Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Rhetoric and Technical Communication (PhD)

College, School or Department Name

Department of Humanities


Patricia J Sotirin


An international graduate teaching assistant‘s way of speaking may pose a challenge for college students enrolled in STEM courses at American universities. Students commonly complain that unfamiliar accents interfere with their ability to comprehend the IGTA or that they have difficulty making sense of the IGTA‘s use of words or phrasing. These frustrations are echoed by parents who pay tuition bills. The issue has provoked state and national legislative debates over universities‘ use of IGTAs. However, potentially productive debates and interventions have been stalemated due to the failure to confront deeply embedded myths and cultural models that devalue otherness and privilege dominant peoples, processes, and knowledge. My research implements a method of inquiry designed to identify and challenge these cultural frameworks in order to create an ideological/cultural context that will facilitate rather than impede the valuable efforts that are already in place.

Discourse theorist Paul Gee‘s concepts of master myth, cultural models, and meta-knowledge offer analytical tools that I have adapted in a unique research approach emphasizing triangulation of both analytic methods and data sites. I examine debates over IGTA‘s use of language in the classroom among policy-makers, parents of college students, and scholars and teachers. First, the article "Teach Impediment" provides a particularly lucid account of the public debate over IGTAs. My analysis evidences the cultural hold of the master myth of monolingualism in public policy-making. Second, Michigan Technological University‘s email listserve Parentnet is analyzed to identify cultural models supporting monolingualism implicit in everyday conversation. Third, a Chronicle of Higher Education colloquy forum is analyzed to explore whether scholars and teachers who draw on communication and linguistic research overcome the ideological biases identified in earlier chapters.

My analysis indicates that a persistent ideological bias plays out in these data sites, despite explicit claims by invested speakers to the contrary. This bias is a key reason why monolingualism remains so tenaciously a part of educational practice. Because irrational expectations and derogatory assumptions have gone unchallenged, little progress has been made despite decades of earnest work and good intentions. Therefore, my recommendations focus on what we say not what we intend.