lecture 5: Identity, Language and Culture Douglas Fleming PhD Associate Professor Faculty of Education University of Ottawa
“Identity would seem to be the garment with which one covers the nakedness of the self; in which case, it is best that the garment be loose, a little like the robes of the desert, through which one's nakedness can always be felt, and, sometimes, discerned” James Baldwin (1976) • Lynd once observed that, “the search for identity has become as strategic in our time as the study of sexuality in Freud’s (1958, 14). • The importance of identity theory has been increasingly felt in social science research generally (Mathews, 2000), in overall education research (Cummins, 1996; Bernstein, 1996), and second language education (SLE) more particularly (Norton, 2000; Block, 2007; Davison, 2001). • Identity is a concept derived from western philosophy and has become much more of sociological concept, in great contrast to the related term of personality that is used in psychology.
Francis Galton’s Lexical Hypothesis (1884) was the first modern attempt to categorize personality traits. He argued that the various personality traits exhibited by a person would eventually be encoded in their language use, right down to single word choice. • By sifting through dictionaries current In the early 1930’s, Franziska Baumgarten created the first full taxonomy (in German) of 1,093 personality types. • Using similar methods, Gordon Allport and Henry Odbert decided that there are 4,504 terms used in English to describe personality traits. • In the 1940’s, this list was “refined” and “updated” by Warren Norman to 2,797.
In the early 1980’s, Dean Peabody and Lewis Goldberg used these lists as the basis for their taxonomy of Big Five Personality Traits (sometimes known as the Five-Factor Model), the most influential in psychology today. • openness, • conscientiousness, • extraversion, • agreeableness, and • Neuroticism. Note the differences between these categories of personality traits and the ones theorized by Freud: id, ego and superego.
Criticisms: • Simplistic: how can single lexical items encompass or adequate describe complex personality traits? • Culturally specific: how can generalizations be made about personality based on interpretations of a standardized language as codified in dictionaries? • Myopic: less demonstrative personality traits are ignored: such as religiosity, honesty, sexuality, political and ideological beliefs, humor, sense of irony, risk-taking and gender identification. • Lack of theoretical underpinning: how can one be certain that the categories have validity when they are (supposedly) derived solely through empirical observation and factor analysis? • Overly static: how can one account for changes in personality over time and in different contexts?
so, what does the word identity mean? • the word identity was "first used to mean personal identity by the empiricist philosophers Locke and Hume, who used the word identity to cast doubt on the unity of the self" (Langbaum, 1977; p. 25); • It is important to note the individual self has not always been a significant preoccupation in European cultural history; • From the late 12th to the 14th centuries a number of dramatic events shifted European outlook towards individualism (Tuchman,1978), including: • the black death, • new challenges to the sanctity of dynastic rule, • and the first elaboration of the modern scientific method.
Identity is NOT the same as personality. • Personality has been criticized as a static notion that doesn’t take social context into sufficient account. • Dilthey: the essence of being human can only be grasped historically; experience is a collection of events that have a unity of meaning; identity is the human quality that which unifies this experience across time for individuals. • Durkheim: social control mechanisms are as much mental (ritual) as physical; these help create collective representations and solidarity, shape personality, identities and behaviors.
Relevant “big names” and concepts: • George Mead: generalized other • Cooley: looking glass self • Dewey: experience/regulatory function of imagined reaction • Bourdieu: cultural capital • Giddens: identity as narrative • Said: the other in post-colonial discourse • Althussar: Ideology • Friere: pedagogical tasks and activist critiques of civil society • Foucault: governmentality and micro-processes of power • Vygotsky: social constructionism/thought through language • Lave and Wegner: mentorship/ communities of practice
Psychology places an emphasis on the importance of the integrated and autonomous self. Motivation is central to this. • Motivation is quite clearly a psychological term, influenced by Freud‘s conception of the mind into id, ego and superego, Piaget’s constructivist conception of personality development and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. • Motivational psychologists generally hold that there are two basic types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. • However, where does one start and the other begin?
R.C. Gardner’s concept of integrative motivation: the desire to learn the target language based on positive feelings for the community to which that language belongs. • J.H. Schumann's acculturation model outlines the factors involved in whether or not groups of learners, principally ethnic minorities, have a propensity (social distance and psychological distance) to learn the language of the majority population. • social distance and psychological distance is influenced by: • attitudes toward social dominance/ resistance; • desires for assimilation/ preservation; • enclosure (isolation); • cohesiveness of the minority group; size of the minority group; • and individual factors such as intended length of residence.
Unlike the broad sociological perspectives that inform the concept of identity, the factors that Schumann identifies focus on the barriers created by minority groupings. As Norton (2000) points out, the barriers erected by dominant language and cultural groups are not taken into account in his model. • In SLE, Norton uses the term identity "to reference how a person understands his or her relationship to the world, how that relationship is constructed over time and space, and how the person understands possibilities for the future" (2000, 5). • Norton contrasts the concept of identity to that of motivation and develops the notion of investment.
Investment, which draws on Bourdieu's concept of cultural capital, "signals the socially and historically constructed relationship of learners to the target language, and their often ambivalent desire to learn and practice it" (p.10). • Learners make a decision as to whether or not the target language is worth investing time and effort in acquiring. By committing themselves to learning the target language, " they do so with the understanding that that they will acquire a wider range of symbolic and material resources" (p.10). • The identities of language learners are not static or one-dimensional. They often contain contradictions, change over time and space, and most importantly, show the impact of power relations.
Culture, is an anthropological term that describes the relationship between individuals and society. • Comprised of symbolic structures • Marked by ritual • Passed down to succeeding generations • Subject to change and interpretation • According to Malinowski: a culture serves three needs: • basic needs of the individual • instrumental needs of society • the symbolic and integrative needs of both the individual and society • These cultural traits are marks of “ethnicity”.
Whereas Race is a construction based on socially-selected physical traits, • Ethnicity is a construction based on socially-selected cultural traits. • As with race, dominant groups will often claim to have no ethnicity. The term “ethnic group”, for example, is commonly applied to those people who belong to those who are NOT British or French. • In Canada, ethnic markers are often defined linguistically.
Humboldt (19th c. linguist) suggested that language categories impose certain ways of organizing knowledge, • Sapir (1921) argued that we see and hear and otherwise experience very largely as we do because the language habits of our community (culture), • Whorf (1956) claimed that language organizes all experience, • These ideas were developed by their followers into the Whorf/Sapir hypothesis: • weak: different language systems will greatly influence the cognitive attributes of its native speakers, • strong: the structure of a one’s native language will determine one’s overall world views (paradigms).
Fishman (1972) summarized the criticisms of these notions in this way: • languages primarily reflect rather than create sociological regularities in values and orientations, • languages across the globe share far more similarities than have been previously recognized, • languages and social processes interact with each other (what is the chicken; what is the egg?)
what do you think? Is identity or personality the more useful term? Is personality a “solid” thing? Do you agree that linking language and personality in the ways described above is simplistic, static, culturally specific, myopic and lacking in theoretical underpinnings? Which (if any) of the “big names” and concepts do you like? Is Norton’s notion of investment really different from Schumann's acculturation model or Gardner’s concept of integrative motivation? How is culture linked to language and thought? How (if any) of all of this is related to concrete teaching practice?