The concept of language is a complex one; it has been long ago discovered to be not isolated from the communicative situations and individual differences of speakers. The linguistic discourse has hence become a subject of close scrutiny, and the socio-cultural, individual, institutional and other implications of language usage have come to the forefront of scientific attention.
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The connection of language, identity, and social practices of individuals has to be studied in the whole complicity of their revelations in the overall discursive essence.
There is much empirical evidence nowadays on how identity is reflected through language, and on the ways language becomes and indispensible part of the human social practices and experiences. There are also findings on how the connection between language and identity can be used to enhance language learning and acquiring linguistic proficiency.
The article of Joseph (2006) summarizes the main ideas of how language has become a useful tool in both expressing one’s identity and evaluating the identities of other people on the basis of their language usage peculiarities.
Joseph (2006) emphasizes the fact that language is now used more in the function of representation than communication, and that the transformation derives from the cultural and individual diversity of speakers evident nowadays.
One more useful finding of Joseph (2006) is that the conventional vision of realization of only national identity in language is now actively debated because of the need to take into consideration the individual contribution every person makes into the linguistic usage and identity formation as well as realization through linguistic means.
The opinion about language representing identity in action is shared by Lane (2009); the researcher has made this conclusion based on the results of the survey conducted with two immigrant Finnish groups residing on the territory of Canada.
Their national identities reflected through language turned out identical, but the social practices they implied by language usage differed substantially, thus making them distinct. Therefore, individual identity becomes a significant component of linguistic usage patterns and is reflected though symbolic attributes in linguistic practices worldwide.
Language is also based on identity realization through the individual practices and experiences, both within the language learning and usage framework and beyond it. This point can be well illustrated by the work of Darville (2009) proving that true literacy in language learning can be acquired only in case when learned items can be tied to the learners’ real life experience.
It means that literacy should be perceived as practice, with the language representing a social construct that is exercised in the context of learners’ lives, perceptions, opinions and feelings (Darville, 2009).
Another finding in the field of tying the learning process to the students’ identity is provided by Hamilton (2009) – the author investigates the role of individual educational plans, and the role of teacher as a mediator formulating the plan according to the students’ educational needs, ambitions, and state requirements.
Another powerful work on the significance of identity considerations in language studies has been provided by Atwood (2007) – it is an account of the Nunavit training camp in which Indigenous women were taught their ethnicity, traditions, customs and crafts. At the same time, they were taught literacy, which was hard for teachers because of lack of self-esteem and understanding of the literacy’s importance for Nunavit women.
It became possible to engage the camp participants in learning to write and read only when the parallel between their customs and literacy was drawn, making them realize the power knowledge could give them (Atwood, 2007).
The author finally makes a conclusion that identity is a part of people that defines their paths, and the Nunavit historical context of oppression and traumatic educational experiences are also barriers in learning hard to overcome within knowing the history of each particular group.
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Finally, it is vital to apply the findings on the relationships between language and identity in the practical sphere of learning and teaching languages.
The serious step forward was made by Fairbairn and Fox (2009) who outlined the major barriers in studying English for immigrants and non-citizens in Canada and the USA, and marked the regressive attitude towards their cultural, social and individual identity taken by the North American governments.
Their account shows how seriously the distinction in understanding and learning English is revealed by immigrants becoming victims of standardized and unified principles of learning and assessment.
The set of key changes needed to restore the adequate access to English learning for non-English speakers is provided on the basis of identity, social background, and individual peculiarities’ considerations. This account proves that identity reveals itself in speaking one’s native language, and at the same time in learning a foreign language as well.
The topic of learning a language being indisputably connected with social practices is pursued by Alderson (2006) in his overview of the diagnostic testing type and its role in the adequate language testing.
The author makes the specific emphasis on the fields of knowledge tested by diagnostic and other tests, making a conclusion that the diagnostic test is of particular importance in language testing, providing the framework for assessment of the way students may apply their language knowledge, their reflection of knowledge obtained etc.
Because of the long time it takes to take the test, and lack of facilities for testing at educational establishments, the diagnostic test is not popular with teachers; however, it possesses the highest potential in multi-faceted testing and adequate assessment of knowledge farther from the formalistic, unified testing types that do not reveal the true knowledge of students.
Drawing a conclusion from the present set of articles, one has to note the close, organic relationship existing between human identity, experience and language (often realized through human literacy).
On finding out that relationship, researchers and practitioners in the field of linguistics have obtained a set of tools to assess the impact of identity on language usage, to identify the most constructive experience-based methods of learning and assessment.
In addition, nowadays literacy linguistic usage are obtaining social significance, so the application of various communicative means as well as their choice by speakers may add much useful data for the applied linguistic research, and enrich the modern vision about the discussed relationship and its causes.
Alderson, J.C. (2006). Diagnosing Foreign Language Proficiency: the Interface between Assessment and Learning. London (UK): Continuum.
Atwood, M. (2007). The Alphabet of Hope. Writers for Literacy. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
Darville, R. (2009). Literacy as practices, teaching as alignment: A message in a bottle. Literacies, No. 10, pp. 14-18.
Fairbairn, S.B., & Fox, J. (2009).Inclusive Achievement Testing for Linguistically and Culturally Diverse Test Takers: Essential Considerations for Test Developers and Decision Makers. Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice, Spring 2009, pp. 10-24.
Hamilton, M. (2009). Putting words in their mouths: the alignment of identities with system goals through the use of Individual Learning Plans. British Educational Research Journal, Vol. 35, No. 2, pp. 221–242.
Joseph, J.E. (2006). Identity and Language. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 486-492.
Lane, P. (2009). Identities in action: a nexus analysis of identity construction and language shift. Visual Communication 8(4), pp. 449-468.