LANGUAGE USE AND SYMBOLIC TRANSNATIONAL PRACTICES: EVIDENCE FROM 1.5 AND SECOND GENERATION CUBANS IN MIAMI

2020-04-16T15:47:19Z (GMT) by Maria Yakushkina

Today’s highly globalized and mobile society can be characterized by constant interaction between dominant and minority groups in one space, where migrant communities manage multiple cultural and linguistic contexts, while remaining connected to their society of origin. While the field of transnationalism addresses both the behavioral (i.e., physical) and symbolic (i.e., emotional) ties to the origin community, the role that language plays in establishing and maintaining such transnational practices, and specifically symbolic transnationalism, is not well understood. Addressing this gap, the current project aims to investigate the interconnection between heritage language use and symbolic transnationalism through the analysis of 1.5 and 2nd generation Cubans in Miami.

The Cuban community in the US, and more specifically, in Miami-Dade County, Florida, represents a relevant case for in-depth investigation. While this population is comparable to other Hispanic groups in the US on many levels (Duany, 2011), the long-standing political opposition between the U.S. and Cuba have largely limited behavioral transnational practices (e.g., visits to the country of origin, sending goods and remittances) of the Cuban population. This broad lack of behavioral transnationalism in the Miami Cuban community provides a unique opportunity to examine symbolic transnational practices, effectively isolating two concepts that are traditionally combined in the literature (Duff, 2015; Reynolds, 2006).

To investigate the relations between language use and symbolic transnationalism, a mixed methods study was conducted with 75 young adults of Cuban origin (1.5 and 2nd generation), combining a quantitative questionnaire with face-to-face sociolinguistic interviews. Quantitatively, data analysis centered on the analysis of the degree of symbolic transnationalism and language use among 1.5 and 2nd generation groups, as well as statistical correlations between sub-components of language use (history, proficiency, choice, and value) and symbolic transnationalism (ways of doing and ways of belonging). Qualitatively, a thematic analysis was conducted to distinguish the most prominent external factors in the process of symbolic transnationalism maintenance or development that surfaced in the discourse of the participants. Finally, discourse analysis was used to investigate how symbolic transnationalism was reflected in linguistic structures, such as deixis (i.e., terms indicating distance) and stance (i.e., expression of feelings, judgement, and appreciation).

The analysis of the data provides strong evidence for overarching links between the level of symbolic transnationalism and language, such that greater affiliation with the culture of origin is related to a greater use and importance of the heritage language. In addition, qualitative results show that the external factors of the family domain, the Miami environment and ethnic community, and the use of the Spanish language in Miami, are among the most important for the maintenance and development of symbolic transnationalism. Finally, discourse analysis revealed that both 1.5 and 2nd generation groups use deictic and stance markers to express personal and metaphorical proximity, as well as affect and appreciation of the ethnic community, Cuba as a land, Cuba of the past, and Cuban culture. In contrast, they express temporal and spatial distance as well as markers of judgement with respect to Cuba of the present and its current politics.

This study systematically isolates the concept of symbolic transnationalism via a quantitative approach and investigates its connection with language. Their direct correlation, confirmed by the results, highlights symbolic transnationalism as a significant variable to consider in sociolinguistic research with migrant communities, and thus provides a solid theoretical base for bridging the disciplines of linguistics and transnationalism. Moreover, this work employs a structural linguistic approach (i.e., deixis and stance) to demonstrate how transnational ties may be represented through linguistic structures, and thus it provides new tools for understanding how minority communities express their transnational connections.

On a practical level, this work emphasizes the importance of the context and cross-cultural awareness in language pedagogy. For heritage language learners, it underlines the bi-directional relationship: language maintenance for sustaining transnational ties, as well as development of heritage culture appreciation for more effective heritage language development. Moreover, the findings with respect to the interconnection between symbolic transnationalism and heritage language use, emphasize the role of such aspects as sense of belonging, ethnic community, family history and attitudes towards the country of origin on the process of heritage language maintenance and self-identification with the country and culture of origin. Finally, the findings of this work may be applicable to second language students as well, emphasizing the importance of a context-based approach to language acquisition, which plays a significant role in developing productive cross-cultural communication.