Analysing codeswitching practices in super-diverse settings

a blog post by Zane Goebel, La Trobe University, Australia

While super-diversity has increasingly become an issue to grapple with in anthropological studies focusing on urban settings (e.g. Blommaert, 2010; Vertovec, 2007), in Indonesia super-diversity has been a concern at least since the emergence of an anti-colonial nationalist movements in the 1920s (Elson, 2008). One significant off-shoot of attempts to come to terms with this diversity were attempts at standardizing a variety of Malay with the idea of it being used as a lingua franca amongst an archipelago of ethnolinguistic others. By the early 1970s Indonesia’s attempt at standardizing and circulating a ‘standard’ was hailed as a significant success by such notable figures as the sociolinguist Joshua Fishman (Dardjowidjojo, 1998). As an important Australian neighbour, there was also much activity surrounding the teaching of Indonesian in Universities and Australian schools since the late 1950s (Reeve & Read, 2010). For example, by the mid 1990s there were large numbers of primary school, secondary school, and university students studying Indonesian with many engaging two to six weeks of in in-country intensive study or even longer exchange type programs. For those students who returned a common complaint was that what they had learned in class was very different to what they had heard, learned and spoke while in Indonesia (e.g. Sneddon, 2003).

I was one of these students in 1992 and then again in 1993. Following my return from an exchange at Diponegoro University, which is situated on the North coast of Semarang (Central Java), I did some tutoring in Indonesian as I contemplated what to do with an honours degree. As I reflected upon my experiences in Indonesia and on my teaching, one of the things that struck me about teaching materials and about discourses about Indonesian more generally was the lack of empirical research that had been done on what actually happens in interactions amongst Indonesians from different areas of the archipelago. For example, early ethnographic treatments only mentioned this issue in passing (e.g. Kartomihardjo, 1981; Wolff & Poedjosoedarmo, 1982). I had a PhD topic! As I familiarised myself with early primarily US-based anthropological and linguistic anthropological studies I found that these scholars spent years in the field (Bloch, 1976; Geertz, 1973; Hymes, 1972): perfect for someone with a topic a scholarship and no post-PhD plans! While my final PhD dissertation was heavily dependent on research in the field of codeswitching, at that stage I hadn’t yet identified the gaps that became apparent nearly ten years later as I read work on semiotics and interaction by Asif Agha (2007) and Stanton Wortham (2006). For example, this work suggests that in order to interpret situated social identification we need to pay attention to participant trajectories across several timescales, including their exposure to circulating ideas linking signs to social types and their associated semiotic systems while also taking a semiotic approach to codeswitching.

Although there have been many excellent ethnographic studies of codeswitching practices (Kulick, 1992), some of which also focus on the links between codeswitching and language ideologies (e.g. Errington, 1998), recent treatments of codeswitching that attempt to build bridges between different paradigms (e.g. Gafaranga, 2007; Gardner-Chloros, 2009) have yet to integrate ideas about participant trajectories and time-scales. While this may be because the different paradigms that focus on codeswitching practices ask different questions, in Language, Migration, and Identity I attempt to add to these and earlier bridge-building efforts (e.g. Auer, 1998; Heller, 1988) by showing how these ideas can be incorporated in studies of interaction in settings characterized by transience and diversity.

Language, Migration and IdentityZane Goebel’s book Language, Migration and Identity: Neighborhood Talk in Indonesia is available now from Cambridge University Press.


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