American-Born “Confused” Desi?: An Exploration of Indian-American Biculturalism and Bilingualism

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2023-04-21

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Abstract

Our feelings of social connectedness play a major role in our psychological wellbeing. For immigrants and ethnic minorities, cultural communities assist in developing positive social connections and social identities around ethnicity. Ethnic identity has rarely been studied in second-generation immigrants, who experience biculturalism due to internalizing two cultures from a young age. Even less research has been conducted on Indian-Americans, who are often grouped with other Asian-Americans, despite having extensive ethnolinguistic differences and numbering over four million people in the U.S. The current study aimed to explore the relationships between language proficiency, social connectedness, ethnic identity, bicultural identity integration, and psychological wellbeing in Indian-Americans using validated survey measures (Study 1). The findings revealed that only social connectedness was significantly predictive of psychological wellbeing overall. However, bicultural blendedness and belonging to one’s ethnic group were together significantly predictive of personal growth. Interestingly, Indian language proficiency was unrelated to other measures. Thus, the current study also aimed to explore how cultural experiences are communicated via language (Study 2). Indian-American bilinguals who were proficient in Hindi and English were prompted for cultural and emotional narratives, which were assessed for differences in linguistic structure and themes. The findings revealed that participants spontaneously changed the structure of their narratives based on the language in which it was told. For example, in Hindi, bilinguals used more descriptions and evaluations, but in English, they used more orientations. Hindi narratives also contained more intensifiers (e.g., “very”, “really”) and fewer mental state terms (e.g., “think”, “feel”). Qualitative analysis revealed common themes across narratives, such as action-based expressions of emotions (e.g. offerings of food as apologies) and conflict in reconciling Indian and American values (e.g. family vs. independence). It may be that Indian-American bilinguals process and remember things differently as a function of language. Furthermore, our findings suggest that Indian-American bilinguals may experience different specific benefits for psychological wellbeing as a result of being bicultural and/or bilingual. Future directions and implications for language and culture study in this population are discussed.

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Agrawal, Annika (2023). American-Born “Confused” Desi?: An Exploration of Indian-American Biculturalism and Bilingualism. Honors thesis, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/27091.


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