From LOTE to World Languages: Reflecting on the Values of a Name


Katharine Biggar '23

The World Language wall display on DePaul contains photos of the language team and colorful artwork depicting global languages.

Names are meant to be representative of the values of an institution. Titles are a form of self-expression that mirror the identity and attitude of a group. Just as Sacred Heart Cathedral’s name reflects the school’s faith and mission statement, the SHC language department recently made an effort to align its name with its values. Formerly known as LOTE or Languages Other Than English, the language department is now called World Languages. Through collaboration between the language team and the administration, this change was made possible and is now advertised on the school website.  

However, this is not the first time the language department name has been changed. Originally, the department was called Foreign Languages. This name was sustained for a number of years until it was re-examined by the team because of its negative connotation. The word foriegn itself implies that the languages taught in the department are disconnected from the community, undermining school diversity and inclusion efforts. SHC then decided to adopt the name Languages Other Than English because it was used by the UC system and is still included on their language course catalog. For the past several years, the language department continued to go by LOTE, despite the fact that virtually no other schools in the Bay Area used the name. However, this name has proved to be just as problematic as Foriegn Languages, if not more. In an interview, Ms. Payawal, who was elected Language Department Chair around three years ago, describes a few key reasons why she considers LOTE to be a divisive term that was in need of change. First, the Spanish phrase, “en el lote” means in the empty parking lot, which didn’t sit well with many language teachers. Further, Ms. P explains how calling a department LOTE “makes those a part of the department feel belittled–as if their language and culture isn’t of equal value to the historical colonization that’s been deeply rooted in the development of our country.” Since LOTE aligned with neither their values nor image, the language team began discussion about changing the name to something more meaningful.  

The name World Languages presented a much more holistic and accurate reflection of the department. To Ms. P, World Languages “is a far more inclusive term that recognizes all languages around the globe while embracing and celebrating those cultures.” She explains how World Languages provides a space for respecting the diverse cultures both throughout the world and here at SHC. Through the collaboration and collective effort of the language team, World Languages was agreed upon and passed on to the administration. Assistant Principal for Academics Ms. O’Neill, in an interview, explains how this name change “began with the enthusiasm of the World Language teachers” and reflected the schools’ “efforts to be more intentional about DEIB (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Belonging) work.” The administration, eagerly in support of this change, then shifted to backend work with the help of the IT department. The school website, email tags, business cards, and more were updated to include the name World Languages and tangibly solidify this new development. Additionally, an email was sent to all staff and faculty, announcing the final name change.   

Looking ahead to the 2022-2023 school year, World Languages will officially be launched in the student course catalog. As more of the SHC community hears about this change, Ms. P shares the collective hope of the language team. She conveys, “our hope is that by using more culturally appropriate and inclusive vernacular that more people will develop a greater awareness of the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion not only within our World Language program, but around the rest of our school community.” Additionally, Ms. O’Neill is hopeful for a similar outcome, and expresses that, through this name change, “we are being more intentional and articulate in our efforts to help our students develop a global perspective.”