Rethinking the Digital Divide: Smartphones as Translanguaging Tools Among Middle Eastern Refugees in New Jersey

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Abstract

The article examines smartphone use among Middle Eastern refugee families recently resettled in northern New Jersey as an opportunity to reconceptualize the language barrier during the early stages of refugee resettlement. Smartphone access and use among families reveal the interlinguistic conditions of life in resettlement, and ethnographic research demonstrates the way a tech-savvy population, conventionally considered “digitally unprepared,” creatively approaches communication. We explore smartphones as tools of translanguaging: a strategy in which speakers “mesh” and weave linguistic repertoires together. Qualitative research upends the idea of a language barrier as final or surmountable only through formal language instruction. Instead, smartphones offer multimodal communicative strategies with pragmatic and affective dimensions. We argue that refugees’ own culturally specific interactional norms and priorities can be revalorized within host societies as foundations for linguistic and social integration.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)26-38
Number of pages13
JournalAnnals of Anthropological Practice
Volume43
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2019

Keywords

  • multimodal communication
  • refugee integration
  • technology
  • translanguaging

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