Our guest blogger this week, Pramod K. Sah, is a PhD candidate & Killam Scholar in the Department of Language and Literacy Education at the University of British Columbia. His research interests include language planning and policy, English medium instruction, language ideology, TESOL and social justice, politics of English, and critical literacies. His work is driven by the core values of social justice indexes, for example, class and ethnicity, in English language education policies and practices in low- and middle-income polities, often drawing on Pierre Bourdieu’s critical social theories. Pramod’s research has appeared in the International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, International Multilingual Research Journal, and Asia Pacific Journal of Education, among others, and in many edited volumes.
The privilege of being an ethnographer is to get continued reminders to check and re-check one’s perceptions toward what’s happening in society. In 2019 during my ethnographic fieldwork at a public school (government-funded) in an ethnic minority community in Nepal (called Madheshi), one question that a student interlocutor asked me challenged my perspectives toward the English language that I had firmly held.
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.
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: