Maxwell Chibuogwu

Credentials: Languages: Ika, English, Nigerian pidgin

Position title: PhD Student in Plant Pathology

Maxwell Chibuogwu

Could you tell me a bit about yourself and what you do at UW-Madison? How does language intersect with your work or your studies? 

I am a second-year Ph.D. student in plant pathology. I study ear rot, stalk rot, and toxin accumulation in silage corn. For my work, I only use English.

If you are a student, are you enrolled in language classes? Why or why not?

I’m not. Probably because I’m pretty fluent in English.

How do you feel your language(s) contribute(s) to your personal identity? 

Except when I see other Nigerians that I can relate with or when I call home, I rarely use the languages I know. My language contributes to my identity by offering me alternate perspectives to what I experience here. There are things that I can think about in my language and they just don’t have an English equivalent. These disparities are exciting to notice.

How do you feel your language(s) contribute (s) or add value to your work or studies? 

I’m not sure my language adds value to my present work: my research is currently valuable to Midwest farmers or researchers and they may not need to be addressed in languages other than English. However, the abstractions present in my language could help me think differently about research questions and implementations.

To what extent do you feel others on campus value your languages in the context of your work/studies at the University? 

I don’t think they care. Because I only converse or communicate with most people here using English, it rarely comes to their mind that I’m capable of speaking other languages.  I think that only international students who speak other languages can readily recognize the possibility of me speaking a different language. I think people only care about or value what they know and are interested in. The first step will be to know that I speak several languages, then the next step may be to be interested in that idea, whatever that looks like. But what I experience is just English, English, English… I just wonder how can I make my languages valuable to them if they neither know it nor understand? At least, I have not seen anyone that is genuinely interested, except fellow international or bi/multi-lingual people.

Have you experienced/observed linguistic prejudice or discrimination? If so, could you describe what happened? 

I’m not sure. I only ever speak English to everyone else. The time I may think I was ignored; I probably wasn’t loud or audible enough due to the mask or background noise or something.

How does linguistic diversity add to the richness of the various communities you navigate? 

It’s beautiful to hear different accents and styles. I just love it when people communicate in tongues that are not accessible to non-initiates. To me, it sounds like there is sort of a uniting chord connecting them.

In what ways do you believe the campus community can better recognize the value that linguistic diversity brings to the community? 

Acknowledging that English doesn’t have to be the default all the time – I’m not even sure what that looks like or would look like. Maybe create more spaces where people that speak the same language can meet and also teach those that are willing to learn.