Agency and power in intercultural communication: negotiating English in translocal spaces

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Sociolinguists have recently employed the notion of spatiotemporal scales to explain the changing social status of linguistic codes across social and geopolitical domains. Scales enable us to address the portability of semiotic resources in migration with great insight. In addition, unlike romanticized orientations to globalization and transnational relations, this model enables us to address the role of power in shaping the uptake of resources in shifting social contexts. Sociolinguists in this tradition show how the resources that enjoy power and prestige in certain local contexts receive lower status as migrants move to other social contexts, especially in Western urban communities. Despite the usefulness of this orientation, the sociolinguistics of scale suffers from certain limitations. It presents a highly stratified vision of social spaces, ignoring the possibility for renegotiating status differences and hierarchies. It assumes a normative orientation to languages, unable to accommodate the possibility that new language norms and practices might emerge, leading to new orders of indexicality. For these reasons, it is also insensitive to agency in mobility, unable to theorize how migrants may renegotiate norms in elite and privileged contexts. I present interview data from African skilled migrants in the UK, USA, and Australia to demonstrate their attitudes toward renegotiating the valuation and status of their own varieties of English in transnational contexts. Their narratives suggest how migrants negotiate spatiotemporal scales to their advantage, redefine the translocal space, and reconstruct new orders of indexicality in intercultural communication. Though I lack interactional data to examine uptake, the interview data helps develop a more complex use of scalar metaphors to address the dynamics of agency and inequality in intercultural communication in translocal spaces.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)202-224
Number of pages23
JournalLanguage and Intercultural Communication
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 1 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Communication
  • Linguistics and Language


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