There is a curious process of self identification and identity formation reflected in these attitudes. Drawing on Anderson’s Imagined Communities (1991), Hannerz (1996: 21) has noted how shared commonality within a nation is usually paralleled by a strong sense of cultural and linguistic discontinuity with respect to outsider-nations. All identity construction, as Kennedy and Danks (2001: 3) put it, ‘requires the summoning of difference, the relativization of the self as against the “other” imagined as separate, outside – and perhaps also as marginal, inferior and dangerous.’ These patterns certainly apply to the majority of young Maltese people who communicate primarily (and in some cases exclusively) in Maltese, and for whom the Maltese language is a key marker of their national identity. For this group, the use of Maltese is ‘perhaps the ultimate marker of inclusion and exclusion’ (Mitchell, 2002: 64) and an assertion of local and group cohesion. Interestingly, in some cases these essentialised distinctions between the local and the foreign have also become entangled with perceptions and performances of gender identity. Describing his research in a comprehensive boys’ school in Malta, Portelli (2006: 426) argues that ‘underlying many boys’ preferences for the national language rather than English, and their deriding their peers who speak English, is their investment in a version of masculinity which is aligned with an outward display of national pride.’
But in the case of the smaller but significant number of young people for whom English is the first language, or who insist on identifying themselves as primarily English-speaking, what seems to be happening is that it is the traditional and indigenous which have been designated as the ‘other’. The choice of English as the main or only language of communication has become their means of distancing themselves from local limitations and insularity, and of embracing a more ‘global’ identity by aligning themselves with (and appropriating some of the attributes of) the ‘outsider/foreigner’.
It bears stressing that these young people’s perceptions of the local and the foreign as essentialised and distinct entities are in reality quite different from the realities of their lived experiences. Malta’s cultural history, the Maltese language and the Maltese media landscape have all been shaped by complex interminglings of local and foreign influences. In this context, young Maltese people’s concern about being identified as predominantly ‘European’ rather than ‘Maltese’ (or vice-versa) amount to performative expressions of post-colonial hybridity.
4. Glocality and Diasporic Hybridity
The English habitually spoken by those young people who want to align themselves with the non-indigenous is distinctive and unique to Malta, representing a striking example of how foreign influences are both incorporated and transformed in specific communities. English here has become indigenized, put to local use, and given a local accent, with many local variations and idiosyncrasies. This phenomenon is not unique to Malta, of course, in that the English spoken in Malta is one of the many local (or ‘nativised’) varieties of English which ‘take place characteristically in ex-colonial territories where forms of the ex-colonial language have evolved and developed in their own right independently of their metropolitan sources’ (Norrish, 1997: 1).
In this complex bi-lingual context, both Maltese and the English spoken in Malta have undergone significant changes. English loan-words in Maltese have become very widespread, language switching and mixing is very common, and there has also been a growing tendency for the use of hybrid forms of Maltese and English. English in Malta is often spoken with an intonation and accent which have evolved through contact and regular interaction with the patterns of spoken Maltese. It will tend to include transliterations of Maltese words and idiomatic expressions which only make sense if one knows the Maltese original – as in ‘I’m going to cut now’ in a telephone conversation, meaning ‘I’m going to hang up’ (Brincat, 2005). Maltese words or expressions often punctuate sentences in English, and vice versa. For example, in the course of a conversation in English: ‘I don’t think it’s right, u!’ (cited above) or ‘I love shopping, jigifieri [I mean]’; and, in the course of one in Maltese: ‘mhux worth it li tizzewweg’ [it’s not worth getting married], or ‘Round drinks gieli jqumli fourteen pounds’ [‘a round of drinks often costs me fourteen pounds’], or ‘ghandna is-satellite, jigifieri, ghandna xi five hundred channels’ [we have satellite, I mean, we have some five hundred channels] (Grixti, 2004: 55, 28-29; 2000: 7).
Whether they choose to claim Maltese or English or a combination of the two as the primary marker of their cultural identity, young Maltese people’s performative and linguistic constructions of their own identities are in this sense always and inevitably hybridised. Because these identities, like the language(s) in which they are constructed and performed, draw on different cultural traditions at the same time, they have also become expressions of ‘those complicated cross-overs and cultural mixes which are increasingly common in a globalised world’ (1992: 310). If ‘diaspora’ is understood metaphorically (Spencer and Wollman, 2002: 165), then it is diasporic identities which these young people are embracing – identities which (to borrow Brah’s definition) are ‘networks of transactional identifications encompassing “imagined” and “encountered” communities’ (1996: 196).
As we have seen, for Maltese youth, the imagined communities of ‘the global’ and ‘the local’ are often associated with essentialised perceptions of language – where English becomes the conduit to a technologically advanced and forward-looking world, while Maltese remains the language of tradition and the indigenous past. But these perceptions are in reality very different from young people’s experiences of ‘the global’ and ‘the local’ as actually encountered and performed through the entwined varieties of Maltese and English spoken in Malta. In this sense, young Maltese people’s attitudes to language are useful reminders of the fact that the imagined and encountered communities of ‘the global’ and ‘the local’ are also performative productions in their own right (see Hörschelmann & Schäfer, 2005: 224). They too are ‘always in process’ in that they are to varying degrees created or denied in social and linguistic performances of cultural identity.
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Massey University, Auckland, New Zealand