From: Christie Sriumporn <christie_deblasioyahoo.com>
Subject: Discursive Constructions of Immigrant Identity
E-mail this message to a friend
Discuss this message
Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/22/22-2081.html
AUTHOR: Inke Du BoisTITLE: Discursive Constructions of Immigrant IdentitySUBTITLE: A Sociolinguistic Trend Study of Long-Term American ImmigrantsPUBLISHER: Peter LangYEAR: 2010
Christie DeBlasio, Assumption University, Bangkok, Thailand
SUMMARYThis book presents the findings of a longitudinal study into changes inimmigrant identity over time. Du Bois uses critical discourse analysis pairedwith macro- and micro-linguistic approaches to understand the complexsocio-cultural reality of American immigrants in Germany.
Each chapter goes into detail regarding different aspects of language andcultural identity. Following is a summary of the main points in each of the tenchapters.
In Chapter 1, Du Bois first explains the many factors at play in theconstruction of an immigrant's identity. These factors include language changes,social contextual factors and collective identity. Second, three main types ofresearch approaches are discussed: social scientific, social constructionist,and critical discourse analyses. Following that, the three are combined to forma macro- and micro-linguistic approach which takes into account socialvariationist approaches and code-switching used in this research.
Du Bois then outlines a research question, how Americans in Germany use languageto construct their identity and what other influences bear on that identity. DuBois breaks this down into six smaller research questions dealing withlinguistics means, construction of bicultural identity, national identity,socio-political contexts, code-switching and other variables related tonational-cultural identification.
At the end of the chapter Du Bois outlines the structure of the book's chapters.
Chapter 2 critically discusses the concept of national identity. This chapteralso highlights monolingual and bilingual social constructionist approaches inregards to cultural identity. Sociolinguistic approaches are also discussed fortheir part in identity construction and language use. Specifically, identity isthought of as a process rather than a closed entity. It emerges throughdiscourse and changes in interaction depending on the macro-demographic levelpresent at the current situation. Identity can also be seen through narrativesor story telling practices that demonstrate the way in which the speaker wishesto be perceived. Du Bois also touches on the concept of indexicality, whichfunctions on many levels using pronouns. For example, the pronoun "I" can beassociated with a broad category such as nationality or a more local category.It can also be seen through code-switching choices that provides differentinterpretations of meaning. Changes in pragmatic competence and code-switchingalso show the progression of identity of immigrants as they become moreproficient in their second language.
Chapter 3 goes into attitudes toward Americans in Germany and Europe. Theseattitudes take into account the effects of 9/11 and other aspects relevant toAmerican identity. Du Bois also looks at the effects of America on Germans fromthe situation after World War II. Some of the residual effects include Englishbeing used as a lingua franca in Germany, the inflow of American products andculture and the development of a love-and-hate relationship with America. Theseinfluences help to construct the native German identities and in turn theAmerican immigrant identity in Germany.
In Chapter 4, the thirty participants in the study are introduced, along withthe method of data collection through interviews. The research design plan,field methods and role of the researcher are clearly presented. Du Bois alsooutlines statistical analysis methods, triangulation and transcription symbols.
Chapter 5 first takes a detailed look at one participant. Through in-depthanalysis, Du Bois is able to pick out relevant topics, biographical transitionpoints and linguistic features that help to construct this particularimmigrant's identity. Through the use of small narratives that represent turningpoints in an immigrant's life, key linguistic features and structures specificto the narrative care are extracted. Some main analysis points are gambits, theuse of the pronoun ''we'', how narrated time and narrating time relate to eachother, gender, and the narrative structure of 9/11 events. Du Bois thenintroduces a type of acculturation model that gives structure to the linguisticdata from the interviews.
Chapter 6 examines the idea of cultural trauma and identity confusion.Specifically, interviewees' stories about 9/11 and German reactions areanalyzed. Du Bois uses this analysis to create a model of dual cultural traumato better understand the situation of Americans in Germany. Some sub-topics ofnote are the situation in which American national identity causes internalidentity problems when confronted with negative media about Guantanamo Bay,criticism from native Germans towards Americans regarding the politics ofGuantanamo Bay and experiencing 9/11 as an American living abroad. Theseinternal identity problems take the form of embarrassment, regret and conflictof one's own identity as well as a need to hide one's identity. For example, afemale participant reported that she had feelings of shame and embarrassmentwhen the Guantanamo Bay photographs made international news. She expressedregret that, as an American, she now represents something very negative. AnotherAmerican found himself feeling distant and estranged from the events of 9/11. Afeeling of emotional connection was only found after reading from Americannewspapers.
Du Bois takes a look at bicultural identity in Chapter 7. The author takes andin-depth look at how participants show feelings of homesickness and connectionto their lives in the United States by referencing home in broad terms such as"United States" and more specific terms such as "Dallas, Texas" and specificnames of food. Another example is one participant use "come here" to meanGermany and "go back" to mean "U.S." which, according to Du Bois, signifies herglobal cosmopolitan identity. Using many references to places in Germany isanother characteristic of immigrant identity. Du Bois found that immigrantsmentioned very specific and local places frequently throughout conversations.This shows the participants create their identity through spatial connections aswell. Du Bois also looks at the many ways that ''we'' expresses connection toAmerica and to Germany depending on the context and the duration of time spentin Germany. The use of "we" can be connected to objects, the speaker, orspecific relations between objects and contexts. For example, "we" can meanGermans, Americans, or Americans living in Germany.
Chapter 8 focuses on bilingual language use, namely, the social function ofcode-switching. Du Bois' findings suggest that the length of time an immigrantspends in Germany has a direct effect on the amount of code-switching used.Specifically, an immigrant will start out code-switching with single words onlyand then move on to more extensive use. Code-switching can also show adistancing between the participant and their home country as well as a means tobe at an equal intellectual level with native Germans.
Chapter 9, unlike the preceding eight, uses quantitative analysis of demographicfactors and linguistic output following a typical variationist approach. Itfocuses on issues of bilingual lexicon and language attrition in the context ofdemographic identity related factors. Du Bois finds that gender has no impact oncode-switching and other language related factors. Education however did proverelevant in terms of lexical attrition, as participants with low level ofeducation showed significantly more lexical loss than those with highereducation. The effects of social contact with other Americans also had asignificant effect on code-switching and lexical attrition.
Chapter 10 concludes the study with a summary of results, comments onmethodology and ideas for further research.
EVALUATIONDu Bois obviously took considerable time and effort to create a study that ishighly data driven and unbiased in terms of analysis as practically possible.The beginning chapters clearly outline a coherent theoretical framework bringingtogether the range of approaches used. By combining social scientific, socialconstructionist and critical discourse analysis, Du Bois builds on the work ofEdmondson and House (2006) in approaching research from many angles at a time.However, it can be asked how picking and choosing from three differentapproaches results in a fourth approach rather than a mixed approach. Regardlessof the approaches used, it is apparent that successful macro- andmicro-linguistic analysis was achieved.
This book is a substantial addition to sociolinguistics. The analysis itself ishighly detailed yet easily understood due to a to-the-point writing style anduse of charts and graphs as appropriate. Chapters are highly organized andsub-headed appropriately. The discussion sections at the end of some of thechapters are more along the lines of a summary than synthesis of the conceptsand data represented within the chapter.
The strong focus on code-switching's role in immigrant identity throughout mostof the analysis is revealing in many ways. The use of Myers-Scotton's (2006)notion of code-switching being more than just symbols in a speech communityinstead of just an interpretation of choice allowed Du Bois to approach the datafrom multiple angles. This leads to the discovery of intimate and interestingconditions of code-switching and its role in the identity of immigrants. In thisrespect, the immigrant is thought of as being more aware of their own identitythrough their language choices. Code-switching is not simply a result ofvocabulary use, but a reflection of the immigrants' introduction into a newsociety and an attempt to strategically integrate into that society.
The only weak argument I find in Du Bois analysis is his questioning of Hill's1989 research showing that Americans are typically individualistic, as evidencedby use of the pronoun ''I''. He argues that results from the present study showthe participants using ''we'' in a way contradicting Hill's research. Hill reportson Americans in America, not living abroad, a much different context, and it isnot clear that these are comparable situations.
REFERENCESEdmondson, Willis and Julian House. (2006). Einführung in die Sprachlehrforschung. Tübingen: Francke.
Hills, Jane (1989). The cultural context of narrative involvement. In R. Graczkand C. Wiltshire (Eds.), Papers from the twenty fifth annual regional meeting ofthe Chicago Linguistic Society: Chicago Linguistic Society 138-156.
Myers-Scotton, Carol (2006). Multiple Voices. An introduction to bilingualism.Malden, MA: Blackwell.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Christie DeBlasio is a lecturer in the English Language Department atAssumption University in Bangkok, Thailand. She is enrolled in the Mastersof English Language Teaching program in the Graduate School of English atAssumption University. Her thesis investigates the unique culture-basedcharacteristics of lexical bundles in Thai Business English Lingua Franca(BELF) using a corpus of business stories from Bangkok English newspapers.Her other research interests include intercultural communication andlinguistic landscapes.
Page Updated: 02-Nov-2011