"You have to speak it at least": language and identity maintenance among Australian migrant teenagers

2019-02-06T04:39:09Z (GMT) by Louisa Jane Vaughan Willoughby
Migration invariably results in the negotiation, reformulation and hybridisation of linguistic and cultural practices and feelings of ethnic identity. This thesis explores the negotiation process as experienced by twenty LS and second generation students (aged 15-18) from disparate ethnic backgrounds who attend the same Melbourne high school. Through questionnaires, interviews and participant observation over two years at Ferndale Secondary College, the study traces the how and why participants continue to use their ethnic languages in various aspects of their lives: in the home, at school, when consuming media and when socialising with fri ends. Since language is generally considered to be a central component of ethnic identity (Eastman 1984, Fishman 1991 Edwards 1994, Joseph 2004), a key interest of the study is what sort of language proficiency (if any) participants believe it is important to have in order to consider themselves a member of their ethnic group. It further asks to what degree a strong interest in language maintenance accompanies a strong desire to social ise with other co-ethnics or otherwise maintain a distinct ethnic identity.
A central finding of the study is that part icipants view conversational fluency in their ethnic language as integral to their sense of ethnic identi ty; however most see little reason to develop high-level ethnic language proficiency and only speak the ethnic language habitually with interlocutors (such as parents and grandparents) who have difficulty using English. Despite a strong preference for functioning in English, participants find numerous opportunities to use the ethnic language incidentally with their peers, from exchanging greeting and sharing secrets to singing karaoke and teaching friends of different backgrounds words and phrases of the ethnic language. In these ways the ethnic language continues to act as a valued marker of ethnic identity and helps build rapport with both co-ethnic peers and those from different ethnic backgrounds.[...]