Covert bilingualism and symbolic competence: Analytical reflections on negotiating insider/outsider positionality in Swedish speech situations

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Bilinguals often face the challenge of negotiating a range of insider/outsider subject positions when interacting in transnational and intercultural settings. This article takes up the concept of symbolic competence, the awareness of socially situated symbolic resources and the ability to use them to shape interactional contexts, to examine how the author, a Swedish–English bilingual, manages this negotiation. Drawing on principles of the ethnography of communication in concert with the complementary discourse analytic perspective of nexus analysis, ethnographic vignettes are analyzed to explore strategic language choices the author made during specific speech situations in Sweden. It is shown that the concealment of linguistic abilities, or covert bilingualism, served as a resource to support the symbolic competence needed to facilitate the presentation of self during social encounters while mitigating the ambiguity of being simultaneously insider and outsider.


  • Francis Hult
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Languages and Literature


  • Bilingualism, discourse analysis, ethnography of communication, nexus analysis
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)63-81
JournalApplied Linguistics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Publication categoryResearch