Serious games: Code-switching and gendered identities in Moroccan immigrant girls’ pretend play

Inmaculada M. García-Sánchez


This paper examines the situated ways in which Moroccan immigrant children in Spain create imagined, alternative life worlds and explore possible forms of identification through an investigation of these children’s hybrid linguistic practices in the midst of play. Drawing on Bakhtin’s (1981, 1986) notions of heteroglossia and hybridity, the analysis focuses on the meanings of codeswitching practices that a group of Moroccan immigrant girls deploy in pretend-play sequences involving dolls to construct female identities; identities that they treat as desirable in the context of Spanish idealizations of femininity, but that are considered transgressional by adults in Moroccan diaspora communities in Spain. Neighborhood peer group play affords Moroccan immigrant girls’ transformations and engagement in subversive tactics, in that these activities take place outside the scrutiny of parents and other adults. The rich verbal and sociocultural environment of Moroccan immigrant children’s peer groups provide us with an excellent window to investigate peer language socialization processes in relation to how immigrant children negotiate, transform, and subvert in the midst of play the different, and often incongruous, socio-cultural and linguistic expectations and constraints that they encounter on a daily basis. Use of Moroccan Arabic and Spanish in this pretend play, in particular, results in a heteroglossic polyphony of voices imbued with moral tensions (Bahktin 1981, 1986). This analysis highlights the importance of these hybrid linguistic practices in immigrant girls’ explorations of alternative processes of gendered identification in multilingual, culturally-syncretic environments. Through surreptitious pretend-play, Moroccan immigrant girls explore imagined transgressional possible identities and moral worlds. In this sense, this research also underscores the implications of children’s language use and language choice in pretend-play for larger processes of cultural continuity and transformation in transnational, diasporic communities undergoing rapid change.

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