Investigating the Perception of Identity Shift in Trilingual Speakers: A Case Study

This is a case study that examines the perception of identity shift in trilingual speakers. The participants were three females from Moldova, a country in Eastern Europe, that have moved to the U.S. Participants responded to open-ended questions during an individual interview and self-report. The questions were about (1) the way they think in their native language, (2) the way they feel in different situations while switching languages, and (3) their interactions with others, depending on their relationships with the participants, the situation, and the language they use at that moment. Primary findings suggest that trilingual speakers perceive a shift in their identity depending on the language they are speaking. The languages used for this case study are Romanian, Moldovan-Romanian, Russian, and English. These are the languages spoken by a people who have been in social, cultural, and political conflict for centuries, most recently throughout the Soviet Union era, and even up to recent post-Soviet conflicts. Studying the perception of identity shift in multilingual speakers allows linguists to understand fluidity in identity in additional language-acquisition contexts. Such findings may help in second-language acquisition research, language teaching, immigration-assimilation research or resistance-to-assimilation research. The results of this study support previous findings of people switching their personality according to the language used at that moment. In this case, personality is similar to identity.

Thesis Author: Elena Vasilachi

Year Completed: 2018

Thesis Chair: William G. Eggington


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