Language and Ethnicity

  • Created by: Chloe.LJ
  • Created on: 16-01-17 20:16


Ethnicity is a concept that relates to aspects of a person's cultural identity. It is different from nationality, which refers to the more technical issue of which nation or nations you formally belong to i.e. what is on your passport. Nationality is more of a legal concept, while ethnicity is more to do with who you see as your community. This could involve several factors, including religious beliefs and language, as well as your family relationships or other close connections. In a label such as 'British Asian', the first term relates to nationality while the second relates to ethnicity.

The terms 'black' and 'white' are very broad labels that don't make distinctons between ethnic groups, but try to suggest similarities - sometimes in a very crude and over-simplifying way - by focusing on skin colour. All of the terms that surround ethnicity need serious thought, because there are some complex issues to unravel.

The term 'ethnicity' has quite a complicated history. It was intended to replace the word 'race', which had acquired negative associations with ideas about racial superority and inferiority, and with racism. But 'ethnic' has come to mean 'non-white' in many people's minds; 'ethnic food' could suggest curry or couscous, but is unlikely to be used for fish and chips. In fact, the term 'ethnic' should refer to everyone: just as everyone has an accent because of the way they pronounce words, everyone has ethnicity because of their family ties. Everyone is part of an ethnic group of some sort, regardless of skin colour or nationality. Now, you will see the term 'race' in academic texts: for example, a 'raced text' would be a text that uses ideas of race in a manipulative way.

Where ethnicity is perhaps most useful is in its refernece to the family heritage that many people share - linking them historically and culturally to places where their relatives may once have lived.

As identity is so intimately connected to langauge, it is hardly surprising that the intersection of ethnicity and language is such a fertile area of social linguistics. Different ethnic groups often use language in ways that reflect solidarity and affiliation to aspects of their heritage, but there is also a wider linguistic repertoire to draw upon, signalling different elements of identity, but with ethnic background as another variable, more choices exist.

In a world and a country where there is more contact and mixing between different ethnic groups than ever before, the language linked to ethnic background rapidly changes. As with other forms of variation in language use, there are many different ways in which language users are judged by others. This can involve judgements about whether a particular use of language is 'correct' or 'incorrect', how 'white' or 'black' someone sounds, and how 'nerdy' or 'street' a speaker might be. 

Early Immigration and Language

Immigration to Britain is not a recent phenomenon - for many centuries people have moved to Britain, bringing with them their own mother tongues. The




Very useful as an overview of the topic I am currently learning in class, thank you so much!