Identity and Language Use Online: Stories from Syria

Identity and Language Use Online: Stories from Syria

Naseem Hallajow (University of Leeds, Leeds, UK)
Copyright: © 2016 |Pages: 15
DOI: 10.4018/IJCBPL.2016010105
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Given the deeply rooted relationship between identity and language use, this article reports on a study that explores the issue of identity as a main player in Syrian university students' language use online. In specific, it investigates how Syrian university students perform their identities through their use of language online and the types of identity transformation they experience in their online communication. To address the research questions, the study employs the case study approach in order to explore the research phenomenon very closely. The findings show that identity plays a major role in the way Syrian university students access the internet and also in the choice of language they make online.
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The proliferation of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has changed not only the way people communicate, but also different concepts and practices related to communication. Identity is one of these concepts and the issues of identity online and the influence of ICT on identity and belonging have been a fertile ground for inquiry and research. Many studies have been conducted in the field and researchers have revealed interesting findings. Nevertheless, many of these studies focused on the developed West and there is still a lot to discover in this field in other parts of the world. Koutsogiannis (2007, p.221) argues that there is still a gap in understanding the influence of ICT on notions of identity. This gap is mainly represented by “the rarity of studies from non-English-speaking countries in the affluent West”. Sharing the same argument, Warschauer et al (2002) argue that very little research has been done on the topic of language use online. One aim of this article, therefore, is to try to bridge this existing gap and provide some insights on identity and language use online from a non-English-speaking context.

This article reports on a research study that was conducted at the University of Aleppo in Syria which is one part of the world only a little is known about (at least until the Syrian Crisis). Although a geographically small country, Syria is rich and diverse in its social, cultural, ethnic, religious, linguistic, historical, and political connections and it has played an influential role in human history and civilization. Damascus and Aleppo in Syria are among the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world (Houghton, 2014). Besides, Syria contains a plethora of sites which tell the story of human history. Syria is also a melting pot of many ethnic and religious groups: Arab, Kurdish, Assyrian, Armenian, Turkmen, and more and it is fascinating how these groups managed to coexist and survive despite the differences that may endanger their existence. In addition to its glorious past, Syria prepares well for the future. In recent years, Syria has witnessed huge leaps in development and capacity building with a specific focus on education and more recently on ICT. At university level, the number of universities jumped from 4 in the 1980s to 27 in recent years. As a result, the number of people studying at university level has also increased dramatically as university education became more affordable and accessible. Therefore, every university student is a mixture of influences where connections to history, culture and religion melt with modern technology, ethnic feelings melt with national feelings and language becomes the medium which highlights all these connections. This diversity plays a distinctive influence on the way Syrians speak, communicate, affiliate to others, identify themselves and also access the internet and use language online. Hence, studying the relationship between identity and language use online in such a context is an interesting as well as challenging task at the same time.

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