Swahili and English in East Africa

Codeswitching and language varieties

My interest in critical approaches to the spread of English motivated my doctoral dissertation research on Swahili-English codeswitching in Tanzania, where I carried out fieldwork in 1998 and 2001. In my dissertation, I combined ethnography and critical theory with the tools of conversation analysis and critical discourse analysis to closely analyze the role of codeswitching in talk-in-interaction. My research on codeswitching in East Africa has expanded to include the study of humor and codeswitching, Swahili-English hip hop language, multilingual advertising, and gender ideologies expressed through English, Swahili, and varieties of these two languages. These areas are addressed in depth in English as a local language: Post-colonial identities and multilingual practices (2009, Multilingual Matters) in which I draw heavily on key Bakhtinian concepts such as double-voicing and heteroglossia to analyze the language across several domains of social life.

Language use in HIV/AIDS educational contexts

Since 2005, I have been carrying out a participatory action research project on HIV/AIDS education in Tanzania. This project is a qualitative study of conversational interactions that seeks to describe how high-risk populations display their understandings of the causes and effects of the disease through an analysis of how they respond to educators' efforts to encourage safer sexual practices. By working together with educators and medical professionals at several NGOs, the project is attempting to collaboratively investigate the degree to which current efforts in HIV/AIDS education are succeeding, and to provide a means for evaluating current practices through the study of interactions. In 2007, I organized a colloquium on HIV/AIDS and language at the American Association of Applied Linguistics where researchers who do work in Uganda, India, Burkina Faso, and Hong Kong came together to present their work on this topic. I report on the progress of my own project in my forthcoming book Language and HIV/AIDS (Multilingual Matters 2010, co-edited with Bonny Norton).

Identity and L2 learning and use
As I have taught many graduate students who are interested in careers in language teaching, I find myself increasingly enaged in learning more about how second language learning/use relates to the development of a distinct second language self. My own experiences as an L2 Swahili speaker have also inspired me to do research on identity formation in L2 learning and use, as I find that the subject positions available to me in Swahili are rather different from those I experience in my L1, English. To address these interests, I have two research projects underway which make use of narrative inquiry:

Resistance to identity slippage in Tanzania: L2 users of Swahili
I am using narrative inquiry to investigate how L2 users of Swahili respond to the idea of 'becoming Swahili' in and through their second language.
This research examines whether and to what degree cross-cultural adaptation through 'identity slippage' (Armour, 2002) and 'discursive repositioning' (Pavlenko & Lantolf, 2000) is possible for people through L2 learning and use. I organized a colloquium at the 2007 International Pragmatics and Language Learning Conference, in March of 2007 on this topic where participants presented on L2 identity formation in Japanese, French, and English. This work appears in the following edited collection:

     Higgins, C. (ed.)
2011. Identity formation in a globalizing world: Language learning in the new millennium. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Language learning as a site for belonging: Korean adoptee-returnees' use of Korean as a heritage language. (with Kim Stoker)
Many Heritage Language (HL) studies have found that learners are often motivated to learn or improve their HLs in order to use them with people of their ethnic and national ancestry, and to more fully participate in ethnic communities tied to the HL (e.g., Cho, 2000; He, 2008; Tse, 1998;Valdes, 2005, 2006). This project investigates whether and to what degree heritage language learners of Korean are able to use their HL with Korean speakers as a means of connecting with their ethnic identity and participating more deeply in Korean social networks. We expand the field of HL research by investigating the experiences of four Korean-born, U.S.-raised adoptee-returnees who currently reside in South Korea and use Korean as an L2. We employ ethnographically-informed narrative inquiry (Bamberg, De Fina, & Schiffrin, 2007; Kanno, 2003; Pavlenko, 2007) by drawing on interviews, observations, and the personal experiences of Kim Stoker, who is a member of this community, to explore how adoptee-returnees' learning of Korean affects their settlement success, social recognition, and sense of ethnic and cultural belonging in the country of their birth. Thus far, we have found that many adoptee-returnees claim belonging through their participation in the 'third place' (Kramsch, 1993) of the adoptee-returnee social network in Seoul in a myriad of ways, as illustrated through their high degree of production of verbal and visual artforms that utilize both Korean and English to produce 'in-between' identities.

Pidgin (Hawai'i Creole English)
Grant-funded project:
"Ha kam wi tawk Pidgin yet?": Researching local identity through language. Project director for a students-as-ethnographers video project with Searider Productions, Waianae High School. Hawai'i Council for the Humanities ($23,624).

Pidgin is a non-standardized and often stigmatized language used by many people who live in Hawai'i. At the University of Hawai'i at Manoa, I participate in an advocacy group known as Da Pidgin Coup, an organization which meets twice a month at the Charlene Sato Center for Pidgin, Creole, and Dialect Studies to discuss socio-political, linguistic, and educational issues surrounding the use of Pidgin on the islands. Our main purpose is to raise awareness regarding the validity and legitimacy of Pidgin as a language by carrying out descriptive linguistic research on Pidgin and by raising critical language awareness among the community. We are very proud of our success in establishing an undergraduate minor in Pidgin at UH-Manoa. Through taking 15 credits, students can learn more about the historical, linguistic, social, and political aspects of this language.

I have also been collecting survey data regarding the acceptability of Pidgin as it is produced in literature. Authors such as James Michener have used Pidgin in their writing for literary effect, but Pidgin experts find that such representations of Pidgin are far from authentic language. My research makes use of Pidgin speakers' intuitions for judging excerpts of such texts in an effort to 1) determine the boundaries of variation in Pidgin, a language without standards or codification; and 2) to raise critical awareness among Pidgin speakers that their language does indeed have a grammar, and hence, has grounds for legitimacy. I am also carrying out a survey on Pidgin vocabulary items to better understand how Pidgin speakers associate certain words with particular ethnic groups, age groups, and genders. For details on this research, see:

Higgins, C. (2010). Raising critical language awareness in Hawai'i : Da Pidgin Coup. In B. Migge, I. Léglise, & A. Bartens (eds.), Creoles in education: A critical assessment and comparison of existing projects .

Ownership of English
Several years ago, I carried out a study to investigate how speakers of English from nations that were previously colonized by Great Britain express their ownership of English. Using Goffman's concept of 'footing,' I examined how dyads from the United States, Singapore, Malaysia, and India talked about the acceptability of English sentences which contained grammatical and lexical examples of World Englishes, such as discuss about, researches, and gloriosity. The results were published in TESOL Quarterly in 2003 (vol. 37). Since that time, a research group in Singapore has been engaged in replicating this study with specific attention to how specific ethnic and socio-economic factors mitigate expressions of ownership. The results of their work so far is available in:

Bokhorst Heng, W., Alsagoff, L., McKay, S. L. and Rubdy, R. (2007) English language ownership among Singaporean Malays: Going beyond the NS-NNS dichotomy. World Englishes, 26, 424-445.
Rubdy, R., McKay, S., Alsagoff, L., & Bokhorst-Heng, W. (2008). Enacting English language ownership in the Outer Circle: a study of Singaporean Indians' orientations to English norms. World Englishes, 27, 40-67.

In the future, I plan to replicate my own study with speakers of Pidgin on the island of Oahu in an effort to extend the concept of ownership to the Hawai'i context as well.

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