Many cultures have survived even though their language has virtually disappeared (for instance the Yiddish of Jewish culture, the Gullah of American Black culture, the Indian languages of East Indian culture in the Caribbean); others have survived because they were part of an oral tradition kept up within an isolated community (for example, Acadian French in Louisiana), or because their members learned the dominant language, a fact that ironically enabled them to keep their own. Thus in New Mexico, a certain Padre Martinez of Taos led the cultural resistance of Mexican Spanish speakers against the American occupation by encouraging them to learn English as a survival tool so that they could keep their Hispanic culture and the Spanish language alive.
Language crossing as act of identity
One way of surviving culturally in immigration settings is to exploit, rather than stifle, the endless variety of meanings afforded by participation in several discourse communities at once. More and more people are living, speaking and interacting in in-between spaces, across multiple languages or varieties of the same language: Latinos in Los Angeles, Pakistanis in London, Arabs in Paris, but also Black Americans in New York or Atlanta, choose one way of talking over, another depending on the topic, the interlocutor and the situational context. Such language crossings, frequent in inter-ethnic communication, include the switching of codes, i.e. the insertion of elements from one language into another, be they isolated words, whole sentences, or prosodic features of speech. Language crossing enables speakers to change footing within the same conversation, but also to show solidarity or distance towards the discourse communities whose languages they are using, and whom they perceive their interlocutor as belonging. By crossing languages, speakers perform cultural acts of identity. Thus, for example, two bilingual 12-year olds from Mexico in a US American school. M is telling F what she does when she comes back from school. M and F usually speak their common language, Spanish.
M: Mira, me pongo a hacer tarea, despues me pongo leer un libro, despues me pongo a hacer matematica, despues de hacer matematica me pongo a practicar en el piano, despues de terminarse en el piano=
F: =you got a piano?
M: I have a piano in my house, don't you guys know it?... No me digas que no sabia ... yo lo dije a Gabriel y a Fernando ... todo el mundo.
| M: Look, I do homework, then I read a book, then I do science, I do math, after doing math I practice the piano, after I finished with the piano =
F: = you got a piano?
M: I have a piano in my house, don't you guys know it? ... Don't tell me that you didn't know ... I told Gabriel and Fernando ... everybody]
(Unpublished data from Claire Kramsch)
The fact of owning a piano marks M as belonging to a different social culture than F who shows his surprise—and his distance—by using the dominant Anglo-American language. M acknowledges her membership in that culture by responding in English, but immediately switches back to Spanish to show her solidarity with her Latino peers in the classroom, who come from more modest backgrounds.
Refusing to adopt the same language when you are seen as belonging to the same culture can be perceived as an affront that requires some face work repair, as in the following radio interview between two Black American disk jockeys (DJ1, DJ2) and a Black American singer (SG):
DJ1: So whatz up wit da album shottie?
SG: What's up with the album shottie
DJ2: Oh, excu:::se me. How are things progressing with yourupcoming album?
Come on, girl! you know what I'm sayin'. You KNOW you know da terminology! Don't front!
DJ1: Yeah, an' if ya don't know, now ya know
DJ1: Or at leas ack like ya know!
SG: I know, I know, I'm jus' messin' wit y'all.
(Unpublished data from Claire Kramsch)
Language crossing can be used also for more complex stances by speakers who wish to display multiple cultural memberships and play off one against the other. Not infrequently speakers who belong to several cultures insert the intonation of one language into the prosody of another, or use phrases from one language as citational inserts into the other to distance themselves from alternative identities or to mock several cultural identities by stylizing, parodying, or stereotyping them all if it suits their social purposes of the moment. Thus, for example, the following stylization of Asian English or Creole English by Pakistani youngsters, native speakers of English, as a strategy to resist the authority of their Anglo teacher (BR) in a British school.
When speaking of cultural identity, then, we have to distinguish between the limited range of categories used by societies to classify their populations, and the identities that individuals ascribe to themselves under various circumstances and in the presence of various interlocutors. While the former are based on simplified and often quite stereotypical representations, the latter may vary with the social context. The ascription of cultural identity is particularly sensitive to the perception and acceptance of an individual by others, but also to the perception that others have of themselves, and to the distribution of legitimate roles and rights that both parties hold within the discourse community. Cultural identity, as the example of Edmond Laforest shows, is a question of both indenture to a language spoken or imposed by others, and personal, emotional investment in that language through the apprenticeship that went into acquiring it. The dialectic of the individual and the group can acquire dramatic proportions when nationalistic language policies come into play.
The association of one language variety with the membership in one national community has been referred to as linguistic nationism. For example, during the French Revolution, the concept of a national language linked to a national culture was intended to systematically replace the variety of regional dialects and local practices. Between 1790 and 1792. a questionnaire was sent by 1'Abbe Gregoire to lawyers, clergymen, and politicians in the French provinces under the pretext of documenting and cataloguing the linguistic and ethnographic uses of the thirty local 'patois' spoken in France at the time. In fact, through this survey, the Jacobins established a blueprint for the subsequent systematic eradication of these patois. Historians have debated whether the conscious governmental policy of annihilation of local dialects in France at the time was done for the sake of national or ideological unity, or in order to establish the dominance of bourgeois Parisian culture over the uncouth peasant culture, or in order to break the strong cultural monopoly of the Catholic Church who catechized its faithful in the local vernaculars. Linguistic wars are always also political and cultural wars. Efforts by present-day France to cultivate a network of French speakers around the world, and link it to a francophone identity, or francophonie, must be seen as a way of countering the overwhelming spread of English by offering speakers a supranational cultural identity that is exclusively linguistic. French as an international language remains monitored by the Academic Francaise, a French national institution that is seen as the guarantor of cultural purity—in the same manner as English as an international language is monitored in scientific circles by Anglo-American journals who serve as the gate-keepers of a certain intellectual style of scientific research.
As we saw in Chapter 1, it has been argued that the modern nation is an imagined community that originated in eighteenth century bourgeois imagination, and has relied heavily on print capitalism for its expression and dissemination. The modern nation is imagined as limited by finite, if elastic boundaries; it is imagined as a sovereign state, but also as a fraternal community of comrades, ready to take arms to defend their territorial integrity or their economic interests. This prototype of the modern nation as a cultural entity is, of course, a Utopia. It has been mirrored by a similar view of language as shared patrimony, a self-contained, autonomous, and homogeneous linguistic system based on a homogeneous social world—in other words, a linguistic Utopia. Such imaginings are tenacious and contribute to what we call an individual's national 'identity'.
When new nation-states emerge, such as more recently Belize, the mere category of national identity may, as a side effect, put a stress on other categories such as Spanishness or Mayaness, that in turn may acquire renewed importance, since the Spanish population and the Maya population do not coincide with the borders of Belize, but go beyond them to form new supranational alliances. This is what has happened in Europe with the Basque and Catalan identities that cross, linguistically and culturally, the national borders of France and Spain, and thus replace the nation by the region, and the national language by the regional language as units of cultural identification.