As most sociolinguists agree that identity work needs to be carefully examined in its immediate locality and context, it is important to limit the identity work to the context of the sociolinguistic interviews” (Hatoss, 2012)

With this in mind, we began our third week of data collection and analysis by firstly checking the demographics of the localities we planned to investigate. According to Australian Bureau of Statistics data, out of the population of 14,101 in Kingsford, the top 5 responses for country of birth were 40.6% born in Australia, and the second highest percentage was 14.1% who were born in China, followed by 5.1% Indonesia, 3.3% Malaysia, 3.0% Greece.

(Australian Bureau of Statistics: Kingsford Region Summary)

In order to explore the languages of Kingsford in relation to how comfortable the interviewee felt speaking their own language, we decided to compare the perspective of one person of the major percentages for country of birth with a perspective of a person whose people are considered a minority in the area. We interviewed a Chinese born student who spoke Mandarin and found they are quite comfortable using their language within their locality, especially among friends. This can ultimately reflect that they are comfortable with that aspect of their Identity. They further mentioned their thoughts that Chinese people were somewhat a majority in the area which they thought to be evident because of the amount of housing advertisements written in Mandarin and also because of the large presence of Chinese restaurants with Mandarin speaking staff.

We expanded the interview with relation to attitudes supporting linguistic diversity and the interviewee expressed that she felt this McDonalds was fairly neutral. This was because the amount of socialization and ultimately the amount language use was mostly limited to ordering food. She did however highlight that, apart from McDonalds, within the classroom setting in the same area, she did sometimes feel looked down upon based on the language she speaks and her inability to speak fluently in English. This reflects negative attitudes towards linguistic diversity in the Kingsford area and, also reflects the importance of language capabilities in relation to the interviewee’s identity.

In attempt to contrast, we searched for a person of minority according to the demographics. We were able to interview a Turkish International student from Istanbul who is studying in this locality and he expressed that he was comfortable speaking Turkish as well as English because he attended a British International school in Istanbul. He did make the observation that Turkish people tend to be a minority in the area, but he has never experienced any negative attitudes or discrimination. He attributed this to the fact that Kingsford is located right next to a university where International students and multiple cultures are common.

This is a contrast from the earlier interviewee because they feel complete confidence in their linguistic identity but they also highlighted the lack of Turkish signage and the possible struggle of finding employees of restaurants, etc., who also speak Turkish. This shows that although the demographics suggest large cultural diversity in the Kingsford area, there is an evident lack of linguistic diversity because the signage, advertisements, restaurants, staff, etc., favour the majority peoples.

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We also decided to investigate a second area to see if we could find further contrasts in attitudes towards linguistic diversity and contrasts in peoples’ linguistic identity. The second area we chose was Penrith, and according to available census data on the Australian Bureau of Statistics, only 25.7% of the population in Penrith were born overseas, leaving the majority to be Australian born. Additionally, only 14.6% of the population in Penrith spoke a language other than English at home. This is evident in our first interviewee in this locality, who is an employee at McDonald’s who only speaks English. Although they only spoke English, we asked the employee if they thought it would be valuable to employ multilingual workers at McDonald’s and they replied that they did think they would be valuable. They felt that they could help with taking orders from people who weren’t fluent in English and ultimately help prevent any possible mistakes in orders. This is an example of a positive attitude towards linguistic diversity.

penrith statistics

(Australian Bureau of Statistics: Penrith Region Data Summary)

We were also given a contrasting attitude towards linguistic diversity when we asked another interviewee, a customer this time, how they would feel if the workers at McDonald’s were all speaking a foreign language among themselves, that which they couldn’t understand. The interviewee stated that they would feel alienated and would prefer if customers only spoke English which reflects a negative attitude towards linguistic diversity. When questioned about his own language skills, he mentioned that as well as English, he was also a speaker of Spanish and he was proud of it because of his years spent studying it. We can see that this is an important piece of his linguistic identity but it also is a positive attitude towards linguistic diversity.

It was interesting to see how demographics compare and contrast to the people in these different localities. The findings that there are both positive and negative attitudes in these various areas may suggest that these communities are in a process of becoming more accepting of linguistic diversity or in a process of denying linguistic diversity.

Reference:

Hatoss, (2012) Where are you from? Identity construction and experiences of ‘othering’ in the narratives of Sudanese refugee-background Australians. Discourse Society 2012 vol. 23 no. 1 47-68

doi: 10.1177/0957926511419925

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