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Journal of Language, Identity & Education


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Multiple Identities in a Multicultural World: A Malaysian Perspective


Lee Su Kim Version of record first published: 16 Nov 2009.

To cite this article: Lee Su Kim (2003): Multiple Identities in a Multicultural World: A Malaysian Perspective, Journal of Language, Identity & Education, 2:3, 137-158 To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1207/S15327701JLIE0203_1

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JOURNAL OF LANGUAGE, IDENTITY, AND EDUCATION, 2(3), 137158 Copyright 2003, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

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Multiple Identities in a Multicultural World: A Malaysian Perspective


Lee Su Kim
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia

Recent research in second-language acquisition has revealed that the language learning process is a complex interplay of many variables in which social roles, relationships, power relations, and identities are constantly reconstituted. Most research studies on language and identity have been conducted in predominantly English-language native-speaker settings (McKay & Wong, 1996; Peirce, 1995). This article presents the findings of my doctoral research study on the relation between language and sociocultural identities of English as a second language (ESL) learners in a multicultural society in Southeast Asia. Using a qualitative research approach, 14 Malaysian participants were interviewed using critical ethnography research methods (Carspecken, 1996). They also had to write a personal narrative and complete a questionnaire. The findings reveal that in a multicultural, postcolonial society such as Malaysia, identity issues are far more complex and multilayered. Identity shifts take place frequently in strategic and nonstrategic ways as the participants find their way in society in search of acceptance and belonging. Key words: identity constructions, sociocultural contexts, ESL learners, second language acquisition, multiculturalism, qualitative research

This article presents the findings of a qualitative research study that set out to investigate the relation between language and the sociocultural identities of individuals learning English as a second language (ESL). Most of the research on identity has been conducted in predominantly native English speaker settings. This article presents a slightly different perspective because it is based on a study of a multicultural postcolonial society where the dynamics of identity are very different. I hope the findings will provide a deeper understanding of the complexity of identity issues particularly in newly emergent multicultural societies.
Requests for reprints should be sent to Lee Su Kim, School of Language Studies & Linguistics, Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Bangi, Selangor, Malaysia 43600. E-mail: sukim25@yahoo.com

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THE CONCEPT OF IDENTITY Identity is not only the individual conception of the self, but also the individuals interpretation of the social definition of the self, both within his or her inner group as well as the larger society. Norton (1997) defined identity as how people understand their relationship to the world, how that relationship is constructed across time and space, and how people understand their possibilities for the future (p. 410). How one perceives oneself and the identity that one has of oneself is not entirely within ones control but is highly contingent on the context. Individuals are often engaged in forming identities, in forming objectifications of self-understanding that are used to guide their behavior. Holland, Skinner, Lachicotte, and Cain (1998) stated, Identities are a key means through which people care about and care for what is going on around them. They are important bases from which people create new activities, new worlds, and new ways of being (p. 5). Candlin (1998) believes that in an era of rapid social transformation in societal structures, relationships, traditions, belief systems, and ideologies, there is pressure to reinvent and redefine new reference points. This is the case with the concept of identity as well. Candlin gives four perspectives on identity: (a) there is no one self waiting to be discovered but a multitude of selves found in the different linguistic practices articulated now, in the past, historically, and cross-culturally; (b) identity is a product of cultural models of the self arising from ideologies and socialization practices reflected in wider patterns of communication; (c) the self is not individually possessed but negotiated and coconstructed among actors through discourse; (d) a continuing discursively mediated struggle exists between persons as authors of their own identities and as animators of identities that are authored for them.

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PERSPECTIVES FROM SECOND-LANGUAGE ACQUISITION RESEARCH Conceptualizing the language learner as a social being is a fairly recent development in second-language acquisition (SLA). The work of Peirce (1995) has been significant in contributing towards a better understanding of social identity. Drawing from her research on immigrant women living in Canada and her reading in social theory, in particular the work of Weedon (1987), she drew on the poststructuralist conception of social identity as a multilayered construct, subject to change and negotiation, and a site of struggle. She argues for the use of the term investment, rather than motivation, because traditional concepts of motivation dominant in the field of SLA do not take into account the complex relations of power, identity, and language learning. The term investment, argues Peirce, more accurately signals the socially and historically constructed relationship of the participants in her study and the often ambivalent attitude they have towards learning

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the target language. Drawing on Ogbu (1978), the return on investment in learning a language must be seen as commensurate with the effort expended on learning. If learners invest their time and effort in learning a second language, they do so with the expectation that their efforts will be rewarded with a wider range of symbolic and material resources, which will in turn increase the value of their cultural capital (Peirce, 1995, p. 17). Thus an investment in learning the target language is an investment in a learners own social identity, which is not static but constantly shifts across time and space.

PURPOSE AND SIGNIFICANCE OF THIS STUDY Recent research has been conducted to investigate the influence of the sociocultural environment on language learners (McKay & Wong, 1996; Morgan, 1997; Norton, 1997; Peirce, 1995). However, most of these studies have been carried out in Anglo native-speaker settings where English is the predominant language and the research participants are members of language minority groups. More research is needed on the interrelation of the acquisition of the English language as a second language and its effects on the identities of language learners outside of the traditional native English speaker setting. This study attempts to alleviate this problem by investigating the processes of identity construction of a group of ESL speakers from a multicultural postcolonial society in Southeast Asia where English is widely spoken. Today, the number of nonnative speakers of English far outnumbers native speakers. Kachru (1992) classified the users of English into three categories: the Inner Circle, the Outer Circle, and the Expanding Circle. The Inner Circle comprises the native speakers of English from the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. The Outer Circle comprises the Commonwealth countries that were former colonies of the British Empire (e.g., Malaysia, Singapore, and Hong Kong), and the Expanding Circle includes the countries not previously colonized by Great Britain but where English is being used to quite a large extent (e.g., Japan, Korea). Graddol (1997) predicts that the number of speakers using English in Kachrus Outer Circle currently number between 150 million and 300 million, whereas those in the Expanding Circle could be between 100 million and 1 billion. Graddol states that the strategies employed by nonnative speakers remain an underresearched area of English usage, despite the fact that there already may be more people who speak English as a foreign language than the combined totals of those who speak it as a first or second language. With English as the dominant world language and the international lingua franca of business and commerce, ESL speakers are probably aware of the opportunities that mastering English can bring to their lives. But how does learning this language shape their identities? As nonnative speakers of the English language, they would

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have in their command other languages, dialects, or both in their language repertoire. How would they construct their social and cultural identities in relation to the languages they own and in relation to the English language? Are the sociocultural contexts similar and do they experience similar problems as the participants from the more traditional Anglo native-speaker settings as reported in recent research studies (McKay & Wong, 1996; Peirce, 1995)? Using Peirces concept of investment, do these ESL speakers perceive learning English as an investment, and are the contexts for investment in the English language similar to or different from the traditional English-dominant native-speaker settings? Given that vast populations of nonnative speakers of English exist and the growing international dominance of English, it is disconcerting to note that most of the reported research studies on the teaching and learning of the English language and its effect on social and cultural identity come predominantly from the Inner Circle (Kachru, 1992), the findings of which cannot be generalized to other contexts where English is spoken. This study explores the language and identity link of a group of participants in a nonnative English-language setting, from a multicultural postcolonial country where English has a strong presence in the Outer Circle (Kachru, 1992). Its objective was to investigate the relation between the acquisition of English and the construction of sociocultural identities of participants in Malaysia, a multiethnic, multicultural nation in Southeast Asia and a former colony of the British empire. English was once the medium of instruction in the schools of Malaysia. Today, it is an important second language as well as the official second language. Outside of the schools and civil service, it is widely used in the urban cities, in business and commerce, and by the private sector. The fact that the British once colonized Malaysia gives this study an added and different perspective from recent SLA research studies (e.g., McKay & Wong, 1996; Peirce, 1995) because English is not the native language of the peoples of Malaysia but was inherited as a result of history and is a legacy of the former colonial masters.

THE CONTEXT In Southeast Asia, English is widely used as a second language. Malaysia, a young, developing country is located in Southeast Asia. Geographically, it comprises two parts: West Malaysia, which is a peninsula that forms part of the mainland of Asia, and East Malaysia, which is part of the island of Borneo. Malaysia has 13 states: 11 states in West Malaysia and 2 states in East Malaysia (Sarawak and Sabah). It is a democratic sovereign nation with a constitutional monarchy. Malaysia was once part of the British empire, achieving its independence from the British in 1957. Malaysia has a multicultural, multilingual population of 20 million, comprising three ethnic groups: the Malays (51.2%), the Chinese (26.8%), and the Indians (7.7%). The Malays are considered as Bumiputera (a Malay word for

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sons of the soil, meaning the natives of the land) and enjoy special rights enshrined in the Constitution of Malaysia. Another group is also accorded Bumiputera status, which comprises 10.9% of the population, and they are the orang asli or aborigines of West Malaysia and the indigenous peoples of East Malaysia (Sarawak and Sabah). Some of the indigenous groups in Sarawak are the Iban, Melanau, Bidayuh, Murut, Kelabit, and Pennan; in Sabah, some of the indigenous groups are the Bajau and the Kadazan. Finally, minor ethnic groups exist such as Eurasians and Portuguese, which comprise 3% of the population (Malaysia Year Book, 2000). During British rule, English was the language of government administration and the medium of instruction in schools the British established during the colonial period. After independence, the language policy the new Malaysian government issued established Malay as the national language of the country. The medium of instruction in schools was changed from the English language to the Malay language, phased in gradually. The year 1970 marked the beginning of the transition from English to Malay as the medium of instruction. Today, English is a compulsory second language in the school curriculum. In the universities, Malay is used as the medium of instruction although many of the academic texts and reference books are in English. However, in many disciplines (e.g., the sciences), two languages, Malay and English, are often used concurrently in lectures with a preponderance of scientific terms in English. Although Malay is recognized as the official and national language of Malaysia, and the predominant language used in the civil service, English is widely used in the private sector, as well as in trade and commerce. Many Malaysians in their mid-30s and older are proficient in the English language because English was the medium of instruction during their education years. For the younger generations of Malaysians, however, the level of proficiency in English has declined because English has been relegated from the main medium of instruction to a school subject, albeit an important one because it has the status of being the official second language in the country.

RESEARCH QUESTIONS This study set out to investigate a major research question: How does the English language impact the construction of the sociocultural identities of Malaysian ESL speakers? Specifically how are their identities shaped in the acquisition of the English language? What kind of identities do they construct when learning English? As nonnative speakers of the English language, the participants of this study have other languages, dialects, or both in their language repertoire. How do the other languages that they own impact their identities? Based on Peirces (1995) concept of investment, do these ESL speakers perceive learning English as an investment? Are the contexts for investment in the English language similar to or different from the more traditional Anglo native-speaker settings?

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THE PARTICIPANTS The participants in this study were 14 adult Malaysian females who were all nonnative speakers of English, all students from a local university, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), or the National University of Malaysia in Selangor, Malaysia. The participants were enrolled in the master in arts (English language studies) program at the Faculty of Language Studies. The participants consisted of 7 Malays, 3 Chinese, 2 Indians, 1 Iban, and 1 Kadazan. All were female, and most were in their 20s, 3 were in their 30s, and one in her 50s. The youngest 2 participants were 24 years old. The names of the participants have been changed to maintain confidentiality. The participants were recruited on a voluntary basis. The researcher explained the aims of her research and the methodology used in the study to the students. They were also informed that participation in the study was entirely voluntary. No incentives were offered. The masters program had only one male student willing to participate, but the researcher decided not to include him to ensure homogeneity of gender in the sample. The participants came from two mediums of instruction. The older participants, Leng, Sita, Shareen, and Zuriah (all older than age 30) came from the English medium schools whereas the rest underwent the Malay medium of instruction in their school education. Two participants, Soraya and Mariam, had studied abroad in English-language schools during their primary school years. All the Malay participants could speak their native language, Malay, as well as one to a few Malay dialects. For example, Soraya, whose father comes from Brunei (a neighboring country located between Sabah and Sarawak) and whose mother comes from Kedah, could speak both the Brunei Malay dialect and the Kedah Malay dialect. The 3 Chinese participants could speak one or two Chinese dialects such as Cantonese and Hakka; however, none of them could speak Mandarin, the official Chinese language. The 2 Indian participants were both Tamil Indians. One could speak Malay, English, as well as Tamil very fluently because she had studied Tamil formally. The other was not proficient in Tamil and was more fluent in English and Malay. Finally, the 2 indigenous participants, the Iban student and the Kadazan student from East Malaysia, also varied in their repertoire of languages; although the Iban participant could speak her native Iban language proficiently, the Kadazan student could not speak her mother tongue, Kadazan, because her parents spoke only English to her. An important criterion of the study was that the participants had to be proficient in the English language to participate in the in-depth qualitative research interviews. This criterion was met because the participants were all recruited from the English language studies masters program, which required a good command of English for entrance to the program. Thus, all participants were proficient in the English language and were able to articulate their responses in the interviews without difficulty.

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DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS In-depth qualitative interviews were used as the method of data collection. The qualitative interviews were semistructured in design (Carspecken, 1996). Interview protocols were designed to allow for maximum flexibility during the interview process. To avoid prescribing the content of the interviewee responses towards the researchers point of view or perspective, following Carspecken, the initial questions were formulated as concretely as possible and then gradually focused on the more abstract issues of identity. The interviews began with several opening questions, which were largely biographical, followed by those on language attitudes and perceptions towards English and their native languages, cultural activities and heritage, and identity. Other questions addressed friendships and socialization. The last questions focused on the personal domain. These were designed to elicit responses on the impact of English and other languages on the participants identities. Six topic domains were introduced. Individual interviews, 2 to 3 hours in length, were conducted with each participant, and all interviews were audiotaped. Follow-up interviews were also conducted with some participants for clarification and elaboration. Questionnaires and personal narratives were also used. The questionnaire was designed to elicit information on the participants personal background, language background, social and family background, experiences, perceptions of English, and views on identity. Participants also wrote personal narratives about themselves and their feelings and perceptions on the way their language(s) and culture have influenced them. A content analysis of the narratives provided additional information and insights to supplement the participants responses from the interviews and questionnaires. The data from the interviews were transcribed and analyzed. To ensure accuracy, member checks were conducted to ensure that what the interviewee said was what was being reported. Coding protocols were developed based on the interview material. The questionnaire responses and personal narratives were analyzed and the information matched to the respective participant to obtain as complete a profile as possible of the participant. Case studies of the 14 participants were compiled. Emergent themes were derived from the commonalties in the coding protocols.

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PROCEDURE The researcher conducted the interviews over 2 months. Based on the interview protocols, questions of a biographical nature were posed at the start of the interview to facilitate the comfort level of the interviewee. Then questions related to the topic domains were posed. Following Carspecken (1996), the research techniques employed strove for democratization of the research process. The interviewees were not encouraged to talk about anything they did not want to talk about.

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The researcher had the advantage of familiarity with the research site, could speak Malay, English, two Chinese dialects, and she was able to put the participants at ease and create a rapport with the participants. Being a fellow Malaysian, she enjoyed an insider status and had no difficulty understanding the nuances and complexities of the participants responses, which would have been more difficult had the researcher been an outsider. Data from the three sources (the questionnaires, the interviews, and the narratives) were triangulated to ensure that the data was consistent throughout. Consistency checks were also made on the interview transcripts to check for accuracy and honesty on the part of the participants (Carspecken, 1996). Member checks were also conducted with the participants whenever possible. The data was first analyzed individually. Coding was carried out for each participant and themes were drawn based on the codes. A case study was then written on each participant. The next stage was to scrutinize the data across the participants, looking for commonalties from which to derive codes. Coding was then carried out based on the codes of each subject. Several dominant themes emerged. The researcher found certain commonalties across ethnicities, particularly in the case of the Malays and the Chinese participants. Occasionally, caution was required to determine when to treat certain data as a personal characteristic or as a finding. Close consultation with a peer debriefer helped when such a situation arose. FINDINGS Localized Identity Constructions Depend on the Contexts Data analysis revealed that the participants possessed a range of diverse identities depending on the contexts and the reference groups with whom they were interacting. Identity switches took place strategically on the part of the participants. In certain contexts, where there was a difference between ones inner knowledge of self and an outer performance claiming a self, the participant made a conscious identity switch. For instance, Fazira, a Malay participant who is very fluent in English, encountered nonacceptance and resentment in certain local groups when she behaved in a direct, assertive, Westernized manner. She therefore tries to down play her natural exuberance and her more direct nature, and shifts identities to conform and fit in within certain contexts. Fazira says, Most of the time, people get intimidated especially the Malay people they felt like, Maybe shes fake! [Laughs] So I try to I try to get into the groove, you know the kind of people Im with, I behave in the expected way. She noted that resentment still exists towards using English within interpersonal contexts particularly among Malays who are not proficient in English. She be-

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lieves some of her fellow Malays interpret her use of English as showing off. Fazira states, In certain ways umm maybe it has because when you speak English sometimes it has even disadvantages as well because when you speak English in the Malay society, they would think you are showing off.

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Fazira also believes that using English is seen as elitist: Because previously only the elite, the educated speak English so the rest of the Malays, you know, they felt inferior and even now certain Malays, they dont like it. Fazira feels that using English is also perceived by some groups as trying to be like the Whites. She says, They think youre trying to be kwei lo [Malaysian English expression for the White man. The literal translation from Cantonese is foreign devil]. Fazira also reported a sense of hostility against using English in certain contexts because it is seen as a relic of colonialism. This need to switch identities in a strategic manner to fit in with group identity expectations appears prevalent in ethnic communities where the cultural norms, traditions, and cultural identity is particularly strong. Fazira reported that she feels a need to be more grounded in her own culture, yet at the same time she feels torn between the dichotomy in her inner self and her outer performance claiming a self. Azlina, a Malay student from the rural state of Kedah in northern Malaysia, stated that she is aware of the resentment towards using English within certain circles, and she avoids using English when mixing with them, I try not to speak English. You know them, so you try not to. She feels that the resentment from certain sectors is because the English language is associated with religion, which means that when using it one is not being a good Muslim. She says, Among some Malays, they always associate English language as not being Muslim. You know they associate English with religion. Thats why they resent English. From their point of view, English equals to Other than Islam. However, she emphasized that she disagrees with this view. She argued that mastery of English has not in any way detracted from her Malay identity. She feels that when one learns a language one learns about the culture as well, but one does not necessarily internalize the values of the culture, especially if one has a strong cultural identity. Queenie, a Chinese participant, complained that she was marginalized by a group of students on campus because she could not speak Mandarin. These stu-

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dents had come from the Chinese medium schools during their primary education. In Malaysia, schoolchildren are allowed to attend vernacular schools where the medium of instruction is in Mandarin or in Tamil throughout their primary school education. At Form 1/Grade 7, they have to switch to the national-type schools where the medium is in Malay. This Mandarin-speaking Chinese group of students mocked and harassed her because she appeared too English and too Westernized. Queenie stated, During the first year when I came here, because I cant speak Mandarin, I was picked on. I was marginalized. They tried to make her feel guilty and odd that a Chinese person could not speak Chinese (Mandarin). They also made fun of her name because it is an English name, rather than a Chinese one. After a while her despair at this treatment turned into defiance, and she began to retaliate in return. She did not want to be part of their group, and she decided to defy them. She deliberately used English at all times; she refused to speak in any other Chinese dialect, and she refused to use Malay. She said, But at one point, I didnt feel bad that I could speak English. In fact, at that time I felt good. I refuse to speak to them in any other language except for English. The more they tried to marginalize her, the more she used English to irritate them. Unlike her Malay counterparts who had other alternatives (e.g., strategically switching to the Malay language, suppressing or avoiding the use of the English language), Queenie did not possess such options, being unable to speak Mandarin fluently. Although she can speak two Chinese dialects, the group of Chinese students who were predominantly from the Chinese medium schools defined a Chinese person as someone who can speak Mandarin and marginalized their Chinese peers who could not. Queenie therefore found that the best survival strategy was not to withdraw, but to use resistance strategies. The more she was despised for using English, the more she used it. Thus, unlike the Malay participants who could make conscious identity switches to fit in with certain contexts and sectors of society who were resentful of the use of English, Queenie could neither mask nor withdraw her use of English and had to instead reaffirm, even more emphatically, her choice of using English. The findings reveal that language has a highly contextual dependence, and that the interactive contexts determine the variety of selves that an individual can employ. Nonuse and Not the Use of English In certain contexts, it is the nonuse rather than the use of the language that can affect the outcome of an interaction and facilitate ones acceptance into the group. Soraya reports her strategy of hiding her knowledge of the English language to fit into certain reference groups within her society after returning from her stay in the United States. Soraya is a young Malay woman, 25 years old, who was in the United States from kindergarten until Grade 6, accompanying her father who was pursuing his doctoral degree there. She is very proficient in English because of her years in the

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United States. She was unable to speak fluently in her mother tongue, Malay, on returning to Malaysia, although she could understand it when others were speaking it. Soraya shared that she has a deep pride in her culture and Malay identity. Soraya reflected on her experiences on coming home to Malaysia from the United States: But its quite embarrassing when you come back and you are a Malay and you dont know how to speak Malay its embarrassing. I didnt want to admit but somehow I knew I had to do it. Every time I spoke English, I had the American accent and people would think that I showed off, so I I tried to hide it, and so when I went to secondary school in Kedah, I hid it all the more and I I speak it less and less. Like Fazira, Soraya is concerned that certain groups whom she interacts with will misunderstand and think that she is trying to show off or that she is trying to sound like a Westerner. Instead of resisting this kind of attitude, she invests in her cultural identity as a Malay and shifts identity by withdrawing her use of the English language that may cause conflict or incongruity, and hinder her acceptance into her community. The relation between language use and identity is shown clearly in Sorayas case. To fit in with her Malay friends who are not fluent in English, Soraya switches to Malay. She appreciates that language can thus be wielded as a tool for acceptance or for distancing. She stated, The reason [I use] Malay is because most of my friends speak Malay, so when you communicate normally, you want to mix with them so I speak in Malay. Once you get the English word out, you, you distance its like you distance putting your friends faraway so I speak in Malay. Soraya is very conscious of the languages she owns and the power they wield for distancing and for belonging. For her, English allows for the spontaneous expression of her innermost feelings such as anger. Nevertheless, she consciously avoids using English and even the occasional use of English words when interacting with some Malay friends to avoid distancing herself. Azlina stated that she uses English most of the time on campus, but when she returns to her village, she avoids using it as it means distancing herself from her friends: Most of the time I use English. But among my friends back home, I would never utter a single word in English. Im very conscious about speaking in English. She said that it is implicitly understood that one does not use English among friends back home because using English is viewed as boasting.

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Because I dont want to look like Im trying to boast. You are not in the In group anymore. I try not to speak English. If you want to be part of a group, you have to follow the rules, right? Yea[h], unwritten rules. However, Azlina confessed that sometimes she deliberately uses English when she is irritated to annoy her Malay friends who disapprove of her using English. Not only does she deliberately make this strategic shift, but aggravates it further by using slang: When people irritate me, Ill change to English. And I dont just speak English, Ill speak with a little bit of slang. I know that when people irritate me, I use this as a form of shield. Even among my friends Ill try my best to speak in very good English. Partly as a shield. To make a point, okay, pay attention to me. Azlina commented that she finds Malaysians who put on a Western accent when speaking in English annoying. So, in return, when she is irritated and wants to irritate people she knows resents English being used in the first place, she will deliberately speak English with a put-on British or American accent, to annoy and intimidate. Beyond Peirces (1995) theory of language identity investment for positive gains, these examples demonstrate the switch in identity for strategic purposesto annoy, to irritate, to gain negative attention, to gain power over ones audience. Mariam explained that resistance against the use of English exists because of the connotations of religion as well. If one uses English within certain localized contexts, then it may give the impression that one has embraced Western culture or is Westernized, therefore rejecting ones identity, which directly or indirectly means ones language and religion: It is not supposed to be linked to religion but because they say we are of the Western culture therefore we are said to be less religious. Azlina also touched on this connection between the use of English and religion. She stated that some groups resent English being used because, you know, they associate English with religion. She adds, I heard in Kelantan [a state in northern West Malaysia] from my friends, they associate it with Christianity. These case studies show that the participants will invest in the English language because it gives them the dividends of acceptability and belonging to the group with with they desire to fit. Extending the concept of investment Peirce (1995) introduced, the findings of this study show that language learners will invest in a language if the rewards are perceived as worthwhile. However, acquiring or mastering a language is more complicated than just positive gains and the reward factor. In a complex postcolonial society such as Malaysia, investment does

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not bring straightforward returns or dividends. Using English requires that one be very attuned to the localized contexts and whether its use is acceptable to the situation. Although the acquisition of the English language has many advantages, using it can bring about nonacceptance, resentment, marginalization, or a combination thereof. Therefore, individuals have to learn, consciously or unconsciously, to switch their identities in very complex ways. The need to shift identities in a strategic manner to conform to the prevailing context appeared more prevalent among the Malay participants in this study. However, localized identity constructions according to the interactive contexts were not just confined to the Malay participants. Queenie shared that she had to shift identities often, depending on which group she is mixing with. She reported that this constant reconstruction of identities is partly conscious and partly unconscious. She explained, When its unconscious, [its] not tiring, but when youre conscious [of what you are doing], then its tiring. And having to switch personality all the time, its tiring. If youre not careful, youll end up like Who am I actually? Big question you know. In sum, this study shows that SLA has a highly contextual dependency. All the participants made either strategic and nonstrategic identity shifts through the device of languages, depending on the contexts. In a multicultural society, where different social situations and contexts carry varying expectations of behavior as well as language use, the findings reinforce the view that humans are social and cultural beings, bounded by the sociocultural contexts and the layers and sublayers of human interaction. Holland et al. (1998) stated, there is a need to recognize the processes whereby human collectives and individuals often move themselvesled by hope, desperation, or even playfulness, but certainly no rational planfrom one set of socially and culturally formed subjectivities to another (p. 6). The findings of this study show that identity, as expressed by choice of language, is not static but always in a state of flux, and it is highly localized and dependent on the localized interactive contexts. English and Its Effect on Identity in Noninteractive Ways Another dominant theme that emerged from the data is that knowing English also affects identity in noninteractive ways. A significant finding was that it is not the use of English but rather knowing English that affects identity in noninteractive ways. Participants reported that knowledge of English brings along with it an exposure to alternative views and ideas, and facilitates a more reflective and critical attitude towards ones own culture. Knowing English allows the participants to decenter from their own culture or singular cultural viewpoint. The participants

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also reported that knowing English offers them a form of empowerment. Several of the participants used metaphors such as a shield, double vision, a sword, a gift, and a weapon to describe the ways English has empowered them and that their knowledge of English has allowed them access to information that might otherwise not be known to them. For example, Fazira stated that knowing English has made her more accepting and has exposed her to new issues (e.g., feminism). Faziras responses suggested that knowing a second language allows one to transcend the cultural borders of ones own language group and access the views and ideas of another culture. In the case of English, an international lingua franca, one can access the viewpoints and worldviews of far more than just the native speakers of English. This then is the empowering quality of English to which the participants attested because it helps to open their minds. Had Fazira only acquired literacy in one language, she would have been exposed to ideas from just one cultural stance. Through her readings in English, she has been able to view life through other dimensions and cultural perspectives. Fazira stated that English has made her more open-minded and liberal. More liberal and I feel I am more accepting and I find that people can talk to me about anything, their dark secrets, they can talk to me [laughs] and I would be, ya, I would be more accepting. Azlina prefers to read books in English but emphasized that being exposed to various ideas does not necessarily mean that she embraces them; for example, she does not favor feminism but is appreciative of being exposed to the concepts: The things that English writers write is what I like, their ideas, their thoughts. The ideas are universal truths, universal values, about loving, caring, sharing, faithfulness. I dont believe in feminism. Maybe because Im a Muslim. Feminism is against that. I dont just pick up English writers, it could be African writers, Asian writers writing in English. When asked if English had impacted her thinking, Azlina replied, Yes, in being open-minded. Being a Malay I wont tolerate people cursing in front of me, touching me, or holding hands. But through my readings, my exposure, I tolerate that. Yes, definitely, I would be very docile. Ill be totally different. My education has changed me. Education which offers me the English language therefore allows me to read about different ideas and values. Even people who are educated but who dont read English books, oh my God, their thinking is so narrow-minded.

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Shareen, another Malay participant, shared that knowing English as a second language allows her to be able to make comparisons with other cultures and to reflect on her own culture: Because I know English, I can see that Malays are indirect, (they have) ways of saying things. I can compare, I can make comparisons. This is similar to what Fazira and Azlina expressed. Knowledge of English enables them to reflect and make comparisons. It decenters them from just one cultural worldview. Rosie believes she has become a different, more open-minded person. She compares herself during her schooldays when she did not speak English with her Malay friends to what she is currently and feels that she has outgrown some of her friends: But they are very curious to know, Are you still a Malay? You speak good English but are you still a Malay? Theyre very curious to know. My schoolmates they ask me You speak English? And I say, Ya, I speak a lot of English now. Theres a very vast difference, Rosie in primary school and Rosie now. You know when I was in school, I dont speak English with my Malay friends. So nowadays when I meet them for any gathering, I tend to slip into English whenever I feel its necessary, so they ask, Are you still Rosie the Malay girl? Ya, Im still Rosie the Malay girl but somehow Ive changed, in the sense that Ive changed a lot in my thinking. Rosie stated that she prefers the new Rosie because the old Rosie had a dull life and was not very open. Mariam, another Malay participant, goes even further by stating that her knowledge of the English language has empowered her and given her agency in such a way that she does not have to conform if she does not want to: It has given me agency. Agency. Ability to act. Not just by action but also by silence. If Im silent, it doesnt mean Im passive. It could be that Im resisting. When I choose to pull out myself by not conforming but I know the language. I can move and survive within my own means. I have the ability to act. Im not dependent on others. I have the language in me. Because of that I create a gateway for me to be able to assert my own identity without having to conform. Or else I have to conform because I dont have the tools. In her personal narrative, Mariam wrote of the positive influence of English on her life: I think English has also made me healthily ambivalent as it awoke my more abstract side that enabled me to assert and respect my individuality without harming the bubble of others. It has made my view of life richer and multi-faceted and I would not erase any part of it in my life.

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Sorayas experience summed up the dilemma of some of the Malay participants in this study. When asked what her greatest problem was in studying English, she said it was her difficulty in trying to hide her American accent, which she had acquired while in the United States. Yet, when asked if her knowledge of English was an advantage or disadvantage, she asserted that it was an advantage because you can accept a variety of cultures, you are not biased to a certain group of people. Sorayas command of English motivates her and gives her higher self-esteem and has made her a more open-minded person to accept other people, to accept others. Even though Soraya is acutely aware of the complexities of the differing contexts in which she moves and switches languages to adapt, she is quietly appreciative of English, even if in certain contexts it means social marginalization for her. Even when she abstains from using English language, she values the empowerment English provides her and views it as an asset in her life. This silent empowerment gives new meanings to the concept of investment, in which the benefits of reaping ones investment in a target language in a complex multicultural society are highly dependent on the localized contexts and at times have to be silenced. Although English is taught as a compulsory second language in schools, survival formulas for when or how to use it are not. These have to be developed by the ESL speaker herself to adjust to the demands of a complex postcolonial society such as Malaysia. The non-Malay participants also described how the acquisition of English has opened their minds and empowered them with a less ethnocentric perception of life. Peggy, a Chinese participant, feels that her knowledge of English liberates her from having to conform to any culture and helps her to transcend culture-bound behavior by providing a recourse to switch to an alternate and more ethnically neutral identity: Speaking the language now it has given me the leeway to be individualistic. I think if you speak Chinese, you tend to be part of the culture. But I think like for me, this is just for me, because I speak the language, I can give myself excuses because I feel that I can be myself. I dont have to conform to any traditional (pauses) but because I speak English, I consider myself to be an individual. It gives me a sense of identity as I dont have to conform to any cultural group. Tina, a young Iban lady from Sarawak, feels that the neutrality of the English language helps her in expressing herself better in certain contexts. She feels that the Iban language is inappropriate for expressing anger, venting of strong feelings, or decision-making because Iban is a gentle and nonconfrontational language. Tina stated that in Iban culture, one does not confront another but must keep ones feelings inside. Tina describes the English language as a weapon to fight people, to express dissatisfaction, your anger, your happiness maybe.

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Sara, the Kadazan student from Sarawak, states that having a command of English gives her a form of double vision, which she explains as the ability to slip in and out of her own culture and to possess a self-reflective awareness on her own culture. Sara says, You can move outside of your culture and evaluate and think about it but you can move inside it, its fluid. English would allow for this. Hence the findings show that all the participants felt that English offers them another cultural prism through which to view life. It provides an alternative language for expression when one does not want to clash with the cultural norms of ones native language or if one finds ones mother tongue inadequate for the task, and it allows one to slip in and out of ones own cultural boundaries.

DISCUSSION: IDENTITY CONSTRUCTIONS AND CONTEXT The participants were engaged in a complex process of identity construction that was highly dependent on the contexts in which they were interacting. Subjects possessed a range of diverse identities that they switched on and off in strategic and nonstrategic ways to fit in and be socially accepted. The identities that become foregrounded depend largely on the interpersonal contexts in which individuals find themselves, the purposes for their being there, and whether they desire acceptance and accommodation by the group with which they are interacting. Given that previous studies have been conducted in largely predominant native English-speaker settings (Goldstein, 1995; McKay & Wong, 1996; Nero, 1997; Peirce, 1995), the findings of this study generate many questions on language, identity, and theory, and they signal a need to move beyond the narrow focus on native versus nonnative speakers as the only relevant identity in investigations of second language use. First, the findings suggest that identity is indeed a multilayered, nonunitary, and complex construct, which is highly dependent on the contexts of interaction. Previous research has shown that individuals in any setting negotiate a wide array of social and cultural roles and identities: as gendered and cultured individuals; as expatriates or nationals; as native speakers or nonnative speakers; as individuals with political connections; and as members of families, organizations, and society at large (Duff & Uchida, 1997). However, in postcolonial contexts, where the participants can perceive resistance against the use of the language of the former colonial masters, the sociocultural context for using English becomes even more complex. Participants have to know when and how to switch identities, minimize, withdraw, or even abandon for the time being their use of English to conform to the dominant groups unspoken expectations. The Malay participants of this study, who were all proficient users of the English language, described their need to make strategic identity switches not to distance, offend, annoy, or embarrass

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members of the local group, or to avoid showing off or boasting in a former colonialist language. Using English could be interpreted as being Westernized or renouncing their Malay cultural identity. It could also be interpreted as being less religious. Making identity switches here meant an actual language switch itself, to the exclusion of the English language. English and Empowerment However, even as the participants strategically withdrew or avoided using the English language within certain localized interactions, importantly, it was not because they were ashamed of their command of the English language. On the contrary, participants reported a sense of empowerment on achieving mastery of the English language, but they knew when to wield or sheath what some of them have described as a sword or a weapon (their use of the English language) to conform and fit in with the social interaction. The Malay participants made strategic shifts in language and identity because of cultural expectations and perceptions from members of their own ethnic group and a desire to invest in their cultural identity. To the Malays, the Malay language is a symbol of their cultural identity and an emblem of group solidarity. The Concept of Investment The findings of this study help to shed a new perspective on Peirces concept of investment and contribute to an extension of the concept of investment in a target language. Norton (1997) stated that she has used the term investment to signal the socially and historically constructed relationship of learners to the target language and their sometimes ambivalent desire to learn and practice it (p. 411). Her central concerns are not what motivates the learner to learn the target language or the kind of personality the learner has, but what the learners investment in the target language is and how the learners relation to the target language is historically and socially constructed. Her construct of investment recognizes the language learner as having a complex history and multiple desires and that investing in the target language is an investment in the learners social identity, which changes across time and space. If learners invest their time and effort in learning the target language, they do so with the expectation that they will be rewarded with a wide range of symbolic resources, which will in turn increase the value of their cultural capital (Peirce, 1995, p. 17). However, the findings of this study reveal that in multicultural postcolonial societies such as Malaysia, investment in the English language becomes a tricky issue within certain contexts because sometimes the investment has to be hidden or masked. When investing time and effort in a target language, one expects, according to Peirces (1995) theory, that the investments will be rewarded; however,

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the findings of this study reveal that within certain settings, investing in a language within certain contexts can incur resentment, nonacceptance, and even marginalization. Identity Masking Clarifying that the participants of this study do not negate nor regret their time and effort making an investment in the target language (English) is important. The difference between Peirces (1995) study and this study is that the sociocultural contexts are different and therefore the participants personal histories and needs are different. Within certain contexts, masking their investment in the English language made more sense because it neither brought rewards, nor increased their cultural capital in any way. Investment in the English language is therefore not a clear-cut process of investing and reaping rewards in complex, multilingual, postcolonial settings but requires the users of the language to know when to mask or unmask their use of the English language to fully reap its rewards. Improving the value of ones cultural capital (p. 17) is not a given at all in nonnative English language settings and indeed, the capital that the nonnative ESL speaker reaps is not so open-ended and positive, but may bring along negative dividends such as disenfranchisement and cultural displacement. McKay and Wong (1996) stressed one more dimensionthat of agencyto Peirces theory of investment. In their study of four Chinese immigrants to Canada, they found that the second-language learner is set up by relations of power and may exercise resistance to the power relations. The language learner may even set up his own counter discourse that puts him in a more powerful position rather than a marginalized one. Investment enhancing was not as important as agency enhancement or identity enhancement, and priority was given to enhancing their identities in the immediate context and not into hithertho unattainable resources (p. 17). In this study, within certain contexts, the ESL speakers also resort to enhancing their identities in the immediate context, but the difference between this study and McKay and Wongs study is that it is not because investment is not important, but rather because giving the impression to the group that investment in the English language is not as critical as investing pride in ones native tongue and cultural identity. Thus, Soraya argued that in certain contexts, speaking in Malay is more appropriate, Once you get the English word out, you, you distance, its like, you distance, putting your friends faraway [sic], so I speak in Malay. And Fazira stated, So I try to, I try to get into the groove, you know, the kind of people Im with, I behave in the expected way. Therefore, the findings of this study reveal that SLA in a multicultural, postcolonial, nonnative English language setting is far more complicated. Investment in the target language is taking place; the ESL speakers are all advanced users of the language who have invested much time and effort in acquiring the language

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and realize its power and potential. They are aware and accept the sociocultural realities of their situation. They move in and out of multiple contexts with multilayered meanings and asymmetrical power relations and they switch, adapt, resist, or mask according to whether they wish to conform or rebel.

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Impacting Identity in Noninteractive Ways A significant theme that arose from this study, as discussed, is that language also affects identity in noninteractive ways. An important finding is that it is not the use of English but rather knowing English that affects identity in noninteractive ways. All languages carry within them a particular worldview and a particular culture. The language we acquire determines the way we construct our vision of the world. Thus if the participants had only been exposed to writings and texts written in Malay, they would have acquired literacy through one worldview and one cultural lens. Being proficient in English enables the participants to transcend their cultural boundaries and access the worldviews and ways of thinking of others. Furthermore, because many writings from all over the world have been translated into English, the participants shared that they could read about differing views that helped to broaden their minds, even if they did not necessarily agree with some of the ideas. Fantini (1995) commented, Whereas most people take their own language and culture for granted, the culturally literate person understands that his or her native tongue (and culture) is not neutral, but a specific medium (or paradigm) directly influencing ones entire life (p. 39). Because they are able to communicate in two or more languages, these participants have acquired a degree of what Fantini called, intercultural competence or cultural literacy. The interculturally competent or the culturally literate person is aware that ones language (or culture) is not the sole way of looking at the world and that other paradigms exist. Because the individual components vary from one culture to another, the worldview configurations also differ from group to group. Similarly, each language reflects and affects its representative worldview and no two are alike. The findings of this study also support the findings of McMahill (1997). McMahill conducted a study of 12 women learning English as a foreign language in Japan attending an English conversation class on feminism. Her participants reported that by being able to contrast their situations and beliefs by drawing on the experiences of others in their feminism classes, the Japanese women were able to reflect more critically on their own gender socialization and resist the aspects of what they judge as oppressive by drawing on the lived alternatives of others (p. 613).

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CONCLUSION In conclusion, the findings of this study reaffirm those of Peirce (1995) and McKay and Wong (1996) that the teaching and learning of English is far more complicated than mere questions of using effective techniques, teaching materials and processes, and that language learners are complex social beings. Pennycook (1999) states that critical work in teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL) should begin with an attempt to locate aspects of teaching English to speakers of other (othered?) languages within a broader critical view of social and political relations (p. 352). Just connecting the teaching of English to the world in which it occurs is not enough; this connection must focus on questions of power, inequality, resistance, and struggle. In this research study, the participants struggles and the complex strategic and nonstrategic identity shifts they employ as they maneuver their way in society in the search for acceptance, belonging, or both, as well as in their own personal journeys, highlight the intricate relation between language and identity. The findings reveal that in a multicultural postcolonial world, a complex interweaving of multiple concerns take place and the language learner has to manage these complexities and experience consequences ranging from cultural dissonance to a sense of quiet empowerment.

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