Remembering ethnicity: The role of language.

Date Created:
Public Memory and Ethnicity Conference, Portland Oregon, Lewis and Clark College, October 26-27, 2007
17 p.
Sociologists of language and linguistic anthropologists have focused their attention on the relationship of language to ethnicity and increasingly over the last three decades on issues of language and identity shift and death. While the role of language as one among multiple markers of ethnic identity is clear, only fairly recently has there been discussion among scholars of the role of language in constructing and maintaining ethnicity. Only more recently still has attention been given to the role of ethnicity in the construction and maintenance of language. In a globalizing world, most communities are exposed to and have significant levels of contact and interaction with others who have different, and even multiple, ethnic identities. This paper explores the role of language and languages in negotiating these contacts. The functions of multiple languages within a community’s linguistic repertoire in transmitting the memory of an ethnic identity are considered along with the roles of various modes of language use: oral, written, and digital. The process of maintaining the public memory of a traditional or heritage ethnicity using all of the linguistic and technological resources available to a community is examined. The paper examines various community postures towards identity maintenance and the role of language in fostering sustainable identity within each of those. A hierarchy which takes identity to be foundational is proposed and the concepts of language, domains of use, and modalities of use are explored as a framework for describing and reinforcing public memory of a heritage ethnic identity.
Publication Status:
Draft (posted 'as is' without peer review)
Content Language:
Work Type:
Language maintenance
heritage language
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