Theme of inquiry

The Politics of Language in the Americas: Power, Culture, History, and Resistance

Words and languages constitute essential tools in human interaction: in the formation of identities, in the development of cultures, and in the exercise of power and resistance. The ways in which we understand and make sense of our reality, and use our imagination to produce narratives in which we may project fantasies, desires, and obsessions, are critically shaped by words and languages. We use language to express love and hatred, to impose domination and to resist it, to reveal or mask reality, and to forge or contest collective identities. 

In present-day Latin America and the United States, language occupies center stage in myriad debates about identities, nationalism, borders, migration, race, gender, and more. From episodes of discrimination against Spanish-speaking peoples in the US to the continuous under-valuing of Indigenous languages and cultures all over the hemisphere, and from debates about new media to questions about “authenticity” and the “proper” use of language, it is quite evident that language sits at the intersection of many historical, cultural, political, gender, and racial structures of power and resistance. 

All of this brings up a number of questions that are at once fascinating and critical, and that connect every-day and ordinary experiences with scholarly, intellectual, and even legal debates: 

  • What is the relationship between languages and the making of nation-states and nationalist ideologies? 
  • To what degree are the processes of “otherization” crucially mediated by the differences and hierarchies of languages? 
  • What have been, historically speaking, the effects of colonialism on the shaping of linguistic forms of power and resistance? 
  • How have marginalized groups used both native and colonial languages to foster their own agendas? 
  • What has been the role of fictional language (narrative, poetry, theater, cinema, etc.) in the shaping of individual and collective forms of identity, experience, and in “speaking truth to power”? 
  • In what ways are debates and policies around languages deeply connected to forms of discrimination–racial, gender, age, and others? 
  • How should we respond to the challenges coming from newly codified forms of language embedded in so-called social media?