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Publication Detail
The construction of ethno-linguistic identity amongst Polish-born adolescents living in the UK
  • Publication Type:
  • Authors:
    Young SRJ
  • Date awarded:
  • Status:
  • Awarding institution:
    UCL (University College London)
  • Language:
  • Keywords:
    Identity, Adolescents, Polish Migration
Polish accession to the European Union (EU) in 2004 led to an upsurge in the number of Poles coming to the UK. However, little research in socio and applied linguistics has investigated the experiences of Polish-born adolescents resident in the UK. Following the UK General Elections of May 2015 and June 2017, and the Referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU in June 2016, the climate in Britain has become one of an increasingly virulent anti-immigrant discourse, especially against EU migrants. Against this backdrop, this research purports to investigate how Polish-born adolescents resident in the UK negotiate the construction of their ethno-linguistic identity. The study explores the experiences of eleven adolescents (aged 11-16) living in small Polish communities in semi-rural settings in southern England, with a predominantly white British demographic. Fieldwork was conducted in spring 2016. A narrative approach was used, whereby participants are encouraged to tell their own stories. Based on an understanding of identity as contingent and a site of negotiation, the study draws on the notion of identity as positioning within discourse. Counter to previous identity work in socio and applied linguistics with established BAME migrants, findings suggest that in the face of dominant discourses surrounding EU migrants in the UK, scope for the (re)negotiation of ethno-linguistic identity positions amongst Polish-born adolescents in the UK is limited, and the creation of hybrid identities stymied. Similarly, the adolescents’ reported language use indicates an orientation to a separate rather than flexible bilingualism. The study also suggests a need to reconceptualise whiteness in socio and applied linguistics. While whiteness has been understood in such literature as homogenous, this study proposes that to examine questions of identity more comprehensively, the black/white binary which often underpins identity work demands reassessment, and the existence of prejudice against minority white individuals requires greater acknowledgement.
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