Interrogating the ‘international teaching assistant problem’: A study of linguistic diversity and language policy at one internationalizing US university
Nicholas Subtirelu

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



Georgia State University

Primary Discipline

For decades, institutions of higher education (HEIs) in the US have responded to global flows of people and capital through internationalization. One manifestation of these efforts is the presence of numerous international faculty and teaching assistants (ITAs), whose inevitable linguistic diversity has usually been understood as an English language proficiency problem by students and policy-makers. However, research in sociolinguistics raises important questions about this understanding by demonstrating that perceptions and responses to linguistic difference often serve as covert forms of discrimination against stigmatized ethnicities or nationalities. Because student complaints and HEI policy actions potentially bar certain groups from full access to the HEIs’ material and symbolic resources, how HEIs contend with linguistic diversity and the consequences of their approaches warrant further attention. My dissertation offers a case study of one internationalizing HEI, drawing on several data sources: policy documents, stakeholder interviews, and observations of classroom interaction. My analysis focuses on (1) administrators’, ITAs’, and students’ perceptions of linguistic diversity at the HEI; (2) the policy processes the institution employs to regulate the Englishes of ITAs and their effects; and (3) the interactional norms of classroom communication between ITAs and students. My research highlights the need for HEIs to contend with linguistic diversity through intentional policy and planning. Specifically, in order to ensure educational opportunities and equitable employment practices, such efforts should be aimed at addressing the situation holistically including both providing ITAs support to develop their instructional repertoires and assisting students in communicating across linguistic difference.
About Nicholas Subtirelu
Nicholas Subtirelu is a doctoral candidate in Applied Linguistics at Georgia State University. His research focuses on dominant understandings of linguistic diversity, especially in relation to the global spread of English or Englishes. In particular, he is interested in how, on the one hand, attitudes and ideologies ostensibly about language serve as covert forms of discrimination along lines of class, ethnicity, and nationality, and how, on the other hand, emerging multi- or translingual orientations to language may promote greater interactional equity in communication across forms of social difference and inequality. Some of his recent publications have appeared in the Journal of Sociolinguistics, Language in Society, and Applied Linguistics. His dissertation research is funded by The International Research Foundation for English Language Education (TIRF) and by the Language Learning Dissertation Grant Program.

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