Language is often seen as an important symbol and marker of identity.
The relationship between the two especially comes to the fore in the experience
of immigrants who often must negotiate competing pressures on their identities
and language usage. In this article we examine the link between language and
identity through an exploration of the lived experiences of four Chinese individuals
in South Africa. Drawing on interview data, we examine their language
and identity shifts and the factors driving such shifts (or lack thereof). Our
analysis reveals multiple degrees and expressions of Chinese identity, of
which language is sometimes but not always relevant. We find that social and
historical contexts shape the needs and motivations of the individual, who often
uses language strategically and flexibly to emphasise or understate particular
identities. We conclude that the situational view of the language-identity relation
is more appropriate to explain the weak and strong language-identity links
that occur at the micro-level.