American Identity and Language

American Identity and Language

Who am I? Who am I supposed to be? Who do I want to be? Why am I here? Where do I belong to? What is my identity? These are the sort of questions that man is trying to find an answer for in the 21st century. When it comes to America, we are always asked what American identity is or what distinguishes American identity from British identity and so on. As a student of American studies, I am trying to find an answer for that question although many Americans may not have an answer for it. But I believe the problem of identity is not only for American people. I average identity problem in spite of of which nation one belongs to, is the crisis of mankind and once you have managed to find the answers to the above questions, you are on the right track.

Anyway, let’s get back to American identity. But is there a definition for identity? When I was in the library I saw a book named sociology themes and perspectives and I looked for the definition of identity in that book. Identity as sated there is “a sense of self that develops as the child differentiates from parents and family and takes a place in society.”(1) The important supplies of this identity are nationality, ethnicity, gender and class.(2)

Though there are different types of identity, my concern here is national identity. I was thinking if language was part of this identity. Then I thought about my own country. Our official language is Farsi but suppose a person is from Tabriz and does not know Farsi at all. Does he/she have an Iranian identity although he/she does not speak Farsi? My answer to this question was yes. I could not say that his/her identity was different from mine maybe because we both belong to the same land. But then I got back to American identity. Is English language a part of this identity? This question has truly been a matter of concern since in America there are many immigrants who become American citizens but they may not be able to speak English. in spite of of race and ethnicity, is English language an basic part of American identity?

I myself think English is an important part of American identity because the moment that I hear a person is from America, I cannot imagine that he/she speaks any other languages except English. As Samuel Huntington states the chief elements of American identity are Protestantism and English culture and law. English culture brings English language with it. So perhaps a true American is a person who is protestant, keeps his English culture and speaks English. Nancy Morrow who has written an article about language and identity says in America “Many people claim that designating English the ‘official language’ would ensure cultural cohesion in an increasingly different society, while others argue that such policies would almost certainly infringe on individual rights to self-expression. Efforts to dismantle bilingual education or to establish ‘English-only’ laws in the workplace and in other places depend on several questionable beliefs about language and culture. Among them is the extensive belief that a shared language is basic to creating and maintaining a logical national identity. As journalist Michael Lind argues in his critique of multiculturalism, ‘Of all the elements of a national culture, language is by far the most important’ (Lind, 1995, p. 264). Many recent academic publications in American cultural studies proportion the assumption that ‘Nations are not born, but made. And they are made, ineluctably, in language’ (Looby, 1996, p. 1)”(3). Morrow believes that “English, as the shared language, is the instrument that reconciles differences of race, ethnicity, creed, and national origin and consequently creates a shared culture and shared values.” (4) Most Americans also believe that an immigrant has to learn the language of his/her adopted nation. So I think language is one of the aspects by which American identity can be defined and this language has to be English.

1. Haralambos,M, Holborn, M & Heald, R, 2000, sociology themes and perspectives, HarperCollins Publishers Limited, p 885

2. Ibid

3. Morrow, N, 1997, Language and identity: women’s autobiographies of the American immigrant experience, Journal of Language and Communication, Vol. 17, No. 3, p. 177

4. Ibid

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