Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Society for Linguistic Anthropology
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students, Those Involved in Mentoring Activities
Primary Theme: Identity and Equity
Secondary Theme: Social movements
The notion of “immersion” is often presented as the most effective method of language acquisition and has emerged as a common solution to the problem of maintaining and revitalizing minority and indigenous languages (Greymorning 1997; Hinton and Hale 2001; Horneberger 2008; Reyhner 2010). Immersion’s prestige can be reinforced by education and language policies that make immersion schools and programs eligible for special statuses, exemptions, and funding. Immersion is also a key term in marketing pedagogical materials for languages large and small—Rosetta Stone, for example, promises that their “technology-based approach recreates the immersion method” (Rosetta Stone 2018).
An extensive literature in linguistic anthropology and sociolinguistics on “discourses of endangerment” (Duchêne and Heller 2007) and the rhetorical dimensions of language advocacy (Hill 2002; Debenport 2010; Moore 2006; Muehlmann 2011) provides a framework for gaining critical leverage on the ideological and discursive dimensions of immersion, a model that is often justified and naturalized with reference to the biological properties of innate cognitive mechanisms for language acquisition. Immersion could also be framed as a locally variable practice of language socialization (Duranti, Schieffelin, and Ochs 2011) that is shaped by the broader cultural and political projects that revitalization and reclamation movements play out on the terrain of language (Costa 2017; Leonard 2011; Schwartz and Dobrin 2016). By replacing a seemingly singular immersion model or method with a plurality of immersions, ethnographic analysis invites questions about the cross-cultural and transnational transferability of immersion programs developed to serve particular communities (Cowell 2012; Heller 1990; Wilson and Kawai‘ae‘a 2007). Immersion contexts also provide productive sites for refining key concepts in linguistic anthropology and sociolinguistics by illuminating what it means to be a “new speaker” (Jaffe 2015), for example, or by highlighting the pervasiveness of translanguaging practices in prescriptively monolingual environments (Peter et al. 2017).
Presenters and discussants take up these themes in relation to diverse contexts. Topics include the ideological and social connections between immersion classes and cultural identity in Corsica; the emergence of multiple immersions practiced within the Cherokee Nation Immersion School; the discursive genealogy of immersion as an aspirational goal for Chiwere language activists; a critique of the ideological dominance of immersion in Native American language revitalization from the perspective of Miami language reclamation, where immersion has the potential to be a colonial imposition; the role of immersion in developing and marketing digital language learning technologies for majority and indigenous languages; and an analysis of debates surrounding official bilingualism in New Brunswick, where immersion figures as a way to increase the economic competitiveness of the English-speaking majority rather than to revitalize the minority language.
This session approaches immersion as a language ideology and discursive construct as well as a social practice adapted to local priorities. We highlight the tension between immersion as a tool for cultural and linguistic resilience and as a dominant model that provokes resistance and critique from various quarters. By foregrounding how immersion both expands and constrains possibilities for language activism, we seek to change how immersion is discussed, promoted, and imagined.