The language of settler colonialism, II: Sarah Dowling, ‘Elimination, Dispossession, Transcendence: Settler Monolingualism and Racialization in the United States, American Quarterly, 73, 3, 2021, pp. 439-460


Abstract: This essay describes the US’s dominant linguistic ideology, settler monolingualism, which works with other white supremacist logics to organize social life. I show that monolingualism’s alignment of place, language, and culture plays a crucial role in settler colonialism’s temporal-territorial claims. Then, I outline settler monolingualism’s three key features: elimination, dispossession, and transcendence. Drawing on the work of Patrick Wolfe, I show that monolingualism is key to the settler colonial “logic of elimination”: it attacks Indigenous cultural continuity, and it enlarges the population of settlers. However, I complicate Wolfe’s simplistic account of racialization: engaging with work by Tiffany Lethabo King and Iyko Day, I describe how racialized populations are disqualified from possessing and belonging to the nation on a basis that is partly linguistic. Black and non-Black racialized populations are rendered alien in part through the narrowing of what counts as “English.” In the contemporary US, however, these constitutive exclusions are concealed through representations of multilingualism, which suggest that the settler colony has innovated expansive forms of belonging that transcend the European nation-state. Such representations position English as a deep historical layer supporting “new” linguistic diversity. Thus they reiterate and reinforce settler colonial claims by positioning English as natural and as native.

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