Analyzing narrated language use: What does it mean to be a German speaker?
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This thesis seeks to investigate what it means to be a German speaker, and how this identification can emerge, and change, as a person is describing their language use throughout different contexts of their lives. Using four interviews from the Oral History Project at the Waterloo Centre for German Studies, the analysis shows how four people, all from the Kitchener-Waterloo Region, position themselves as German speakers in English-speaking interviews. This thesis explores two research questions, the first is: how and through which discursive means do the interviewees position themselves in their interviews, and thereby formulate linguistic identities, based on their narrated language use. And the second question is: What impact do different individuals or groups have in formulating these identities, and how are these roles discursively constructed? The hypothesis is that insight into the language use of German members of the Kitchener-Waterloo Region can be found by analyzing the linguistic identities and the categories of interactants that emerged in individuals’ narrated language use. Using positioning theory, this thesis determines how the interviewees used the discursive practices of agency, indexicalization, description or evaluation of the past, to position themselves as language users. These positionings, which are dependent on the subject matter of the narration, as well as the interactional context, can change throughout the interview, contributing to the idea that identities are dynamic and emerge through interaction. Language attrition factors, such as the contact that individuals have with a language, are an important part of the analysis of the interviews, as different categories of interactants and domains of language use emerged in the interviews. The conclusion of this thesis highlights that linguistic identities must be understood as being complex, and as entities that emerge through interaction. Patterns highlight in the analysis indicate that the interactional context, and the interviewer, can impact how an individual narrates their language use. The situations, stories, and periods of time that are discussed in the interview also impact how the interviewees discuss their language use, as more contact opportunities are discussed and the individuals narrate their agency in their language use in different ways. The concept of what it means to be a German speaker is not something that can be easily defined, and can only be fully understood when contextualized by the interactional context, the internal context of the interviews.