Language and Intercultural Communication for Changing Populations

After a detailed discussion of how language, national, ethnic and religious identities form a person’s identity, Joseph concludes this article with “homogenisation is impossible”.   Although he sees a movement toward globalization, he does not see that English will become the dominant language because the identities of individuals are wrapped up in their language as spoken in their particular community.  He believes that “those minority language communities which have moved toward a regionally marked variety of a major language… have not entirely forsaken linguistic diversity, even if [it] has been compromised.  And it is not the case that their particular version of the language represents a failure to assimilate fully.  It is a form of linguistic resistance.”

In fact, Joseph writes that English is retreating as a mother tongue and cites the examples of English sharing space with indigenous language, ex-colonial languages and/or immigrant languages in Canada, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, and the United States.

Another support presented is that contrary to the initial belief that technology would make English the global language, Joseph feels that “technological developments actually present an unprecedented obstacle to linguistic homogenization.”   Joseph offers examples of broadcast media coming from “an ever-growing band of news and other channels broadcasting in national and regional languages”  as well as the use of emails and text messages, which enable minority language speakers to maintain their home language by communicating long distance with their friends and family and thus preclude their assimilation of English and hence English as the global language.  He writes, “the mother tongue is central to the construction of the speaker’s linguistic identity…[and] is itself a ‘claim’ about national, ethnic or religious identity (or any combination of the three) that speakers may make and hearers will certainly interpret.”

Joseph’s discussion on the relation of language to one’s ethnic, racial and national identifies as well as to the individual’s culture and religion displays the complex and inter-related commingling nature of these factors.

Below are a few of the many examples that were provided:
1) A person with ethnic identity of a Wolof, racial identify of a black and national identity of a Senegalese.  After immigrating to the United States, this person’s national identity becomes American, their ethnic identity is Senegalese-America or Wolof-American and their racial identity is African American.
2) A person who speaks Malayalam in southern India indicates his religious identity by the use of various kinship terms.  The term of address used with elder family members will indicate whether the person is Hindu, Christian or Muslim.
3) A person named “Peck Sim” gleans her Chinese national identity from the name which means “pure heart”. She adopts a Western name “Viona”.  Then as a converted Christian, she readopts her Chinese name because it identities her as a Chinese Christian with a pure heart.
4) A Muslim person from Indonesia whose name is Oktavianus presents a puzzle to his home community because the name appears to be Christian and because the “v” sound is not in his Indonesian language.

This broad discussion of the identities each person carries in his name, his race, his ethnicity, his national origin, his religion and his language speak to the great diversity in the world.  Moreover, for Joseph, it is a world that cannot and will never fully assimilate English as a global language because of the necessity of individuals to have a personalized identity, which can include numerous types of identities and because of the value ascribed by individuals to these various co-identities.

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