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Language crossing as act of identity

One way of surviving culturally in immigration settings is to exploit, rather than stifle, the endless variety of meanings afforded by participation in several discourse communities at once. More and more people are living, speaking and interacting in-between spaces, across multiple languages or varieties of the same language: Latinos in Los Angeles, Pakistanis in London, Arabs in Paris, but also Black Americans in New York or Atlanta, choose one way of talking over another depending on the topic, the interlocutor and the situational context.

Language crossing is the switch from one language code or variety to another, or stylization of one variety, or creation of hybrid varieties of the same code, as an act of identity or resistance. Such language crossings are frequent in inter-ethnic communication. They include the switching of codes, i.e. the insertion of elements from one language into another, be they isolated words, whole sentences, or prosodic features of speech. Language crossing enables speakers to change footing within the same conversation, but also to show solidarity or distance towards the discourse communities whose languages they are using, and whom they perceive their interlocutor as belonging. By crossing languages, speakers perform cultural acts of identity. Act of identity is the way in which speakers display their cultural stance toward their membership in a specific culture, and toward the culture of others through their use of language. E.g. two teenagers from Mexico in the US American schools discuss their things in Spanish, but discussing the fact that one has the piano they switch into English. As it is the mark of belonging to different culture.

Language crossing can be used also for more complex stances by speakers who wish to display multiple cultural memberships and play off one against the other. Frequently speakers who belong to several cultures insert the intonation of one language into the prosody of another, or use phrases from one language as citational inserts into the other distance themselves from alternative identities or to mock several cultural identities by stylizing, parodying, or stereotyping them all if it suits their social purposes of the moment.

When speaking of cultural identity, we have to distinguish between the limited range of categories used by societies to classify their populations, and the identities that individuals ascribe to themselves under various circumstances and in the presence of various interlocutors. While the former is based on simplified and often quite stereotypical representations, the latter may vary with the social context. The ascription of cultural identity is particularly sensitive to the perception and acceptance of an individual by others, but also to the perception that others have themselves, and to the distribution of legitimate roles and rights that both parties hold within the discourse community. Cultural identity is a question of both indenture to a language spoken or imposed by others, and personal, emotional investment in that language through the apprenticeship that went into acquiring it. The dialectic of the individual and the group can acquire dramatic proportions when nationalistic language policies come into play.


Date: 2015-12-18; view: 3074

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