LINGUIST List 13.2118

Fri Aug 16 2002

Review: Socioling: Okita (2002)

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  1. Marian Sloboda, Okita (2002) Invisible Work

Message 1: Okita (2002) Invisible Work

Date: Mon, 12 Aug 2002 23:46:29 +0000
From: Marian Sloboda <>
Subject: Okita (2002) Invisible Work

Okita, Toshie (2002)
Invisible Work: Bilingualism, Language Choice and Childrearing in Intermarried Families.
John Benjamins Publishing Company, x+275pp, hardback ISBN 9027218471, EUR 85.00,
ISBN 1588111067, USD 77.00, IMPACT: Studies in Language and Society, 12.

Book Announcement on Linguist:

Marian Sloboda, Faculty of Arts, Charles University in Prague

The monograph "Invisible Work" by Toshie Okita (TO) is an
interdisciplinary study - it combines concepts and methods of family
studies, ethnicity studies and research on bilingualism. The main
focus is on the diachrony of several aspects of language management
and childrearing in intermarried Japanese mother - British father
families. (TO herself does not use the concept of language management,
she speaks about "language use" and "language choice".) TO's
experience with Japanese-British families she studies is not only as a
researcher but is also personal.

The book is not an instruction guide for heterolinguistic parents but
it addresses rather students and researchers in the field of
bilingualism and family studies. The book might, however, "serve to
inform the advice offered by practitioners," (p. 8). The approach is
predominantly qualitative but TO skillfully combines both qualitative
and quantitative research practices.


In Chapter 1, "Introduction", TO briefly describes her study in
general, sketches the contents of each chapter, and poses several
questions which define the topic. The key question is: "How do a
mother's and father's values and aspirations concerning childrearing
come together in ethnically intermarried families, what structural and
situational characteristics influence this process, and how are
language decisions and practice located in this process?" (p. 1)

>From the above question, four questions arise, and TO tries to give
answers to them in the following parts of her study. The questions are
(p. 1-2):

(1) "What are the major influences on childrearing in these families?"
(2) "How do two potentially diverse parental values interact, and how are they 
 negotiated in the construction of childrearing?"
(3) "What structural and situational factors influence the language decision parents 
 make? How, in turn, do the decisions influence family arrangements?"
(4) "How do these dynamics change over time, in response to new challenges, as children 
 grow older?"

TO gives/offers answers especially to the question (3) and (4). The
questions (1) and (2) are dealt with to lesser extent (see discussion
in General Notes).

Chapter 2, named "Developing conceptual framework", discusses relevant
literature, introduces concepts (such as "bilingualism", "situational
ethnicity", "child-centredness" etc.) and presents the author's

In Chapter 3, "Research methods", TO introduces her methodological
approach and discusses her selection of methods: life and family
history method (to the literature TO mentions important work by
R. Miller (2000) can be added), questionnaire survey,
semi-standardized interviews. Then, the author describes the sample of
her respondents and the process of interviewing. She also raises
important ethical issues, e.g. considers that interviewing might
burden the interviewer very much. On the other hand, it is shown but
not discussed that the interviewer has intervened into the thinking of
her respondents; it might be interesting to know what consequences
such intervention have had. Then, TO proceeds with short description
of data analysis and concludes the chapter by discussion of validity,
reliability and generalizability.

In Chapter 4, "Japanese-British families in the UK", the author first
gives brief information on the Japanese community in the UK, then
deals with her questionnaire, results of the questionnaire survey,
their implications for interviews, and eventually formulates several
hypotheses. On the basis of the survey she chooses 28 Japanese-British
intermarried families for interviews.

"Initial language decision" is the name and at the same time the main
focus of Chapter 5. TO discusses factors which influenced the

Chapter 6, "Getting on: Adaptations in language use", deals with
adjustments in language use made by parents during four stages of
their child's childhood. The stages were defined on the basis of the
data (they were not presupposed). Again, the most influential factors
are pointed out.

In Chapter 7, which is named "Childrearing", TO deals with language
use as an inseparable part and constituent of the childrearing process
in the pre-school period. Consequently, situation in whole families
and intra-family relations are described. Three families are chosen
for a case study.

Chapter 8, "Going to school", focuses on new factors (fears, time
pressures and interest conflicts) in childrearing and family daily
lives, which arise when the child enters the education system. Coping
with the difficulties and family-life management are described in

Chapter 9, "Family relationship, identity and ethnicity", deals with
the situation in the families after the child reaches teen-age,
acquires her/his own will, forms her/his own individuality
(incl. ethnic identity) and, eventually, becomes independent and
leaves the parents.

Chapter 10 is a concluding discussion and a summary of the main points of the study.

Three appendices contain a summary information of the 28 families, the
questionnaire form and a summary of interview guides.


One of the merits of the TO's work is that she includes into her
research not only mothers but also fathers, mother and father as a
couple and, although to a lesser extent, children as well. The
language management and childrearing process is rarely reflected by
the subjects themselves, it is "invisible" in the course of the
process. TO's aim is to "visualize" it as much as possible. The term
"invisible WORK" suggests that it is the interaction process
(e.g. negotiation of attitudes as mentioned in the question (2) above)
that will be dealt with. In fact, "only" a part of it is described in
the study. TO focuses mainly on what we can call "input" of the
process, i.e. parents' background, experience from childhood, current
social situation, influence from social network, own opinions,
attitudes, feelings, strategy and decisions concerning childrearing
and language use.

In the study, the "input" is (1) reconstructed from the respondents
narratives and (2) reproduced, that is, it is given how respondents
themselves reflect the issues, present and defend their point of
view. Sometimes it might not be clear enough in the text of the book
whether a statement is a reconstruction (interpretation) or a
reproduction, but in the majority of cases, reproductions are
explicitly indicated. The reconstructions are convincingly argued for,
only several reconstructed implications would be worth describing in
more detail because they might not be self-evident, e.g. child's
communication at (English) school and with her/his friends causes the
child stops speaking Japanese with her/his mother (p. 134).

The "input" is dealt with in its diachrony (evolution). It is shown
how it changes in reaction to the more or less successful
implementation of the decisions parents have made on the basis of the
"input", and also in reaction to new, expected or not, problems and
dilemmas which arise during the family life course. It is also
demonstrated, esp. dramatically in Chapter 8, that the language
management and bilingual childrearing at least in the 28
Japanese-British intermarried families is psychologically very
demanding work, esp. for the mothers but for some fathers, too.

The evolution of the "input" is observed in context. TO assigns much
importance to context and works with several types of it (although she
does not make its formal typology). Her book proves how useful and
illuminative is to take it into account while describing the
complexities of childrearing in intermarried families. Worth noting
are, for instance, differences between the older and younger
Japanese-British families, which point at a larger context - general
socio-cultural change in the British and Japanese society.

Interesting is the author's critique of research and extant literature
on bilingualism, childrearing and Japanese studies. Criticizing the
research and the literature, TO considers also the context in which
the literature has arisen and the research has been carried out. This
sociology-of-science view enables TO to, for example, reveal serious
shortcomings, causes of failure and sometimes even contraproductivity
of instruction books for parents who want to (know how to) raise their
children bilingually.

Context plays a role also in data gathering, which TO, on the basis of
literature and her own researcher experience, more accurately
conceives as data generation. It is interesting to see how the data
generation is influenced, for instance, by different language use (use
of Japanese or English respectively). TO has not tried to eliminate
the influence of the context of her research (which is actually
impossible), but takes it into account in data analysis and in

Concerning the role of context in the text of the book, TO gives the
results and interpretations of her data. She quotes her respondents
mostly in order for demonstration or to support her statements. The
author often cuts short parts out of audio-tape transcripts and put
them into a context they have not virtually occurred in (thus making
them an inherent part of her "story") without making a comment on this
way of handling the data. On the other hand, instead of merely
retelling respondents' words, TO gives the reader the opportunity to
see how the interviewees themselves verbalized their attitudes and

Concerning, again, TO's writing style, it has to be said that TO is
particular with guiding the reader through the book. Every chapter has
a clearly formulated introduction or concluding summary. In addition,
the process of the author's research is put very instructively, so the
book might be much appreciated by university students who intend to
carry out their own research similar to this.

Finally, we will turn our attention to the problem of
generalization. TO interviewed 28 families. They were chosen according
to the results of the survey. TO had tried to determine several types
of families and interview families from each type in order to find out
their specific features comparing them. However, she confined her
research to long-term resident Japanese mother - British father
families in the UK. It is thus a question which findings apply only to
them and which they share with other types of families, e.g. majority
mother - minority father families, homogeneous minority families,
minority-majority families in traditionally ethnically heterogeneous
areas (such as the Balkans), etc. TO is aware of this and discusses
the matter in the final parts of her book. Several suggestions are
made, other (implicit) specific features can be found scattered
throughout the book. In spite of the fact that TO takes up the
typological (paradigmatic) approach to the data, she does not
overlook the specialties of each individual family. Her aim is to make
theoretical generalizations, not empirical, i.e. to make
generalizations for a certain setting with the idea that they might
apply also to other settings which possess the same key
characteristics. "Invisible Work" not only "visualizes" a great part
of the invisible and extremely complex language-management and
childrearing work in certain type of intermarried families, but it
also provides comparative and inspirative material for researchers who
deal with similar topics.


Miller, Robert L. (2000) Researching Life Stories and Family
Histories. London/Thousand Oaks/New Delhi: Sage Publications.


Marian Sloboda is an undergraduate student of linguistics, phonetics
and Slavic studies. His main interests are small ethnolinguistic
groups in heterolinguistic environment, bilingualism, identity, and
autobiographic narratives of members of such groups. He is working on
his M.A. thesis on the Slovaks in Croatia and idiolectal networks.
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