Listen: Linguist Jamie Thomas
During Alumni Weekend, Assistant Professor of Linguistics Jamie Thomas gave a talk on the shifting language of identity. Black, African-American, gay, queer, feminist, womanist—the way people describe themselves and conceive of their relationships to others can shift slowly or dramatically over time. Thomas leads an informal discussion on the topic, drawing from her expertise in language learning, identity, and race.
Thomas teaches courses on language and identity at the intersections of language, culture, and society, including science fiction and dystopia. She is a sociocultural linguist and expert in identity as related to language learning, study abroad, and Africa and the African Disapora.
Thomas's work has appeared in International Review of Applied Linguistics in Language Teaching and her book Zombies Speak Swahili is forthcoming from Oxford University Press. Additionally, Thomas maintains the #languagestory blog, where she posts ethnographic videos and shares critical commentary on communication, intercultural learning, and her most recent international fieldwork in Mexico, Micronesia, and Tanzania, among other places.
Jamie Thomas: I'm Jamie Thomas, I'm here with the Linguistics Department. I've now been here at Swarthmore for about 3 years, and I'm having the time of my life. I was really pleased to be invited to hang out with you guys tonight, to talk about the shifting Language of identity, and to do an informal discussion. I hope that some of you are not so weary, that you might be interested in talking just a little bit amongst yourselves and with me as we go though some interesting I hope ideas, and pictures, and sound.
To get us to think about and add some additional layers to what you're already doing here as alumni, which is considering, thinking about, ruminating on your experiences here at Swarthmore.
Just a little bit about myself. I am originally from where? Where do you think I'm originally from?
Speaker 1: New York City?
Speaker 2: New york?
Jamie Thomas: New York?
Philadelphia? Where do you think I'm originally from?
Speaker 3: LA.
Jamie Thomas: LA? How did you know that? How did you guess that? How did you know I'm from LA?
Speaker 3: [inaudible 00:01:18]
Jamie Thomas: Okay. There was some assessments and assumptions made about where I am from, who I am, what I look like, all these things. These are some of the ideas and concepts that concern me as a linguist. I'm very interested in the social cultural aspects of our lives. How language takes on this concept of a glue that holds us together. It is part of communication, it's what gives us the essence of being human. Without language, you probably would not have learned too much here at Swarthmore. You needed textbooks, you needed audio, you needed lectures, you needed relationships with other students.
All of these things are areas of linguistics, that come in to understanding how we function in communities, how cities are made, how universities form, college campuses, how all of those things come together. You may have already started to think about what identity is. You're maybe reflecting on identity as something that can be emulated, mocked, contested, constructed. What are some other words that stick out to you about identity?
Speaker 4: Evolving.
Jamie Thomas: Evolving, absolutely. Some other thoughts here.
Speaker 5: Do you think that language identity overall the diversity of such is decreasing, as opposed to increasing? 'Cause I think that because the internet and television, that language diversity and language identity is actually on the decline.
Jamie Thomas: I would agree. I even learned a couple weeks ago something new from my students, I'm always learning from my students. They were using, bringing internet slang into the spoken medium. I'll share it with you just a little bit later, but this phrase TM, are you familiar with that?
Speaker 2: [inaudible 00:03:23] Trademark.
Jamie Thomas: You may be familiar seeing it written, but when it's attached to a spoken phrase, it adds a sense that you've just coined your own neologism, that you've just created your own phrase and you're putting your own phrase out there. This is another aspect of how language continues to change.
New identities are formed around your knowledge of these forms of slang, and maybe your unfamiliarity with these. We continue to make new communities. That's part of what I'd like to talk about today. Let me just walk us through this a little bit. This picture here, what do you think you see?
Speaker 6: Mural.
Jamie Thomas: A mural. Absolutely.
Speaker 7: It's in Spanish.
Jamie Thomas: There's some Spanish on here, absolutely. What else do you sort of see here?
Speaker 8: Somebody staring at it.
Jamie Thomas: There is somebody there, absolutely.
Speaker 8: Who doesn't look Hispanic.
Jamie Thomas: What's that?
Speaker 8: Who doesn't look Hispanic.
Jamie Thomas: He doesn't look Hispanic to you.
Speaker 4: What does Hispanic look like?
Jamie Thomas: What does Hispanic look like? These are the questions we want to ask, in this type of work. Now, something you-
Speaker 8: We buy [inaudible 00:04:41]. That's what I see here.
Jamie Thomas: Yeah? Well something you may also recognize in this picture is that this is a scene from Philadelphia. This is a scene from one of Philadelphia's most distinguished Porto Ricans neighborhoods, up and around 6th through to 2nd street, not too far from Temple University. We took some students, or actually I took my students down to this neighborhood so that we could learn more about how identities are shifting along with language here in Philadelphia.
In this, I want you to start considering who are you? When you get these ideas about who something else is, who are you at the same time? Then again, who are we? Because your sense of who you are, is connected to who you think we all are, or who and what your relationships with others consist of.
As we are seeing here, you look at this picture of a Puerto Rican neighborhood mural. You're looking at one of the students from Swarthmore. You are considering who you are, who you were, when you were at Swarthmore. Now you're starting to go back in time. You're starting to think about yourself when you were 18, 19. That was just a little while ago. You're starting to think about who, how rather your perception of yourself has changed. Your perception of who we are, as a collective has also changed. Then the question is, what is identity? What is identity? Any thoughts? Just in a very general sense. What do you think identity is?
Speaker 5: A sense of self, selected from among available stereotypes.
Jamie Thomas: Oh goodness, very nice.
A sense of self, absolutely.
Speaker 8: As reinforced by the community in which you live.
Jamie Thomas: Absolutely. The sense of self in relation to communities. Absolutely. My friend back here.
Speaker 9: When you listen to people speak, you judge what part of the country they come from. How educated they are, you get a great deal from a small language sample and so the pigeon hole of people.
Jamie Thomas: You can pigeon hole people based on your personal experience and things that you have encountered, or have been told about a different community, absolutely. Some other thought here.
Speaker 8: I think that's often in particular as you're growing up, and even at our age, part of what you have to do is discovering and defend yourself against other people rejecting who you are. Where's the sense of [inaudible 00:07:42]?
Jamie Thomas: Certainly.
Speaker 8: That can be a struggle.
Jamie Thomas: Certainly. Again, the self in the identity is part of how you consider yourself to be, but then also how people perceive you.
Speaker 5: Everybody has multiple identities.
Jamie Thomas: Oh boy, see now [inaudible 00:08:03]. You're absolutely right. Sometime though this is actually what researchers have been contending with the last 30 years, and we're still stuck on this. We're still trying to understand how is it that we can conceptualize something that at one time, in a moment in time, is static. I am American, or something like that. But at the same time, myself and all of my selves, occupy very many different and connected ideas of who I am, who I should be to other people.
We're trying to understand identity, as perhaps something that is contextual. As you consider this, think about who you are, who you were, who you will be, in a place such as Philadelphia.
Another picture from the Puerto Rican neighborhood. I love this mural because this mural is attempting to capture some of what this community or these artists consider to be part of their identity, identities. Really, what we understand identity to be in some ways is a constellation of changing participation. That as we move from maybe being a toddler, and maybe having a few play dates here and there, to being a student, being formalized in a classroom community, the nature of our participation shifts. The nature of understanding ourselves shifts. Our language to talk about who we are expands, or shifts. Even the way that we conceive our relationship to the community shifts as well.
So what is identity? Here I want to share with you something I've been sharing with my students, and these are students in my seminar language and identity. I've showed them this hook because I want them to consider identity but in multiple layers. Let's take a look at this. Bonnie Norton here is saying, "How people understand their relationship to the world, that's identity." She also says, "How that relationship of the person to the world. How that relationship is constructed in time, and space. How people understand their possibility for the future." It's not just about who you are right now, but it's where you see yourself tomorrow, next week, and 10 years from now. That's something we're always trying to get our students to think about. We're always trying to get them to think, "Okay, why do you want to take a nap right now? Why are you taking my linguistics class." It's because maybe you don't see the immediate beauty, immediate use for all this stuff, but in four years maybe that can be part of your conception of self.
Then inevitably the question is, why does your identity matter? Why does our identity, identities matter? What are you thinking so far in having come back to Swarthmore after all this time? Maybe it was just last year you were here. Maybe you were here a little bit longer ago. But does your identity as a Swatty matter to you? Why does it matter to you?
Speaker 6: First, so I can get people to stop saying Swatty.
We hate that word.
Jamie Thomas: We do. That's very inter generational.
Speaker 6: It surely is.
Jamie Thomas: So what do you call yourselves then.
Speaker 6: Swarthmorians.
Speaker 8: Swarthmorians.
Speaker 3: Yes.
Jamie Thomas: Swarthmorians.
What is already proceeding here [inaudible 00:12:03] moldable community within this community.
That we can conceive of the entire Swarthmore community as a cross kind of place. Because when you disperse from here, maybe some of you go back to Florida, some of you go back to Canada, Alaska, I heard someone talking about Brazil, great. Swarthmore is sort of this idea, in as much as it is a physical community.
Speaker 5: But why do you say Swarthmore? With an R in there.
Jamie Thomas: It's a slight R.
Speaker 4: I'm from Philadelphia, and no one-
Jamie Thomas: Sometimes saying that I'm in the in crowd because I drop the R.
Speaker 5: No.
Jamie Thomas: This is something [inaudible 00:12:41], right? Because in what you just heard me say, you picked up on relationship. The intricate relationship between learners. It's something that in some ways carries with you. I went to school in the big west. When I came back to LA, my sister was like, "What are you talking about your mouth?" Right? Your mouth. I had roommates from St. Louis and I just completely transformed, but that was part of my changing participation, by changing within it. Okay?
Here is something for us to consider. I want us to take a listen to a student, but before we do that I want you to go back in time now. Consider who you were as a student, consider what your hopes and dreams and concerns were. Right? Because these were aspects of your identity, and let's listen to what this student has to say.
Male Speaker: Foreign Language.
Jamie Thomas: Okay. We only heard two seconds but you probably noticed that this student was not speaking ...
Speaker 6: English.
Speaker 8: English.
Jamie Thomas: English. Okay. Maybe you started with this expectation of who this student might be. But again, identities are multi-layered. They could be multi-lingual. Let's see again what this student is talking about. Let's also consider where this student might be? What type of major they are? Do you see yourself in this field? Okay?
Male Speaker: Foreign Language.
Jamie Thomas: Where do you think this student is?
Speaker 6: Not in America.
Speaker 9: I'm thinking wherever he is, it's not where he's from, wherever that may be. I'm listening to his construction of sentences, and how he's using the language, and it reminds me of a study abroad student, saying things like, "Oh have you seen ..." Like perception and then flowing back into the language of his faith. He strikes me as a study abroad student somewhere.
Jamie Thomas: He could be-
Speaker 10: I think he is not a native speaker.
Jamie Thomas: Not a native speaker.
Speaker 10: Because he says Ameica, he does not say America.
Jamie Thomas: America. Ameica.
How many of you studied abroad while you were at Swarthmore?
All right. How many of you have studied abroad since Swarthmore? You took a trip, you went abroad, you studied up there.
Okay. A lot of us in this room share this experience of being abroad, being somewhere else, and perhaps being noticed, and being perceived. Right? I'm sharing this video with you. This is from [Riefield 00:16:27] work with study abroad students, in Amman Jordan. Part of what my concern is how are these students able to participate in the study abroad experience? What aspects of their identity are in transformation as a result of being in this environment? The thing I think about now that I've been through college and so forth is, I'm thinking about the sojourn, and the impact of the sojourn. This is another area of linguistic research of applied linguistics research. In this work, we're trying to understand how is it that we can make study abroad experiences more enjoyable but also more successful, for a wide range of foreigners. We want to listen to their stories. We want to understand it. To do that, we also have to be in some ways really open to hearing what that story might pertain to. Let me just take us over here.
One of the things that we think about, when we are thinking about language learners, people who learn Arabic in college, people study Swahili in college, people who study Spanish in High school like I did. We want to understand how their identities inform their language learners, how it forms their success. What's really interesting too I think about this research and what's really meaningful, and I think the ways that linguists such as myself can connect to society and the greater good, is taking that word language learner, that phrase language learner and swapping it out with x. All right? Students, teachers, citizens. We can use some of these same principles and ideas to try to understand our relationship with each other. I think that is where some of the value, the joint value really considering who we are as we change and go though life, it really makes a difference.
Here it is saying that relations and power can serve to enable or constrain the range of identities that language learners, that people such as your selves, can negotiate in their classrooms and communities. This is really important to because as we think about Swarthmore and Swarthmorians or Swarthmorians, as they are contemporarily, and we want to understand how is it that we can help this institution compete. We want to in that work consider all the many different things that are occurring and interacting with our students as they are today. On a college campus, in a study abroad environment, it often begins in the classroom, and then goes beyond the classroom to a wider community. I want to share some more audio with you so that you can experience, and go back in time to the study of [inaudible 00:19:37]. Is everybody with me so far? Here's some footage from classroom. Let's see what the students have to say.
Male Speaker: Foreign Language.
Jamie Thomas: Here, this is a very interesting exert, right? Because here we find American learners, perhaps in an opposite environment that they are used to. They're the ones who are being perceived as outsiders and others. They're being assumed to not be speakers of Arabic, based on how they look, based on maybe how they dress.
Speaker 10: Please, that's not true.
Jamie Thomas: Okay.
Speaker 10: The man speaks Arabic, like [inaudible 00:21:28] and Osama Bin Laden. Nobody speaks Arabic like this. This is why they answered him in english with, "Yeah, we don't speak Arabic, we speak Arabic of Tunis. We speak North African Arabic. We speak Egyptian dialect." Nobody speaks ... The men in the family speaks like this. You obviously are foreigner. The whole identity thing doesn't fly here, because when he's taught here, it is that language.
Jamie Thomas: Okay.
Speaker 10: It's like speaking Latin in native.
Jamie Thomas: Okay. I can hear what you're saying. Part of what I am hearing in what you are saying is a strong ideological dip. A strong perspective on what constitutes Arabic, what Arabic should sound like.
Speaker 10: I'm not even an Arabic.
Jamie Thomas: That's okay. What Arabic should sound like. How this student is communicating. I share all this is sort of saying that this is what our students encounter when they go abroad. This is what each and everyone of us encounters when we go abroad in our own book of way.
Speaker 10: No, but I think his Arabic was perfectly intelligible. I think the problem is when we go abroad, so many people sport and speak English, or want to speak English, and when they seem struggling with their language, they think it's easier to speak to them in english. You know?
Jamie Thomas: There are a lot of factors. Here are some other thoughts.
When I was here I went abroad, I went to Chile. At first when I got there, my Spanish was pretty good, but everyone was like, "Oh, your Spanish is so cute. It's just like out of a book." They thought it was adorable. I was like, "No, but I don't want to speak like out of a book. I want to speak like you guys do."
I think I did a pretty a good job at the end, I probably was, and now people tell me I have a Chilean accent, and of course I have a Chilean husband, which kind of helps. I know that seems like experience because of course when you learn it as a foreign language you are often taught in that kind of textbook fashion, and that's the same for the language.
Right. You guys, are you guys linguists? Because you've highlighted all these contemporary questions. Right?
In the field. There you go. These are the questions, these are the advances we want to listen to, as applied linguist, sociocultural linguist, as [inaudible 00:23:44] a fee, but also interested in maybe growing the number of Arabic speakers we have on this side of the pond. Or increasing opportunities in moments for inter cultural learning dialog. We want to monitor the way our identities are being expressed, perceived, understood. Moments from the classroom can really tell you a lot about how that environment, and how langues are interacting in these different contexts.
Something now that I want to part with some of this data is to share with you, or remind you, or amplify for you, that language is social, it's contextual, it's dynamic. These are experiences that these students are having, but this is after being in the target language country for several months, 3,4,5 months. These are experiences in many cases they did not anticipate. We are understanding, as we go along in life, all the things that our many different identities can entail. Just something else here.
Speaker 2: Can I say something?
Jamie Thomas: Yes.
Speaker 2: What's really interesting is, I've been in lots of different countries.
Jamie Thomas: Sure.
Speaker 2: In which English was the main language [crosstalk 00:25:08].
Jamie Thomas: Could you say that louder please?
Speaker 2: Oh, sorry. I've been in lots of different countries for a long time. Sometimes where English is the language, and many in which English was not. One thing that I learned was actually that English is quite forgiving. That like I remember when I lived in the Netherlands, if you didn't speak perfect Dutch, you didn't speak Dutch.
Jamie Thomas: Okay.
Speaker 2: But in the US, and in England, there's a lot of space to not be perfect, like in a lot of space for speaking English, we are considered a good speaker of English without speaking it perfectly. I don't know, I just find that really interesting actually, to see that there was that much flexibility in english. As a multi-
Jamie Thomas: That's interesting, right? Because the other thing that we realized when we did study English and its footprints around the world, is that there are many Englishes around the world.
Speaker 1: Yeah.
Jamie Thomas: Arguably, that there are many different ways that people approach and use this language. But, going back to this issue of power, that are ideas of who belongs within a different speech community, a language community. These are all constituted and related to our different perceptions of opportunity and economy.
Speaker 11: I kind of remember [inaudible 00:26:19] talking about nobody had to teach an Algerian how to talk to a Frenchmen.
Jamie Thomas: Okay.
Speaker 11: The contradictions were so sharp. They just knew when they could speak French, Pigeon, Arabic, because they knew their life depended on or at least their relationship to the police depended on the language they took. In a context like this, the contradictions, or sharps like this, we see lots of confusion and wondering about it. But as far out as you go on the continuum, maybe it's just an inherent trait in America, human beings have. We know how to survive linguistically. I don't know.
Jamie Thomas: There's a lot of work of exploring how we go about learning this. Because when we appear on earth, we learn or we're exposed to what our immediate guardians have to show. But when we go into formalized environments such as schools and so forth, a lot of times, we are beginning to juggle different registers and dialects and use of language.
In this scene actually, this is the colloquial Arabic class for learning Arabic. What's really interesting is as the student is talking, he's using sort of formalism certainly but also colloquial words to express certain things. Part of what I'm really interested in is the environment, how students sort of go about peppering and learning this type of language in with all of the formal focus. In some ways, we begin to see students resisting by the end of their study abroad using exclusively formal talk, exclusively textbook talk [inaudible 00:28:10] and they're trying to grasp and use appropriately the local language, so as to build relationships, because we understand now more than ever that identity and these types of personal experiences are part of the motivation for students, and part of the success factor for students abroad and here in local practices. Yes?
Speaker 5: I think I heard in these various dialogs, which was printed down in the bottom, something which [inaudible 00:28:43] has contribute, which one of the most destructive and most banal things you could imagine and that is the word like.
Jamie Thomas: I hear you.
Speaker 5: Everybody is copying that.
Jamie Thomas: It is something that is very indirect and what I notice in these students is they were holding on to like as a sort of filler, even when they were speaking predominately, like 99% Arabic. They would use like in English. Then, once they had really picked up on the Arabic, then they used an analogous filler word in Arabic. Right? They really wanted to be able to say like. I think that's generational words, that's part of the shift.
Speaker 5: How is the interaction affected if the student asks permission to communicate [inaudible 00:29:44]? Rather than presuming an acceptance of their [inaudible 00:29:51].
Jamie Thomas: Yeah, I'm thinking right now. Some of my other work is with foreigners Swahili in Tanzania. I'm thinking specifically to a student I followed around from Italy. Yeah, I stalk students while they are abroad. Try to see what's there. She was talking with me about how she has an understanding of English but she was living with a host family, she was very deliberate about never using English, never using Italian, always using Swahili. Folks would approach her upon seeing her confidence and making assumptions that she was a foreigner and therefore an english speaker. She said that, when she said, "No, I want to speak Swahili. I want to speak Swahili." They would continue to speak english with her, but she would only reply in Swahili.
Another aspect of scaffolding these experiences for students is to equip them in some ways with strategies for straddling these types of conversational interactions.
Speaker 5: But there is an aspect of assuming that the boundary, with the identity boundary of the host is course and that you can simply assume that their language and they will accept your reaching out in that language. That is not going to be the case in many of these instances, that you have to seek, or one might consider seeking permission to speak the language too.
Jamie Thomas: It's very intentional, it's very complex. For some folks and they sort of encounter a foreign person, that they seem to be a speaker of the opposite language, English for example, some of them consider it ... I'm speaking with reference to interviews I've done, lots of different local people, but them talking about how this is their chance to benefit from having an outsider in their country. This is the return they give on with direction of globalization.
That's something that I have considered here in America. In the US, It's thinking about how I encounter folks that I assume are speakers of languages other than English. I remember talking with a professor in Mexico, an American professor in Mexico, came up to San Francisco for a conference, and he came back somebody working in mexico, he was talking to us and saying, "Yeah you know, I saw a guy, Hispanic guy, I just started speaking to him in Spanish." Some of us were like, "Wow. Maybe you offended that guy. Maybe you made assumptions about him. Maybe he was ready to speak English with you. Maybe that was his right in that situation." Thinking about identities and things that are dynamic, that sometimes we want to be careful we aren't stepping on. It's very complex. Yes, just right back here.
Speaker 8: You are talking about the inter generational and how cultural things interact and I remember I was 15 years old, I'm in France and I was going ... I had a French student stay with me, then I was there and his father said, "Would you like some wine?" I said in French and I said, "Yes." His son said, "Dad, in the United States you are not allowed to drink wine at his age." His father at the time was in his 60's, he said, he was very offended, and he said, "Arnaud." He says in French, "When you are in the United States, you drink Coca-Cola. Mais oui." He said, "Voilà." I mean by that it just opposed the generational, cultural issues that were completely different between different worlds.
Jamie Thomas: Sure. That is something that is really challenging to kind of formulate and cultivate on our campus, or any campus really. This is part of [inaudible 00:34:09]. How do you recreate a dynamic multicultural environment in classrooms and on campus with students who are going abroad, returning from being abroad, with our students who are international students on our campus? How do we get that optimal setting for an exchanged opportunity? It's imperfect. It's complicated, but it's something that is worth looking into because the college campuses are microcosmic of our country. Right? And it's a microcosmic of all the many different identities, which constitutes our idea of what our nation is. You have some thoughts.
Speaker 10: Yeah and I have to forsake my [inaudible 00:34:55]. We live in ... Or we were living because I'm not and I'm not [inaudible 00:35:00], I am American but I look at this country and so ... This a multi-lingual country. How many classes in Swarthmore are taught in Spanish?
Jamie Thomas: Outside of [crosstalk 00:35:15]
Speaker 10: This is the answer to the question that you just asked.
Jamie Thomas: Okay.
Speaker 10: So [inaudible 00:35:20] has become a control handle in America. English has been declared the norm while a major part of the population does not have english as a first language, nor is english an American language. How is it possible? Or is there an intention behind the idea that you keep a large part of the population [inaudible 00:35:43] in order to control their identity? Is it easier to make people believe in values like the homeland if they only speak one language, or if you declare their basic language to be the norm?
Like if I look at multi-lingual European countries like Belgium for example where there is no national language, how does this affect the national identity of people of such? What does this mean for [inaudible 00:36:10] towards their government? There is no boundary. They will all be [inaudible 00:36:15], or they will be French, or they will be German. How would that affect America? The first thing that you showed, people that don't speak Spanish say it's a Hispanic mural. I am a Spanish speaker, I see it's a publicity for a shop that buys bores. It makes a massive difference. Multi-cultural is a control handle. I think that's-
Jamie Thomas: Let me just jump in here again. I'd say that language is extremely connected to power. All right? We can see the effect of that in the endurance and the spread of English in our own educational system. Before, campuses like this were invested so much in English they were also invested in other languages, like Latin, Greek. We have traditions that in some ways are very connected to empowered ideals of what students and graduates should be. Are these things that we can shift? Sure. Will they take time? Absolutely. Is that the right thing to do? These are the questions we want to be asking and talking about, certainly.
If we had frameworks for discussing what identity is and how language is a part of that, then I think we didn't that in very successful ways, in ways that are open to perceiving of identity from multiple standpoints. I think that's what perhaps I'm really trying to do here tonight, is to just open us up, or amplify different perspectives on who I am, on who you are, such that we can understand how these things change, and how they're dynamically in movement right now. Is there a thought over here? Yeah.
Speaker 2: Going to a country that you haven't been to in 15 years,
Jamie Thomas: Okay.
Speaker 2: That speaks not english if you're an english speaker. You'll see a huge change in how the language is spoken. Going back to Oxford after 15 years, suddenly the Queen's English is not so popular, everybody speaks like Beatles. At Oxford, I was thinking about the comment over there about how people say, "Like." I'm also thinking that what we're seeing, those of us who don't really like the word "Like" anymore. He goes, he goes this, he goes that. What we're seeing here is, we're complaining about our loss of power. We can always remember things about our parents and you shouldn't speak that way but we do speak that way. We wanted to be like our peers. It just seems to me that we're objecting to the change of language, we're really thinking about that we're older and we're losing power. Somebody else is taking over that power.
Jamie Thomas: Yes, I get it.
Speaker 2: Look, I'm from LA. I think that code switching is something that everybody invested in, in one way or another to show a certain fluidity, because I think identity is about fluidity. I think that fluidity is accompanying us and compassing us, sorry [inaudible 00:39:41], encompassing us more especially in regards say to gender. I think that if you're curious, you listen and you look for ways into conversations and you put your toe in the water of code switching if you have to courage to do so.
Jamie Thomas: I'm so glad you brought up that word in that concept of code switching. Because-
Speaker 9: Would you define that? I've never heard of that.
Jamie Thomas: Absolutely. We will use this term code switching to talk about and describe language systems like maybe Spanish or Arabic or something like that as a code. That it would be something that I might go between. I might find myself in an environment where folks around me are reasonably understood to know and have knowledge of English and Spanish for example. I might feel free to use English and Spanish in my conversation with those folks. And that would be code switching to some degree.
We also have concepts though of dialect kind of switching. Maybe within Arabic, a language that has different regional varieties for example. Even in English, American English. We have the variety that someone picked up on, with me being from California. You have varieties from the South, from Philadelphia. You have these different variates that folks may switch in between, comfortably, or purposefully, or deliberately, or strategically. We try to understand that with this concept of code switching, or code mixing is sometimes talked about too where maybe languages will come together within the same word, within the same sentence, within the same utterance to project a certain kind of flowing and hybrid identity onto itself. There's a question back here.
Speaker 2: I think to her point, Samuel Lee's work on Barack Obama and his ability to code switch, and him being able to relate to other people. You can see that in old videos of him interacting with people, of different races and different classes, and athletes etc. You see the way in which code switch, which really represented to us his ability to empathize with others. If you look at the language of let's say Trump, you won't see any code switching.
Speaker 4: You won't see any code.
Come on man.
Bigly, all right.
Jamie Thomas: Let me say really quickly that I think we bring students from outside of our state into our college campus. Like I was telling you before. I grew up in California, the LA area. I went to school in St. Louis. I went to graduate school in Michigan. My first job was in Vermont. Now I'm here. That all of those, that range of experiences, all of those people I've talked to, all those people whose accents I've picked up, all of that turned me into somebody. That influenced my ability, my use of language to express who I am such that now you'll hear traces of everywhere I've been in the way that I speak. From different perspectives, that may constitute Americanist much more than anything else. There are some thoughts here then we'll go back.
Speaker 2: I work in the design industry.
Jamie Thomas: Oh, okay.
Speaker 2: I've worked with designers aka visuals, people who communicate primarily visually.
Jamie Thomas: Okay.
Speaker 2: People who don't generally like to read, nor like to write. There's kind of this idea that the internet is now promoting visual communication way beyond written communication, and oral communication.
Jamie Thomas: Okay.
Speaker 2: One thing I struggled with is having people help me who are barely english speakers, who can't really write, have trouble with grammar, poor educated, but have trouble with grammar, have trouble with verbal and written communication.
Jamie Thomas: Okay.
Speaker 2: But it doesn't really matter 'cause in that context, visual communication is seen as the most important means of communication. That creates a problem as well, because I am not a visual communicator. I'm orally articulate and I write. Is this a shift that is happening in general, or at least in a certain class of communication?
Jamie Thomas: I think you need to be presumptive, but I think a part of what I see also in my own practice here, local students in the classroom, is that there is a wider valuing of multi-model participation, multi-model communication and demonstration of knowledge.
What I want to show you next is a project that I developed with students so that we could do some writing but we can also do some talking. We can also do something visual. What we created was a digital humanities project that includes all those different elements to describe and analyze the experiences of bilingual Spanish speaking Philadelphia residents, particularly those identified as Latinx, Latinos, Latina. Students gaining a lot now this way [inaudible 00:45:32] that we have, with being able to bring their cognitive skills into different modes, visual, auditory and so forth. I think that is a trend. I don't think it's going anywhere. I just saw something the other day that sort of said that newspapers and so forth, they're exploring ways to take videos to the next level, so that we will be consistently bombarded.
We want to figure out though how do we harness that trend in a way that's still meaningful in the classroom, and still meaningful for higher education because just 'cause you made a video doesn't mean that it's actually doing something, or that it's actually constituting something that connects and shares something new with an audience, particularly with students. I am working on it. That's the short shift. But students really enjoy that and not only that but in some degrees, they're coming to expect that from us. We're having to liaise with our tech experts here on campus and really learn how to use some of those techniques to amplify what we do in the class. I'm somebody who kind of brings together a prescriptive perspectives and descriptive perspectives on what language is and how it's used. I really want to encourage students to still familiarize themselves and build skills in use of standard language because that is still a mode of language, whether you code switch or not, that is empowering in our society and other context alone. There was another question further back.
Speaker 12: I'd like to go back to some of the things you said earlier. At the very beginning, you raised this question of what is identity?
Jamie Thomas: Sure.
Speaker 12: I think you raised some big questions like is it something that is created or developed and so forth. It sounded like the kind of intentional. Somebody over here said it was selecting amongst stereotypes, which sounds like we're choosing our identity. But then you're just talking now about your own identity and how you moved all over. You didn't choose presumably where you grew up in LA, your parents just lived there. That seems to speak to a different set of linguistic identity, which is one that you just, it just reflects your experience as to who you are. I mean the way we speak is very automatic, we learn it unconsciously. The particular dialect that we speak is what our peers speak, or our parents speak, you don't choose it. So to what extinct is the identity of something that just reflects your experience? Or that is selective?
Jamie Thomas: Okay.
Speaker 4: I just want to say to that, it can go both ways. It's both a conscious process and it's an unconscious process. It can be a fluid back and forth. It's not one or the other. I want to make a point to what you had said earlier about this power dynamic, and of course that's one way you looking at things, but I remember looking at studies in the 80's and 90's of immigrants from different areas, or different regions from the world who moved here and they did not teach their children their native languages. They taught them english, because they wanted them to be acculturated as quickly as possible. That doesn't happen in other parts of the world.
Jamie Thomas: In some ways it's [inaudible 00:48:59].
Speaker 4: Right.
Jamie Thomas: We have research that says that whether you expose your children to additional languages other than english, even as they're being formalized within our education system, that doesn't have too much bearing on their ultimate success in inquiring and speaking english.
Speaker 4: Exactly.
Jamie Thomas: We have a lot of perspectives that kind of endure, that are challenged at times, and at other times we reinforce and reproduce.
Speaker 4: What we're figuring out from the audience. We don't know why immigrant communities are doing this, but It seems to be rather than a top down approach, it's more of a bottom up effect.
Speaker 10: Because I read these things, that this is a class norm. I'm from Austria and Austria is a country now but it used to be an imperial house.
These royal parasites decided that the best way to dominate their peoples was by speaking their languages.
Speaker 4: But that's in Australia.
Speaker 10: Let me just finish up this idea. Why the different peoples that were dominated by the housing hospital, were German, Czech, whatever, up to Jewish speaking english as an identity. The House of Habsburg had no linguistic identity because they mastered the art of strategic code switch. They were not stuck in a linguistics identity. They had the absolute capability of making a difference between word and notion. In other words, they had no national identity and were therefore to rule while the ones with a national identity but assumptions. This how this works.
Speaker 4: crosstalk 00:50:57] Spanish became dominant because there's [inaudible 00:51:01] for power. It's the same America.
Jamie Thomas: It's very complicated. We haven't even talked about colonialism, which is a big part of why America is what it is today. Give us some thoughts back here.
Speaker 13: But it's like food. The more types of food you try the better you are, the richer you are. You should be able to order knowledgeably in a Thai restaurant, or a burger joint, or an Italian restaurant. If you could speak more than one language, it's great. If you can speak more than one type of dialect of english, it's great.
Jamie Thomas: That's the other case. It's particularly great in it's validated by powered people and policies. Some thoughts here.
Speaker 13: I think in terms of people in power validate it. Every time I contact any government office, I can push one to have it in Spanish. We're not forcing english, at least not in [inaudible 00:52:05].
Jamie Thomas: Okay.
Speaker 13: There's the alternative of Spanish in almost anything you try to do.
Speaker 10: Only that there is a lot of people saying, "Speak American." Remember? What do they mean? Spanish or English? [crosstalk 00:52:20]
Speaker 13: I don't know because that's not my native language, but it seems to me an alternative. Every time I'm on the phone, I can change by just pressing a number and get it in Spanish.
Jamie Thomas: That is complicated here in the states.
Speaker 2: [crosstalk 00:52:35] in the United States. There're families [crosstalk 00:52:39] One fifth of the population. But there are 10 year olds that manage businesses, because they speak English, and their parents don't. Can you imagine the burden that is on a 10 year old? [crosstalk 00:52:55]
Speaker 13: It's become necessary for merchants to offer Spanish and every instruction now is also in Spanish. However, it was not that long ago that states voted English as the official language. So it was not already, and that's a matter of power. The other is [inaudible 00:53:23] utility.
Jamie Thomas: Absolutely. Offering foreign languages in our schools is also a matter of power because lots of times, they're making decisions about which languages will be offered.
Speaker 5: I was thinking back to my childhood and visiting my grandmother in Mississippi, hearing her northern friends [inaudible 00:53:56] If you encounter white people, you should say yes and no Sir. I switched code to protect myself from the assumption that I'm publicly [inaudible 00:54:09]. That was a technique of salvation. In my neighborhood in DC, because I spoke proper english, my friends and the entire neighborhood said I was trying to be white. I had to switch my code there. [crosstalk 00:54:34]
Right, with my friends if they were angry with me they called me the yellow nigger. But it didn't really burden me because that's how it was, what that terrain was. Within that range of my society, there were codes that one had to able to [inaudible 00:55:00].
Jamie Thomas: Absolutely.
Speaker 5: I don't think we exchanged a lot across the nation, the neighborhoods and so on with the [inaudible 00:55:14].
Jamie Thomas: I'm glad that you brought that up because we have ... We're still grappling with some of those situations, those contextual situations, here on this campus, with students coming in speaking more than one language, who come in from other countries and so forth. One of our students in Linguistics who just graduated like year ago. You can actually find her pieces online, doing linguistic experiment, and she focused on the experiences of Latinx students coming to this campus and what their experiences are being seen as a Spanish speaker, not seen as a Spanish, but all sort of identifying under this umbrella. What the experiences of these students on this campus who don't speak Spanish? These are very complex problems that we're still working on. They're challenges for both teachers and students.
Speaker 2: I don't want to make a comment but even in long run now, [inaudible 00:56:10] you're intense. I was back way when we started code switching. I just want to make a comment about young children-
Jamie Thomas: Okay.
Speaker 2: ... code switch unconsciously and unselfconsciously, in that if their experience is with people who speak different languages, they don't even notice that they were switching languages or switching dialects or anything when they're speaking with different people who speak those different languages, whereas adults might then choose to change what they're saying or change the context or whatever. I just was really curious to know your thoughts about at what age that shifts? At what point do kids, children, people become aware of, "Oh, this person speaks French, this person speaks Italian, this person speaks English."? I know people who have been raised in multi-lingual households, and the kids just flutter back and forth between with all three, and they just know how to do it, without even having to think about it. I'm just curious if there is an age or developmental stage where that does-
Jamie Thomas: You know.
Speaker 2: Do you know?
Jamie Thomas: You know that guy Vygotsky? That childhood educational psychologist.
A lot of these ideas have stuck around and they are still fundamental with thinking about children, child language acquisition, and linguistics. One that he still think about is critical period, this so called period. We like to think that up until about age 11 age 12, the brain is more elastic when it comes to thinking about language and perceiving language. For the most part, we still believe it. There is an example, a few years ago, a child that was growing up in a house with multiple languages. Now the child was not speaking yet, as late as 6 months, no babble that resembled words from any kind of language. The parents were concerned. The grandparents were concerned. Great grandparents were concerned. But really, one of the answers is also personality, because as our friend down here was talking about, we have different knows, different preferences for learning, and we have individual differences in all of that. Some of are listeners, some of us are watchers, and thinkers, and doers. All of that plays a role in how flexible and elastic the child's brain is.
Even as adults, we know as adults, our friend here was talking about her husband, who is a speaker. Motivation trumps everything. Even if your amplitude is lower, let's say you for irony you just [inaudible 00:59:01] in love relationships. That would push everything forward. Or if he had a job you're inspiring to, or a situation of life or death. Some of that would make a difference in a way that you were able to relay language forth. Then we have the examples of the folks who had traumatic brain injuries. They wake up and they speak another language. Sometimes, a lot of the stuff we absorb without even realizing it. When we do the code switching, a lot of times that hasn't shown to be strategic. Culturally, socially, in other ways too.
Just thinking about these students studying abroad, yourselves studying abroad, yourselves on your future trips abroad, or to abroad in the United States, Puerto Rico, Guam, wherever. Consider that multiple things are happening for you that you may not even be consciously aware of in terms of how you're being perceived, who you're perceiving, and how you're using language.
My friend right here, and then we'll actually-
Speaker 7: I'm going to show you one last thing. I guess I'm really happy to be in between these two comments because I think that it hasn't really been spoken. I guess, it kind of has been. Identity as a constructive ... I think it'd be constructive for survival. Thinking about code switching between dialects or even different languages just depending on your situations and strategies of surviving that encounter. That could be a black person deciding how to switch code when being confronted with the force of the state, or it could be a multi-lingual student, a student speaking multiple languages at school thinking that this is what I need to speak in this space to get through the grades, to move ahead, to play into system. In the case of your comment, immigrant parents, I don't think it's a choice to read to their kid in english, but relinquishing them to the power of the state, to teach them what is necessary for their survival in that context.
Yeah, just so you can break that up. Because I think the thing about where that starts, it has to be at a time when your survival becomes important to you, because I don't think as a four year old I was thinking about how am I going to survive the world today? But I think those thoughts came around when I realized, "Oh, I am a black person in this country." When that became very clear to me, my ideas of identity began to develop, and considering it.
Jamie Thomas: Sometimes it can be just as subtle as not being able to make a friend in a space, as a child, that some of these ideas of who you are, oh that person is not from my county. All these things will come to before. Just two quick mentions here, is that other areas we're forced to make a differences if they're taking a look at work places, and the type of languages being cultivated workplace for value in workplaces as being something that impacts others.
The other area that is really blowing up lately is this area. You can google it. It's called Family Language Policy. This is a word that's being used to describe the way that parents get around the dinner table, and impart values, ideology, socialization practices around language, such as your child would come out as multi-lingual speaker, a monolingual speaker, or a speaker that values one dialect over the other. Some of these are just things to sort of think about.
The last thing I want to share with you guys, just retains to a project that I was working with my students this past semester. These are the students. We are hanging out in North Philadelphia. We had just gone to [inaudible 01:02:51]. Are any of you familiar with this landmark?
Yeah. So, [inaudible 01:03:00] is this Puerto Rican. Well, the words say workshop but really it's a cultural center. It's a cultural center in North Philadelphia that plays host to many different bilingual, Latino, Latinx, types of identities. Folks living immediately in that community, and also artists, small business owners, students, and others, who find a sense of community by coming into that space.
We hung out with this guy, Carlos, who's actually from, not Puerto Rico. He was actually from Venezuela, but he grew up in Philadelphia, and he now works at the center. Also, one of our deans, Jason Rivera, Dean of the sophomore class I believe, yes. We went down, we had a workshop, we learned about the importance of remembering and thinking about and considering the legacies of African identities within conceptions of Latinos, Latinx, American identities, across both continents of America.
Okay, so just really quickly. We toured their gallery and so forth, just getting a sense of how Latin, Latino identities play out. What I ended up guiding the students to create ... So this goes to your question, your design question ... is a website now that you guys can go visit anytime of the day. On this website, you'll be able to hear the students voices, but also voices from the Philadelphia community, particularly folks identified both Black and Latino, Latinx, or as Afro-Latinx.
Why did we do this? We did this so that we could gain some understanding through our encounter with these folks about what it is to live in shifting modes of identity. A lot of folks were assumed not to be speakers of Spanish because of the way they look, or speakers of it, or they're assumed to be simply from one community when they claim and connect to so many other communities. Think about the implications of this for ideas of nation, of America, of Latin America.
I want to go just really quickly to this picture of this student that I had up there at the very beginning. We now know, based on all of this evidence, his name is Brandon [inaudible 01:05:38]. He comes from New York. He calls himself a Black Nigerian American man. On this website, you can go and check it out. You can see how students themselves identify. I gave total range of freedom to these students to identify themselves. Call yourself what you will and let that kind of connect for you and display for you how you connect to your communities. One of the things he was sharing was, although he doesn't have a heritage connection to Latin America and Latin American experience, as a learner of Spanish and someone who connects to multiple communities within and outside of America, he found his experience in the course to help him consider how it is to be, come to be in these liminal spaces with identity.
Just really quickly. Let me just take you to the website so that you can see what that's all about. Hopefully the website will be a source for you to be able to keep the conversation going and get a chance to interact and see what Swarthmore students are doing. I'm just scrolling up here. Again, the students have called this Afro Latinx Podcast TM. Okay, I see you add the slang in there.
You get to the part where you say, "Okay. Yeah. Sure." Because it's important to them. Now, you can listen to the podcast from the students. They're just 20 minutes long. You can also interact and see who the students are. We can go over here to contributors. In just a second, they will see who these students are. Again, this is all content that the students created with some guidance, considering who we imagine as speakers of Spanish and so forth, thinking about the space and the place.
Actually right here, let me just scroll down here. Sorry. You can interact with this content, so you can actually hear the voices of folks from this community. Maybe it'll just give us a little sample right here.
Female Speaker: Foreign Language.
Jamie Thomas: At the same time, you can also hear [crosstalk 01:08:21]
Again, I just want to share this website with you for you to check out anytime, as a way of just extending this conversation we're having. It's clear to me, it's clear to all of us here, I think, that language matters, identity matters. It started off with that question. Really, I think what it boils down to again is how do you perceive your relationship with everybody else? Where do you want to that relationship to go? What role does the college campus play in the end? What role does your enduring identity as a Swarthmorian play in that and the future institution as well?
We all have a role to play and in some ways we all have ways that we can go about learning from each other. I just really appreciate all of you for coming here tonight to hang out with me, and letting me learn from each and every one of you. Thank You.