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Linguistic identities: Double-edged swords

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Linguistic identities are double-edged swords because, while functioning in a positive and productive way to give people a sense of belonging, they do so by defining an “us” in opposition to a “them” that becomes all too easy to demonise. Studying the construction of identities is important precisely because it offers our best hope for helping to undo their negative impact, while at the same time providing deeper insight into the role languages play in our interpretation of who does or doesn’t belong to which particular group. Djité, in a recent article in this journal (2006), argues that, in our multilingual world, linguistic identities are not the monolithic entities which people often take them for, with the result that individuals get misinterpreted based on the way they speak, provoking prejudice and discrimination. This is also, contrary to what Djité suggests, one of the principal thrusts of Joseph’s book Language and Identity (2004). The present article summarises the relevant arguments made in this latter book and attempts to clarify points of agreement and disagreement with Djité.
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Keywords: language choice; language shift; linguistic identity

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Edinburgh

Publication date: January 1, 2006

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