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26th and 27th November 2012



Ng Bee Chin, Halina Gottlieb, Francesco Cavallaro and Mark Seilhamer

Division of Linguistics and Multilingual Studies

School of Humanities and Social Sciences

The Seris see their language as a defining characteristic, a seed of their identity. One Seri told me of a “local expression” that says everyone has a flower inside, and inside the flower is a word. (Rymer, 2012).

In the above quote discussing the Seri people of Mexico, journalist Russ Rymer highlights the intimate connection between language and identity by presenting the vivid image of a language-laden flower at the heart of each individual. While identity theorists have long discounted such folk conceptualizations that characterize identity as a stable entity residing within a person, few would dispute the Seri view of language as central to one’s identity, for language does indeed maintain a privileged place in identity studies. It is through (largely linguistic) interaction in specific cultural contexts that our identities are not only indexed, but also actively constructed. Since this is accomplished in a myriad of ways – some entirely intentional and others unconscious or habitual, the study of identity and its production is far from a straightforward endeavor.

In multilingual societies, the situation is arguably even more complex since multiple languages and language varieties offer speakers a wider range of resources to dedicate to the process of identity performance and construction, making the challenges for identity researchers ever more daunting. Recognizing that analytic approaches to the study of identity vary wildly across disciplines and sub-disciplines, Bucholtz & Hall (2005) introduce a broad analytic framework that manages to tie together decades of identity research from various fields, such as sociolinguistics, social psychology, and linguistic anthropology – an assemblage of disciplines concerned with the intersection of language, culture, and society (p. 586).

DIHA, The Digitial Intangible Heritage in Asia research group in Nanyang Technological University shares the conviction that no single approach is adequate for analyzing identity in all its dimensions. We firmly believe that in order to visualize this elusive “flower” commonly referred to as identity, which most people agree exists but differ widely on deciding what to call it or how it is manifested, the strengths of various research traditions – quantitative and qualitative, experimental and ethnographic – must be encouraged to cross-pollinate. Through this workshop, we aim to achieve just this sort of cross-pollination, bringing together sociocultural linguistics experts from psychology, linguistics, sociology, and interactive media design to produce a new and creative synergy across disciplines that can help us to come to a better understanding of how identities emerge in multilingual settings such as Singapore.

For more information on the Workshop on Multilingualism and Identity, please click here.