ODISHA AND ODIA: Conceptualizing Linguistic and Cultural Identities

Anindita Sahoo

The concept of ‘identity’ has undergone radical changes in the recent years. Starting from cultural  to linguistic  to regional identity- all of them have undergone significant shifts and scholars attribute such changes to the ‘crisis of identity’. The research on identities has drawn the attention of researchers from various domains of Humanities and Social Sciences. Among these, linguistic research on identity has been more extensive as there are various socio-economic issues involved with the term ‘identity’ and it has been deeply rooted at the very core of language and society. My study on language and identity focuses on the current perspectives on concept of identity and its strong correlations with culture and language. It explores some significant theoretical insights and empirical findings vis-à-vis language, culture and identity.
Social identity encompasses participant roles, positions, relationships, reputations, and other dimensions of social personae, which are conventionally linked to epistemic and affective stances. We use language as individuals though it has a social history attached to it which identifies us as an individual, member of a group/s, community or nation. Within the interactional identity discourses framework, the network of identities, like age, gender, ethnicity, and geographical background are communicatively produced and positioned. My attempts are to examine how individual and group identities are articulated through language and how preserving one’s language results in preserving one’s repertoire of identities.
The empirical evidences are based on the Odia ethnic group who comprise the diaspora in the national capital of India. The Odia speaking population here is treated as a depressed community which is poor and deprived of many present day luxuries. Most often their image is built upon the general notion of a poor state which is always affected by floods and cyclones. Many of the city dwellers in NCR assume that Odias are a community who always struggle for the livelihood. They are made fun of their regional accent while speaking Hindi or English. Moreover, Odia as a full-fledged independent language often misunderstood as a part of Bangla which has better world presence and recognition. In spite of having a rich heritage of art and culture of Odisha this state doesn’t have a strong global presence due to lack of good representatives. However, the situation seems to be encouraging these days due to the participation of Odias in various domains that include sports, politics, IT sector and education in national as well as global level.  The results of my study on the issue of language and identity explicate that the impacts of globalization and internet applications have influenced the linguistic identities. Despite the increase of global presence of Odisha, Odia as a language is facing some serious existence threat. The new generations Odias are not aware of their identity because of the very little use Odia language in the family space. My contention is that if such a trend continues, the day is not far when multicultural and multilingual Odia diaspora will soon lose its Odia identity and will be identified as a part of the larger linguistic community of Hindi speakers.

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