Language Out of Place: Transgressive Semiotics and the Lived Experience of Race in Borderlands Education

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7 Scopus citations


Students’ talk about identity presents a challenge to teachers and researchers, as its social meaning is often ambiguous and indeterminate. This article adapts the concept of transgressive semiotics, originally developed in relation to linguistic landscapes, to explore moments when unexpected uses of language, involving some mismatch of speaker, utterance, and intention, were taken up in ways that offered profound insight into issues of racial identification and belonging in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. Close analysis of interactional, observational, and interview data from a linguistic ethnographic study of a high school science classroom in southern Arizona shows that students monitored their own and others’ talk for out-of-place utterances, including stylized speech, errors, and gaffes. Students used these semiotic transgressions as opportunities to give voice to their lived experience of being Mexican in a social context characterized by widespread monitoring and surveillance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)127-141
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Language, Identity and Education
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 4 2017


  • Classroom discourse
  • Latino English
  • discourse analysis
  • ethnography
  • language use and identity
  • race

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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