Mixing It Up

Researchers suggest that codeswitching, or mixing two languages, is often constrained by age or ethnicity or location, but people in Beirut reportedly codeswitch in everyday interactions even though the interlocutors are both Lebanese, which could have some intriguing implications for cultural identity.

Cultural identity has historically been defined by linguistic boundaries and textual traditions that, though arbitrary (see Wright 2004), have been indexed to nationalist norms as imagined communities (Anderson 2006), in which print and other media encourage the belief in shared identities and shared values. French people, especially those who are cultured and, thus, epitomize the identity, speak French, for example, and are familiar with French literature. 

This tendency is trickier in the United States, which has been multicultural since its inception. That could explain, at least in part, the social significance of English teachers, who are often seen as cultural arbiters, or people who maintain the standards for speaking, reading, writing, and, thus, being.

If, however, codeswitching becomes unmarked, or expected, behavior, cultural identity will be further complicated. Some already create oppositional identities through the use of nonstandard varieties and non-canonical texts, but they will have a more challenging, and yet perhaps less risky, task if mixing and mashing become the new norms.

Anderson, Benedict. 2006. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, Revised Edition. London: Verso.

Wright, Sue. 2004. Language Policy and Language Planning: From Nationalism to Globalisation. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

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