Language And Ethnicity Essay

1347 words - 5 pages

Language and ethnicity are known to be closely intertwined (Giles & Coupland 1991). However, prior to analyzing interrelation between language and ethnicity I faced the problem of identifying the concept of ‘ethnicity’ itself. Thus, Fishman (1997: 327) points out that ‘ethnicity’ like other notions it is in a close association with, i.e. ‘race’, ‘people’, ‘nation’, ‘nationality’, is not “an exact scientific term”. Therefore it is not clearly defined and thus is open to interpretations (Ibid). In my search I came across a number of rather vogue explanations, and the most common aggregated dictionary definition of ‘ethnicity’ is ‘a belonging to a particular social group that has a common national or cultural tradition’ (MacMillan Dictionary, Oxford Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Dictionary, etc.). Dictionary of Cultural Literacy does single out and include language into the ethnicity definition saying that it is an “identity with or membership in a particular racial, national, or cultural group and observance of that group's customs, beliefs, and language”. However, is language always an inevitable part of one’s ethnicity or the ethnicity of a group? Definitely, the most understandable case of interrelation between language and ethnicity is the one when a person is born and lives on a specific territory which historically had one dominant ethnos and one dominant language, so ethnicity is predetermined by close bound between language and territory (Fishman 1997). Thus, Tabouret-Keller (1997) gives an example of a school boy from Belize who identifies himself as Belizean because he was born in that country, he lives there and also is a native speaker of its Creole language. But there are two more cases when interrelation of ethnicity and language should be considered: a) case of ethnic group as a minority one in a dominant society and b) case of a state created based on immigration (Fishman 1977, 1997; Jenkins 2005).
In terms of the first case, ethnicity is viewed as a belonging to a social group with a common cultural rather than national tradition (Fishman 1997). Thus, there have been a number of studies proving the importance of language to the preservation of ethnic minority’s identity (Fishman 1977, 1997; Giles, Bourhis, and Taylor 1977; Isajiw 1983; Lieberson 1988; Reitz 1985). According to Isaiw (1983: 208) “to understand the nature of ethnicity it is essential to understand whether, how and why ethnic identity is retained from one generation to another, since retention of the ethnic identity refers to the prevalence in the second or consecutive generations of attributes – personal or institutional – that can be identified as characteristic of the specific ethnic group”. Isaiw (1983) also claims that language together with customs, personal networks, participation in ethnic organizations and institutions, makes up an external dimension of ethnic identity. Therefore, language is considered an essential part of ethnicity. For example, Fishman...

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