An emic perspective on silence: Experiences of an adult Mexican migrant in the U.S. social setting

(1) * John Turnbull Mail (The University of Texas at San Antonio, United States)
*corresponding author


This qualitative case study explores the personal experience of Daniela, a Spanish-speaking adult immigrant from Mexico, who lived and worked in the United States, as she navigates her ways through an everyday social context distinct from her own cultural origin. The article presents Daniela’s view on the silent practice of herself and others whereby her perception takes shape through a process of constant adaptation and struggle with challenges such as anxiety, separation due to language, and ways of communicating. Amidst all these emerges the question of language choice as Daniela moves between English and Spanish for contextual reasons that unpredictably reproduce various degrees of social isolation, power disparity, and economic pressures. With insights from such anecdotal accounts, the discussion argues for the importance of comprehending silence by situating the topic in its immediate social circumstances rather than as a stand-alone construct; and eventually draws implications for second-language acquisition (SLA) in a real-world context.


silence; human migration; social isolation; second-language acquisition; U.S.-Mexico migration



Article metrics

10.31763/jsse.v1i1.4 Abstract views : 1255 | PDF views : 335




Full Text



Ali, A. (2010). Exploring the immigrant experience through self-silencing theory and the full frame approach: The case of Caribbean immigrant women in Canada and the U.S. In D. C. Jack & A. Ali (Eds.), Silencing the self across cultures: Depression and gender in the social world (pp. 227-240). Oxford University Press.

Anzaldúa, G. (2012). Borderlands/la frontera: The new mestiza (25th anniversary 4th ed.). Aunt Lute Books. (Original work published 1987)

Baker, S. C., & Watson, B. M. (2015). How patients perceive their doctors’ communication: Implications for patient willingness to communicate. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 34(6), 621-639. doi:10.1177/0261927x15587015

Basso, K. H. (1970). “To give up on words”: Silence in Western Apache culture. Southwestern Journal of Anthropology, 26(3), 213-230. doi:10.1086/soutjanth.26.3.3629378

Berger, C. R. (2004). Speechlessness: Casual attributions, emotional features, and social consequences. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 23(2), 147-179. doi:10.1177/0261927x04263821

Block, D. (2003). The social turn in second-language acquisition. Georgetown University Press.

Brown, J. D. (2001). Using surveys in language programs. Cambridge University Press.

Bruneau, T. J. (1973). Communicative silences: Forms and functions. Journal of Communication, 23, 17-46. doi:10.1111/j.1460-2466.1973.tb00929.x

Calvet, L.-J. (1998). Language wars and linguistic politics. Oxford University Press.

Camargo Fernández, L., & Méndez Guerrero, B. (2014). La pragmática del silencio en la conversación en español: Propuesta taxonómica a partir de conversaciones coloquiales. Sintagma, 26, 103-118.

Canagarajah, S. (2017). Introduction: The nexus of migration and language. The emergence of a disciplinary space. In S. Canagarajah (Ed.), The Routledge handbook of migration and language (pp. 1-28). Routledge.

Centeno Cortés, B., & Jiménez Jiménez, A. F. (2004). Problem-solving tasks in a foreign language: The importance of the L1 in private verbal thinking. International Journal of Applied Linguistics, 14(1), 7-35. doi:10.1111/j.1473-4192.2004.00052.x

DaSilva Iddings, A. C., & Jang, E.-Y. (2008). The mediational role of classroom practices during the silent period: A new-immigrant student learning the English language in a mainstream classroom. TESOL Quarterly, 42(4), 567-590. doi:10.1002/j.1545-7249.2008.tb00149.x

de Guerrero, M. C. M. (2005). Inner speech—L2: Thinking words in a second language. Springer.

Deters, P. (2011). Qualitative research in SLA. In P. Deters, Identity, agency, and the acquisition of professional language and culture (pp. 53-84). Continuum.

Dörnyei, Z. (2003). Processing questionnaire data. In Z. Dörnyei, Questionnaires in second language research: Construction, administration, and processing (pp. 83-110). Lawrence Erlbaum.

Dörnyei, Z. (2005). The psychology of the language learner: Individual differences in second language acquisition. Erlbaum.

Dörnyei, Z., & Skehan, P. (2003). Individual differences in second language learning. In C. J. Doughty & M. H. Long (Eds.), The handbook of second language acquisition (pp. 589-630). Blackwell.

Duff, P. A. (2007). Second language socialization as sociocultural theory: Insights and issues. Language Teaching, 40, 309-319. doi:10.1017/S0261444807004508

Duff, P. A. (2008). Case study research in applied linguistics. Routledge.

Dumont, Jr., R. V. (1972). Learning English and how to be silent: Studies in Sioux and Cherokee classrooms. In C. B. Cazden, V. P. John, & D. Hymes (Eds.), Functions of language in the classroom (pp. 344-369). Teachers College Press.

Ephratt, M. (2011). Linguistic, paralinguistic, and extralinguistic speech and silence. Journal of Pragmatics, 43, 2286-2307. doi:10.1016/j.pragma.2011.03.006

Ephratt, M. (2012). “We try harder”: Silence and Grice’s cooperative principle, maxims, and implicatures. Language and Communication, 32, 62-79. doi:10.1016/j.langcom.2011.09.001

Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed (30th anniversary ed.). Continuum. (Original work published 1970)

Gass, S. M., & Varonis, E. M. (1991). Miscommunication in nonnative speaker discourse. In N. Coupland, H. Giles, & J. M. Wiemann (Eds.), “Miscommunication” and problematic talk (pp. 121-145). Sage.

Granger, C. A. (2004). Silence in second language learning: A psychoanalytic reading. Multilingual Matters.

Harder, P. (1980). Discourse as self-expression: On the reduced personality of the second-language learner. Applied Linguistics, 1(3), 262-270. doi:10.1093/applin/I.3.262

Hashimoto, Y. (2002). Motivation and willingness to communicate as predictors of reported L2 use: The Japanese ESL context. Second Language Studies, 20(2), 29-70.

International Organization for Migration. (2020). World migration report 2020.

Israel, E., & Batalova, J. (2020, November 5). Mexican immigrants in the United States. Migration Policy Institute.

Jack, D. C. (1993). Silencing the self: Women and depression. William Morrow.

Jaworski, A. (Ed.). (1997). Silence: Interdisciplinary perspectives. de Gruyter.

Jensen, J. V. (1973). Communicative functions of silence. ETC: A Review of General Semantics, 30(3), 249-257.

Krashen, S. D. (1985). The input hypothesis: Issues and implications. Longman.

La Pelle, N. (2004). Simplifying qualitative data analysis using general purpose software tools. Field Methods, 16(1), 85-108. doi:10.1177/1525822X03259227

LeCompte, M. D., & Schensul, J. J. (2010). Designing and conducting ethnographic research: An introduction (2nd ed.). AltaMira.

MacIntyre, P. D., Clément, R., Dörnyei, Z., & Noels, K. A. (1998). Conceptualizing willingness to communicate in a L2: A situational model of L2 confidence and affiliation. Modern Language Journal, 82(4), 545-562. doi :10.1111/j.1540-4781.1998.tb05543.x

MacIntyre, P. D., & J. Doucette. (2010). Willingness to communicate and action control. System, 38(2), 161-171.

Martínez, G. A. (2006). Mexican Americans and language: Del dicho al hecho. University of Arizona Press.

Muñoz, K. L. (2014). Transcribing silence: Culture, relationships, and communication. Left Coast Press.

Mystkowska-Wiertelak, A., & Pawlak, M. (2014). Fluctuations in learners’ willingness to communicate during communicative task performance: Conditions and tendencies. Research in Language, 12(3), 245-260. doi:10.2478/rela-2014-0019

Nakane, I. (2007). Silence in intercultural communication: Perceptions and performance. John Benjamins.

Norton, B. (1995). Social identity, investment, and language learning. TESOL Quarterly, 29(1), 9-31. doi:10.2307/3587803

Norton, B., & McKinney, C. (2011). An identity approach to second language acquisition. In D. Atkinson (Ed.), Alternative approaches to second language acquisition (pp. 73-94). Routledge.

Ortega, L. (2009). Understanding second language acquisition. Hodder Education.

Parrino, M. (2015). “Signs for speech”: Language learning in Frankenstein. In M. V. Alliata and G. Rimondi (Eds.), Dal gotico al fantastico: Tradizioni, riscritture e parodie (pp. 21-32). Libreria Editrice Cafoscarina.

Pavlenko, A., & Lantolf, J. P. (2000). Second language learning as participation and the (re)construction of selves. In J. P. Lantolf (Ed.), Sociocultural theory and second language learning (pp. 155-177). Oxford University Press.

Perdue, C. (1993). Adult language acquisition: Cross-linguistic perspectives: Vol. 1. Field methods. Cambridge University Press.

Saville-Troike, M. (1988). Private speech: Evidence for second language learning strategies during the “silent” period. Journal of Child Language, 15, 567-590. doi:10.1017/S0305000900012575

Schilling, N. (2013). Surveys and interviews. In R. J. Podesva & D. Sharma (Eds.), Research methods in linguistics (pp. 96-115). Cambridge University Press.

Schmidt, R. W. (1983). Interaction, acculturation, and the acquisition of communicative competence: A case study of an adult. In N. Wolfson & E. Judd (Eds.), Sociolinguistics and language acquisition (chap. 9). Newbury House.

Schumann, J. H. (1977). Second-language acquisition: The pidginization hypothesis. Language Learning, 26, 391-408. doi:10.1111/j.1467-1770.1976.tb00283.x

Sheriff, R. E. (2000). Exposing silence as cultural censorship: A Brazilian case. American Anthropologist, 102(1), 114-132. doi:10.1525/aa.2000.102.1.114

Siegel, J. (2003). Social context. In C. J. Doughty & M. H. Long (Eds.), The handbook of second language acquisition (pp. 178-211). Blackwell.

Sifianou, M. (1997). Silence and politeness. In A. Jaworski (Ed.), Silence: Interdisciplinary perspectives (pp. 63-84). de Gruyter.

Sobkowiak, W. (1997). Silence and markedness theory. In A. Jaworski (Ed.), Silence: Interdisciplinary perspectives (pp. 39-61). de Gruyter.

Sontag, S. (1969). The aesthetics of silence. In S. Sontag, Styles of radical will (pp. 1-30). Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Tannen, D. (1985). Silence: Anything but. In D. Tannen & M. Saville-Troike (Eds.), Perspectives on silence (93-111). Ablex.

TESOL International Association. (n.d.). Qualitative research: Case study guidelines. Accessed October 8, 2021.

Velázquez Vázquez, A. M. (2011). Redes sociales de los migrantes mexicanos: Un análisis sobre la exclusión social en los Estados Unidos de América. Universidad Autónoma de Sinaloa.

Waters, M. C., & Pineau, M. G. (Eds.). (2015). The integration of immigrants into American society. National Academies Press.

Woodley, H., Cioè-Peña, M., Hesson, S., & Solorza, C. R. (2020). Different places, different issues: Teacher education reimagined through the CUNY-NYSIEB experience. In CUNY-NYSIEB (Eds.), Translanguaging and transformative teaching for emergent bilingual students: Lessons from the CUNY-NYSIEB Project (pp. 271-283). Routledge.

Zentella, A. C. (1997). Growing up bilingual: Puerto Rican children in New York. Blackwell.


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2021 John Turnbull

Journal of Silence Studies in Education

Published by Association for Scientific Computing Electronics and Engineering (ASCEE)
P-ISSN: 2808-1005
: 19 Ancora Imparo Way, Clayton VIC 3800, Australia

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

View JSSE Stats