Society for Linguistic Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Since the outbreak of the Sri Lankan war in 1983, hundreds of thousands of North and East Tamils have migrated to Canada, the U.S., Australia, India, and various European countries (Daniel 1996). In the last two decades new virtual spaces have enabled Tamil speakers (Tamils and Muslims) living in Sri Lanka and abroad to participate in a transnational public, which has influenced politics in Sri Lanka and the diaspora (Cheran 2007; Sriskandarajah 2005). The proliferation of social media in Sri Lanka in 2008 only increased the opportunity for youth to advocate for Tamil rights following the defeat of the LTTE in 2009, prompting a movement initially dubbed the “Blackberry revolution” (Shyamantha 2009). In this paper, I explore how resident and diasporic Sri Lankans negotiate a common Tamil or Tamil-speaking identity in Facebook and Twitter discussions. I look at explicit discourses of identity, as well as the more implicit ways individuals construct community membership through assumed linguistic knowledge and appreciation of sarcasm and humor. I underscore the significant of virtual forums in resolving the Sri Lankan Tamil question, as well as how longer term and stable Tamil identities are formed through more “light” identity work.