Fellow 2011-12

Adrienne Lo


Speaking Korean, Becoming Asian American: Language and the Moral Self in a California Ethnoburb

Many children in the United States grow up multilingual, yet their multilingualism is often lost within a generation. Professor Lo’s study examines the social factors contributing to the transition to English monolingualism among Korean American children in a California “ethnoburb.” The community she studies underwent a rapid transition from having predominantly White residents to becoming an ethnoburb with a substantial population of Asian Americans. Discourses in the local media presented the category of “oldtimer,” which was associated with Whiteness, long-standing residence in the community, concern for one’s neighbors, and an idealized agrarian past; “newcomer,” in contrast, was associated with Asianness, commercial development, excesses of capital, competitiveness, and grasping self-interest. Schoolteachers presented narratives about virtuous selves and the importance of behaving in kind and considerate ways toward others when under the moral gaze of White Americans. Schoolchildrens’ code-switching from English to their heritage language was also shaped by perceptions of what might be viewed as morally inappropriate by non-Asian Americans. Professor Lo’s project follows an ethnographic, linguistic anthropological approach to connect these aspects of language learning, racialization, and the moral self. She plans to complete revisions to her book-length manuscript in the fall of 2011.