Paul Kei Matsuda
The Myth of Linguistic Homogeneity in U.S. College Composition

College English 68.6 (2006): 637-651.

Recipient of the 2006 Richard Ohmann Award for
the Outstanding Refereed Article in College English

While U.S. college composition has maintained its ambivalent relationship with those weak forms of language differences, it has been responding to the presence of stronger forms of language differences not by adjusting its pedagogical practices systematically at the level of the entire field but by relegating the responsibility of working with those differences to second-language specialists. I argue that the lack of "a profession-wide response" (Valdes 128) to the presence of strong forms of language differences in U.S. composition stems from what I call the myth of linguistic homogeneity—the tacit and wide-spread acceptance of the dominant image of composition students as native speakers of a privileged variety of English. To show how the myth of linguistic homogeneity came into being, I examine here the early history of various attempts at linguistic containment, which created a condition that makes it seem acceptable to dismiss language differences. My intention is not to argue against all forms of linguistic containment. Rather, I want to problematize its long-term implication—the perpetuation of the myth of linguistic homogeneity—that has in turn kept U.S. composition from fully recognizing the presence of second-language writers who do not fit the dominant image of college students.

Matsuda, P. K. (2006). The myth of linguistic homogeneity in U.S. college composition. College English, 68(6), 637-651.

Award Description from the NCTE web site:

The 2006 Richard Ohmann Outstanding Article in College English Award winner is...

Paul Kei Matsuda!

In "The Myth of Linguistic Homogeneity in U.S. College Composition," Paul Kei Matsuda presents a broadly researched, politically, and pedagogically compelling argument. He invites us to examine our underlying assumptions about language in the composition classroom, and in the process, creates some disturbance in our approaches to our students' language—a disturbance that we think has been a long time coming in our discipline. More specifically, Matsuda's succinct, well-researched, and profoundly insightful essay confronts the insidious subtext of linguistic eliticism/racism historically embedded in English Studies and Composition Studies at a critical moment in U.S. educational policies that privilege Anglo-monolingual student populations and marginalize ethnolinguistically-diverse groups. In so doing, it thoughtfully limns the history of Composition studies with the persistence of language myths and linguistic hegemony in U.S. educational systems.

In more practical terms, Matsuda's essay offers insights for literally anyone involved in the teaching of college composition—teaching assistants, adjunct faculty, new tenure-track faculty, mid-career experienced faculty, and long-time, highly experienced professors. His references to other areas of composition scholarship and practice (ESL instruction and writing center practice, for example) both broaden the scope and influence of his article and radiate scholarly authority, intellectual risk-taking, and social consciousness-raising. In a word, Matsuda's essay is not only well written—history economically told and controversy contextualized in wide scope; its message to the field is both strong and timely. L1 and L2 writing have been fast approaching one another for the last several years; we firmly believe that Matsuda's essay announces the challenge and promise of their eventual collision and merger.  

Read Paul's Article at:

Updated on April 28, 2013