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DECODING CITIZENSHIP IN USCIS NATURALIZATION TEST MATERIALS: A CRITICAL SOCIAL SEMIOTIC ANALYSIS

Abstract

The U.S. naturalization test and its accompanying multimodal study cards are meant to help potential citizens learn about U.S. history and government while preparing for the [2007 revised] naturalization test. While the test claims to be a test of civic and cultural literacy, the official U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ Civics Flash Cards for the Naturalization Test and the naturalization test rely on multiple literacies (content schemata, test literacy, multimodal literacies), which not all immigrants possess. With a particular concern for the images accompanying the study questions, the textual composition of the flash cards, and the linguistic positioning of test-takers, my research investigates how the multimodal messages are conveyed to the test-takers and how the images relate to the linguistic content of each flash card. In analyzing this, I examine the efficacy of these study materials for fostering a civic mindset in adult refugee English language learners with emerging English literacy who have had little-tono formal schooling and are from non-Western cultures. This paper highlights the notion that the U.S. naturalization test and study materials may fail to teach American values and culture to this population. I conclude that though the test aims to 1) instill civic and cultural knowledge and 2) to be a test of civic and cultural literacy, it is a test of (multi)literacy that relies on Western content schemata. Drawing attention to the implicit, dominant ideologies expressed in the naturalization test documents, I question the universality of Western content knowledge and referential knowledge, bring to light the implied institutionally imagined community of immigrant test-takers for whom these multimodal flash cards were created, and investigate notions of (dis)citizenship (Pothier & Devlin, 2006; Ramanathan, 2013) that may arise within resettled refugee populations striving to earn U.S. citizenship.

Keywords

multimodality, citizenship, citizenship, U.S. naturalization test, adult emergent readers, social semiotics, resettled refugees

How to Cite

Altherr Flores J. A., (2016) “DECODING CITIZENSHIP IN USCIS NATURALIZATION TEST MATERIALS: A CRITICAL SOCIAL SEMIOTIC ANALYSIS”, Journal of Second Language Acquisition and Teaching 23(0). p.1-35.

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Authors

Jenna Ann Altherr Flores (University of Arizona)

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0

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This article has been peer reviewed.

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