Literary Codeswitching: Shaping culture and identity

Carla Jonsson

Stockholm University, Sweden

WS126: New approaches to written codeswitching and multilingual texts

This paper focuses on the literary use of code-switching in novels and plays where code-switching occurs between different languages, dialects, styles and varieties. In this paper I argue that the authors and playwrights of such novels and plays can be seen as actors/agents in the sense that they can shape the readers' notions of culture and identity. For instance, by writing a Swedish novel where code-switching between Swedish and Tornedals Finnish (a historical minority language in Sweden) is used, the author creates and shapes the readers' view of what ‘the Finnish-Swedish culture’ is like. The author at the same time also shapes ‘the Finnish-Swedish culture’ in the sense that its language is legitimized, its voice is (or rather some of its voices are) heard, and its experiences are acknowledged. My presentation will focus on code-switching in relation to power and identity. These are 'global' functions of code-switching, according to Auer (1998, 1999), and as such relate to macro connections in society.

In my presentation novels written in Sweden with code-switching between different languages, dialects, styles and varieties will be discussed together with Chicano plays written in the US, in which there is frequent code-switching between Spanish and English. Findings of my doctoral thesis on code-switching in Chicano theater will serve as basis of the discussion (Jonsson 2005).

The sociolinguistic situation in California and other southwestern states with frequent contact between English and Spanish, has led to the emergence of Chicano discourse and to the creation of a particular Chicano literature. Similarly, recent development in Sweden has brought forth multiethnic varieties that are now beginning to be used in Swedish literature. In fact, multicultural and multilingual literature is a field of literature that is rapidly growing in Sweden. This literature (novels, poems and plays) uses multiethnic varieties and/or code-switching between different languages to express a multicultural and multilingual experience. My study concentrates on the use of code-switching in this type multilingual literature. One reason for choosing to emphasize on language use in literature is that most previous research in this field has focused on speech.

Links will be drawn between the functions of code-switching in Chicano theater and the functions of code-switching in multilingual literature in Sweden. Issues of power, ideology and resistance play a central role in this discussion since code-switching can serve as a creative response to domination and since language in these forms of literature often fills empowering functions. The different novels and plays that constitute this multilingual literature, together create a literary platform that can be regarded as an alternative market (Bourdieu 1991) where it is possible for ethnic minority groups to make their voices heard. In addition, the possibility of constructing and reconstructing a separate identity through the use of code-switching in literature will be discussed. By employing code-switching in their work is possible for the authors and playwrights to reflect, construct and reconstruct a separate third space identity (Bhabha 1994) that draws upon the different cultural environments.

Session: Workshop (part 1)
New approaches to written codeswitching and multilingual texts
Saturday, April 5, 2008, 09:00-10:30
room: 01