A bisserl (‘little’) English, a bisserl Austrian, a bisserl Jewish, a bisserl female: Minority identity construction on a bilingual collaborative floor

Eva Duran Eppler

This article assesses how four women who are Austrian Jewish refugees living in London use linguistic features that have been said to index gender and ethnicity to construct their identities while exploiting one of the assets of their multiple identities – a bilingual collaborative floor. Based on 15 hours of recordings of informal natural conversations the study extends the scope of research on indexing of minority groups in two directions. First, it extends it to a unique social and cultural context; second, it expands it into code-switching. The analysis reveals that means of indexing both female and Jewish identity are strongly represented in the data; where female and (eastern European) Jewish conversational strategies diverge, the discourse patterns that index gendered meaning prevail. The article furthermore argues that code-switching facilitates the construction of a collaborative floor. Bilingual speech requires speakers to pay even closer attention to each other at all linguistic levels than monolingual speech, and the use of the ‘other’ code for simultaneous speech is less likely to be constructed as seizing the floor, because the overlapping utterances are not in direct competition. This in turn has the interactional effect of reinforcing shared aspects of the speakers’ identities.