Non-Western Constructions of Authenticity. Idiosyncrasy and Creativity as Concepts of Authentic Speakerhood in Belizean Kriol

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

Britta Schneider, European University Viadrina, Frankfurt (Oder)

This paper presents data from an ethnographic study on language ideologies in Belize where most inhabitants are multilingual while English is the official language. Although Spanish is demographically dominant, Kriol, an English-lexified creole language functions as lingua franca and indexes national belonging (Le Page & Tabouret-Keller 1985).
This sociolinguistic context offers itself to question concepts of linguistic authenticity and Western a priori assumptions on links between ethnic heritage, territorial belonging, language competence, linguistic stability, and legitimate speakerhood. Traditional creole linguistics has often sought for the ‘authentic’ speaker of rural ‘basilectal’ creole, frequently eliciting ‘authentic’ creole speech through traditional Afro-oriented folk tales (see Escure 2008). This framing is problematic as it is based on a tacit monolingual concept of competence (Mühleisen 2002, Patrick 1999).
In my data, speakers do not frame authenticity along stable norms, ethnic heritage or territorial belonging. Many speakers have not learned Kriol as a first language and do not use it in family settings but strongly identify as speakers of Kriol. Yet, most informants reject a common norm that would stabilize Kriol practices. Speakers construct Kriol as a code that disallows for norming, that can be appropriated individually, and in which idiosyncratic and creative use and constant change are intrinsic cultural values. This contrasts with values constructed for English, which is typically referred to as ‘proper’ language.
An analysis of language ideological discourse on Kriol brings light to the contingency of European concepts of ‘authentic speakerhood’ that often hinder an understanding of language variation and continuing instability in non-European settings but also in traditional European minority language contexts. Escure, Geneviève. 2008. „Pidgins/creoles and discourse.” In The handbook of Pidgin and Creole studies, edited by Silvia Kouwenberg and John Victor Singler, 567-592. Oxford: Blackwell. Mühleisen, Susanne. 2002. Creole discourse: exploring prestige formation and change across Caribbean English-lexicon Creoles Amsterdam: Benjamins. Le Page, R. B., and Andrée Tabouret-Keller. 1985. Acts of identity. Creole-based approaches to language and ethnicity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Patrick, Peter L. 1999. Urban Jamaican Creole: variation in the mesolect. Amsterdam: Benjamins.