Leicester

Topic:
Chanda reflects on her linguistic identity.
Speaker:
Chanda Parmar (1972/06/06; female; Trade Union Recruitment Officer)
Date:
1998
Duration:
3'52"
Shelfmark:
C900/00008 © BBC

Transcript for Leicester

Pramod: What about, uhm, in an outwardly physical way, s, s, uh, and superficially and, I mean, in the, in perhaps the way that you dress?

Chanda: Hmm, hmm.

Pramod: Or, or, or, or your manner and, and, and certain things

Chanda: OK.

Pramod: I mean, how

Chanda: Uhm, I suppose it’s not, it’s not something that I can answer, but I know that other people, in terms of, uhm, other white Eng, Eng, Eng, English people who have met me, uhm, I think when they first see me they, kind of like, s, say to themselves, “You’re quite English, you’re quite Western,” and I think to myself, “Why do you say that? You don’t know me. How can you, how can you make a judgement, a statement? How can you make a statement about me when you don’t know anything about me? You’re just looking at me,” you know. OK, uhm, I have short hair; uhm, I don’t wear a Punjabi suit or an Asian dress to work; uhm, you know, I dress in English clothes, but so do half the world, you know; uhm, and I speak in English because I was born here and I’m brought up here and studied here.

Pramod: You just touched on language, which was what I wanted to go on to next. What languages do you speak to, uhm, your peers, parents, elder people?

Chanda: Hmm.

Pramod: You know, wh, wh, do you use mother tongue? What, what, what do you

Chanda: OK. Unfortunately I’ve been quite rebellious from an early age and I do recall, uhm, when I was gro, gro, gro, growing up younger, uhm, when my mum used to say, you know, “I want you to speak in Gujarati etcetera, etcetera. And I never did, it was always, “I don’t want to,” you know. And I always spoke in English and I’ve got away with it, where I’m quite embarrassed now, because my Guj, Gujarati is terrible; I w, I would never, I would never speak it in front of people, cause I’m so embarrassed, cause I have an accent that’s, that’s, that shouldn’t be there. Uhm, and I’ve, I’ve mastered the art of being able to, uhm, to understand it to a level where my elders, my mum etcetera speak to me in mother tongue and I reply in English and it’s just the way it’s always been.

Pramod: You reply to them in English?

Chanda: Yeah, and it, it, but it, but I’d, I’d, I c, I can’t go back to an age where I reply to them in, uh, in any other way. It’s what I’ve always done.

Pramod: Did speaking, or trying to speak Gujarati seem unnatural to you, or were you just, didn’t want to do it? You said, “Oh, that, I was quite rebellious in that way,” I mean

Chanda: I, I have asked myself that question a number of times as to, you know, why did I not speak it when my sisters did? You know, why, what was going on in my head? And I don’t know; I honestly don’t know; I didn’t, it wa, it, it, it wasn’t my mind saying, “I don’t want to be Indian,” cause I’ve always, I’ve always been proud of wh, who I am: I have a strong sense of identity, but to me it wasn’t important at the time. I suppose now I feel that it is important, but I’m lazy now.

Pramod: Why is it important to you now? Wh, I mean, are you, you seem to be implying that you regret not being able to speak it or perhaps learning it.

Chanda: Uhm, there is a bit of that; there is a bit of that and I think that’s come more from the fact that my peers can speak it so well and I can’t. And it’s almost like, you know, “Oh shit, I really wish I could speak it to the same level as everybody else.” Uhm, and I suppose all I need to do is, you know, start again and prac, practise and it will all be OK, but I think it’s taking the first step that’s difficult. And I think also that people’ve got to know me and’ve got accustomed to my answering back, them back in English that I think it would be a shock to them if they heard, heard me.

Commentary for Leicester

Language shift

Chanda talks about a fascinating linguistic issue that is common among immigrant communities. She considers English to be her first language and explains that she is able to understand, but not necessarily communicate as effectively as she might like in Gujurati, her parent’s mother tongue. This is typical of second-generation immigrant experience. Isolated minority groups often find that the use of an ethnic language can change rapidly from generation to generation as it becomes restricted to particular domains – perhaps it is used at home or at a place of worship, but not at school or work. Younger speakers are often under social, cultural and economic pressure to adopt the dominant language as it becomes increasingly associated with status, prestige and social success. This is accentuated as the situations in which they speak ethnic languages become ever more restricted. This process – known as language shift – often means that the younger generation feels more competent in the dominant rather than the ethnic language, and this can lead to subsequent generations of monolingual speakers.

Tracing roots

But Chanda is acutely aware of her cultural identity. She clearly understands Gujurati, as she can communicate with older members of the family, although she readily admits that she feels more comfortable responding in English. She regrets that she cannot communicate more effectively in Gujurati, but feels she has got to the stage where it is too late to change her linguistic behaviour. This is a common complaint in communities where an ethnic language has gradually been replaced by a more dominant language. Many speakers in Wales, for instance, feel disappointed later in life that they did not have the opportunity to learn Welsh. However, in recent years there has been a change in the attitude towards bilingualism within educational circles in the UK. Younger speakers in bilingual communities are now encouraged to use their heritage language alongside English. Positive language planning in Wales has led to an increase in Welsh among the younger generation and, similarly, partnerships between Asian communities and education authorities elsewhere has promoted linguistic diversity.