Language and Identity from a sociolinguistic perspective

Presented by:
Carla Benson
Jennifer Robison
Katie Woodson
comes to mind when you
think of the concept of identity?
a sense of ‘belonging’ to a particular social
group, whether defined by ethnicity, by
language, or any other means (Mitchell and
Myles, p. 246)
 “how
people understand their relationship to
the world, how that relationship is
constructed across time and space, and how
people understand their possibilities for the
future” (Norton, 1997, p. 410)
 “Identity
can be seen as the dynamic
interaction between the fixed identity
categories that applied to social groupings
(such as race, gender, ethnicity, language,
and other more subtle representations
that are activated in certain discourse
settings) and the way individuals think of
themselves as they move through the
different discourses in which these are
salient.” (Thesen, 1997, p. 488)
comes to mind when you
think of identity as it relates
to SLL?
competence includes cultural norms of
 SLLs have to negotiate the fact that
they are essentially adopting a new
identity (Chick, 1996)
social identity of the moment is
situated in the interaction at hand; we
perform it as we go along and we do so
conjointly with the other interactional
1997, p. 292).
Goal of a SL teacher is not to
change a learner’s identity, but
give them the tools to build the
social identities they choose.
(McGroarty, 1996)
A broad, multi-faceted topic:
• Motivation, investment
• Renegotiation of identity
• Class interaction
• Gender identities
• Teacher identities
• Power relations
• Language ideology
and families
The Objective: To discuss two of the various studies to
show how language and identity are constructed by second
language learning adolescents in different ways.
Ibrahim, K.M. (1999). Becoming black: Rap and hip-hop,
race, gender, identity, and the politics of ESL
learning. TESOL Quarterly, 33(3), 349-367.
McKay, S.L. & Wong, S-L.C. (1996). Multiple
discourses, multiple identities: Investment and
agency in second-language learning among Chinese
adolescence immigrant students. Harvard
Educational Review, 66(3), 557-608.
Main focus was looking at how continental African adolescent
refugees living in Ontario, Canada constructed their identity.
SOCIAL IMAGINARY: defined as “a discursive space in which they
are already imagined, constructed, and thus treated as Blacks by
hegemonic discourses and groups” (p. 349).
Research Questions:
“What does it mean for a Black ESL learner to acquire Black
English as a second language (BESL)?
What symbolic, cultural, pedagogical, and identity investments
would learners have in locating themselves politically and racially
at the margin of representation?” (349-353).
Ethnographic study between January-June in 1996.
Participants consisted of a total of 16 students 10 male,
6 female.
The predominate language spoken in school was English
There were 27 teachers, all of whom were White.
“We have to wonder why we try to really follow the
model of the Americans who are Black. Because when
you search for yourself, search for identification, you
search for someone who reflects you, with whom you
have something in common (Amani, p. 364).
Students were conscience that their identities were being
shaped by Black culture.
Television helped to learn English quickly.
Identified with rap and hip-hop as a tool for cultural identity
and acquiring English.
White population had already perceived them to be “Black”
they were fulfilling that role in how they constructed their
Teaching recommendations are to bring in rap/hip-hop into the
classroom as a valid approach to learning English and culture of
a minority group. In this way, the minority group has validation
by the dominant group and culture.
This study looked at 4 recent Chinese immigrants to California
and how they constructed and reconstructed their identities in
different discourses. The study was an ethnographic longitudinal
study that took place over a 2 year time frame (1991-993).
Research Questions:
“Why do some learners, in some contexts draw upon every
available strategies to makes themselves understood and to
progress in the target language, while in other contexts they do
not?” (p.578)
“Why, do some learners seem to act counter-productively, using
strategies that subvert or oppose the language performance
expectations of the situation rather than fulfill them?” (p.578)
DISCOURSE refers to “a set of historically grounded statement
that exhibit regularities in presuppositions, thematic choices,
values, etc; that delimit what can be said about something, by
whom, when, where and how; and that are underwritten by some
form of situational authority” (p. 579).
INVESTMENT developed by Peirce (1995), “which conceives the
language learner as having a complex social identity and multiple
desires…when language learners speak, they are not only
exchanging information with target language speakers, but they
are constantly organizing and reorganizing a sense of who they
are and how they relate to the social world” (p. 579).
Chinese/Taiwanese Immigrants:
Michael Lee
Jeremy Chang
Brad Wang
Jessica Ho
Mr. Thomas: 7th grade ESL teacher
Mrs. Phillips: Mr. Thomas’s aide.
Mrs. O’Brien: Part time 8th grade ESL teacher,
Mrs. Romero: Full time 8th grade Sheltered Core ESL teacher
1. Colonist/Racialized Discourse on Immigrants
2. Chinese Cultural Nationalist Discourses
3. Social and Academic Discourses
4. Gender Discourses
5. Model Minority Discourse.
Michael Lee:
Model minority discourse evident
Did not succeed with reading/writing English
Took on a Resistance coping strategy, to counteract feelings of
powerlessness as an ESL student
Jeremy Tang:
Used model minority and academic school discourses
Mother taught as an aide at school to monitor Jeremy’s progress
Used a coping strategy of Accommodation as an ESL student
Brad Wang:
Multiple discourses used, but never formed one true identity.
Resulted in erosion of English.
Socioeconomic barriers limited contact with other students
Did not favor one coping strategy. Used guessing, transfer from
L1 to L2 and accommodation.
Jessica Ho:
Gender discourses played the most significant role in English
learning. However her musical aspirations limited acquisition
Accommodation was used as a coping strategy.
Was the only student studied that code switched.
Gaps/Limitations In Research
McKay and Wong:
By using the Contextualist approach it does not facilitate quick
pedagogical changes in the system. It does not lead or
promote quick intervention. (p. 604)
In future studies may be useful to look at greater outside
factors that play a role in the development of identities.
Longitudinal/ethnographic study makes it difficult to replicate
or generalize the results.
The article raised more questions than it answered
Practicality of the recommendations for teaching minority
I foreground the role of
language as constitutive of and
constituted by a language
learner’s social identity…It is
through language that a person
negotiates a sense of self within
and across different sites at
different points in time, and it
is through language that a
person gains access to – or is
denied access to- powerful
social networks that give
learners the opportunity to
(Norton, 2000, p.5)
 Longitudinal
study that explored changes in
the participants’ social identity over time
and their struggles to achieve the right to
speak in SL settings
 Martina,
a Czech-speaking immigrant in her
30s and mother
Reasserted herself as an adult with authority
over children
Claimed her “right to speak”
(Norton, 2000, p.99)
 Identity
and Investment
 Identity and Imagined Communities
 Identity Categories and Educational Change
 Identity and Literacy
 Identity and Resistance
As identified in Norton, 1997
 Sachdev,
Examined the struggles between language and
identity of Aboriginal people in Canada
"...should be brought to compete with his fellow whites, but in order
that this may be done effectually he must be taught the English
language. So long as he keeps his native tongue...will he remain a
community apart...with this end in view taught in the
English language exclusively..." (Department of Indian Affairs, 1895,
cited in Gardner & Jimmie, 1989, p. 7)
"Language is our unique relationship to the Creator, our attitudes
beliefs, values, and fundamental notions of what is truth. Our languages
are the cornerstone of who we are as a People. Without our languages
we cannot survive."(Assembly of First Nations, 1990, p. 39)
 In
pre-colonial times, Aboriginal languages
flourished within the boundaries of what is
now Canada and the US and many Aboriginal
people were multilingual
 Recent
study alarmingly concluded that only
three out of fifty-three Aboriginal languages
had an "excellent chance of survival" by
virtue of having more than five thousand
speakers (Foster, 1982 as cited in Sachdev,
 Paid
attention to
learner face and
self-esteem, and
how they may be
threatened or
consolidated by
attempts to
 In
face-threatening situations, SLLs may use
a variety of strategies
Using formulaic responses
 Threats
to SLLs self-esteem can arise, when
misunderstandings are too frequent in
interactional data
Case in point: Berta
 Language
teacher and the language teacher
 Classroom Practices
 Growing interest in globalization and
language learning
socialization – 2
Socialization into language
Socialization through
An ethnographic study of the language
practices and discourse patterns of 8
Mexican-origin mothers and their
children in Arizona
intergenerational transmission of
knowledge to help child construct a
sense of self
sorting out the ambiguity of Latino
Loyalty vs. assimilation
Language ideologies
Gender identities
Each mother-child dyad
negotiates identity differently
– resistance and accommodation
– Spanish linked to emotion
– social memory
– School learning ideologies
– not a 1 to 1 mapping between
language, culture, and identity
 Recognize
that identity formation is a
“necessary component of sound and healthy
child development that doesn’t threaten the
unity of society as a whole” (p. 184)
 Critical examination of literature
 Validate lived experiences
 Open up wide range of possible identities
Mexican-descent families, 2 in CA and 2 in San
 explores the relationship of language to identity as
manifested in their language socialization practices
one approach to Spanish
language use and maintenance
Discourse about identity in the
curriculum more important than
implementing a multicultural
curriculum with group
 Interviewed
12 adults who self-identified as “halfAsian” about their educational and life experiences
 Purpose - to discover role that language and
educators play in supporting positive identity
development in mixed heritage children
 Encourage
families to maintain home
 Equip mixed heritage children with linguistic
and cultural assets to enable them to find
social acceptance and take pride in heritage
 focus on individuals and commonalities, not
study recommended more
research into language
socialization practices of various
More focus on specific literacy
Chick, J.K. (1996). Intercultural communication. In S.L. McKay & N.H.
Hornberger (Eds.), Sociolinguitics and language teaching (pp. 329-348).
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Erickson, F. (1996). Ethnographic microanalysis. In S.L. McKay & N.H.
Hornberger (Eds.), Sociolinguitics and language teaching (pp.283-306).
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Gonzáez, N. (2001). I Am My Language: Discourses of women & children
in the borderlands. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press.
Ibrahim, K.M. (1999). Becoming black: Rap and hip-hop, race, gender,
identity, and the politics of ESL learning. TESOL Quarterly, 33(3), 349367.
McGroarty, M. (1996). Language attitudes, motivation, and standards. In
S.L. McKay & N.H. Hornberger (Eds.), Sociolinguitics and language
teaching (pp.3-46). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
McKay, S.L. & Wong, S-L.C. (1996). Multiple discourses, multiple
identities: Investment and agency in second-language learning among
Chinese adolescence immigrant students. Harvard Educational Review,
66(3), 557-608.
Mitchell, R. & Myles, F. (2004) Second language learning theories. 2nd
edition. London: Edward Arnold.
Norton, B. (2000) Identity and language learning. Harlow: Pearson
Norton, B. (1997). Language, identity, and the ownership of English.
TESOL Quarterly, Vol. 31, (3), 409-429.
Pao, D. L., Wong, S.D., & Tueben-Rowe, S. (1997). Identity Formation for
Mixed-Heritage Adults and Implications for Educators. TESOL Quarterly,
Vol. 31, (3), 622-631.
Sachdev, I. (1995) Language and identity: Ethnolinguistic vitality of
aboriginal peoples in Canada. The London Journal of Canadian Studies, 2,
Schecter S. R., & Bayley, R. (1997). Language Socialization Practices and
Cultural Identity: Case Studies of Mexican-Descent Families in California
and Texas. TESOL Quarterly, Vol. 31, (3), 513-541.
Thesen, L. (1997). Voices, discourse, and transition: In search of new
categories in EAP. TESOL Quarterly, Vol. 31, (3), 487-511.

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