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Language and Identity in the Armenian Diaspora

Shushan Karapetian

Dr. Karapetian discusses the challenges of prioritizing language proficiency as a marker for identity in the diaspora.

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August 2021


Language and Identity in the Armenian Diaspora

Dr. Shushan Karapetian addresses the linguistic identity crisis among diasporan Armenians who struggle to meet the demands of language proficiency. While many in the diaspora self-identify as Armenian, they are also socialized into ideologies that insist on a mastery of Armenian, an impossible standard for many heritage speakers. Dr. Karapetian argues that by imbuing language with so much symbolic meaning we make it inaccessible for young people growing up in the diaspora, further alienating them from their heritage by imposing impossible standards of belonging. Her suggestions are enlightening and important in allowing for a more practical understanding of language proficiency and empowering youth to embrace their Armenian identity through other more attainable markers.


Dr. Shushan Karapetian is Deputy Director of the USC Institute of Armenian Studies. She received a PhD in Near Eastern Languages and Cultures from UCLA in 2014, where she taught Armenian Studies and Applied Linguistics courses for ten years. Her dissertation, “‘How Do I Teach My Kids My Broken Armenian?’: A Study of Eastern Armenian Heritage Language Speakers in Los Angeles,” received the Society for Armenian Studies Distinguished Dissertation Award in 2015. In 2018, she was the recipient of the Russ Campbell Young Scholar Award in recognition of outstanding scholarship in heritage language research. She also serves as associate director of the National Heritage Language Resource Center at UCLA. Karapetian researches, teaches, and writes about the Armenian experience, particularly focusing on competing ideologies at the intersection of language and the construction of transnational identity.


Topics: Education Language Learning