Jan Svennevig; Unn Røyneland; Veronica Pajaro

Claiming and rejecting a Norwegian identity in conversation


Friday 8 November, 14.00-14.30, E0105

In recent years there have been numerous debates about the concept of being “Norwegian”. The question is to what degree immigrants and children of immigrants are entitled to calling themselves Norwegian and claiming a Norwegian identity. As Lane (2009) shows, there have been conflicting views about this expressed in media debates, and the Language council of Norway (Språkrådet) had to reverse their initial recommendation of reserving the designation “Norwegian” to ethnic origin. A related debate concerns what alternative labels are used and recommended about such minority groups. For instance, the Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion (2011) has formulated guidelines for which terms are recommended and which are not, concerning such labels as “ethnicity”, “immigrant background”, “multicultural” etc. 

These debates and recommendations have tried to find general guidelines for acceptable language use. Not much research has chartered what concepts and labels are used in actual language usage, but a notable exception is Pájaro (2011), who shows how Latin American migrants living in Norway use the term “foreigner” about themselves rather than the term “immigrant”. The current paper will contribute to this line of research by analyzing the uses of labels designating linguistic, ethnic and national identity in naturally occurring conversations involving speakers of immigrant background.  The analysis will use the methodological framework of Membership Categorization Analysis (Sacks 1992). This framework emphasizes the situated and emergent character of categorization, and analyzes how categories are invoked relative to the conversational activities the participants are engaged in. In this perspective, the invocation of an identity label (such as “Norwegian”) will be analyzed according to how it is accepted or resisted by the participants in the conversation and how it contributes to legitimating the projects pursued by the various actors involved in the talk. The questions that will be answered is thus to what extent we see speakers of immigrant background claim or reject the identity of being Norwegian and which argumentative functions this can have in various conversational contexts. A result of preliminary analyses indicates that invoking a Norwegian identity may serve to claim or deny appropriation of allegedly Norwegian norms and values. It also shows that the question of national identity is treated as a sensitive topic in many cases, and thus in need of explicit legitimation in the form of accounting practices. 

References Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion 2011. Et inkluderende samfunn krever også et inkluderende språk. http://www.regjeringen.no/nb/dep/bld/kampanjer/tall-og-fakta/noen-begreper-brukt-i-integreringsdebatt.html?id=653712  Lane, Pia. 2009. Mediating national language management: The discourse of citizenship categorization in Norwegian media. Language Policy 8(3): 209 - 225.  Pájaro, Verónica 2011. «A Norwegian speaks Norwegian» An analysis of categorization and identity construction in narratives of Latin American migrants in Oslo. MA Thesis, Dept. of Linguistics and Scandinavian Studies, University of Oslo.