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Review of  Discursive Constructions of Immigrant Identity

Reviewer: Christie Marie DeBlasio
Book Title: Discursive Constructions of Immigrant Identity
Book Author: Inke C. Du Bois
Publisher: Peter Lang AG
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Discourse Analysis
Anthropological Linguistics
Language Acquisition
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 22.4345

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AUTHOR: Inke Du Bois
TITLE: Discursive Constructions of Immigrant Identity
SUBTITLE: A Sociolinguistic Trend Study of Long-Term American Immigrants
YEAR: 2010

Christie DeBlasio, Assumption University, Bangkok, Thailand

This book presents the findings of a longitudinal study into changes in
immigrant identity over time. Du Bois uses critical discourse analysis paired
with macro- and micro-linguistic approaches to understand the complex
socio-cultural reality of American immigrants in Germany.

Each chapter goes into detail regarding different aspects of language and
cultural identity. Following is a summary of the main points in each of the ten

In Chapter 1, Du Bois first explains the many factors at play in the
construction of an immigrant's identity. These factors include language changes,
social contextual factors and collective identity. Second, three main types of
research approaches are discussed: social scientific, social constructionist,
and critical discourse analyses. Following that, the three are combined to form
a macro- and micro-linguistic approach which takes into account social
variationist approaches and code-switching used in this research.

Du Bois then outlines a research question, how Americans in Germany use language
to construct their identity and what other influences bear on that identity. Du
Bois breaks this down into six smaller research questions dealing with
linguistics means, construction of bicultural identity, national identity,
socio-political contexts, code-switching and other variables related to
national-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 chapter
also highlights monolingual and bilingual social constructionist approaches in
regards to cultural identity. Sociolinguistic approaches are also discussed for
their part in identity construction and language use. Specifically, identity is
thought of as a process rather than a closed entity. It emerges through
discourse and changes in interaction depending on the macro-demographic level
present at the current situation. Identity can also be seen through narratives
or story telling practices that demonstrate the way in which the speaker wishes
to be perceived. Du Bois also touches on the concept of indexicality, which
functions on many levels using pronouns. For example, the pronoun “I” can be
associated with a broad category such as nationality or a more local category.
It can also be seen through code-switching choices that provides different
interpretations of meaning. Changes in pragmatic competence and code-switching
also show the progression of identity of immigrants as they become more
proficient in their second language.

Chapter 3 goes into attitudes toward Americans in Germany and Europe. These
attitudes take into account the effects of 9/11 and other aspects relevant to
American identity. Du Bois also looks at the effects of America on Germans from
the situation after World War II. Some of the residual effects include English
being used as a lingua franca in Germany, the inflow of American products and
culture and the development of a love-and-hate relationship with America. These
influences help to construct the native German identities and in turn the
American immigrant identity in Germany.

In Chapter 4, the thirty participants in the study are introduced, along with
the method of data collection through interviews. The research design plan,
field methods and role of the researcher are clearly presented. Du Bois also
outlines statistical analysis methods, triangulation and transcription symbols.

Chapter 5 first takes a detailed look at one participant. Through in-depth
analysis, Du Bois is able to pick out relevant topics, biographical transition
points and linguistic features that help to construct this particular
immigrant's identity. Through the use of small narratives that represent turning
points in an immigrant’s life, key linguistic features and structures specific
to the narrative care are extracted. Some main analysis points are gambits, the
use of the pronoun ''we'', how narrated time and narrating time relate to each
other, gender, and the narrative structure of 9/11 events. Du Bois then
introduces a type of acculturation model that gives structure to the linguistic
data from the interviews.

Chapter 6 examines the idea of cultural trauma and identity confusion.
Specifically, interviewees’ stories about 9/11 and German reactions are
analyzed. Du Bois uses this analysis to create a model of dual cultural trauma
to better understand the situation of Americans in Germany. Some sub-topics of
note are the situation in which American national identity causes internal
identity problems when confronted with negative media about Guantanamo Bay,
criticism from native Germans towards Americans regarding the politics of
Guantanamo Bay and experiencing 9/11 as an American living abroad. These
internal identity problems take the form of embarrassment, regret and conflict
of one’s own identity as well as a need to hide one’s identity. For example, a
female participant reported that she had feelings of shame and embarrassment
when the Guantanamo Bay photographs made international news. She expressed
regret that, as an American, she now represents something very negative. Another
American found himself feeling distant and estranged from the events of 9/11. A
feeling of emotional connection was only found after reading from American

Du Bois takes a look at bicultural identity in Chapter 7. The author takes and
in-depth look at how participants show feelings of homesickness and connection
to 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 specific
names of food. Another example is one participant use “come here” to mean
Germany and “go back” to mean “U.S.” which, according to Du Bois, signifies her
global cosmopolitan identity. Using many references to places in Germany is
another characteristic of immigrant identity. Du Bois found that immigrants
mentioned very specific and local places frequently throughout conversations.
This shows the participants create their identity through spatial connections as
well. Du Bois also looks at the many ways that ''we'' expresses connection to
America and to Germany depending on the context and the duration of time spent
in Germany. The use of “we” can be connected to objects, the speaker, or
specific relations between objects and contexts. For example, “we” can mean
Germans, Americans, or Americans living in Germany.

Chapter 8 focuses on bilingual language use, namely, the social function of
code-switching. Du Bois' findings suggest that the length of time an immigrant
spends in Germany has a direct effect on the amount of code-switching used.
Specifically, an immigrant will start out code-switching with single words only
and then move on to more extensive use. Code-switching can also show a
distancing between the participant and their home country as well as a means to
be at an equal intellectual level with native Germans.

Chapter 9, unlike the preceding eight, uses quantitative analysis of demographic
factors and linguistic output following a typical variationist approach. It
focuses on issues of bilingual lexicon and language attrition in the context of
demographic identity related factors. Du Bois finds that gender has no impact on
code-switching and other language related factors. Education however did prove
relevant in terms of lexical attrition, as participants with low level of
education showed significantly more lexical loss than those with higher
education. The effects of social contact with other Americans also had a
significant effect on code-switching and lexical attrition.

Chapter 10 concludes the study with a summary of results, comments on
methodology and ideas for further research.

Du Bois obviously took considerable time and effort to create a study that is
highly data driven and unbiased in terms of analysis as practically possible.
The beginning chapters clearly outline a coherent theoretical framework bringing
together the range of approaches used. By combining social scientific, social
constructionist and critical discourse analysis, Du Bois builds on the work of
Edmondson and House (2006) in approaching research from many angles at a time.
However, it can be asked how picking and choosing from three different
approaches results in a fourth approach rather than a mixed approach. Regardless
of the approaches used, it is apparent that successful macro- and
micro-linguistic analysis was achieved.

This book is a substantial addition to sociolinguistics. The analysis itself is
highly detailed yet easily understood due to a to-the-point writing style and
use of charts and graphs as appropriate. Chapters are highly organized and
sub-headed appropriately. The discussion sections at the end of some of the
chapters are more along the lines of a summary than synthesis of the concepts
and data represented within the chapter.

The strong focus on code-switching's role in immigrant identity throughout most
of 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 community
instead of just an interpretation of choice allowed Du Bois to approach the data
from multiple angles. This leads to the discovery of intimate and interesting
conditions of code-switching and its role in the identity of immigrants. In this
respect, the immigrant is thought of as being more aware of their own identity
through their language choices. Code-switching is not simply a result of
vocabulary use, but a reflection of the immigrants’ introduction into a new
society and an attempt to strategically integrate into that society.

The only weak argument I find in Du Bois analysis is his questioning of Hill’s
1989 research showing that Americans are typically individualistic, as evidenced
by use of the pronoun ''I''. He argues that results from the present study show
the participants using ''we'' in a way contradicting Hill’s research. Hill reports
on Americans in America, not living abroad, a much different context, and it is
not clear that these are comparable situations.


Edmondson, Willis and Julian House. (2006). Einführung in die
Sprachlehrforschung. Tübingen: Francke.

Hills, Jane (1989). The cultural context of narrative involvement. In R. Graczk
and C. Wiltshire (Eds.), Papers from the twenty fifth annual regional meeting of
the Chicago Linguistic Society: Chicago Linguistic Society 138-156.

Myers-Scotton, Carol (2006). Multiple Voices. An introduction to bilingualism.
Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Christie DeBlasio is a lecturer in the English Language Department at Assumption University in Bangkok, Thailand. She is enrolled in the Masters of English Language Teaching program in the Graduate School of English at Assumption University. Her thesis investigates the unique culture-based characteristics 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 and linguistic landscapes.

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