Language and identity in young indigenous African language speaking middle class adults who attended ex-model c schools
The central aim of this study was to explore the identity formation of black African middle class young adults in the context of their educational and language experiences in ex-model C schools. The study was motivated by a need to understand how socio-historical events which play out in language in education policies and practices, affected the identity constructions of young black adults who had been through a schooling system where English was used as the language of instruction. The study adopts social constructionism as the epistemological position, given that it considers individuals’ identities to be socially, historically and culturally constructed. Postcolonial approaches to identity construction were utilised, influenced by the works of Frantz Fanon and Hussein Bulhan. The study utilised a qualitative design, using semi-structured interviews as the method of data collection. Three participants who formerly attended ex-model C schools were interviewed. One interview was conducted for each participant. Thematic analysis was then used as a method of data analysis to identify the ways these young adults make sense of their experiences relating to identity constructions. With regard to the findings of the study, three main themes were identified, namely making sense of the new school environment, identity construction, and the role of language in the participants’ lives. Overall, findings of the study revealed that identity constructions were not static, but instead reflected the historical and social processes in which the participants lived. The participants adapted to the language of the school, and considered themselves to be multilingual as they were able to communicate in the language that was required for economic success. The present hegemonic status of English was accepted by the participants, because the ability to communicate in this language meant job security and an ability to communicate beyond boundaries. The mother tongue was still used by these participants, but it was used in contexts which were deemed appropriate by the participants. Race and class as markers of difference emerged as important constructs for identity formation. In conclusion, it was found that these young adult speakers of indigenous African languages were negating their mother tongue in the school and in social and economic contexts. In some cases, this led to alienation or feelings of inferiority. Indigenous African languages need to be promoted in the educational setting, and further acknowledged in other sectors of society and the economy. If African languages are presented as having some sort of utility in the economic sector, this will hopefully result in a change of attitude amongst indigenous African language speakers towards their own languages, contributing to the construction of multilingual identities which will reflect a truly democratic society.
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