Language and Identity in the African Experience, Spring 2017, Swarthmore College:

Dr. Jamie A. Thomas is Assistant Professor of Linguistics at Swarthmore College. Her forthcoming ethnography Zombies Speak Swahili is all about the undead, videogames, and why language matters. She teaches sociolinguistics, linguistic anthropology, and applied linguistics with attention to spoken discourse and visual and textual semiotics.

Students name their own identities.

Arya Cheng

Arya Cheng

19, Chinese/Asian

Hometown: Hong Kong

Language Background: English, Mandarin, Cantonese, studying French and Italian Bryn Mawr College Class of 2019, Anthropology & French Major

“As a result of this course, my conception of the African experience has become even more layered and complex. I have realized the loopholes in the historical representation of Africa and it has raised many more questions for me. I have also established that identities are never eternally fixed. In learning about AfroLatinx people, I have come to see identity categories as socioracial constructs.”

Marissa Bredesen

Marissa Bredesen

20, White American

Hometown: Neenah, WI

Language Background: Native English speaker, intermediate Spanish, studying Amharic Swarthmore College Class of 2019, Computer Science major, Black Studies minor, Linguistics minor

“Identity is relational and has always been unbounded. I’m now considering my national identity much more, in the context of my racial and language identities. These are important intersectional factors. Also, the categories I ‘fit’ into in one space might not translate to another space. These categories continue to be contested across space and time. There is so much more resistance and detail in the cultural experience of Africans in the New World that is often overlooked in historical works that focus on European motives."

Sabea Evans

Sabea Evans

20, Black Caribbean-American Woman

Hometown: Bronx, NY

Language Background: Native English speaker, student of French and Japanese Haverford College Class of 2018, Linguistics Major, Religion Minor, Concentration in Africana Studies

“Identity is a sense of self that is comprised of claims to ‘place, space, and culture’. Throughout this course, I’ve come to an understanding that the spaces I inhabit or participate in, do affect the ways that I project my identity. I’m now more willing to question the ways I situate myself in relation to others, and also allow myself to claim certain experiences and subjectivities that I have not before. I’m also now really critical of the use of the word ‘identity’ as a blanket term to encompass multiple and complex concepts that may get flattened in certain contexts. My understandings of the African experience have expanded to not allowing myself to think of any geographically specific people with a monolithic life history.”

Richard Phillips

Richard Phillips

21, White Man

Hometown: Bordentown, NJ

Language Background: English, studies Swahili, studied Spanish, Haverford College Class of 2018, Computer Science Major

“I now reimagine interviewing as a process, one in which it is impossible to remain unbiased. My identity has developed as I understand myself in relation to my peers. In some ways, I have reproduced my identity, but in others I have reconstructed my identity more deliberately in terms of my relation to race and my treatment of language.”

Brandon Ekweonu

Brandon Ekweonu

19, Black Nigerian-American Man

Hometown: Queens, NY

Language Background: English, Intermediate-level Spanish Swarthmore College, Class of 2020, Black Studies concentration

“My identity has gained more communicable meaning and significance over the course of this semester. I have always understood myself as existing in a liminal space identity but have a full/complete one as well. Engaging mostly with the narratives of other threshold people has brought me a long way. To understand that patterns of migration (and abduction) vary and change over time helps us to approach Blackness and Latin America with a dynamic in which we see that communities/families/interactions are often shaped by time and space.”

*Not pictured: Nancy Sorto (student, Swarthmore College), a valuable member of our interviewing team.

Special thanks to Nabil Kashyap and Roberto Vargas of Swarthmore College Libraries and John Word of the Language and Media Center.

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