New Speakers of Basque: Rethinking the ‚Bilingual‘ Speaker in Terms of Practice

Thematic Section: Biases in research: Who counts as ‘authentic’ bilingual speaker – and how can we tell?

monolingual bias, research practice, bi-/multilingualism research, language ideology, self-reflexivity

Karolin Breda, European University Viadrina, Frankfurt (Oder)

My doctoral project seeks to ethnographically investigate the identity practices of non-traditional speakers of Basque, in order to provide new insights into the dynamics and characteristics of these speakers' identity constructions in this specific minority language context. In this politically “imbalanced” linguistic context, are often imagined as coexisting side by side as if they were autonomous bounded systems (cf. Jaffe 2007). Thus, doing ethnographic research in such settings brings along some challenges which I would like to address with this contribution.
The speakers at the centre of this study are situated within the concept of the new speaker, a label which has also been used as a Basque folk concept (named euskaldunberri) to describe individuals who have learned the language by other means than family transmission and become active users of the minority language (Ortega et al. 2015). However, they do not always assume this new speaker label, nor do they only use the newly acquired language in their daily lives. They usually draw on a multiplicity of semiotic resources (first language(s), accents, dialectal and standard varieties, styles…) for meaning-making in social interaction. Therefore, instead of using the notion of bi- or multilingual speakers which risks to evoke the problematic idea of a cumulation of competences in clearly distinguishable 'languages', I prefer to focus on the semiotic complexity (Blommaert 2012) of the speakers' linguistic practices and conceptualize them as inevitably heteroglossic. The Bakhtinian notion of heteroglossia allows not only for a reframing of identity as a process of continuous stance-taking and re-positioning, as I will show with the help of my data, but also makes us question the very sense of concepts such as mono-, bi- and multilingual for the sociolinguistic exploration of these speakers' identities within sociolinguistic research (cf. Heller 2007). Blackledge, Adrian & Angela Creese (2016). A linguistic ethnography of identity: Adopting a heteroglossic frame. In Preece, Sian (Ed.) The Routledge Handbook of Language and Identity. London: Taylor & Francis, pp. 272-288. Blommaert, Jan (2012). Chronicles of Complexity: Ethnography, Superdiversity and Linguistic Landscapes. Tilburg Papers in Culture Studies 29. Heller, Monica (Ed.). (2007). Bilingualism: a social approach. Palgrave Macmillan. Jaffe, Alexandra (2007). Minority Language Movements. In M. Heller (Ed.), Bilingualism: a social approach (pp. 319– 338). Palgrave Macmillan. Ortega, Ane, Jacky Urla, Estibaliz Amorrortu, Jone Goirigolzarri & Belen Uranga (2015). Linguistic identity among new speakers of Basque, International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 2015(231), 85-105. doi: