Forever FOB: The cultural production of ESL in a high school

Steven Talmy


Employing a conceptual framework informed by theories of cultural production (Lave & Wenger 1991; Levinson & Holland 1996; O’Connor 2003; Willis 1977, 1981), and using notions of linguicism (e.g., Skutnabb-Kangas 2000) and identity “markedness” (Bucholtz & Hal 2004), I examine how an ESL subject position is locally produced by adolescents of Asian and Pacific Islander descent in one high school classroom. Arguing that “ESL” in this context signifies an exoticized cultural and linguistic Other – what some students refer to as “FOB” (“fresh off the boat”) – I analyse a series of classroom interactions in which long-term “generation 1.5” ESL students resist being positioned as FOB, first by challenging their teacher’s positioning, and second, by positioning a newcomer classmate as FOB, instead. While they thereby relationally distinguish themselves as “non-FOB,” these students’ actions reproduce the same linguicism they had ostensibly been resisting. I conclude by considering ways that the reproduction of linguicism might somehow be interrupted.

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