Constructing Identity Within Communities of Practice: The Case of Two  Trinidadian Douglas

REGIS, Ferne Louanne (OP No.36, Mar 2012)

Abstract: In multi-ethnic societies, individuals of mixed race with at least two options of cultural allegiance find themselves in situations where the imperatives of social interaction may require them to demonstrate multiple layers of identity. The complexities of their identity are brought about by a number of factors including but not limited to their ancestral groups residing in the same environment, meeting and mixing but not entirely merging. These complexities are reflected as much in their unclear and uncertain social positioning as in the linguistic possibilities open to them during their daily routines. In Trinidad, Douglas , [1] the offspring of African and Indian unions, find themselves in this complex social, cultural and linguistic situation. This paper highlights the linguistic strategies employed by two Trinidadian Douglas, each within a community of practice as they negotiate their ethnic identity through social practice.

About the Author : Ferne Louanne Regis is a PhD candidate in Linguistics at The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus, where she also lectures in the School of Education and the Department of Liberal Arts. As a student of sociolinguistics, her primary work focuses on the interplay among language, ethnicity and identity within the mixed/biracial minority group of Douglas in Trinidad.

[1] This study examines the linguistic strategies employed by Douglas to express an identity, but it also represents my own search as a Dougla for an identity within Trinidadian and national society. Although often written with a lower case <d>, the term Dougla here is intentionally written in upper case <D>. This is geared towards elevating the status of the term and to pay respect to a people who form a natural part of Trinidadian and national society, and who are so identified genotypically and phenotypically by themselves and others. While the ethnic term Douglas /'do?gl?z/—the plural form of Dougla /'do?gl?/—orthographically resembles the male proper name, pronounced /'d?gl?s/, there is no ambiguity in the pronunciation of the two names. In this paper, the term only refers to the ethnic group, never to the male personal name.

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