Raciolinguistic Oppression of Pacific Islanders and Asians and the Role of Advocacy within the field of Speech-Language Pathology

V. Tisi, M.A., CCC-SLP
9 min readJun 30, 2021

Authors: V. Tisi, M.A., CCC-SLP of San Francisco State University and co-founder of SLPs of Color, and Hsinhuei Sheen Chiou, Ph.D., CCC-SLP of Minnesota State University, Mankato and co-president of the Asian Pacific Islander Speech-Language-Hearing Caucus

May is the Pacific Islander and Asian (PI&A*) Heritage and History Month. The PI&A diaspora is the most vastly diverse racial group in America, with a history spanning back to 1587 when the first Filipinx sailors came to California. The PI&A represents over 50 ethnicities and 100 languages and is the widest socio-economic inequality gap compared to any other racial group (Pew Research, 2018). There has been a history of racist immigration impediments for the PI&A diaspora which has led to increased equity and access barriers. Here are some fast facts in America:

Asians (77%) are more likely than any other racial group to speak another language than English at home and 43% for Pacific Islanders (John Hopkins Medicine, 2020)

34% of PI&A older than the age of 5 are not considered English-proficient; in California, the number is close to half. (Reading Partners, 2020; John Hopkins Medicine, 2020)

There’s a 3-generation language loss pattern; the second generation demonstrates heritage language attrition, and by the third, it is completely lost (Fishman, Homberger, Pütz, 2006)

This post is to explore how PI&A communities have been left out of dialogue for consideration of linguistic and race/ethnic advocacy in the speech-language sciences field. Among 188,143 certified speech-language pathologists (SLPs) in the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) 2020 Member & Affiliate Profile, there are only self-identified 255 Pacific Islander and 4,775 Asian SLPs, accounting for 0.1% and 2.5% of certified SLPs respectively. This is all in contrast to the 1.6 million Pacific Islanders and 22.6 million Asians that live in the United States. Only 2,875 bilingual or multilingual PI&A SLPs treat children (only or all-ages including children). Of these ASHA members, there are self-identified speakers of the following PI&A languages, intentionally listed in this fashion to direct attention to the languages that need more recruitment (see Table 1). It is compelling to discuss the repercussions of the very small-in-numbers PI&A SLPs working with children. Twenty-seven out of the 30 languages listed on Table 1 are spoken by less than 100 child-serving PI&A SLPs at ASHA. The first twelve languages are spoken by less than 10 of them. Only one singular child-serving SLP speaks Samoan, the only Pacific Islander language represented. The ASHA data under Filipino (37) may be interpreted as a diverse variety of non-Tagalog languages (e.g., IIonggo, IIocano, Visayan, Kapampangan, Cebuano) due to dialectical variations, but is unclear as some people may use that terminology to also represent a dialect of Tagalog***. Ten ASHA SLPs only selected “other languages’’** and did not specify which language(s) they speak and if they are PI&A languages or specific Chinese dialects. The speech-language sciences field has much work to do if we want to ensure equity for PI&A children to have access to adequate speech therapy services and their heritage language consideration. Accurate data collection and disaggregation of languages and ethnic identities will help PI&A practitioners represented within ASHA.

Data collected from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association of the different Pacific Islander and Asian languages speaking child-serving speech-language pathologists, which include both only-child serving and full-life spectrum serving clinicians. This data was retrieved from ASHA’s statistician.

Pacific Islanders and Asians experience a unique form of racism called “the perpetual foreigner”. This is a racist experience and perception by Americans that PI&A people are “perpetual foreigners” regardless of how long they or their families have been here, regardless of how they contribute to society, and regardless of what languages they speak or don’t speak. Many families do not feel safe passing on their languages as-is, given the fear of their children not “passing” as American-enough and gaining acceptance and/or safety in society. And even when the spoken language is passed on, because the languages contrast in Language Family from English, they are exceptionally more difficult for English-only learners to later pick up in contrast to other Indo-European languages (Spanish, French, Portuguese, & Dutch) that share similarities. That makes our languages less attractive to be picked up professionally by non-natives. Additionally, languages that use a different written system than the Latin/Roman alphabet create an additional barrier for heritage speakers to then also be literate.

Additionally, linguistic oppression is the enforcement of language loss by physical, mental, social, and spiritual coercion in which certain populations and their languages are systematically rendered discursively invisible (Roche, 2019). Other terminologies used frequently when discussing linguistic oppression include linguicism (language discrimination), accentism or glottophobie (discrimination against specific accents and speakers with that accent) and raciolinguistics (the intersection of racism and linguicism). Per Roche, the most violent form of linguistic oppression is not only the discrimination towards the people who speak a specific language, but the aim to transform them through co-erced language loss.

Language erasure disenfranchises speakers from their heritage languages and results in systemic erasure of that language from being spoken and no more living native/heritage speakers of that language. The ultimate goal of linguistic oppression is language extinction or language death. Since linguistics is what often ties members of a cultural community together, the extinction of any given language often also ends many of the cultural norms within that group of people. It disempowers that cultural group from its heritage, disenfranchises descendants from their ancestors, and claims their descendants for the oppressing language.

It is such a phenomenon that the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) reported back in 2012 that “Half of the 6,000 plus spoken languages today will disappear by the end of the century”, as they track an Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger. Here is a short list of example endangered languages represented in the PI&A cultures:

Pacific Islands:

  • Micronesian languages: Mokilese, Namonuito, Nguluwan, Paafang, Ulithian, Satawal, Kosraean
  • Melanesian languages: Arha, Fagauvea, Kumak, Pwaamèi, Pwapwa, Tiri, Xaragure
  • Polynesian languages: Rapa, Niuafo’ou, Sikaiana, Ontong Java, Futunan, Tikopia, Penrhyn, Tokelauan, Hawaiian
  • Asian languages (inclusive of East, Southeast, South, Central, and West): Brahui, Parya, Lepcha, Tawang, Chothe, Kravet, Song, Waima’a, Gazi, Nayini, Ainu, Buyang, Okinawan, Jeju, Dakkang, Sila, Kensiw, Hu, Tuvan, Ukit, Dukha, Balti, Wakhi, Bataan Ayta, Vedda, Saisiyat, Yami, Maniq, Chrau

For a field that is 91.5% white and 92% monolingual English speakers, ASHA (our organization including us at every level including national and state leadership, academia, and clinically on the “ground”) must address linguistic oppression and how heritage language loss impacts disabled and delayed children of non-English speaking languages. Because SLPs are predominantly English-only speakers, developmentally delayed and disabled children are almost always ripped from their heritage languages because their providers only speak English. It is not a surprise that many parents have been told to switch to English-only by their SLPs. The harmful myth that bilingualism causes speech delay has been perpetuated for decades within and outside of the field despite evidence that bilingualism does not cause speech-language delays (Byers-Heinlein & Lew-Williams, 2013). The fact is that children who are speech- and language-delayed (frequently Autistic children) from minoritized race families are often exposed to heritage languages at home. Unfortunately, PI&A children in the U.S. continue to be significantly unidentified, underserved, as well as pushed to speak English-only when they have a speech-language delay or disability, which is a form of linguistic oppression. Even if it is unintentional by practitioners or intentionally-on-accident through design of a homogenous profession, English-only speech therapy demonstrates linguistic oppression, systemic and institutional ableism (the discrimination and social prejudice against disabled people) and raciolinguistic oppression (disabled children of color loss their heritage language).

There is a pressing need to intentionally recruit of PI&A individuals into the speech-language sciences field, especially for early intervention, educational, and pediatric providers to disrupt heritage language loss in order to support heritage language speaking children with speech-language delays and disabilities. Currently 47 SLP master programs provide a bilingual emphasis curriculum per ASHA EdFind. Instead of offering a separate bilingual emphasis, the authors emphasize that academic programs in speech-language-hearing sciences examine how their curriculum and policy reflects culturally responsive practice and diversity/equity/inclusion to allow BIPOC student success, including training all SLPs-to-be to know how to work with bilinguals of all language backgrounds. This is critical as there are presently 67.3 million people who speak a language other than English at home, and the number increases significantly over time (Center for Immigration Studies, 2018). Culturally responsive practice across curriculum topics should be mandatory education of current and future professionals to hold paramount the welfare of persons they serve professionally when crossing paths with a bilingual or multilingual client of any language background regardless of the professional’s spoken language(s).

Note:

*The term Pacific Islander is placed ahead of Asian intentionally to draw focus on the way that Pacific Islanders are frequently left out of conversations regarding the Asian Pacific Islander diaspora. With the historical colonization of the Pacific Islands, Pacific Islanders have been disproportionately disenfranchised politically, socially, economically, and linguistically as 8 out of 10 Pacific Islanders are indigenous to territories colonized by the United States. Prioritizing the needs of Pacific Islanders will benefit not only all of the PI&A communities but also all race and ethnic minoritized people.

** The authors suggest ASHA reach out to members to de-aggregate those who selected “other” languages and for ASHA members to clarify which languages they speak when completing their profiles.

*** Feedback collected from 10 Filipinx speech-language pathologists and graduate students revealed that data under Filipino may be interpreted as a diverse variety of non-Tagalog language such as Ilonggo, Ilocano, Visayan, Kapampangan, Cebuano, etc.) or have been filed by people who call Tagalog ‘Filipino’, as they are dialectical variations from one another but not separate languages. The authors suggest ASHA reach out to these members in order to collect more specified, accurate data.

References:

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (2021). Profile of ASHA members and affiliates, year-end 2020. www.asha.org

Byers-Heinlein, K., & Lew-Williams, C. (2013). Bilingualism in the Early Years: What the Science Says. LEARNing Landscapes, 7(1), 95–112.

Center for Immigration Studies. (2019). 67.3 Million in the United State Spoke a Foreign Language at Home in 2018. Retrieved May, 20, 2021, from https://cis.org/Report/673-Million-United-States-Spoke-Foreign-Language-Home-2018

Curiosity at Work. (2021). AAPI Data l Survey Monkey poll: 2021 American Experiences with Discrimination. Retrieved May, 20, 2021, from https://www.surveymonkey.com/curiosity/aapi-data-2021-discrimination/

Fishman, J. A., Hornberger, N. H., & Pütz, M. (2006). Language loyalty, language planning, and language revitalization: recent writings and reflections from Joshua A. Fishman. Multilingual Matters.

Johns Hopkins Medicine. (2020). National Asian Pacific Islander American Heritage Month. Retrieved May, 20, 2021, from

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/diversity/_documents/asian-american-pacific-islander-heritage-guide.pdf

Northwestern APIDA Staff Affinity Group. (n.d.). Who is APIDA? Retrieved May, 20, 2021, from https://sites.northwestern.edu/asag/about-us/who-is-apida/

Pew Research Center. (2018). Income Inequality in the U.S. Is Rising Most Rapidly Among Asians. Retrieved May, 20, 2021, from

https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2018/07/12/income-inequality-in-the-u-s-is-rising-most-rapidly-among-asians/

Roche, G. (2019). Articulating language oppression: Colonialism, coloniality and the erasure of Tibet’s minority languages. Patterns of Prejudice, 53(5), 487–514. https://doi.org/10.1080/0031322X.2019.1662074

United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. (n.d.). UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger. Retrieved May, 20, 2021, from

http://www.unesco.org/languages-atlas/

Wong, D. (2020). Exploring diversity among Asian American & Pacific Islander Students. Retrieved May, 20, 2021, from

https://readingpartners.org/blog/exploring-diversity-among-asian-american-pacific-islander-students/

About the Authors:

V. Tisi, M.A., CCC-SLP (they/she), is an autistic Taiwanese-Chinese-Venezuelan-American speech-language pathologist in the San Francisco Bay Area, a clinician- and educator-activist for social justice within the speech-language science and education spheres, co-founder of SLPs of Color, adjunct professor at San Francisco State University, a topic-area expert for anti-bias and cultural-linguistic diversity for The Informed SLP, and anti-bias consultant. They are an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 14, Cultural and Linguistic Diversity. thespeechologist@gmail.com

H. Sheen Chiou, Ph.D. CCC-SLP (she/hers), is a Taiwanese American full professor and distinguished faculty scholar in the Department of Speech, Hearing and Rehabilitation Services at Minnesota State University, Mankato. She co-leads the Asian Pacific Islander Speech-Language-Hearing Caucus and serves as Vice President of Professional Development at the Minnesota Speech-Language-Hearing Association. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 2 Neurogenic Communication Disorders, 14 Cultural and Linguistic Diversity & 15 Gerontology. hsinhuei.chiou@mnsu.edu

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V. Tisi, M.A., CCC-SLP

V. Tisi, MA, CCC-SLP (they/she) is an autistic Taiwanese-Chinese-Venezuelan-American speech-language pathologist in the San Francisco Bay Area.