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Identity, Second Language Acquisition, and Investment: Overseas Koreans, Language, and Ethnolinguistic Community Membership


In this thesis I explore the intersection of identity and second language acquisition, in the form of investment (Kanno & Norton, 2003; Norton, 2000; Pavlenko & Norton, 2007), and as it pertains to the experiences of gyopo, or “overseas Koreans” (ethnic Koreans from abroad), living in Korea. In doing so, I hold three goals: (1) to uncover connections between overseas Koreans and their affinity for an imagined, transnational Korean community; (2) to outline ways in which overseas Koreans negotiate their identities as members of this community, particularly in regard to issues of language; and (3) to link this understanding of identity negotiation with consequences for Korean-language learning and teaching. In examining interviews I conducted with gyopo living in Korea between 2007 and 2010, I find that within a context of ethnolinguistic essentialism--one that links race, ethnicity, appearance, and language--overseas Koreans find their authenticity as ethnic Koreans challenged. Whereas mixed-race gyopo note that they are often looked at as “foreigners” in Korea, and thus little knowledge of Korean language and culture is expected of them, “full” Korean gyopo note that they are often understood to be Korean, and their Korean abilities are looked at as insufficient vis-à-vis an imagined native standard. As a result of this repeated challenging, overseas Koreans’ imagined Korean communities are collections of experiences both positive and negative, complex representations of push-and-pull that form mixed sentiments of acceptance and non-acceptance. In linking these findings with ethnolinguistic essentialism in heritage language research--in the Korean context and in general--I complicate understandings of Korean “heritage language” education, and recommend a pedagogy of inquiry (Nelson, 1999) to expand possibilities for identity in Korean language learning.

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