Who am I in English? Language as the Face of Identity in Bilingual Individuals

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How does switching to a life in a foreign language and culture affect one’s identity? Specifically, I ask: Do I have a true self unaffected by language and culture, or am I merely a construct of my environment? Studies in sociolinguistics overwhelmingly point to our sense of self as being largely informed by our place in the world: language, culture, gender and society weave together the intricate fabric of our being. The social and linguistic constructs available to us at any given time form the margins to who we think we are. For bilinguals like me, life in a foreign culture and language stretches these margins, as new experiences and linguistic concepts gradually alter accessible constructs and impact our sense of self. To many of us immigrants, living in an unfamiliar place and speaking in a foreign tongue can also pose a threat to our identity: the fabric of our being comes apart, forming gaping holes where cultural and linguistic concepts have fallen away and new ones have yet to be discovered. This two-part project examines the connection between language and identity creatively as well as academically. In an extended personal essay, I consider how my immigration experience and linguistic assimilation affected my sense of self. Loosely connected memories and reflections weave together into a cohesive storyline of being and changing and becoming, thus documenting the simultaneous sense of lightness and loss, of reinvention and confusion frequently felt by immigrants. The second part of this project consists of an academic research paper examining the unique qualities and struggles of bilingual individuals’ identities and how they are echoed in literature by immigrant, exiled and translingual writers.





Larson, Andrea J. (2018). Who am I in English? Language as the Face of Identity in Bilingual Individuals. Capstone project, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/17379.

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