Education is a social institution that regulates and reproduces social and linguistic differences and inequality. People often resist reproductive processes, however, by subverting or disrupting school practices. Anthropological and sociolinguistic studies also show that local cultural categories and linguistic differences are sensitive indicators of the class and ethnoracial affiliations and alignments through which resistance is organized. Much has been gained from the critique of reproductive determinism and the embrace of complexity through ethnographic and sociolinguistic research. What has suffered, however, is our understanding of dynamics that underlie enduring social and linguistic inequalities.
This talk examines dynamics and tendencies of class, race, and language in two different countries, South Africa and the United States. I treat both countries as capitalist social formations founded on white supremacy, and analyze historical and contemporary interconnections between class and racial inequality and language difference and hierarchy. The argument is grounded in ethnographic and sociolinguistic studies of language education policies, classroom language practices, and staff commentary about the language diversity of their schools and the students and communities they serve. The studies employ the concepts of language ideology and language register to investigate how language policies as enacted reflect economic and ethnoracial differences and produce political and cultural subjectivities. Despites difference in enacted policy, in both countries we find that ideologies of standard and vernacular languages embed assumptions about class and racializing differences and provide metapragmatic frames in terms of which actors make sense of language practices that both conform to and challenge official policies.