"What stops me from having a multi-cultural thing within myself?” Languages and perception of self among plurilingual pupils of West African heritage (Ivory Coast)

Hassan, Xavière (2016). "What stops me from having a multi-cultural thing within myself?” Languages and perception of self among plurilingual pupils of West African heritage (Ivory Coast). African Renaissance, 13(3 & 4) pp. 39–55.

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Abstract

This short study explores the lived experiences of two plurilingual pupils of West African heritage (Ivory Coast), focusing upon the role they perceived languages and cultures have played in shaping aspects of their identities. Two 19 years-old female pupils were interviewed and the data was analysed using qualitative thematic analysis. Adopting a phenomenological perspective, key concepts of the Lifeworld (spatiality, temporality, embodiment and intersubjectivity) were also used as part of the heuristic process. Three overarching themes were identified in the participants’ narratives: ‘language and empowerment’, ‘Feeling stigmatised as foreign’ and ‘Feeling divided, on the wrong side of the fence’. Participants generally expressed a positive attitude towards plurilingualism, a desire to maintain and expand their linguistic skills as a means to increase their life choices. While the impact of European languages acquired through schooling or migration was perceived as overwhelmingly positive and empowering, heritage language seems to have been associated with less successful experiences overall, and impacted negatively on the participants’ sense of self. In conclusion, plurilingualism, despite its many advantages, can also have a negative impact on one’s sense of self. Some strategies need to be in place in order to overcome problematic situations and potential identity threat arising from being plurilingual.

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