Multilingual youth slang as a linguistic and ideological resource in negotiations of competing discourses in four different schools

Marie Werndin, Charlotte Haglund

Centre for Research on Bilingualism, Stockholm University, Sweden

TP154: Youth, language practices and sociocultural change

Multilingual youth slang as a linguistic and ideological resource in negotiations of competing discourses in four different schools

In the present paper we will describe and discuss in which ways and why contemporary discourses on language and identity in Sweden are picked up, reflected and contested differently among young members of ethnic and linguistic minorities in urban and suburban schools in Stockholm.

The paper is based on two separate studies which draw on ethnographic methodology and a poststructuralist understanding of identity, power and discourse. The studies depart from the notion of multilingual speakers as social actors within social networks (Heller 2007). In an attempt at linking language use to social, political and cultural formations (Fairclough 1992: 8) we put the speakers and the social context at the centre of our analysis (cf. Alvarez-Cáccamo 1998).

When comparing and linking the two studies we observe how the adolescents adjust their performances to expected identities or resist others’ attempts at positioning them, in limited, less equal positions, with reference for instance to their “deficient” language use (“What does the word mean and what is it? I have never heard of elixir…it is not a word in Rinkeby-Swedish. Have you heard of it?”). The core function of language and multilingual youth slang is also manifested in the adolescents’ attempts at highlighting the benefits of being multilinguals and having experiences in more than one cultural or national network. From this position they counter-act the claims, for instance of teachers’ and student assistants’, on temporary access to their language practice (and the allegiance) (“You say ‘much’ not ‘çok’”).

Data illustrate how structures of domination and discrimination are reproduced and negotiated on the micro-level of speech and the situated social action observed accordingly indicates a dialectical relationship between structure and action (cf. Heller 2001). The processes of reproduction and contestation however are contradictory and conflicting. The discourses on language and identity are picked up and negotiated in different ways in different school contexts but also take different shape and develop in different directions in relation to interlocutors as well as individual and collective purposes in the situated practice.

The paper illustrates the complexity of language use and social organization on the macro and micro continuum and points out how linguistic resources, such as multilingual youth slang, are drawn upon in attempts at resolving tensions among competing discourses including those between individual positionings and dominant ideologies.

Alvarez-Cáccamo, C. (1998). From ’switching code’ to ’code-switching’: Towards a reconceptualization of communicative codes. In: P. Auer (ed.). Code-switching in Conversation (pp.29-50). London: Routledge.

Fairclough, N. (1992). Discourse and social change. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Heller, M. (2001). Undoing the macro/micro dichotomy: ideology and categorisation in a linguistic minority school. In: N. Coupland, S. Sarangi & C. Candlin (eds.). Sociolinguistics and social theory (pp. 212-234). London: Longman.

Heller, M. (2007) (ed.). Bilingualism: a social approach. New York: Palgrave Macmillian.

Session: Themed Panel (part 1)
Youth, language practices and sociocultural change
Saturday, April 5, 2008, 11:00-12:30
room: 03