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Disaster linguicism: Linguistic minorities in disasters

  • Shinya Uekusa (a1)
Abstract

Language is a means of communication but it functions as much more than this in social life. In emergencies and disasters, it can also be a matter of life and death. Language barriers and effective communication in disaster contexts (i.e. distributing critical disaster information and warnings) are the central concern in current disaster research, practice, and policy. However, based on the data drawn from qualitative interviews with linguistic minority immigrants and refugees in Canterbury, New Zealand and Miyagi, Japan, I argue that linguistic minorities confront unique disaster vulnerability partly due to linguicism—language-based discrimination at multiple levels. As linguicism is often compounded by racism, it is not properly addressed and analyzed, using the framework of language ideology and power. This article therefore introduces the concept of disaster linguicism, employing Pierre Bourdieu's concept of symbolic violence, to explore linguistic minorities’ complex disaster experiences in the 2010–2011 Canterbury and Tohoku disasters. (Disaster linguicism, language barriers, language ideologies)*

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Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Shinya Uekusa, Department of Sociology, University of Auckland, Human Science Building, Level 9, 10 Symonds Street, Auckland 1010, New Zealandsuek456@aucklanduni.ac.nz
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I would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers, the journal editorial team, and Dr. Jenny Cheshire for their time to review this article and provide valuable comments and constructive feedback. I would also like to thank the study participants in this study and acknowledge Dr. Steve Matthewman for his helpful suggestions.

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Language in Society
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