linguistic identities 2 – a postscript

(Scroll down a couple of paragraphs for part one, or click here. )

So, our visitors have gone, and so have the Yorkshire accents.  

It didn’t take long.  Within about four hours of saying a teary goodbye to their (now) favourite cousin, the kids were back with their local bilingual mates, swapping stories in Spanglish and reverting to their more usual, kind of neutral, accents (a product of a mixture of influences, TV, DVDs, youtube clips, other English speaking families and kids we hang out with).

It’s interesting, but no surprise to see what linguistic chameleons kids are, adapting and modifying to fit in with the linguistic background. What surprised me was to hear that the brief switch into a broad Leeds accent (which was highly successful – I got my son and my nephew completely mixed up by the end) had also affected their dad’s linguistic identity, shifting the centre of linguistic power, and he wasn’t comfortable with it.  What to the kids came completely natural, to him sounded completely faux.  And I thought it was just me 😉

Another thing we noticed was how we seem to have linguistic double standards when it comes to noise and boisterous kiddy behaviour.  When the kids were being loud in English it seemed to grate much more than when they are being loud in Spanish – even though the location was the same.  Differing cultural norms encased in different languages?   Something I’m going to give more thought to …

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2 Responses to linguistic identities 2 – a postscript

  1. Dan says:

    I had this friend, Paul Searle, when I was 11. We used to play on or bikes around the estate where he lived… Anyway, Paul’s dad got a new job up in Birmingham with the Post Office so we said goodbye. But just two months later I went up to visit him for a weekend, and in that short time his accent had well and truly changed to thick Brummie. I bet his mum and dad were pleased!

    Do you think that it’s this lack of fixed identity that lets kids learn languages with such a good accent and why the older we get, and so the more fixed we get in our roles as ‘us’, the more difficult it is to enter into new multilingual identities? If so, then surely part of our language learning programmes should be (for willing participants!) a psychological exploration of our identities and an attempt to explore new identities.

    This also reminds me of my French classes back at primary school where we had French names. Even though ‘Daniel’ is a fine French name, I was dubbed ‘Dominique’ by my teacher. Now I think I understand why.

    • Ceri Jones says:

      Hi Dan, thanks for calling by! A nice surprise 🙂
      Yes, the whole identity thing is fascinating. Some people are kind of linguistic chameleons – as adults as well as kids. They pick up accents and “pass” as local really quickly – whether it’s picking up a regional accent or mirroring pron in an L2. Others stick (loyally? desperately??) to their original voice. And that’s fine. Both are fine, but maybe it helps if you have some awareness of how your accent might affect the way you’re perceived? Some people even make a career out of cultivating an endearing/mysterious/charismatic/romantic (list is endless 😉 ) “foreign” accent.
      I really like the idea of exploring the psychology of identity with students and am really intrigued by research and writings about L2 self images (especially Zoltan Dornyei’s work on motivation and positive L2 self images – there’s a good intro under chapters in volumes #5 at http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/~aezweb/research/cral/doku.php?id=people:zoltan) – a discussion to follow up one day maybe?

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