Negotiating Identities Through Language: Individual Repertoires and Styling
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The aim of this study is to evaluate the traditional conceptualization of languages as discrete systems and to learn more about the role of individual repertoires and styling in language use and the way language can be used to associate and dissociate with particular social representations. To this aim, two ways of speaking, interwebslingo and Cité Duits, are qualitatively analyzed against the backdrop of different well documented language contact phenomena, as well as codeswitching and styling practices. Both ways of speaking developed in multi-ethnic environments and feature linguistic resources traditionally associated with many different languages. The data show that the combination of different speakers’ individual repertoires and their styling practices result in data that challenges the concept of discrete languages. It is often impossible to determine in a traditional sense which languages are being used. Even though the concept of languages as discrete objects is to a certain degree real for the speakers, there are crucial problems with this traditional conceptualization at the level of linguistic analysis. First of all, it places languages in the center of attention. This might lead to the misconceptions that languages are autonomous systems that are left untouched by linguistic and social context, that the speaker has only to follow the rules set by the language, that the speaker has no creative role whatsoever and that the final product of using language follows from the languages used, rather than from the speaker’s individual repertoire, styling practices and personal background. In contrast, by focusing on individual repertoires and styling, the language user becomes part of the object of study, allowing for an in-depth understanding of the data.