Language choice, language attitudes and ethnic identity in bilingual speakers: a case study comparing Québécois in Montréal and Texas Spanish in San Antonio
In this dissertation, I describe the ethnic identities reported by three generations of two families, one a Mexican American family in San Antonio, Texas, the other a Québécois family in Montréal. Analysis of ethnographic interview data focusing on Spanish or French was conducted using Strauss and Corbin’s (1998) Grounded Theory with respect to Keefe and Padilla’s (1987) model of ethnic identity, Woolard’s (1989) axes of solidarity versus status, and Heller’s (1992) notion of language choice as political act. For this Mexican American family, their identity is based on origin and physical markers of ‘race’, accompanying strong familism, detaching to varying degrees the component of language. The identification of the Texas variety of Spanish with a historically less powerful socio-economic group outweighed its covert prestige as a marker of solidarity within the group, primarily for the younger generations. All subjects of the Québécois family identify ethnic language fluency as a key component of their identity; none has detached the language. Though the language variety was also historically identified with a less powerful socio-economic group, its covert prestige as a marker of solidarity against the majority prevailed to the point that the group has valorized their identity by choosing their variety of French in all interactions. The qualitative data of this contrastive case study show that current models, based on primarily quantitative data gathered from discrete-response questionnaires, are too brittle to account for these very different constructions of identity. Identity is fluid, constructed in different ways for different ends, and a bicultural/bilingual identity is not merely a midpoint on an inevitable march to complete assimilation to the majority culture, but instead is often additive. This study also contributes to our understanding of the specific relationship between ethnic identity and language. Moreover, it contributes to a growing body of qualitative methodology, as well as research on the sociology of the language varieties of two large and increasingly powerful groups, Mexican Americans and Québécois.