Language in Ethnic Identity Construction

Ethnicity - Self Identification of an individual as a member of a particular ethnic group:

- through socialisation with family, friends, social networks and social environments

Measuring Ethnicity - 

- Outsider assessment: using data available in databases, country of birth, parents and grandparents country of birth/origin, nationality and length of residence 

- Assessment by observer: skin colour, and other physical features, names 

Ethnic Identity - Ancesteral origin or descent and shared historical and cultural heritage, fellow feeling among ethnic members.

Race - Physical characteristics; Ethnicity - individual cultural heritage 

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Language and Ethnic Identity 2

Fought (2006) explains the connection between language and identity 

1. A heritage language

2. Codeswitching, helps to construct multiple identities 

3. Specific language features - Cousin-sister reflects South Asian identity 

4. Suprasegmental factors - Some African-American who speak standard American English use intonation patterns that reveal and index their identity

5. Discourse features - indirectness, joking, compliments etc

6. Using a borrowed variety - using AAVE to construct maculinity by some Korean-American speakers

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Language and Ethnic Identity 3

An ethnic language is an identity marker, but can be replaced by other markers (costume, cuisine) 

An ethnic language carries cultural context - a language is less replaceable in this role

Example ethnic languages

- Maori New Zealander 

- African American Vernacular English (AAVE) - she nice, he sick

- South Asian English - cousin-brother, tag questions used 'you're going, isn't it' 

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Codeswitching emphasises movement from one language to another; 

- movement generally at sentence level

- sentences of another language inserted while using a language

Myers-Scotton (2009) codeswitching definition - 'the use of two language varieties (i.e. codes) in the same conversation, not counting established borrowed words or phrases from one variety into the other.'

Crystal (1987) code (or language) switching occurs when an indivdual who is bilingual alternates between two languages during his/her speech with another bilingual person

It may take a number of different forms:

- alteration of sentences

- phrases from both languages succeeding each other

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Codeswitching 2


- not motivated by lexical need: speakers have the choice which words to use in which code

- not adapted

- the switch is complete and includes, phonology, morphology and syntax 

- two codes are interwoven and preserve their properties


- motivated by a lexical need, speakers usually borrow to describe objects which no word exists in the code they are using, e.g. latte

- Adapted to the regular phonology, morphology and syntax of the other code

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Codeswitching 3

Types of codeswitching

Poplack (1980) three types on basis of structure

1. Tag-switching - insertion of a tag in one language into an utterance which is otherwise entirely in the other language 

2. Inter-sentential switching - A switch at a clause or sentence boundary, where each clause or sentence is in one language or the other. This type of switching requires greater fluency in both languages

3. Intra-sentential switching - switching of different types occurs within the clause or sentence boundary 

Gal (1988) two types of codeswitching from socio-linguistic perspective, distinguished between marked and unmarked choices

unmarked- the language that would be expected in that context.  marked- may function in attempt to redefine aspects of the context between speakers relationship 

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Codeswitching 4

Mesthrie et al (2000) - four types in social motivations

1. Bilingual codeswitching is meaningful, it fulfills certain functions in an interaction

2. A speakers choice of language has to do with maintaining or negotiating a certain type of social identity in relation to others. Codeswitching between languages allows speakers simultaneous access to different social identities 

3. Codeswitching may be unmarked or expected choice, or a marked unexpected choice, in the latter case it may function in an attempt to initiate a change of relationships

4. Codeswitching is useful in cases of uncertainty about relationships, it allows speakers to feel their way and negotiate identities in relation to others

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Codeswitching 5

Codeswitching advantages

- allows a speaker to convey attitude and other emotives using a method available to these who are bilingual

- provides a continuation in speech if there is an inability of expression, this avoids interference in language

- Functions as a means of communicating solidarity or affiliation to a particular social group

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Language Maintenance and Shift

Language Maintenance - the immigrant group retains their language as their primary language over multiple generations.

Reasons for Language Maintenance -

- Maintaining identity: hanging onto their old ethnic group or identity 

- Resisting socialisation 

- Resisting assimilation into the new ways of thinking or acting 

- Rejects the dominant culture through language and their choices (clothing, religion etc)

- Setting people apart 

- Language serves as a very visible symbol of social differing 

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Language Maintenance and Shift 2

Language Shift - Speakers gradually give up their language in favour of the more dominant language, sometimes over the course of several generations.

Reasons for language shift -

- Recognising the capital that attaches to the dominant language; economic, cultural and political

- Acquiring new identities of the new geographical home: social roles, cultural affiliations, beliefs, values and behavioural practices

- Wanting to become the dominant group: language shift one of many artefacts of assimilation 

- Over several generations they become the dominant group, linguistically and culturally

- Pressure from the hosts for migrants to conform

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Language Maintenance and Shift 3

Factors affecting language maintenance 

1. Demographic factors

- large enough community of speakers

- the communities ability to isolate itself from the influences of the majority

- high frequency of contact with the homeland

2. Attitudes to the minority language;

- pride and respect of the language 

- symbol of the ethnic identity 

- the language has international status

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Language Maintenance and Shift 4

3. Social Isolation;

- Isolated communities of minorities tend to resist language shift.

4. Density; 

- language shift slowest in a minority language dominated area;

- the larger the group, the more social pressure to speak the ethnic language

5. Identity;

- language is an important component of identity and culture, - maintaining ethnic language to maintain group identity

- positive attitudes towards the heritage language:

a - ethnic language used in a variety of domains

b- resisting the pressure from the majority group to shift to their language

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Language Maintenance and Shift 5

Classic three generation language shift model; 

1. Immigrant speaks only heritage language;

2. Children (perhaps born abroad) are bilingual - heritage language and dominant language; 

3. Grandchildren speak only dominant language 

Resisting language shift

- more domains of the minority language usage. 

- Religious domains the most resistant to language shift;

- Latin in latin Roman church, Sanskrit in hinduism and buddism, Arab in Islam 

- Yet, religion could not resist the death of Latin and Sanskrit as spoken languages. 

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Language Maintenance and Shift 6

Factors affecting language shift 

1. Social Integration: 

- transport, TV, Internet, Telephone

2. Size of community 

- shift tends to occur faster if the community size is smaller

3. Intermarriage

- Acquiring the language of the partner who speaks the language of the majority, unless multilingualism is the norm in society

- Mothers tend to influence language change either by accelerating it towards the language of the majority or by slowing it down if her native language is that of the minority.

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Language Maintenance and Shift 7

4. Attitudes and values;

- language shift faster among communities where the ethnic language is not highly valued. 

5. Identity: 

- also occurs where the ethnic language is not seen as a symbol of identity

6. Lack of maintenance 

- language shift is inevitable without active language maintenance 

7. Necessity 

- thinking that a language is no longer needed 

- thinking that it is in any danger of disappearing 

8. Vulnerable people; young people, job seekers are the fastest to shift languages.

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Language Maintenance and Shift 8

Maintaining a minority language

1. Language as a symbol of identity 

2. Speakers living, socialising, or worshipping near each other (e.g. Chinatowns)

3. Frequent contact with the homeland through regular visits and frequent new immigrants.

4. Discouraging intermarriages

5. Using the minority language in the extended family 

6. Institutional support through: education (community language schools); religion (places of worship; community centres; media (TV channels, radio channels, newspapers, magazines, internet sites etc) 

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Language Maintenance and Shift 9

Research on language maintenance and shift: some common trends 

1. First generation code mix between their own language and the language of their adopted country.

2. First generation speakers strongly feel that their next generation should know the language of their origin; yet very few of them speak to the next generation in that language.

3. Second generation mostly understand the language of their origin but are not fluent in it

4. Some parents talk to their children in their own language, but do not ensure that the children use the same language with them. Result - parents and children are often found speaking in two languages while talking, each using the language in which they are fluent.

5. Second generation have very little emotional bond towards the language and culture of their parents and adopt the linguisic culture of their land of birth or upbringing

6. Language maintenance is the result of a conscious choice (language is maintained by the speaker because they want to mainain it 

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Language Maintenance and Shift 10

Language shift is a highly subconscious phenomenon (a shift in language is sometimes done unintentionally/without realising it.

7. If the community has a large number of speakers, they have a better chance of survival in the 21st century 

8. Institutional resources like radio and TV stations, religious centres etc., play instrumental roles in preserving the language among the community. 

9. In many cases the immigrant community goes through acculturation and quickly loses its own identity.

10. 'Social network' is a close-knit community that helps in maintaining the language, because the speakers are able to sustain the linguistic and cultural pressure by forming a cohesive group

11. Host language acquisition can be the principle tool for integration and socioeconomic mobility for first generation immigrants 

12. Residential setlement patterns, size and concentration of linguistic minorities is an important factor in language maintenance 

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Language Maintenance and Shift 11

13. There is a relationship between attitudes to language maintenance, ethnic affiliation and language use patterns with major social variables such as gender, age, occupation, education

14. Correspondence, visits and investment in the home country help in language maintenance 

15. Running community language schools can help in controlling language shift among the younger generation 

16. A strong religious and cultural affiliation can be a big motivating factor for many younger generations to maintain their language and culture

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Language Culture and Thought

Culture - shared common heritage, joint experience or shared learning of a region, country or society. The complex system of values, traits, morals and customs shared by a society.

It is shaped by attitudes learned in childhood and later internalised in adulthood.

Rules values and attitudes not inherent but learned and passed down from generation to generation.

Culture in the current period of globalisation and multiculturalism - people make adjustments and adopt new attitudes. 

Culture acts as a normative force, rules reinforce a cultures values and beliefs.

Culture is the basis for how we tell the world who we are and what we believe. Identities are built through culture.

To outsiders the way we act is the most visible parts of our culture. 

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Language Culture and Thought 2

Several theories on the relationship between language and culture:

1. The structure of a language determines the way in which speakers of that language view the world - Whorfian hypothesis 

2. The structure does not determine the world-view but still extremely influential in predisposing speakers of a language toward adopting a particular world view

3. The cultural requirements do not determine the structure of a language - but influence how a language is used and perhaps determines why specific bits and pieces are the way they are.

4. There is little or no relationship between language and culture.

Two dimensions in Whorfian hypothesis - Linguistic relativeity principle - structural differences between language systems will, in general, be parallelled by nonlinguistic conitive differences of an unspecified sort in the native speakers of the language. Linguisitic Determinism - the structure of anyones native language strongly influences or fully determines the worldview he will acquire as he learns the language

Whorfs main point - language is medium by which one views world, culture, reality & thought

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Religion in the media: social implications

Media is largely responsible to how religions and their groups affiliated with them are represented.

How competent are the media is representing religions? 

Hoover (1998) "Journalists lack the knowledge and expertise to report the religious dimensions of news stories adequately"

Buddenbaum (1990) the reporting of religious aspect of news stories is often woefully inadequate for 2 reasons:

1. The predominant ethos of the newsroom is secular (belief that rejects religion and that religion should not be part of the affairs of the state as part of public education) and many journalists have an antipathy (hostility) towards religion

2. News stories are primarily characterised by controvesy and conflict and that this consequently misrepresents the reality of religion as most people experience it

Macarro (2002) explained how the media can shape, reinforce and alter our opinion about the world around us through the language they use 

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Religion in the media: social implications 2

Christianity in the media 

- often attacked or ridiculed in secular British media

- often portrayed as anti-egalitarian, homophobic and out of date

- Stories of child sex abuse in church settings far outnumber positive contributions of the faith in society

Judaism in the media 

- Wosk (1995) - Have little interest on the daily life of an average jew, don't have depth or sensitivity on issues that are close to their hearts, "modern media by its very nature is somewhat threatening to the traditional religious community."

Sebag (1996)  - News media negative towards the jewish community - "The response to Israel in the European media, particularly the BBC and the Guardian, has long been prejudiced, disproportionate, vicious and often ficitious" 

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Religion in the media: social implications 3

Islam in the media

Moore et al (2008) analysed 974 newspaper articles about British Muslims between 2000 and 2008. Found that 80% discourses, particularly in the tabloids, associate Islam and Muslims with threats, problems or in opposition to dominant British values. British muslims rarely used as a source in these reports. 

Baker et al (2013) - comprehensive analysis of language in British newspapers on Islam and Muslims betwee 2000 ad 2009. Analysed a large corpus of 140 million words of newspaper articles. Looked at media portrayals of issues like Muslim womes clothing, hate preachers etc. 


- Overwhelming negativity against Islam and Muslims

- Blame for negative representation not entirely intentional 

- these representations contributed towards hate crimes against Muslims. 

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Religion in the media: social implications 4

Al-Azami (2016) - studied religion in the media from a linguistic perspective. Two analytical frameworks: 1. CDA of news articles, TV documentaries and dramas on Islam, Christianity and Judaism. 2. Focus groups with the followers of the three religions and people with no religion based on the same media representations. The audience response study applied Hall's the Encoding/Decoding model for analysis. 

Findings: Negative attitudes towards religions in secular British media, all three religions are not demonised in the same way, Islam most negative followed by Christianity and Islam. Conforms to previous studies that very little positive representation of Islam. Both news and broadcast media stereotype Islam and Muslims. Islamic religious practices (gender segregation, women's rights and clothing) often criticised from ethnocentric perspectives. 

Christianity, though not as negatively portrayed as Islam, is often stereotyped. Suggestions that they demonise homosexuals and are anti-jew. Jewish culture, not judaism as a religion is mostly represented. Some religious aspects criticised like the concept of a 'Promised Land'. Alot of sympathy towards jews due to anti-semitism. Newspaper articles: Islam: Overt and Covert Negativity. Christianity - Christian demonization of Jews. Judaism - Cultural representation. Fictional Representations - Linking Islam with terrorism, stereotyping jews, christianity- insensitive approach towards Muslim-Christian relationships

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Religion in the media: social implications 5

Social Implications (Al-Azami, 2016) 

Opinions of majority of the Muslim population are rarely reflected, media's attitude towards other religions is not helpful either, Christianity is often ridiculed in the media, issues like homosexuality in the media often suggest that religious people are homophobic. (From Focus Group findings) Jewish participants consider media as anti-israel. Muslim participants felt the media unfair towards the Palestians and favour Israel. Media finds it difficult to please everyone while reporting on the middle-east. 

Media fully entitled to criticise religions, important to be fair, sensitive and responsible, media representations often have far reaching consequences. Overwhelming majority of the participants rejected media portrayals of religions, they were the targets of negative media representations.

Many people likely to be influenced by negative representations, they often lead to hate crimes. A 2015 ITV Report on anti-muslim hate crime based on Met Police statistics found "A 216% increase in Islamapobic hate crimes in London after the Paris attacks. Media can play a positive role to minimise these hate crimes. 

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Intercultural Communication

Cross-cultural communication - communication is more than just speaking, writing and editing, it also involves information gathering and teamwork. 

Convergence and Divergence 

- Cultures often converge - distinctions between cultures often blurred due to global communication, transportation and changes in living styles, e.g. adoption of Western dress in many cultures. Deeper differences remain including attitudes towards elders in some Asian, Latin American and African societies like looking after them until old age still present unlike many Western countries. 

Intercultural Communication - Communication involves exchange of information, verbally and non-verbally. Culture based values, assumptions, and norms contribute to creating common communication practices. These affect what we say and how we say it, when people from different cultural backgrounds engage in conversation: 

- differences in styles and patterns of communication take place

- the differences may cause misunderstandings, tension, or more serious conflicts. 

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Intercultural Communication 2

Cultural diversity is increasing in communities and societies: cross-cultural communication competence is essential, working together, solving daily issues in a safe, non-threatening, respectful manner.

- Competence in intercultural communication; open mindedness, willingness to accommodate others needs, awareness of differences in communication, skills in facilitating and managing different communication practices. 

Awareness of cultural differences:

- Familiarity with how communication differs across cultures can help in several ways

a) alleviate frustration when interacting with people who communicate in ways that are distinct from our own. 

b) prevent taking differences personally and making premature judgements about others and 

c) enhance our ability to make adjustments so that cross-culural communication will be a positive experience for everyone involved. 

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Intercultural Communication 3

Multicultural sensitivity 

- Being aware of our own culture and how it contrasts with others; recognising barriers to multicultural accommodation and striving to overcome them; avoiding ethnocentrism and bridging the gap between the cultures. 

1. Avoiding Ethnocentrisim- the belief in the superiority of ones own race is known as ethnocentrism, a natural attitude inherent in all cultures.

2. Bridging the gap - developing cultural competence often involves changing attitudes. 

- that means learning new attitudes and behaviours that help bridge gaps between cultures.

- This can be developed through tolerance and patience. 

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Intercultural Communication 4

Intercultural communications in Britain

- because of the multi-ethnic environment in Britain, there is a considerable amount of cross-cultural communication. Most of the ethnic minority population tend to integrate themselves into British culture. Apart from having English as their first language, many adopt prominant cultures like dress, food, habit, music, sports etc. This adaptation is mostly found in second or subsequent generations. 

Even the indigineous population in Britain are influenced by other cultures to some extent, Asian culture seems the most popular to be adopted amongst local popuulation. Through cuisine, Indian films are popular (East is east etc) 

Many sub-continental words have become popular here, hijab, kebab, etc

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Political Language in Britain

Politics involves cooperation and conflicts between individuals, groups, classes.

Politics as cooperation or integration - 

- the process of rule based on order and justice, driven by the considerations of the common good, 

Politics as conflict

- as struggle for power, driven by selfish interests of individuals, groups, businesses and states. 

Power - The essence of politics is power; power to do something; power over people

Political Power- control of, or influence on, the state, ability to make or influence political decisions.

Economic Power- control of economic assets 

Military Power- ability to wage war, or to compel others through intimidation or deterrence.

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Political Language in Britain 2

5 principals of power

1. Force - detain/harm people, or damage/confiscate their property to compel them to obey your orders.

2. Persuasion - convince people to do what they otherwise wouldnt 

3. Authority - power to control and direct peoples activities

4. Coercion- controllin people by means of threatenin use of force

5. Manipulation - controlling people without threats

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Political Language in Britain 3

Chilton (2004) summarises Aristotles's concept into three main ingredients of a theory of politics and language:

1. Language has the function of indicating to members of the group what is harmful or useful.

2. Language has the function of indicating what is good and evil or just and unjust. Humans have conceptions, or intuitions of good and evil, justice and injustice.

3. The producing and sharing of a common view regarding these concepts is an intrinsic part of constituting a social or political group 

Politics is concerned with power: the power to make decisions, control resources, control other peoples behaviour, control others values. 

Politiians choose their words carefully because:

- they believe in the power of language to influence thought

- they believe implicitly in linguistic relativity 

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Political Language in Britain 4

Examples of political discourse; presuppostions: background assumptions embedded within a sentence or phrase. Implicatures; leads the listener to infer something that was not explicitly asserted by the speaker. Persuasive language; rhetoric - the skill of elegant and persuasive speaking. Metaphor- a way of comparing two different concept, e.g. hard/soft brexit. Euphenism- a tool which is extensively used when discussing millitary matters, e.g. clean bombs. 

(See First term consolidation for Chilton 2006 characterisics of political discourse. 

British political discourse; poliical ideologies - right wing, left wing, socialism

Seasonal debates- hard/soft Brexit, customs union, Irish border

Political spaces- westminster, house of commons

Economic jargon- austerity, recession, GDP

Title- speaker, Lord, Prime Minister

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