Language Identity of Tertiary ESL Learners: Understanding Urdu and English Language Identities

  • Shazia Mushtaque
  • Sajida Zaki
Keywords: language identity, national language, language learners, language policy, discursive practice


Language affiliation and use are important in constructing language identity and motivating individuals towards their language maintenance and vitality efforts. In a multilingual context, these processes are actively promoting or hampering individuals in constructing and demonstrating their linguistic identities. In Pakistan, Urdu is constitutionally recognized as the national language, a marker of national identity and also opted as a medium for integration for different ethno-linguistic communities comprising Pakistani society. English language enjoys the status of official language and pervades all domains of society and is an integral part of the education system right from elementary education owing to the attached instrumental value. English language teachers have often complained of students‘ perceptions, attitudes, motivational issues; as factors rendering years of English language teaching-learning ineffective. Inadequate language identities are often at the root of this complex situation arising out of linguistic affiliations. The present study attempts to capture university students‘L1 (Urdu) and L2 (English) identities and studying them from attachment and preferences with heritage and second languages and their learning. Quantitative data collected from 316 undergraduate students at a public university confirm the measures required to reinforce Urdu language and construction of language identity as part of language maintenance and vitality efforts, and language identity construction as the gap in English language learning efforts owing to the observed dichotomy in their language attachment and use. The findings reveal moderate level of language identity and learners‘ affiliation with their national language but a contradiction in their preference for its use in everyday living. Consequently, the divergence in attachment and precedence is significant in language policy and planning and teaching-learning of languages.