu Lau)

For those who are Key and Peele[1] fans, or even if you are not, I’m sure you might have come across this comical and satirical classroom sketch where Key poses as a substitute teacher in a predominately white classroom and mispronounces all their names as he takes the register. The sarcasm of the skit is unmistakable – anyone who is familiar with urban educational contexts can immediately recognize the parody on classrooms where monolingual and ethnocentric English-speaking teachers ‘bastardize’ or mess up multicultural students’ names. Except in this case, Key the mix-raced substitute teacher is the one who mispronounces some very common English names, such as Jacqueline as /dʒæ·kwa:·lɪn/ (ja-kwa-lin) or Blake as /ba·la·kɪ/ (ba-la-ke). The hilarity builds up as the teacher sees the students’ efforts to correct his pronunciation as acts of defiance, typical of inner-city high-schoolers and is all ready to declare “war” on them. When one student, Denise, retorts repeatedly that her name be pronounced as /dəˈniːz/ rather than /dɪ·naɪs/ (de-nice), the teacher lets out his anger by snapping his roster clipboard into two. His indignation is only assuaged when the only ethnic student (played by Peele) in the class, Timothy, responds readily and gladly to the teacher’s call of his name as /tɪ·məʊ·θi/ (ti-mo-thi).

The bazarro classroom depicted in this Key and Peele’s sketch jolts us to confront ethnocentric teaching practices, such as carelessly mispronouncing multicultural students’ names or even changing or imposing on them a certain new name to better fit with the dominant linguistic and cultural practice. Naming practice has “the power to exclude, stereotype or disadvantage students” (Peterson, Gunn, Brice, & Alley, 2015), particularly in the case of foreign names that bear unfamiliar sounds. One BILD guest blogger Narjes اسم من نرجس است (April 15, 2019) expressed how she felt different and out of place when her teachers couldn’t say her name right and that no one seemed to be interested in knowing the story behind her name. With her name erased, she felt part of herself got erased as well. Stories such as this reminds us as educators that insensitivity towards multicultural students’ names and identities can cause indelible harm and compels us to be respectful of linguistic and cultural diversity and vigilant of any identity-rejection practices in class.

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Is it OK to “neutralize” someone’s gender when they haven’t asked you to? Interpreting Gender Neutral Language in Reference Letters (by Dr Karen Pennesi)

Karen Pennesi, an Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Western Ontario, became a friend of BILD and guest blogger over three years ago during her sabbatical time in Montreal. We are delighted to welcome her back.

I write this post looking for some insights. I was recently evaluating a set of scholarship applications and was struck by the use of gender neutral language in two of the reference letters. After reading so many letters that followed the conventions of using gendered pronouns and referring to the students by first or last name, I found the use of “they/their” and other unspecified expressions like “the candidate” or “the applicant” really caught my attention. It seemed awkward and forced so I tried to figure out why.

Here are some of the phrases excerpted from the letters, followed by letters about the same student written by a different referee. I have used pseudonyms.

First Example

Professor A wrote:

Michael started the program… and completed their thesis… their research investigated…. The candidate successfully obtained…Michael demonstrated…. The candidate also…. Michael presented their research… I hired the candidate… They will compare…. I support their application…

Compare this to another letter for the same student written by Professor B:

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A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (by Béatrice Cale)

This week’s blog post includes a linked audio file. Just click on the link below if you would like to hear the post read aloud. Scroll down to read the text.

Not far from where I walk almost every day is a well-travelled Montreal street, Victoria Avenue. It is situated on a north-south axis in the central west part of the city and possesses multiple personalities. If Victoria Avenue were a person, it could be characterized as exhibiting a dissociative identity disorder.

But I jest.

This street is actually very lively, densely populated and worth getting to know.

Victoria Avenue north is a mixed bag of languages and ethnicities. The diversity of languages heard and seen in the shops, schools, eateries, services, hospitals and every possible sort of work-life here have a greater variety than anywhere else in the megapolis of Montreal (Statistics Canada 2016). Although French is posted in the linguistic landscape, rather haphazardly I might add, upon entering the shops one is more likely to hear the dominant language of the shopkeeper, or indeed, on some occasions, English.

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Les approches plurilingues: plaidoyer aux futurs enseignants et enseignantes FLS pour trouver leur marge de manœuvre (by Dr Catherine Levasseur)

This week’s blog post includes a linked audio file. Just click on the link below if you would like to hear the post read aloud. Scroll down to read the text.

Inspirée par les billets de Caroline Dault et de Kathleen Green à propos des choix que les sociolinguistes/enseignants font dans le cadre de leur enseignement des langues secondes au Québec, je me suis demandé comment je négociais les normes et les politiques linguistiques en classe de français langue seconde (FLS), traditionnellement ancrées dans l’idéologie monolingue. Je suis sociolinguiste, enseignante de langues secondes, en plus d’agir en tant que professeure et formatrice de futurs enseignantes et enseignants de langues. J’essaie dans ma pratique d’adopter des approches plurilingues, de les appliquer en salle de classe et surtout, de convaincre de leur utilité dans les cours de français au Québec et en contexte francophone minoritaire.

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Like Pig-Latin But Make It Fashion: Why Plurilingualism is a Form of Verbal Artistry (by John Wayne N. dela Cruz)

This week’s blog post includes a linked audio file. Just click on the link below if you would like to hear the post read aloud. Scroll down to read the text.

After just a little over a year of doing research on plurilingual practices and identities of second language (L2) speakers, I can’t seem to “un-see” it anymore. By it I mean the various forms of plurilingualism with which L2 users engage every day. Here in Montréal for instance, my friends and I would commonly code-switch between English and French as we see fit, while also consuming (literally!) bits and pieces of Mandarin, Japanese, Punjabi, Italian, Spanish, and other languages every time we find ourselves in the many ethnic restaurants that have found a home on the island of Tiohtià:ke.

More recently, I also had the chance to speak a lot of Tagalog during a fellow Filipino friend’s visit from Toronto. It was quite exciting and surprising since I never use Tagalog here! Indeed, I’ve never really seen Tagalog as something that is a part of my plurilingual reality when I’m in Montréal. But the hotter tea is this: it took my friend and me no time at all to find ourselves in a nostalgic space as we started to plurilingually engage in English, Tagalog, and… Filipino gay lingo or swardspeak!

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