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Identity and Idiolect: Code-switching as Identity Marker in Chris Claremont's Uncanny X-Men and New Mutants



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Burman, Annie C 


Chris Claremont’s time as author of Uncanny X-Men after the relaunch of the comic in 1975 saw the introduction of several new characters, leading to the diversification of the title team. The previously all-American, Christian, white male-dominated team became more heterogenous in terms of ethnicity, nationality, religion and gender. Claremont’s X-Men spin-off New Mutants from 1983 also features several minority characters. This new diversity brought with it the occurrence of code-switching, the act of switching between two languages within one conversation. Many of the characters who are not native speakers of English, for example Nightcrawler, Colossus, Karma and Sunspot, regularly code-switch into their native language. These characters develop their own idiolect, which makes their speech instantly recognisable to the reader, while at the same time serving as a reminder of their origins and their back-story.

However, not all non-native speakers of English in the comics codeswitch. Languages which readers would be less likely to recognise do not feature, and characters whose linguistic identity is complex, due to for example multilingualism or displacement from the country to which their native language is generally associated, do not code-switch. The fact that the code-switching in these comics bear little resemblance to real-life code-switching by non-native speakers, consisting mostly of reoccurring phrases such as exclamations and appellatives, implies that the code-switching is not an attempt at realism.

This paper will explore the use of code-switching in Chris Claremont’s run of Uncanny X-Men and New Mutants as a means of conveying linguistic and national identity. I will consider not only when codeswitching occurs, but also when it does not, and possible reasons for this, ranging from implications about the character’s identity to the practical problems of bringing possibly unfamiliar phrases into the dialogue.



Bilingualism, code-switching, identity, language usage, diversity, Marvel Comics

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Framescapes: Graphic Narrative Intertexts

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Inter-Disciplinary Press

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