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Multicultural middle class and foreign accent: negotiating the field of symbolic power in Australia Val Colic-Peisker, RMIT University Language on the.

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Presentation on theme: "Multicultural middle class and foreign accent: negotiating the field of symbolic power in Australia Val Colic-Peisker, RMIT University Language on the."— Presentation transcript:

1 Multicultural middle class and foreign accent: negotiating the field of symbolic power in Australia Val Colic-Peisker, RMIT University Language on the move, Macquarie University, Sydney, 12 Oct 2012

2 2 When I came to Australia [1948, aged 28] I realized what I have never thought of before, that for the rest of my life I would speak a borrowed language with an accent. I was overwhelmed by the sense of loss and grief that stayed with me for all the years to come. Magda Bozic, Gather your Dreams, (Richmond, VIC: Hodja,1984) The sacred cow of privacy precludes one from talking about money, politics, religion, personal tastes, love and family affairs, indeed anything personal, any topic that might involve emotional response from the interlocutor. I do not quite understand how can one have a completely disengaged conversation. On the other hand, I understand. … I learned a new appropriate social distance from people who take a step back when I talk, because Im standing too close, crowding them or just sound too intense, perhaps slightly dangerous. Eva Hoffman, Lost in Translation: A life in a new language (Penguin 1989) migrated from Poland to Canada aged 13

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4 4 P. Bourdieu (1991): Language and Symbolic Power Communication process situated in the field of power; a social situation always structured along the lines of power not only an overt exchange of information but also a covert exchange in the economy of symbolic power Language: a medium of communication: the language that unifies (an overt function) an instrument of distinction: the language that separates (a covert function) Legitimate language: [accented] immigrants speech and discourse may not be accredited, worthy of being believed (Bourdieu 1991:69) This is similar to the way women are heard differently from men -- not automatically accredited to talk and be taken equally seriously, even when they hold positions of power Symbolic power is derived from linguistic and cultural capital, as a power of constructing reality, and one which tends to establish a gnoseological order: the immediate meaning of the world and in particular of the social world. (p. 166)

5 5 Multicultural middle class (MMC) Changes in the socio-economic composition of the ethnic minority population: people with accents and funny names (NESB first gen) in good jobs, i.e. regularly interacting with the Anglo majority Still underrepresented but present and visible in the positions of power and influence: government ministers, media personalities, influential academics, businesspeople MMC created from a large skilled NESB migrant intakes (from Asian, Eastern Europe etc.: in top 10 source countries for skilled settlers in the 2000s, 8 were Asian countries) and social mobility of the NESB second generation (funny names but no accent) Before the end of WAP & economic restructuring the linguistic and cultural divide of NESB versus ESB neatly translated into a gap in occupational status and income: segmented labour market Over the past 3 decades: weakening of the overlap of class and ethnicity that is a gradual weakening of ethnicity as a structural barrier (?) [BUT: ethnic factory fodder still exists, mainly recruited from the humanitarian immigration and growing temporary intakes (international students, working holiday makers, 457 visa] MMC : (at least to a degree) bi-lingual & bicultural, that is not fully assimilated, e.g. foreign accent The onset of MMC is a significant new stage in the development of Australian ethnic relations which may lead to either productive rearticulations of multiculturalism, and multilingualism or an Anglo backlash

6 6 MMC vs. Anglos? The growth of MMC: a new power deal between Anglo Australians and ethnics? According to Forrest and Dunn (2008:11) the policy of multiculturalism have definite negative implications for the former hegemonic status of Anglo identity the ideas of ethnic cultures, ethnic communities and collective cultural rights, central in the original state ideology of multiculturalism, may lose its discursive power and policy impact, reflecting a real shift in ethnic power and style Another paradox of multiculturalism: a high degree of assimilation may be a necessary condition for the social mobility of ethnics [structural aspect of m]. But if we assume an intrinsic value of cultural diversity [cultural aspect of m], can the two aspects co-exist? – Is cultural hybridity the answer? [The Bhabhas third space] An optimistic scenario: an increased influence of MMC will lead to an increasing recognition of the value of cultural and linguistic diversity in civil society and government: Anglo-Australians, who still hold the hard core of power and wealth in Australia, willing to share it with MMC (for a mutual advantage in the globalised world…?) This would have to include new ways of listening between the lines and new meanings attributed to foreign accents: can accented Englishes be included into the realm of the legitimate language Alternative scenario: the retreat from multiculturalism as an ideology is a reaction to the ascent of a multicultural middle-class and pressures of globalisation: a political reflex aimed at maintaining the Anglo-Australian hegemony? This political reflex includes calls for assimilation and Anglo-conformity, asserting that dominant Anglo-Australian values as superior cultural values; xenophobia; ? [L. Hawthorne (1995) 'Home and Away' offers a clone of the 1950s Australia, a place whose surface acceptance of NESB migrants masked a collective will to conformity and a loathing of difference]. The global context: the end of the American [Anglo] century

7 Multicultural middle-class: a Croatian-born variety How does living in another language affect these people (mostly engineers, all highly educated)? Research into issues of migration, mobility, language, identity, class, ethnicity 7

8 8 Before I migrated to Australia, I thought in three months nobody would be able to tell the difference between me and real Aussies, but of course, this wasnt the case. Many people [Croatian professionals] were disappointed with the same thing. In a way, I still have this problem. I have a foreign accent I cannot get rid of, no matter how hard I try, Ill always have the accent and it does bother me, although Austra­lians do not seem to mind; they say accents are interesting. It bothers me because I can always be identified as a stranger. I personally never felt discriminated against. […] But when you look for work, if you have a foreign name, or a foreign accent, or your English is not all that fluent …thats a big disadvantage. I think as long as you send along a CV with a funny name, it decreases your chances… thats defi­nitely a minus. I was lucky myself, I found a job, but when I applied for other jobs later on, I was not successful…its not easy. Ive been at the same job for ten years…but I like my job. I am not complaining. –(Mr D. B. engineer, migrated age 26, working for Testra)

9 9 I was involved with the local community through my daughters school. I feel at home here, but we are always recognized by our accent and in most cases, we are asked where we come from, which is annoying. I do not think they want to offend us, but I feel challenged in my right to belong to this society and to be part of it in the sense that whatever happens here affects us as much as them, the people without a foreign accent. (Ms D., an IT engineer in full-time employment at a university, lived in the US before migrating to Australia)

10 10 My favourite quote… Although my English is much better than it used to be when I first came here, I still feel language is a barrier. I can conduct a meeting at work but if I get engaged in an argument I may sound rough because the fine nuances of expression do not come naturally to me, especially when I have to act quickly, so I am still trying to learn, not only the language but the communication style. We [Croatians] tend to be more direct, which I think has certain advantages, but English has these indirect ways of saying things... which you can also use to hide your incompetence or insecurity. Well, I do not have this shelter. I do not have this trump card up my sleeve, so I have to perform. I have to be better than them in order to be equal. (Mr R. K.,a senior engineer on a large alumina project, completed MBA degree in Australia)

11 11 Foreign accent and social inclusion The issue becomes especially pertinent with the advent of MMC (multicultural middle class) competing for good jobs FA – for Croatian professionals, an internalised symbol of otherness (non-belonging, not-being-a-real-Australian) the accent ceiling [for most accents, depending on a concrete work role and ethnic specialisations]: the foreignness and assumptions about it detract from the merit in the employment market (cf. Piller 2011, Fraser and Kelly 2012) Seen as an unwanted social marker and a barrier to SI, held in low esteem by the NS Anglo-Australian majority [although there is a hierarchy of accents and various assumptions attached to particular accents (cf. Eisenchlas and Tsurutani 2011)

12 Otherness by accent: possible futures Audible difference by accent is the same [inerasable] tool of distinction as the embodied visibility (race) Even if NESB professionals integrated and assimilated the accent intimates they are culturally different*; they are suspect of not sharing cultural assumptions and values; also as being less competent As we become more accustomed to seeing ethnic diversity and inevitably become less sensitive to the embodied differenceis it likely that hearing differencethe foreign accentwill morph into the main site of otherness and exclusion? …especially with a large influx on MMC speaking in their different accents? Or - just like Australian now come in different phenotypes (not the white nation any more), will the sheer level of presence of foreign accents (MMC) in a mobile and globally connected Australia counter the Anglo privilege? *Problems with defining culture and therefore also cultural difference 12

13 13 References Bourdieu, P. (1991/1982) Language and Symbolic Power, Cambridge: Polity Press (with Basil Blackwell). Colic-Peisker, V. (2002) Croatians in Western Australia: migration, language and class, Journal of Sociology, 2002, 38(2): Colic-Peisker, V. (2011) A new era in Australian multiculturalism? From working-class ethnics to a multicultural middle-class, International Migration Review, 45(3): Colic-Peisker, V.(2011) Ethnics and Anglos in the Australian labour market: Advancing Australia fair? Journal of Intercultural Studies, 32(6): , Dec 2011 Eisenchlas, S. A. and C. Tsurutani (2011) You sound attractive! Perceptions of accented English in a multilingual environment, Australian Review of Applied Linguistics 34(2) Forrest, J., and K. Dunn (2008) Core Culture Hegemony and Multiculturalism. Ethnicities 6(2):203–230. Fraser, C. and Barbara F. Kelly, (2012) Listening between the lines: social assumptions around foreign accents, Australian Review of Applied Linguistics 35(1) Hawthorne, L. (1995) Soap opera in a multicultural Australia: Home and Away v. Heartbreak High, BIMPR Bulletin, No. 15, pp Hebbani, A. and V. Colic-Peisker (2011) Communicating ones way to employment: A case study of African settlers in Brisbane, Australia, Journal of Intercultural Studies, 33(5): Piller, I. (2011) Intercultural Communication : A Critical Introduction, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press

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