Narrative, Identity, and Transnational Family: Hippo Family Club and The Construction of Cosmopolitan Citizenship

Author: Chad Nilep (Nagoya University)
Speaker: Chad Nilep
Topic: Language Ideologies
CALA 2020 General Session


The Hippo Family Club is a Tokyo-based language learning club that promises members access to a “transnational” community through learning multiple foreign languages. Aligning with the theme Asian Text, Global Context, this presentation analyzes learning materials sold by the club in Japan, North America, and elsewhere, and illuminates ways in which narratives in these materials develop an image of club members as cosmopolitan citizens. In order to learn foreign languages, club members listen to audio recordings of stories told in multiple languages. The members participate in weekly meetings and practice by reciting portions of these stories and then talking with fellow members in target languages. These narratives present club members from Japan traveling and making friends with people in the US, Mexico, Korea, and Singapore. Club members come to identify with the characters in the stories, then with fellow members of their local club chapters, and ultimately with an imagined comradeship of club members across states, borders, and cultures around the world – a construct of cosmopolitan citizenship. The study sought to document and analyze the effects of these narratives, through interviews, recorded during ethnographic field work in Japan and the US, at the multi-party weekly club meetings. The study finds that cosmopolitan citizenship develops through processes of adequation and distinction (Bucholtz and Hall 2004), pursuit of similarity and difference through which Hippo’s “transnational” identity positions are constructed. Adequation is accomplished by emphasizing analogous features among group members while ignoring differences; distinction, in contrast, emphasizes differences between the in-group and those seen as outsiders. Since club learning materials describe their main characters in relatively little detail, members can easily identify with them and imagine themselves traveling internationally. This identification is then projected onto identification with fellow club members through a process of fractal recursivity (Irvine and Gal 2000). The similarities among group members highlighted through adequation are projected onto the group as such, while distinctive features of the group are projected onto individual members. Ultimately, the study shows that by identifying with the experiences of characters in the Hippo Family Club stories, members see themselves as part of a transnational movement. This identity positioning is visible in turn in the interviews and through interactions during club meetings Bucholtz, Mary, and Kira Hall. 2004. “Language and identity.” In A. Duranti, A Companion to Linguistic Anthropology, 368-394 Blackwell.Irvine, Judith, and Sue Gal. 2000. “Language ideology and linguistic differentiation.” In P. Kroskrity, Regimes of Language, 35-83. SAR

Keywords: identity, language ideology, language learning, cosmopolitan citizenship, ethnography