How the use of a second language affects identity

Essay by lee_adamsUniversity, Bachelor'sB+, March 2007

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When considering an individual's identity within the social context, several factors deserve consideration and careful scrutiny resulting in clearly defined standpoints. The subject of language and its correlation to identity however results in widespread debate with individuals maintaining two different positions. The two fundamental schools of thought argue either for or against the premise that individuals lose touch with their identity when they use a second language. This essay will attempt to fortify the position against the premise in a systematic and logical fashion.

Identity in its most rudimentary form cannot easily be defined since there are numerous factors (such as language, traditions, culture, religion, belief systems and perhaps even ones position in society) which contribute to its formation. Therefore it is a plausible assumption that identity is comprised of a multitude of many factors. Despite Ngugi's statement that "language is thus inseparable from ourselves" (Ngugi wa Thiongo, 1986 : 16) it can be said that language is truly only one aspect of the individual's identity.

By suggesting that identity is defined by the individual's first language and that the introduction of a second language would jeopardise the core identity, the influence of additional factors on identity is rendered inconsequential. The conclusion drawn by Smith (1983) asserts that "that language and culture may be inextricably tied together, but no one language is inextricably tied in one culture". This implies that rather than consider language as the primary indicator of individual identity, we should perhaps infer that identity is linked to the personal culture that one chooses to subscribe to.

The use of additional languages or a language that is not inherently associated with an individual's native culture, merely allows for access to the alternate culture (Smith, 1983 : 7). This access allows for interaction with the individuals and institutions...