Approaches to Migration, Language and Identity

by Anita Auer (Volume editor) Jennifer Thorburn (Volume editor)
Edited Collection VIII, 298 Pages


This book foregrounds the use of different methods for the study of migration, language and identity. It brings together studies from fields such as ethnology, linguistics, literature and religious studies. The scenarios investigated range from Czech-German language contact in nineteenth-century Vienna to Eritreans living in the present-day America, and also include studies of migrants in the Ruhr Valley in Germany, far-right discourse in Italy, Yugoslavian and Tunisian migrants in Switzerland, racializing discourses in Brexit Britain and identity assignation of Palestinian dancers. The volume thus displays a wide array of scenarios linked to language, migration and identity as well as a variety of predominantly qualitative methods that have been applied from different disciplinary perspectives.

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Figures and Tables
  • 1 Approaches to Migration, Language and Identity: Setting the Scene (Anita Auer and Jennifer Thorburn)
  • 2 The Melting Pot Revisited: Historical Sociolinguistic Perspectives on Migration and Language Contact in Vienna (Agnes Kim)
  • 3 Linguistic and Cultural Adaptation: Analysing Eritrean Immigrants in the United States and Their Perception of Self-Image (Warsa Melles)
  • 4 Migration in the Ruhr Area: Stancetaking and Attitude Expression in Talk-in-Interaction (Wolfgang Imo and Evelyn Ziegler)
  • 5 The Novel Fly Away, Pigeon by Melinda Nadj Abonji (2011) and the Consequences of Migration in a Swiss Context (Stéphane Maffli)
  • 6 Civic Discourse: Representing Immigrants in the Italian Far Right (Marianna Griffini)
  • 7 Representations of Tunisian Undocumented Migration on the Internet: Methodological Approaches to a Digital Anthropology of Facebook (Monika Salzbrunn and Simon Mastrangelo)
  • 8 Linguistic Inclusion of School-Age Immigrants in Ruhr Valley Schools from a Teacher’s Perspective (Patricia Ronan)
  • 9 Being a Dancer beyond Being Palestinian: Resisting Identity Assignations through Contemporary Dance (Ana Laura Rodriguez Quinones)
  • 10 ‘How Are You Brown?’: Orienting to Racializing Discourses and Exclusion at University in Brexit Britain (Steven Dixon-Smith)
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index
  • Series index

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Anita Auer and Jennifer Thorburn

1 Approaches to Migration, Language and Identity: Setting the Scene

The study of migration, language and identity has developed and is being investigated in various disciplines at the same time. While different research fields have foregrounded the investigation of different research questions, it can be observed that more or less similar approaches are applied in the varying disciplines. As researchers from different disciplines are often not aware of this, there has been a lack of dialogue between them to date. The focus on approaches applied by various disciplines when studying aspects of migration, language and identity therefore lies at the heart of this volume. In fact, the volume grows out of an international conference that brought together researchers from different disciplines that were concerned with investigating migration, language and identity, and which aimed at stimulating inter- and cross-disciplinary discussions on research methods related to the topic. In what follows, we focus on selected existing theories and methods from the fields of language and identity as well as language and migration (for selected relevant studies see for instance Joseph 2004; Llamas & Watt 2010; Schwartz et al. 2011; Preece 2016; Regan et al. 2016; Canagarajah 2017). Thereafter, couched in the previous overview, the contributions to the volume will briefly be presented.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines migration as ‘[t]‌he movement of a person or people from one country, locality, place of residence, etc., to settle in another; an instance of this’. This simple definition belies the complexity and nuance entailed in any instance of migration, big or small. In fact, population movements as a result of climate change, demographic change and the development of production and trade are a part of human ←1 | 2→history. As Castles and Miller (1998: 48) note, ‘[w]arfare, conquest, formation of nations and the emergence of states and empires have all led to migrations, both voluntary and forced’. In Western Europe, since the start of the Early Modern period, ‘the development of European states and their colonisation of the rest of the world gave a new impetus to international migrations of many kinds’. For instance, migration played a seminal role in modernization and industrialization (Moch 1995: 126, as mentioned in Castles & Miller 1998: 48). According to Büscher, Urry and Witchger (2011: 2), ‘[t]hrough investigations of movement, blocked movement, potential movement and immobility, dwelling and place-making, social scientists are showing how various kinds of ‘moves’ make social and material realities’. An important aspect of migration, notably international migration, that is prevalent in the contributions to the current volume is the role of social relationships, social embeddedness and differentiation, linked to factors such as social class, gender or ethnic and religious divisions. In other words, the cultural background of a migrant, their national identity as well as other types of identities, be they on an individual, relational, collective, or material level (cf. Schwartz et al. 2011), as well as their embeddedness in a minority community and/or their integration in the new country are important aspects to be considered when trying to better understand the effects of migration on a social level. The notions of place and space are highly relevant in this context (cf. Liebscher & Dailey-O’Cain 2013: 14ff). According to Gieryn (2000: 464–5), place has ‘three necessary and sufficient features’, which are described as geographic location, material form and meaningfulness, that is, a human investment with meaning and value. Space, in contrast to place, does not have a physical location or material form. With regard to space, Blommaert (2010: 5) notes that the ‘movement of people across space is […] never a move across empty spaces. The spaces are always someone’s space, and they are filled with norms, expectations, conceptions of what counts as proper and normal (indexical) language use and what does not count as such’. In line with this, Koczan (2016: 117) emphasizes the close relationship between language choice and identity within the larger context of identity formation and integration. The concept of identity is thus a central theme in the humanities and social sciences. In linguistics, this is, for instance, reflected in third-wave variationist studies ←2 | 3→(cf. Eckert 2000, 2008, 2012) that foreground the construction of identity and identity practices, and view them in relation to the social meaning of language. The influence of migration on the construction and transformation of identity is also increasingly being studied (cf. La Barbera 2015) from different disciplinary perspectives (e.g. Tötösy de Zepetnek et al. 2010; Burge 2020). For instance, from an educational perspective, the relationship between translanguaging, migration and identity development is relevant for school-based language policies (Wei & Hua 2013). More generally, it can be observed that issues related to international migration have become increasingly politicized, which in turn has consequences for society. For instance, Castles and Miller (1998: x) note that, since the 1990s, there have been ‘anti-immigration movements in many countries, which sometimes led to racist violence against minorities’. Therefore, governments ‘became concerned about their ability to control migration and to manage cultural diversity’ (Castles & Miller 1998: x), which resulted in the creation of new rules and compromises in national laws as well as of institutional policies, for example, declarations and agreements with regard to migrant workers. While governments seem to encourage the mobility of highly skilled personnel, lower-skilled workers are not as welcome despite strong demands by employers, with the effect of increased illegal migration (Castles & Miller 1998: xi). This leads some countries to set up new forms of labour recruitment, and others try to control and stop migration flows even more. Governmental regulations and policies linked to different institutions do therefore also have an effect on migrants’ identities and language use, as a number of contributions to this volume illustrate.

As regards migration and ethnic relations, Castles and Miller (1998: 19–20) note that these kinds of studies are intrinsically interdisciplinary, highlighting disciplines such as geography, demography, sociology, political science, history, economics, psychology and law. To this, we would like to add disciplines such as linguistics, literature and religious studies. All of them take somewhat different perspectives on migration and its effects on society, and they apply a variety of approaches, or base themselves on different theories, to do so. Generally, one can distinguish between quantitative studies that are based on large data sets and qualitative studies that zoom in on small groups or individual migrants and their situations (cf. Castles & Miller 1998←3 | 4→: 20). The fields of demography, geography and economy are particularly interested in systematic, general theories of migration (see, for instance, Ravenstein 1885, 1889 for statistical laws of migration) that focus on aspects such as movement from densely to sparsely populated areas or from low- to high-income areas, as well as migration patterns linked to business cycles, that is, in other words so-called ‘push-pull’ theories that are ‘essentially individualistic and ahistorical’ with a focus on the individual’s reason for migration (Castles & Miller 1998: 20). A more recent approach is migration systems theory, which views migration within the context of ‘international relations, political economy, collective action and institutional factors’, thus emphasising the existence of links between the sending and receiving countries. Moreover, migratory movements are considered the result of macro-structures (e.g. political economy, laws, structures, relationships between the concerned states) and micro-structures (e.g. the informal social networks of the migrants in the receiving and the cultural capital) that interact (Castles & Miller 1998: 23–4).

In the current volume, many contributions are primarily concerned with the micro-structures linked to migration as they allow for the investigation of identity construction through language, but this is often discussed within the context of macro-structures. The focus on language, in relation to migration and identity, naturally led some scholars working in the broad field of linguistics to provide a contribution. These contributions differ greatly though as they are anchored in a range of linguistic sub-disciplines and therefore apply very different approaches, for example, linguistic contributions range from historical sociolinguistics combined with contact linguistics to interactional (socio)linguistics to Critical Discourse Analysis, with methods applied covering semi-structured sociolinguistic interviews, conversation analysis and the critical analysis of written sources. In the volume, the topic of migration, language and identity was also approached from the fields of religious studies, literature and ethnology where methods such as ethnography and digital fieldwork were combined or the classical structuralist method of literary studies was applied. As regards the scenarios investigated, the contributions focus on Czech-German language contact in nineteenth-century Vienna, Eritreans in the US, migrants in the Ruhr Valley in Germany, far-right discourse in Italy, Yugoslavian migrants and ←4 | 5→Tunisian migrants in Switzerland, racializing discourses in Brexit Britain and identity assignation of Palestinian dancers. The volume thus displays a wide array of scenarios linked to language, migration and identity as well as a range of mostly qualitative methods that have been applied from different disciplinary perspectives.

The second chapter in this volume entitled ‘The Melting Pot Revisited: Historical Sociolinguistic Perspectives on Migration and Language Contact in Vienna’ by Agnes Kim (University of Vienna) brings together historical sociolinguistics and contact linguistics. The contribution focuses on phonological change in Viennese dialect, more precisely the so-called ‘Viennese e-confusion’ (Germ. Wiener E-Verwirring), during the second half of the nineteenth and the first decades of the twentieth centuries. Based on previous studies concerning language contact of Czech and German in late Habsburg Vienna, Kim re-evaluates the contact scenario by taking into consideration both the target and the source language. This allows her to provide evidence that rejects a previous finding that the merger of /e/ and /ɛ/ in Viennese into a single phoneme /ɛ/ was induced by contact with Czech.

Chapter 3, ‘Linguistic and Cultural Adaptation: Analysing Eritrean Immigrants in the United States and Their Perception of Self-Image’ by Warsa Melles (Technical University of Dortmund), is concerned with two generations of Eritrean migrants living in the Eastern part of the United States of America. She investigates how the language use of the Eritreans correlates with their attitudes towards language and culture, and what effect this has on their identity construction. In order to shed light on these matters, Melles has carried out semi-structured interviews that aimed at gaining insight into the Eritrians’ linguistic habits and their perception of being bilingual, as well as the communities they integrate in and their cultural identity. Her findings reveal that generation 1.5 identifies more with the homeland language Tigrinya than generation 2. Some generation 2 speakers consider themselves Eritrean despite not mastering their homeland language and not integrating into any Eritrean networks. Generally, many Eritrean migrants, particularly from the second generation, label themselves Habesha-American, which reflects their dual and hybrid identity.←5 | 6→

The fourth chapter ‘Migration in the Ruhr Area: Stancetaking and Attitude Expression in Talk-in-Interaction’, by Wolfgang Imo (University of Hamburg) and Evelyn Ziegler (University of Duisburg-Essen), presents a pilot study that investigates identity construction and the communication of attitudes towards ethnic diversity from intra- and intergroup perspectives. The authors apply an extended model of the concept of stancetaking, which distinguishes between four different types of stances, that is, (1) affective stance, (2) epistemic stance, (3) deontic stance and (4) style stance. These four stances were applied to a data set of narrative interviews that were carried out with speakers from different ethnic backgrounds in the Ruhr Area, Germany. Apart from findings concerning the use and distribution of stances as well as reasons therefore, the study shows that a combination of interactional and sociolinguistic approaches is a methodological gain for the study of stancetaking.

Stéphane Maffli (University of Lausanne) discusses ‘The Novel Fly Away, Pigeon by Melinda Nadj Abonji (2011) and the Consequences of Migration in a Swiss Context’ in Chapter 5. Couched in the socio-political history of immigration in Switzerland between 1945 and 2000, this contribution applies the classical structuralist method of literary studies, while also drawing on Gérard Genette’s (1972) descriptive model, Dorrit Cohn’s (1978) approach to analysing the narration of thought, and the relationship between literary and social reality as found in the work of the social scientists Helmut Kuzmics and Gerald Mozetič (2003). The analysis of the novel demonstrates the artful combination of different perspectives and plots in the narration, which reflect the confusion of the protagonist’s feelings, particularly feelings of rejection as a migrant.

In Chapter 6, ‘Civic Discourse: Representing Immigrants in the Italian Far Right’, we turn to the question of immigration in contemporary Italian political discourse. Drawing on a combination of semi-structured interviews and political manifestos, Marianna Griffini (King’s College London, University of London) uses Critical Discourse Analysis to explore the xenophobic and racist discourses of representatives and intellectuals of the Italian far right, namely those affiliated with the Lega, the Fratelli d’Italia and the now-defunct Alleanza Nazionale. This chapter provides insight into how the Italian far right intertwines civic duty and values with xenophobia, ←6 | 7→othering, fear mongering and inferiorization, in addition to exposing the underlying systemic racism aimed at immigrants, particularly those who do not come to Italy as refugees.

Biographical notes

Anita Auer (Volume editor) Jennifer Thorburn (Volume editor)

Anita Auer is Professor of English Linguistics at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland. She is a historical (socio)linguist with a special interest in diachronic and synchronic aspects of language variation and change. Her current research focuses on alternative histories of the English language (e.g. the role of historical urban vernaculars in standardisation processes; the language of the labouring poor in Late Modern England) as well as language maintenance and shift amongst Swiss heritage speakers in North America. Jennifer Thorburn is Maître d’enseignement et de recherche in English Linguistics at the University of Lausanne. She is a variationist sociolinguist who works primarily on language in Indigenous communities and regional varieties of English. Her current projects focus on attitudes to language and computer-mediated communication.


Title: Approaches to Migration, Language and Identity