The Asian American Identity and Language

Being a Vietnamese American born in Lowell and my parents coming to America during the Vietnam War, I understand the pressures and social stereotypes of being a minority in the US.

The Asian American identity is usually constructed linguistically and socially through stereotypes. Many Asian Americans who come to the US to live have an accented style of English, which is using nonstandard grammar and phonology in their speech. So, acquiring the knowledge of English as well as having their heritage language and shifting between both in order to survive. However, for me, I was actually born in the US, so English was my first language whereas learning to speak Vietnamese from my parents and classes at my church was difficult to grasp.

In their book, Beyond Yellow English Towards a Linguistic Anthropology of Asian Pacific America, Professors Angela Reyes and Adrienne Lo conducted a yearlong ethnographic of two Laotian girls at a high school in California, looking at the ways they create identity through the way they talk

What they observed from being a non-participant observer and interviews is that these two girls created very different identities. The first way to create the social identity is through stereotypes. Asian Americans typically have a tendency to study math and science and must do well under parental pressure. The second way is through the use of language. One girl spoke using the young African American slang while the other girl used less slang in her speech.

My Asian American identity has become of who I am and how I shape my values and culture to define the category/social role I must play. Ignoring stereotypes has also shaped who I am as well.


Reyes, Angela and Adrienne Lo. Beyond Yellow English Towards a Linguistic Anthropology of Asian Pacific America. Oxford University Press, Inc; Oxford, 2009.