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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton October 11, 2012

Migrant ethnic identities, mobile language resources: Identification practices of Sri Lankan Tamil youth

A. Suresh Canagarajah,


In the context of multilingualism and migration, the place of ethnic identities has come into question. Applied linguists have to contend with the possibility that ethnic identities have to be redefined in the light of changing orientations in the field. The critique of essentialism, the dismantling of the ”one language = one community” equation, and the fluidity of translanguaging have raised the question whether ethnic identities can be treated as real anymore. In the face of these changes, one group of activist scholars invokes values of ecological preservation and language rights to insist on traditional ethnic identities. Another treats ethnic identities as transient and playful under labels such as ludic ethnicities and metroethnicities. Interpreting the identification practices of Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora youth in UK, USA, and Canada, this article argues for a middle position of strategic constructivism. That is, though the Tamil youth are multilingual, and do not claim full proficiency in Tamil language, they use their mix of codes to construct Tamil ethnicity in situated uses of their repertoire. The article argues that ethnicity should be treated as a changing construct, with different codes employed to index identity in changing times and places.

Pennsylvania State University and the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Studies

Published Online: 2012-10-11
Published in Print: 2012-10-10

©[2012] by Walter de Gruyter Berlin Boston