Reconstructing heritage language: Resolving dilemmas in language maintenance for Sri Lankan Tamil migrants

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In recent years, Sri Lankan Tamils have fled their homeland as refugees as a result of the ethnic conflict in the country. Despite their heightened linguistic consciousness, community elders claim that Tamil youth are turning their backs on their heritage language. My data from Lancaster (California, US), East London (UK) and Toronto (Canada) shows a more complex attitude towards language maintenance by Tamil youth. Though a majority of the youth declared that English was their dominant language of proficiency, they insisted that it did not affect their positive orientation to ethnic identity and community affiliation. They adopted diverse language practices to enjoy in-group identity: namely, code switching into Tamil; emblematic uses of Tamil; switches into Tamilized versions of English; receptive competence in Tamil which enabled them to respond in English; and ritualized practices of communication where they could participate in communicative events with the aid of multimodal resources. These practices suggest that migrant Tamils are treating languages as fluid resources for identity and community construction. The hybrid and multilingual construction of heritage language and identity enables Tamils to shuttle between different languages and communities in migrant settings to resolve the dilemmas of mobility and identity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)131-155
Number of pages25
JournalInternational Journal of the Sociology of Language
Issue number222
StatePublished - Jul 16 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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