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Shifting Linguistic Identities in Interaction: The Case of a French-English Bilingual, by Linda Waugh
07/18/2017

Paul Miller

Bilingualism goes beyond speaking more than one langauge. As Linda Waugh writes, bilingualism also involves negotiating identities as they relate to the languages we speak and how we interact with others in those languages. Her chapter that we published in our very first volume of Readings in Language Studies, illustrates the ways in which identity is negotiated through a case study of a French/English bilingual man in France. As she notes, "... since identities are multiple, contradictory, and discursively constructed, they are a site for discursive struggle; and negotiation and co-construction in verbal discourse between social interactants are key elements in that struggle" (p. 224). For more details, we invite you read Waugh's chapter below (click "Read More"). If  this appeals to you, we encourage you to visit Amazon or your favorite book seller to get your copy of Readings in Language Studies, Vol. 1 today!


© 2008 All rights reserved. Originally published in Mantero, M., Miller, P. C., & Watzke, J. L. (2008). Readings in language studies, vol. 1: Language across disciplinary boundaries. St. Louis, MO: ISLS.

CHAPTER 12
 

SHIFTING LINGUISTIC IDENTITIES IN INTERACTION:

The Case of a French-English Bilingual
 

Linda R. Waugh

University of Arizona

 

INTRODUCTION: IDENTITY, IDEOLOGY, AND POWER

Contemporary understanding of identity in a wide variety of disciplines underlines its social and constructed nature, points out that we have many types of identities (e.g., linguistic, cultural, social, national), and contends that each one of these identities may be multiple, dynamic, shifting, and highly contextualized1. In particular, identity is “constitutive of and constituted by the social environment” (Block, 2006, p. 28; cf. Giddens, 1984). In addition, identities are a site for discursive struggle (Norton, 2000, p.127), and negotiation and coconstruction in verbal discourse between social interactants are key elements in that struggle (Block, 2006; Norton, 2000). What we will be studying here is changes in identity (and associated ideologies) that are the result of the discursive struggle between participants in ordinary conversation. We will be directing our attention to the linguistic processes by which participants negotiate with each other, taking into account differences in power between the interactants and, even more importantly, the fact that power, just like identity and ideology, is not fixed and absolute. Different participants have different types and amounts of economic, cultural, linguistic and symbolic capital (Bourdieu, 1991), and, as will be shown here, these give them different sorts of power in a given interaction.

 

The type of power that will be most important here is symbolic power (Bourdieu, 1991), which is often conceptualized as based on capital that is prior to, and constructed through, forces external to any particular interaction. However, as we will see here, a specific interaction can selectively highlight aspects of external power and ignore others, and can even reverse the power at times. This reversal can be based on the different values that are put on the different types of capital. Thus, who has greater power in the interaction—or at given moments in the interaction—is dependent upon specifics of the negotiation between the participants in the unfolding process of the interaction.


LINGUISTIC IDENTITY AND LINGUISTIC IDENTITY ACTS: SOME PRELIMINARY REMARKS


What will be of interest to us here is linguistic identity—or, rather, linguistic identities, since like any other type of identity, they are multiple, especially if we include issues of different geographical and social dialects and registers in linguistic identities, in addition to the more evident issue of speaking two or more different languages. We also know from work in SLA and bilingualism that there are a myriad of issues around the construction of a new/different identity in a new/second language; around the maintenance of multiple, sometimes contradictory identities associated with the languages and their cultures as well; around loss of identity in the L1; and so forth (Clyne, 2004; Kramsch, 2000; Lantolf & Thorne, 2006; Norton, 2000; Norton & Toohey, 2002; Paulston, 2004; Pavlenko & Lantolf, 2000).


What we will examine here is the issue of the linguistic identities of a bilingual speaker of both French and English. Our focus will be on linguistic micro-processes of negotiation that lead to the emergence of, and changes in, his linguistic identities while he is conversing with native speakers of his L1, French, in France. These identities will be explored in light of the power relationships, and the various types of capital they are based on, as negotiated within the interaction. One type of micro-process through which identity is negotiated is a kind of speech act that I will call an identity act (see Waugh, in press)—a linguistic action that helps to determine an identity in conversational interaction.

Just as in the literature on identity, contemporary approaches see speech acts from a discourse-pragmatic perspective, in which they are constitutive of, and constituted by, the context, especially the local interpersonal, interactional context; they are thus socio-cultural, emergent, situated events (see Bauman, 2000; Capone, 2005; Charaudeau, 2002; Holtgraves, 2005; Kramsch, 1981; Richland, 2006; Sbisa, 2002). They also have been well represented in research on crosscultural and interlanguage pragmatics (see Kasper & Rose, 1999, 2003; Rose & Kasper, 2001) since many researchers have recognized that pragmatic competence (including appropriate use of speech acts) is essential to the use of any language, but that what constitutes pragmatic competence differs from one language/ culture to another. Work on L2 pragmatics has tended to focus on performatives and to be fairly restricted in scope. One of the goals of this paper is to widen our definition of speech acts—and pragmatics—to include those linguistic actions by which we claim our identities, and also to use evidence from identity acts to show how speech acts in general are situated interactionally.


As we will see, identity acts—and in the case of this article, linguistic identity acts—are one of the ways in which negotiation and discursive struggle about identity between participants in an interaction are enacted. Work with the data to be presented here shows that linguistic identity acts, like speech acts, may be explicit, as in “I speak French”, in which “I” explicitly identify myself as a speaker of French, and implicit, dependent on inferencing by the interlocutors: e.g., “I studied at the Sorbonne for a year,” from which the interlocutors can infer that “I” speak French. But the data here go beyond what is typically discussed in the speech act literature, since identity acts may be positive, as in the two acts just cited, or negative (“I don’t speak Chinese”); they can be initiated by anyone, not just the person whose identity is being established; and they can be either accepted (ratified—see Goffman, 1981), or denied, or changed interactionally. They are thus the product of co-construction, and a given interactant’s identity is thus an intersubjective, interactional achievement. As we will see, whether or not any specific identity act is successful is highly dependent on power relationship between the participants and on the types of capital they have.

 

GENERAL INFORMATION ABOUT THE DATA TO BE DISCUSSED


In order to discuss these issues, we will focus on two interlinked conversations in France from a corpus of authentic (natural) conversations taped in summer 1999 (see Fonseca-Greber & Waugh, 2003a, 2003b for details about the corpus, see also Waugh et al., 2006 for a much earlier discussion of these data). Since “for the French, their language defines and shapes both personal and national identity” (Adamson, 2007, p. xvi), we will see that not only issues of linguistic identity but also national identity will be important here. The speaker whose linguistic identities are at issue is Karim (a pseudonym) who, at the time of the taping, was in his late adolescence (19 years old), had done at least his high school education and the first year of his college education in the US in English, his L2. At the time of taping, his grandparents (at least on his mother’s side) were living in France and spoke French fluently, while his parents were living in the US (in the Washington DC area, where Karim went to high school) and they too spoke French fluently. In the summer of 1999 (and, it seems, in many previous summers), Karim was in France for his summer vacation, visiting family and friends; in addition, just before this conversation, he had spent a month in Tunisia learning Tunisian Arabic (his heritage language—his family is of Tunisian ethnic background, but he didn’t speak Tunisian at all).

In the first conversation, which lasts 6 minutes on the tape, Karim is talking with Maher, a good friend of his, and Sylvie, a good friend of Maher’s whom he has either never met before or he doesn’t know very well. The second conversation, which lasts 24 minutes until the tape ends, begins when a fourth participant arrives: Michel, who knows Maher and Sylvie, but has never met Karim before. As we will see, the arrival of Michel changes radically the issue to be discussed here—namely, Karim’s linguistic identities. The question of which languages Karim speaks, and how well, runs through the first conversation and also is the main topic of the first part of the second conversation.


In order to understand the first conversation, with Karim, Maher and Sylvie, we need to know about Karim’s French and his high economic, linguistic, cultural and social capital. What is said below is gleaned from his interaction with the three others and is supplemented by knowledge that is widely known about France, the French language in France, and the status of North African minorities in France. Karim speaks standard French, the prestigious dialect of France with high symbolic capital and power (Bourdieu, 1991), as against Maher and Sylvie, who speak the stigmatized dialect of the youth of North African (Arab) heritage who live in the suburbs of major cities and typically come from lower income families. This latter dialect is a marker of identity and of solidarity for (many of) those who speak it (see Doran, 2004), but has low symbolic capital and power in mainstream French society. Karim also speaks English, and he is studying electrical and computer engineering at an elite, private American university where he is going to college. For their part, Maher has yet to finish the French baccaulaureat and Sylvie, by her own admission, was not a good student and is no longer in school. Karim has lots of economic capital—his parents are wealthy and have friends who are fairly wealthy/powerful, and the family travels a lot all over the world; there is no evidence that Maher and Sylvie are anything more than (lower) middle class. Karim also has a lot of cultural capital—he goes to museums frequently and knows something about contemporary art, he’s attending college and is pursuing a difficult major. As a result, he has much symbolic capital. By contrast, Maher and Sylvie have little cultural and symbolic capital. So, Karim is quite different from Maher and Sylvie: he is somewhat of an “exotic other”: bilingual (French and English), bicultural (France and the US), ethnically Tunisian but a speaker of standard French, learning Tunisian Arabic, from a wealthy family, a world traveler, interested in contemporary art, studying a very difficult subject at an American university, and so forth.
 

KARIM’S LINGUISTIC IDENTITIES: KARIM SPEAKS FRENCH AND ENGLISH


Let us now turn to a discussion of how Karim’s linguistic identities are overtly discussed in this conversation. For example one, the context is that Karim, Maher and Sylvie have been talking about Marseille, where Sylvie is from. They are talking about some parts of Marseille where only Arabic is spoken. Maher is surprised to hear this and asks Sylvie in a low voice if this is true. She says it is, and then Maher addresses Karim (who is the one taping the conversation):


Example 1: Sylvie: “A little accent”2


Maher: On-parle, on-parle bien fort là? Ça va ça va?

Are we-speaking, we-speaking loud enough? Is it all right, is it all right?


Karim: Ouais, ouais.

Yeah, yeah.


Maher: Ok.

O.K.


Sylvie: Par contre, tu-risques d’avoir un petit accent!

On the other hand, you-risk having a little accent!


 

Sylvie’s linguistic identity act refers to the fact that she and Maher speak the stigmatized Arab immigrant dialect of French mentioned above; she may be proud of it and her ethnicity, but in this utterance she seems to be mocking herself and at the same time taking her distance from Karim, who doesn’t speak with that accent. The inference from what she says is that Karim may be wasting his time by taping her and Maher. This relates to the ideology that “good French,” “French worth taping,” is not the French they speak because she knows that it has low prestige in France.


Example 2: Karim: «it’s fine», Sylvie: another attempt


Karim: Ah ouais, non mais c-est bien!

Oh yeah, no but it-s fine!


Sylvie: parce que < --- > autrement <…>

because < --- > otherwise <…>


Sylvie: Et t-as fait quoi à Marseille?

And what did-you do in Marseille?


Karim seems to deny the inferences from Sylvie’s linguistic identity act and doesn’t go further with what she says. Sylvie tries again, but what follows is a long pause: Karim doesn’t take up on this second attempt to get him to say something about their accent and implications for the taping. In other words, this is an unsuccessful attempt, on Sylvie’s part, at a negotiated linguistic identity act about her linguistic identity in relation to the taping. Sylvie finally breaks the pause by changing the subject and asking Karim what he did while he was in Marseille (he had mentioned earlier that he had visited Marseille). Karim then talks about going to museums, liking contemporary art, going to an exposition at la Vieille Charité (a well-known church in Marseille) of a South-African artist that he likes a lot. He then tells a story about meeting a Korean at the exposition, speaking English with him because the Korean doesn’t know French, and the two spending time together seeing the city. Sylvie and Maher are astonished that someone could do something like that, but then they find an explanation in the fact that the Korean speaks several languages, and that Karim too has facility in more than one language:


Example 3: Karim speaks French “and English”


Maher: Ouais, je-sais ouais, toi tu-parles le

Yeah, I-know yeah, you-speak

 

Sylvie: y-a ça aussi

There-s that too


Maher: français

French


Karim: et l’anglais!

and English!


Maher: anglais.

English


Notice that here, Sylvie and Maher are facilititating Karim’s linguistic identity act: Karim is bilingual partly because of what they say and partly because of what he says, and thus his bilingualism is co-constructed in the conversation. What Karim says is crucial here for what comes later: he really insists on the fact that he speaks English—which must be obvious to them. So, his insistence here is not to inform them but to make sure that his bilingual identity is established interactionally. This is ratified explicitly by Maher and implicitly by Sylvie. Karim returns to the topic of learning Arabic in Tunisia, which goes on for a while. Then, Sylvie turns to Maher and speaks in a low voice (almost a whisper) to Maher and says:


Example 4: Sylvie: «I like his accent»


Sylvie: [Ça me-plaît son accent!]

[I-like his accent!] {it pleases-me his accent}


 

Maher: Hein?

Huh?


Sylvie: Ça me-plaît son accent!

I-like his accent!


[Maher & Sylvie: ]

 

Here, Sylvie attempts to further construct Karim’s linguistic identity and to co-construct it with Maher. She now says that Karim has an accent—by inference, an American accent in his French. Maher doesn’t ratify what she says—Sylvie is again unsuccessful in attempting an interactional linguistic identity act. It should be added here that those who have listened to the tape who are native speakers of French find it hard to hear an American accent in Karim’s French. That is not what’s at issue here—the point is what Sylvie is trying to do and what’s established interactionally. Sylvie said earlier that she and Maher have an accent in French (a non-prestigious dialect); she is now attempting to say that Karim too has an accent, in his case, a foreign one—which is non-prestigious in the French context, but pleasing according to her. Maher doesn’t pick up on what she says, and Karim keeps talking about learning Arabic in Tunisia. There’s no evidence that he heard what Sylvie said, and in any case he doesn’t respond to her. So, at this point in the conversation, Karim is established as bilingual in French and English, and neither Karim nor Maher have taken up on Sylvie’s attempts to discuss either her French or Karim’s French.

 

KARIM’S LINGUISTIC IDENTITY: KARIM IS “NOT PERFECT” IN ANY LANGUAGE


It’s at this moment that Michel arrives and the second conversation starts (this a second conversation because any change in participants in a conversation means that there are new relations between the participants and thus a new conversation). Again, there is important information about Michel that will help in understanding what happens at this point in the interaction. Like Karim, Michel speaks standard French, which has high symbolic capital. Unlike Karim—and Maher and Sylvie—he is not from an immigrant background: he is “non-ethnic,” “White,” which carries high symbolic capital and has high symbolic power in France. According to the interaction, Michel knows Maher well and is also acquainted with Sylvie; however he is meeting Karim for the first time. In the course of the conversation, Michel evidences various negative prejudices and stereotypes about the US, although he has never been there. He seems too to have an ambivalent attitude toward (American) English, which he doesn’t speak—like many French, he has a general unease about English and its hegemony in the world (Ager, 1999; Gordon, 1978; Hagège, 2006).


After Michel’s arrival, Maher announces that Karim is taping the conversation and then a few turns later, he says the following (the next four examples follow each other in the conversation without any intervening talk, and thus they are given the same number, 5, and are split into four parts, a-d, for ease of discussion):


Example 5a: «Karim has a little American accent»


Maher: En fait tu-vois là , Karim, il-vit aux Etats-Unis

In fact you-see, Karim he-lives in the U.S.


Michel: Ah, ouais, il-a un petit accent américain!

Oh, yeah, he-has a little American accent!


At this point, after Michel’s arrival, Karim has only had one utterance (five words—specifically, Non, parce que je-l-ai su “No, because I found-out-aboutit”). However, as soon as Michel learns that Karim lives in the US, he immediately identifies him as having an American accent and utters an identity act about Karim’s linguistic identity that is face-threatening to Karim (Brown & Levinson, 1978; Goffman, 1959). It’s as if the very fact that Karim lives in the US must mean that he has an American accent. Michel, of course, doesn’t have a foreign accent in his French and this automatically means that he has more linguistic capital than Karim does in the French-speaking context. Michel is also using his cultural capital as a White, non-immigrant speaker of standard French to say that Karim has an American accent. There may be some implied racism and anti-ethnic bias at issue here, since while both speak standard French, Karim’s Tunisian ethnicity marks him as a non-main-stream (non-White) speaker of the standard. Michel may also be relying on the belief that no one who lives outside of France (and other Frenchspeaking areas) can speak French without an accent. A further implication could be that since Karim speaks French with an accent, then he is not a native speaker of French and thus he is not French. For many in France, «language and national identity are virtually indistinguishable and there is a tendency to think of the language as a powerful symbol of what it means to be French» (Adamson, 2007, p. 153); there is only one real “Frenchness and it is confined to those who speak le beau langage” (Adamson, 2007, p. 155). This is in line with the monolingual, monocultural ideology of France (despite the fact that there are many immigrants with French citizenship who are not native speakers of French).


Example 5b: Karim: «I have a French accent»


Karim: Ah ouais?

Oh yeah?

 

Maher: J-sais pas où en fait

I-don’t know where in fact


Sylvie: Et il-parle très bien le français, hein!

And he-speaks French very well, he does! […]


Karim: [Mais] quand je-parle anglais aussi, j-ai un accent [français]

[But] when I-speak English too, I-have a [French] accent


Example 5b consists of four different responses to Michel’s face-threatening identity act: surprise/avoidance by Karim in his first turn; polite disagreement by Maher; insistence by Sylvie that Karim speaks French very well. Michel doesn’t respond to any of these and is silent in the rest of this part of the conversation. But Karim responds again and his second utterance—“when I speak English too, I have a French accent”—picks up on what Sylvie says about his French, but it seems to be aimed at Michel. In this explicit identity act, Karim may well be reacting to Michel’s explicit claim that he has an English accent in his French and his implied claim that because he speaks English and lives in America, then his French must be accented. So, by saying he has a French accent in English, Karim is indirectly laying claim to his French linguistic identity: since he has a French accent in his English, then he must speak French so well that it is dominant over his English. This may be an attempt to save his French linguistic identity, but in doing so he is also downgrading his English linguistic identity. In addition, his use of ‘aussi’ “too” could suggest that he is implicitly agreeing with Michel that he has an English accent in his French, but he doesn’t say anything more about that at this moment.


Example 5c: Karim: “I speak French at home”, «I’m not American»


Sylvie: petit accent, mais il-parle très bien français, hein, franchement!

little accent, but he-speaks French really well , he does, honestly !


Maher: [Ouais, j-sais pas moi]

[Yeah, I-don’t know]

 

Karim: [Ouais, je-le-parle à la maison]

[Yeah, I-speak-it at home]


Maher: tu-donnes pas l’impression que tu-parles <.> américain quoi!

you-don’t give the impression that you-speak <.> American though!


Karim: Mmm. Ouais, mais en, en anglais les gens reconnaissent que j-suis pas Américain.

Hmm. Yeah, but in, in English people know that I-m not American.


Maher: Ah bon?

Oh really?


Sylvie continues to defend Karim’s French to Michel (note the use of ‘il-’ “he”, not ‘tu-’ “you-,” if she were speaking to Karim himself) with an explicit linguistic identity act by saying that he has a ‘little accent’ but he speaks it very well. Maher continues to disagree with the claim that Karim has an accent (implicit negative linguistic identity act) but, as in 5b, his disagreement is muted. Then, Karim lays claim to his French linguistic identity with an explicit identity act, picking up on what Sylvie says about his French, by saying that he speaks it (=French) at home, that is, with his family. In other words, it is his home language. At this point, Karim is obviously trying to lay claim to his French linguistic identity through his family. Maher responds by saying that Karim doesn’t give the impression in his French that he speaks American English, that is, he’s once again saying that Karim doesn’t have an accent in French. Karim responds, not by picking up on Maher’s defense of his French, but by expanding on what he had said before about his English, this time by saying that when he speaks English people know he’s not American. So, at this point he’s denying a possible American linguistic and national identity. He’s also, implicitly, displaying the same attitude that Michel, and the French, have about an accent: since a foreign accent is a negative index of one’s linguistic—and national—identity, a French accent in English means that he’s not American. In part, this could be displaying a French attitude toward having an accent, but it is also in line with some of the monolingual, monocultural ideology of the US, where racism, anti-ethnic bias, and discrimination are prevalent, and are often based on one’s accent (see Lippi-Green, 1997). We don’t know what reactions Karim has gotten in the US because of his accent, since he says nothing more about this issue, but we do know that the situation in the US is problematic for those who are racially and ethnically non-White and speak «with an accent».

 

What we can say is that, at this point in this interaction, Karim has accommodated to Michel in particular by introducing into the conversation his French accent in English (example 5b) and then by saying that people know he’s not American because of it (example 5c). Thus, he further downgrades his English linguistic identity and at the same time distances himself from any implied American national identity.


Example 5d: Karim: “I don’t speak any language perfectly”


Karim: Ouais, ouais! C-est drôle je-parle, je-parle aucune langue parfaitement.

Yeah, yeah! It-s funny I-speak, I-don’t speak any language perfectly.


Maher: [Ah ouais]

[Oh yeah]


Sylvie: [Non le français] tu-le-parles tres bien, j-t-explique!

[No, French] you-speak-it very well, I-m telling-you!


Example 5d contains Karim’s final linguistic identity act in this sequence: “I don’t speak any language perfectly.” While we don’t know exactly what he means by not speaking any language “perfectly,” we do know that there is an overwhelming ideology among some language learners (and teachers and researchers) that having an accent means that one’s language, first or second, is not the way a native speaker would speak (see Benesh, in press; Cook, 2003; Davies, 2003, 2004) and thus indexes imperfect knowledge of the language. Karim conforms to this ideology by saying that he’s not “perfect” in any language, whether French or English, since he has already spoken about his French accent in English and now is agreeing explicitly with Michel’s original statement that he has an English accent in his French. Sylvie insists once again that Karim speaks French very well, this time by addressing Karim, not Michel—and her “no” at the beginning of her utterance shows that she doesn’t agree with Karim’s characterization of his linguistic abilities in French. But Karim doesn’t pick up on her defense of his French any more than he picked up on Maher’s support earlier—both are outweighed by Michel’s facethreatening act and Karim’s defensive reaction to it.


This linguistic identity act by Karim is very telling. Earlier, when Karim was talking with Maher and Sylvie before Michel’s arrival, he was a highly competent speaker of French and English. He was bilingual and proud of it, and his bilingualism was a real achievement, an identity that gave him a lot of prestige (various types of capital). Now, he is imperfect in both languages and his bilingualism is problematic: having been put on the defensive by Michel, Karim loses, interactionally, his high communicative competence in two languages in the face of an accent in both, and that undermines all of the abilities and the rich linguistic resources that he undoubtedly has in both languages. Of course, this issue of lack of confidence by bilinguals who may not feel they are native speakers in either language or in any language is a well-known phenomenon. What we see here is how this may have made Karim vulnerable to Michel’s negative identity act, which is further reinforced by Michel’s high symbolic power as a non-ethnic speaker of standard French. So, Karim shows here an ambivalence about his linguistic identities, a disequilibrium that has a substantial effect in the next part of the conversation, when he tries to construct his national identities and in particular his reaction to certain American cultural patterns that the French don’t like (see Waugh, in press).

 

CONCLUSION


There is a complex relationship between on the one hand the macrosocietal linguistic and cultural ideologies at work in both the French context and the American context that Karim brings with him to this interaction, and on the other hand, the diverse types of linguistic, cultural and symbolic capital in the two interrelated conversations. Karim evidences two very different linguistic identities: the first in his interaction with Maher and Sylvie, with whom he has greater capital of various sorts and attendant power; the second after the arrival of Michel, who has greater symbolic capital and power than Karim. Michel does not seem to be from a wealthy or powerful family; he says nothing about being in college, nor do we know anything about his educational status; he says nothing about going to museums or engaging in other aspects of “high” culture; he doesn’t talk about traveling (although he does cite his aunt, who had been to the US and didn’t like New York City). In other words, he lacks many of the attributes that traditionally are seen as giving someone economic, social, cultural and attendant symbolic capital. He does, however, explicitly identify himself later in the conversation as «un bon Français», “a good (=real) Frenchman” (see Waugh, in press). And he gains power in the conversation through negotiation of higher cultural and linguistic capital than Karim as a White (non-ethnic) speaker of standard French who lives in France and does not speak English—indeed he says nothing about speaking another language (in any case, being bilingual doesn’t necessarily carry high cultural capital in France). Based on this symbolic power, his own utterance about Karim’s foreign accent in French is enough to cause the latter’s reversal of his linguistic identities and neither Sylvie’s protestations about how good Karim’s French is nor Maher’s stated opinion that Karim has no accent in French are able to keep Karim from finally taking on the identity that Michel assigned to him— someone with a “little” accent in French. Karim shows his own insecurities about both his French and his English by first saying, without prompting, that he has an accent in English and then finally agreeing to “imperfect” French.


As said in the introduction, since identities are multiple, contradictory, and discursively constructed, they are a site for discursive struggle; and negotiation and co-construction in verbal discourse between social interactants are key elements in that struggle. In the case of Karim, he is able to negotiate a bilingual identity with two interactants over whom he has much power, but he is unable to maintain that bilingual identity when faced with someone who claims more linguistic and cultural capital and associated symbolic power than he has. It is ironic that he takes on some of the attitudes that scholars like Benesh (in press) and others have tried to eliminate from the scholarly literature as well as from the official discourse and culture of American education about generation 1.5 speakers—namely, a discourse of linguistic partiality and impoverishment rather than of celebration of the rich resources of bi/multilingual and bi/multicultural individuals, who have much to offer. It is clear that, in the French context, Michel’s symbolic power and prejudice about American English are enough to reduce Karim’s pride in his bilingualism to an admission of imperfection in his two languages, a linguistic identity act in which he all but negates his earlier claim to an unproblematic bilingual identity.


Given these findings, and given what we know about issues faced by those in late adolescence who are trying to make their way in another language and in another culture, those interested in pragmatics, and speech acts in particular, need to pay more attention not only to identity generally defined, but the ways in which issues of identity are played out in interaction, including identity acts. Thus, just as others have pleaded for more attention to pragmatics and speech acts in applied linguistics, second language acquisition, teacher education, and so forth, so I want to end with a plea for more research on the role of identity acts in the formation of L2 learners’ identities, as well as for attention to, and application of, that research in work with teachers, learners, counselors, and all those who are interested in the issue of second language and second culture and ‘second pragmatics’ learning.

 

NOTES

1I wish to thank members of the “Identity and Ideology Research Study Group” at the University of Arizona for all the highly interesting conversations we’ve been having about the issues discussed here, as well as the audiences at the Second Language Acquisition and Teaching Roundtable meeting at the University of Arizona, at the International Society for Language Studies meeting in Honolulu, Hawai’I, and at the annual meeting of the American Association for Applied Linguistics, for their input on some of the ideas presented here.

2In all the transcriptions in this paper, the following conventions are used: all the proper names are pseudonyms; [..] indicates an overlap with either a preceding or a succeeding utterance by one or more of the interlocutors; < > + italics means a comment by the author; <.>, <..>, <…> are pauses of different lengths; < -- > means an ellipsis; (..) are words supplied by the author to make the translation smoother even though there is no corresponding form in the French original; {..} is a literal, but less fluent, translation; a [/] between forms in the translation indicates alternative translations; French written language conventions are followed, except that, both in the French and in the corresponding English translation, the so-called unstressed/conjunctive subject and object clitics/pronouns, like je, tu, me, te, and the negative marker ne, are transcribed as prefixes with a hyphen since they are in reality morphemes (see Fonseca-Greber & Waugh, 2003a, 2003b).


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