On-Screen ‘Othering’ of Bilingual Speakers: Being Bilingual in English and an Asian Indian Language

Sanja Škifić


Analyses of bilinguals’ speech patterns and related cultural stereotypes as portrayed in films have become relatively frequent in recent years. This paper focuses on the nature and amount of ‘linguistic space’ provided by the film industry for the sociolinguistic presence of the ‘Other’ in bilingual contexts. It represents an analysis of films in which bilingual characters (in English and one of Asian Indian languages*) are presented. The analysis focuses on on-screen produced stereotypes about such bilinguals, immigrants’ struggles to assimilate to the English-dominant cultural and linguistic context, and patterns of code-switching between English and Asian Indian languages, i.e., contexts of usage of the two languages.

The first part of the analysis focuses on identifying patterns of recurring topics in the analyzed films as they are connected with different aspects of negotiating the identity of bilinguals in English and one of Asian Indian languages. Topics related to the conflict between homeland nostalgia and traditional values upheld by first-generation immigrants and a more noticeable cultural assimilation among second- and third-generation immigrants are reflected in the extent of linguistic assimilation among different generations of immigrants. The second part of the analysis focuses on instances of code-switching, i.e., specific contexts in which English and Asian Indian languages are used, as well as factors that contribute to such instances of code-switching. Sociolinguistic analyses of the portrayal of bilinguals in English and one of Asian Indian languages in film production might partially explain the nature of stereotypes about such bilingual speakers.

* The term ‘Asian Indian languages’ is used by scholars to refer to languages of India spoken in different contexts. For example, Sridhar (2002, 263–264) uses it to refer to languages of India spoken in New York State.


bilingualism; identity; code-switching; stereotypes; ‘othering’; film industry

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.18290/rh.2018.66.11-7


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