The Individual Issue of Language Diversity

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Fri Jul 11 13:23:37 UTC 2008

The Individual Issue of Language Diversity
Introductory Bio

Paul Kei Matsuda is perhaps the most recognizable scholar addressing
second language writing issues today. He is Associate Professor of
English at Arizona State University, where he also serves as Director
of Writing Programs. He is founding chair of the CCCC Committee on
Second Language Writing and of the Symposium on Second Language
Writing, which began as a biennial gathering of second language
writing scholars, but which has grown into an annual international
event. He is editor of the Parlor Press Series on Second Language
Writing, and he has edited or co-edited numerous collections and
special issues. A prolific and award-winning author as well, Paul's
widely cited work has appeared in College Composition and
Communication, College English, Composition Studies, Computers and
Composition, English for Specific Purposes, International Journal of
Applied Linguistics, Journal of Basic Writing, Journal of Second
Language Writing, and Written Communication. He is consistently
invited to give talks, lead workshops, and teach courses in the US and
abroad. In 2007, Paul was a visiting scholar at Nagoya University in
Japan and at the University of Hong Kong.

Editor's note: Please check out Paul's list of publications on his
beautiful website at:

Blog Entry

How do you address the topic of "diversity" in your scholarship,
teaching, and service?

When people hear the word "diversity," they may think of categories
that are now highly conventionalized—race, ethnicity, class, gender,
sexual orientation, religion, political views, etc. The term has been
appropriated widely and its meaning has become somewhat diluted, but
many of the original issues and concerns that prompted people to
recognize, celebrate and covet diversity still remain relevant today.
At the same time, many of the same issues that were invisible in the
early discussion of diversity continue to be overshadowed by visible
categories of diversity. I'm thinking particularly of language issues,
of course.

Over the years, the effort to increase the visible diversity on campus
has also intensified the issue of language diversity, although
institutions for some reason don't often recognize them as
closely-related issues. For decades, U.S. institutions of higher
education have been finding ways to compete for visible diversity by
experimenting with admission procedures, by creating financial
incentives, and by recruiting more aggressively in certain communities
to increase visible diversity on campus. Many of these students come
from diverse language backgrounds that are distinct from traditional
students. At home, they may speak a variety of African American
Vernacular English; a contact variety of English commonly referred to
as Tex Mex or Spanglish; Appalachian English; or another language
altogether—be it native American languages or languages, like English,
that came from other continents as people migrated into this country.

U.S. colleges and universities have also been competing for
international students who benefit institutions tremendously. Many of
those students represent the best and brightest from all over the
world. Many of them contribute to the visible diversity and enhance
the international flavor of the campus. They would bring foreign
capital—they are required to demonstrate that they have sufficient
financial means to fund their entire course of study and cover the
cost of living. They pay full tuition because they don't qualify for
many scholarships and financial aids. At state institutions, they
usually pay the out-of-state rate because they are not considered
residents even when they pay full taxes in the state. They also
maintain full-time status because their visa status requires it. They
also bring cheap (and legal) labor to campus because they are not
allowed to work off campus due to visa regulations.

At school, these students may speak English with a distinct accent
that is commonly (though sometimes erroneously) associated with their
race and ethnicity. They may also speak their "own" varieties of
English or languages among students from similar linguistic
backgrounds. Or they may code-switch to a variety of spoken English
that is familiar to the dominant language group in an effort to fit
in, which can mask the level of linguistic diversity on campus as well
as the struggle they go through as they try to write in the dominant
variety of English they are not familiar with. Some of them—especially
if they are Caucasian (a term some White students have never heard
of)—may be able to pass as a native speaker of the dominant language;
others may actually be native speakers of the dominant variety and
people still perceive an accent—just because they look Asian.

How do I address these issues in my scholarship, teaching and service?

In my scholarship, I have been pointing out the lack of attention to
language issues in U.S. higher education and particularly in rhetoric
and composition studies, and suggesting ways to expand the field. To
this end, I've written historical articles showing the ways in which
the field has been responding to the presence of language differences
in the contexts of first-year composition ( "Composition"; "Myth";
"Situating"), basic writing ("Basic"), and Writing across the
curriculum (Matsuda and Jablonski, "Beyond"). I have also suggested
specific ways in which the field as a whole and writing programs might
think about and respond to the presence of language differences
productively ("Alternative"; Matsuda and Silva, "Cross"). I've also
edited books and special journal issues to provide resources and to
further the conversation about language differences and their
implications (Politics; Second Language Writing in the Composition
Classroom; Second Language Writing Research).

Language issues also figure prominently in my teaching. In first-year
writing courses, I try to raise the awareness of the positionality of
the variety students are often expected to use and learn in U.S.
higher education. I have also taught a theme-based first-year writing
class where the focus was language issues of various kinds, such as
different views on grammars, second language acquisition, language
policy, and language teaching. In linguistics courses, I also invite
students to think of not just the linguistic structures and changes
but also of the historical and political aspects of language
development and their symbolic functions.

At the graduate level, I have been incorporating language issues into
core courses—such as composition theory, the history of composition,
and research methods. I have regularly assigned readings on language
issues, inviting students to try on a new theoretical lens and to
reexamine the business as usual point of view. I have also been
teaching a graduate course on second language writing on a regular
basis to provide an opportunity to dig deeper into those issues.

In all of these cases, I try to avoid the in-your-face approach to
diversity, which, in my opinion, only threatens students and puts them
on the defensive; this does not lead to productive conversations or
intellectual developments. Instead, I introduce those issues
gradually—exposing students to new and intriguing issues, inviting
them to explore the new territory, challenging them to think
critically about their own assumptions, and providing additional
resources to them for further exploration.

As teachers, we often recognize the need to be patient and to give
students some space in order for them to grow. But we also know that,
when it comes to issues that are near and dear to us, it's difficult
to be patient—to overlook a slight hint of apathy or resistance. I try
to think of it this way: It's all about treating students with the
respect they deserve while facilitating their learning and personal
growth. It's easier said than done, I know. But the result is
definitely worth the effort.

I also believe in service. (It's a dangerous thing to admit, I know.)
But in order to influence the field and to bring important issues to
light, it's not enough to be publishing or teaching.

I started by serving as a secretary for the CCCC SIG on Second
Language Writing, which Tony Silva created in 1995. I took over the
SIG and chaired it for a few years. In the late 1990s, I also started
a series of workshops at CCCC, starting in 1998, and I continued to be
involved in it until just a few years ago. But all of these efforts
seemed rather temporary and uncoordinated; to remedy the situation, I
spoke with Victor Villanueva, who was the CCCC chair at the time,
about creating a committee on second language writing, which happened
in 1998. The committee developed a Statement on Second Language
Writing and Writers for CCCC, and coordinated various activities at
CCCC, including workshops, SIG meetings, and an open meeting, where
people discussed the status of second language writing at CCCC and
developed plans for the following year.

At TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc.), I
served as the chair of the Nonnative English Speakers in TESOL (NNEST)
Caucus. Although people are increasingly uncomfortable with the
dichotomy between native and nonnative English speakers (or users, as
I would prefer to call them), the perception of the difference
remains, and what some people call the native speaker myth—the undue
privileging of the native speaker in language studies—still persists.
In North American higher education, there are many English writing
teachers who are themselves multilingual users of English; in the
world, there are more nonnative English speakers teaching English than
there are native English speakers. It is important to raise the
awareness, and sometimes the best way to do that is to create a
movement rather than to talk about it in publications (although that
also helps, too).

I am also active at the American Association for Applied Linguistics,
where I have been engaging in conversations on writing, among other
issues, to emphasize the importance of interdisciplinary understanding
and cooperation. In this context, my job is to raise the awareness of
the vast amount of knowledge that has been developed in rhetoric and
composition, to enhance the study of writing in applied linguistics as
well as to help applied linguists provide their insights more
effectively to rhetoric and composition specialists.

My involvements are not limited to these national and international
organizations. In the late 1990s, I felt the need to create a space
for people who specialize in second language writing (because neither
CCCC nor TESOL provided a space for highly specialized discussion of
second language writing issues), and with Tony Silva, created the
Symposium on Second Language Writing. The first meeting in 1998 was
successful, and we decided to make it a biennial event. In 2007, we
had our first symposium outside North America, and we also made it an
annual event. This year, it is being held in June 2008 at Purdue
University, and in November 2009, it will be taking place at Arizona
State University.

I also edit a book series on second language writing, published by
Parlor Press. This series also addresses the same issue I was trying
to address when Tony and I created the Symposium—to create a space
where second language writing specialists could speak to other
specialists in the field.

My service efforts are not just limited to second language writing.
Because I define myself broadly as a bona fide rhetoric and
composition specialist as well as an applied linguistics and TESOL
specialist, I get invited to work in many different capacities for
various organizations and publishers—in evaluating manuscripts,
serving on various committees, and participating in special
initiatives like this blog. These activities are not as highly valued
as research and teaching are, but I still take them seriously. As I
have explained in one of the book chapters ("Coming"), I do what I do
not because they count toward tenure and promotion but because I want
to make a difference in the field—or in the world. Being involved also
helps me better understand my fields as well as people in them; it
also creates more opportunities to participate in meaningful
conversations about issues that matter. I hope this piece will also
generate a lot of interesting discussion and, more importantly,
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