Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Cecelia Cutler

Committee Members

Beatriz Lado

Miki Makihara

Subject Categories

Adult and Continuing Education | Anthropological Linguistics and Sociolinguistics | Applied Linguistics | Curriculum and Instruction | Language and Literacy Education


ESOL, ESL, adult education, raciolinguistic ideologies, linguistic inequality, immigrant education


In this three-paper dissertation project, I explore how ‘English’ becomes a recognizable object within the context of adult ESOL education. Building on scholarship on named languages (García, 2019; Makoni & Pennycook, 2006), the historical construction of languages (Bonfiglio, 2010; Irvine & Gal, 2000), and raciolinguistic ideologies (Flores & Rosa, 2015; Rosa & Flores, 2017), I analyze how language, both as an abstract concept and as a collection of linguistic features, is treated within adult ESOL, looking at specific contemporary classrooms, as well as historical texts. This work culminated in the three studies I present here – focused, in turn, on classroom discourse and pedagogical practices, curriculum, and language scholarship – as something of a “self portrait” of English (del Valle, Lauria, Oroño, & Rojas, 2021).

I start with “‘The good English’: The ideological construction of the target language in adult ESOL”, a study which employs classroom-based ethnography and classroom discourse analysis (Rampton, 2006; Reyes, 2011; Rosa, 2019) to look at the construction of ‘English’ in a nonprofit, community-based adult ESOL program in New York. I argue that the structural conditions of the program promote reliance on a conception of ‘English’ shaped by linguistic racism, despite the program’s progressive ideals. Drawing on ethnographic observation and interviews, I outline the discursive and pedagogical practices that uphold this conception of ‘English’, and how students destabilize it, with an eye toward possibilities for alternate conceptions and pedagogies.

In the next paper, “English by the book: Linguistic (and social) normativity in adult English curriculum over time”, I explore how the ideologies I observed in contemporary classrooms developed over time by looking at 12 adult English textbooks from the 20th and early 21st centuries. Drawing on raciolinguistic genealogy (Anaïs, 2013; Flores, 2021), metapragmatics (Cutler, 2020; Urban, 2006), and the discourse analysis of textbooks, I argue that while normativity remains a core focus of mainstream adult immigrant education from its early institutions into the contemporary moment, linguistic normativity has become increasingly more central to mainstream conceptions of adult English learning (and, therefore, immigrant socialization) than broader social normativity. I end with a discussion of the potential reasons for this shift, and the ways it perpetuates the marginalization of adult immigrants.

In the last paper, “Whiteness as the standard: Shifting ideologies, race, and social context”, I explore how these ideologies developed more broadly, analyzing historical language scholarship, again employing elements of raciolinguistic genealogy and metapragmatics. I find that while the linguistic features of ‘nonstandard’ English have remained remarkably consistent in the popular imagination, they became increasingly linked with Blackness, especially during and after white backlash to the Great Migration (and other cultural and political changes) in the mid-20th century. I argue that this represents a larger pattern in the relationship between language and race in the United States, and conclude with a discussion of the implications this has for adult immigrants and the ESOL classroom.

With this dissertation, I aim to fill in gaps in my own syllabi, and to create helpful tools for the educational linguistics classroom. Together, I hope these studies help current and future educators better understand the connection between language norms and racism, and to be aware of the history they are inheriting and also their role in it now, so they can, with their students, imagine and co-create alternatives.