Sometimes we are not always speaking the same language: Linguistic competence in the classroom.

I received a warm welcome to the University of Ljubljana, but being a student from a country that is incredibly far away does illuminate the cultural differences that arise. So far, the main point of contention has been language. I'm generally singled out as a "native speaker," and two profs have jokingly said that I will be used as a reference and an instructor, of sorts. That immediately marks me as a holder of privileged knowledge - the one who knows the correct usage of the language. How students and professors speak in English will be compared to my usage. Granted, I did say I was from Canada on the first day, but does that mean I must be the yardstick used to measure "competence?" I suppose it does. But language competency is relative, no? In terms of dialect, or vocabulary?

Being the outsider (without complaint of course, my position was inevitable) with specialized knowledge could engender my positionality and ideology as ambiguous to others. For example, how do others perceive the outsider (or, Simmel's stranger) whom the group is, in some way, dependent on? Or are they not dependent? Could this dependency be an illusion, to strengthen social bonds in light of the groups' apparent differences?

In a related note, one of my imagined fears is how European students view North American students. Some stereotypes do exist: we are all rich; we are condescending towards others who don't speak English or are not from North America: we are basically ethnocentric. I personally don't feel that I fit this stereotype. But then, my initial denial of being ethnocentric (and my anger at having such a label potentially attached to me) is indicative of the unconscious processes that govern my stance on cross-cultural communication. How could I be ethnocentric if I'm in a European university? is a common rationalization.

Are my fears justified? Probably not. I'm assuming the "other" has an unsophisticated position. However, my assumption does highlight the friction caused by my pretheoritical position on my relationships to other students. This is the foundation for ethnocentrism, and the possible problematizing of this phenomenon.


Anonymous said...

I enjoy reading your blog. I must say however that sometimes you enter into a bit of academic babble that I find difficult to comprehend. For instance, using words like "positionality" (not a word I could find in any dictionary at my disposal, though i did see it used across the internet) when you mean "position" is, in my opinion, not a good habit to develop. Adding a few extra sylables that don't change the meaning of a word is unecessarily redundant.

keep up the interesting posts,


Jay said...

TJ: Thank you for the compliment, and more importantly, for the feedback.

I admit there are times when my posts do venture into the academic. So I do apologize if some passages are incomprehensible. However, in my defense (and I hope I don't sound overly defensive) I am a social theory student, and this blog is about a social theory student in a European university. I have theory on the mind, and it emerges in the text.

To address the "positionality" comment, the problem (and, at times, the sheer beauty) is that social theorists (and other theorists in the social sciences and humanities) do "invent" terms to explain phenomena where other terms would fall flat. Although I am only an undergrad, in my limited experience I have read and heard "positionality" multiple times, mostly in feminist works. Nonetheless, these are largely considered jargon. I will consider your comment in the future, but I should point out that I write in different voices: this blog is my travel / theorist / keep in touch with friends voice.

I hope you continue reading TJ, and I look forward to hearing from you in the future.