Date Thesis Awarded


Access Type

Honors Thesis -- Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelors of Arts (BA)




Iyabo Osiapem

Committee Members

Adela Amaral

Rachel Varra

Leslie Cochrane


I explore east Asian-Americans’ negotiation of identity through the attitudes they take towards their respective abilities to speak their heritage languages (HL). In this project, heritage language refers to a minority language that children learn at home, typically from parents and family members. Ideologically, I call upon He’s (2006) notion that identity is negotiated through speech. I utilize Corbin and Strauss’ (1990) grounded theory as a method of open analysis. The data I analyze is from 8 sociolinguistic interviews with 3 Korean-Americans and 5 Chinese-Americans. The first round of open coding has revealed a larger theme: in support of the literature, HL ability plays a crucial role in the formation of ethnic identity for all participants. Speakers may problematize their perceived weak proficiency, mainly internally by outright expressing so or taking on a playful tone about describing their HL abilities. Regardless, this negative self-evaluation may weaken their sense of ethnic self as they express guilt or regret. I apply my own themes and codes from grounded theory methodology to Lucy Tse's (1998) model of ethnic identity formation and map my participants' lived experiences onto her stages to give the model more structure in relation to Korean- and Chinese-American college students. I argue studying hyphenated identities and HL maintenance, we can understand how Asian Americans of varying backgrounds attach sociocultural value to their heritage languages and how they connect or disconnect to their ethnic identities.

Available for download on Tuesday, May 07, 2024