Part of the aim of the University’s Department of Modern Languages and Literatures is to advance global literacy and celebrate multilingualism – essential avenues for promoting understanding and mitigating conflict in our modern world, according to scholars from the University of Miami.
Yolanda Martínez-San Miguel, Professor and Chair of the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures at the University of Miami, along with Andrew Lynch, Sociolinguist and Associate Professor, highlighted the importance of multilingualism in our global world and the complexities of living in a multilingual environment.
“The invasion of Ukraine reminds us in a stark and highly undesirable way that there really is a concept of national and linguistic borders,” Lynch said. “Global Literacy [a learning focus of the department] involves the ability to think critically, across all kinds of boundaries – linguistic boundaries, social and cultural boundaries, identity boundaries and disciplinary boundaries.
Lynch added that in the era of mass media, texting, FaceTiming, chatting, social media and online communication, holistic literacy encompasses awareness of the boundaries between modes of spoken language. and writing, the enormous contribution that visual imagery – of film and television – makes to our lives, and an understanding of how meaning is conveyed and then the authority or credibility attached to a visual text or written or a sound sequence.
“It’s literacy in the broadest sense, literacy in the sense of reading humanity, reading the world, reading society – and reading is always about boundaries,” said Lynch, whose expertise focuses on language in postmodernity with an emphasis on Spanish in the United States. states.
In his view, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is rooted in linguistic and cultural boundaries. Marcia Beck, senior lecturer in political science at the College of Arts and Sciences, recently noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin is receiving immense popular support by highlighting Russia’s connection to Ukraine – historical, linguistic and family ties. that date back to the 9th century and the Slavic tribes that inhabited the area.
The president highlighted the department’s focus on fostering a learning experience that develops global literacy and thrives in a multilingual environment.
“If you come to visit us, you will experience a multiplicity of languages, this is what global literacy means to us, not only knowing the language, but also understanding the cultures – and being at the comfortable with it,” Martínez-San Miguel said. .
She noted that Michele Bowman Underwood’s recent $25 million gift to the University, to be shared with the department and other units, celebrates the department’s emphasis on multilingualism and cultural studies.
At an event honoring her gift, Bowman Underwood – who speaks English, Portuguese and Spanish in addition to her native French – told how she was forced to move many times growing up to escape conflict as her family searched for opportunities economic.
The multilingual traveler said she strongly believed languages held the keys to avoiding the kind of conflict her family had escaped, hence her investment in the department. “A lot of Americans don’t try hard enough to learn other languages,” Bowman Underwood said. “Speak English [only] is taken for granted. And you lose a lot, it’s worth the effort.
Lynch noted that because English is perceived as the global language and has become increasingly widespread, many in the United States and elsewhere are lulled into a sense of security in English.
“We must all remember that the majority of the planet does not know English, and that a significant part of humanity does not necessarily have an interest in learning English or the means to do so if they do. were doing,” he said. “This reality may be lost on many young people today who expect to be housed in English virtually everywhere they go and to experience American popular culture all over the world.”
Lynch added that with the proliferation of tools such as online translators, some may feel that learning other languages is no longer as important.
“My grandparents could only imagine what someone speaking Spanish would be like in the Andes, it was a wild fantasy,” he said. “Now you can Google to see and hear a Spanish speaker from Cusco, see what they look like, what they wear, the gestures they make, all those things – it’s part of literacy and how Literacy has changed so drastically over the last 50 to 60 years,” he added.
“So in many ways learning other languages has become all the more important as literacy has become so much more complex. And the only way to understand literacy is to contemplate other languages and the ways societies communicate,” he noted.
Martínez-San Miguel stressed that he was “very fortunate” that the University maintained a language requirement for students.
“It’s huge because if you don’t have a requirement, students don’t cultivate those languages,” said the Caribbean scholar, adding that department faculty members teach a wide range of courses beyond core sequenced language lessons that explore literature and cultural histories, immigration and diaspora displacement – a major reason why many people end up speaking different languages.
The department offers instruction in nine of the 12 most spoken languages in Miami-Dade County: Spanish, Portuguese, French Creole, French, Chinese, Hebrew, Italian, German, and Arabic.
Spanish, by far the most widely spoken language in Miami-Dade County, is the subject of Lynch’s upcoming book, “Spanish in Miami, Sociolinguistic Dimensions of Postmodernity.” It explores the many varieties or dialects of Spanish used in Miami, according to Lynch, and the complexity of the city’s predominantly bilingual reality.
“There is a paradox of the great economic, social and political value of Spanish on the one hand, but the general lack of interest in Spanish on the other – in the sense that the language is ideologically subordinated to English and there is extremely little concern about a true bilingual education or the development of literacy or formal register skills in Spanish,” Lynch explained.
He noted that Miami-born Spanish speakers are English-dominant bilinguals who generally do not place importance on studying or cultivating Spanish and that bilingualism is largely taken for granted.
“English kind of reigns supreme in everyone’s mind here, while Spanish happens everywhere, even in institutional settings – it’s a paradox,” Lynch said.