LINGUIST List 14.176

Sat Jan 18 2003

Review: Sociolinguistics: Piller (2002)

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  1. Holly Cashman, Piller (2002), Bilingual Couples Talk

Message 1: Piller (2002), Bilingual Couples Talk

Date: Fri, 17 Jan 2003 14:17:00 +0000
From: Holly Cashman <>
Subject: Piller (2002), Bilingual Couples Talk

Piller, Ingrid (2002) Bilingual Couples Talk: The Discursive
Construction of Hybridity. Benjamins, xii+315pp, hardback ISBN
1-58811-287-X, $68.00, Studies in Bilingualism 25.

Book Announcement on Linguist:

Holly R. Cashman, Arizona State University


The monograph explores the language practices of 36 cross-cultural,
German/English bilingual couples from a sociolinguistic and discourse
analytic perspective. The goal of the author is to shed light on how
bilingual, cross-cultural couples draw on their linguistic resources
and ideologies of language to perform individual and joint couple
identities, and to plan the linguistic future of their children. The
book is divided into two main sections: chapters 1-4 lay the
groundwork for the analysis, describing data collection and
participants; chapters 5-10 present and discuss the findings.

In Chapter 1, the author introduces the topic under consideration and
defines key concepts such as identity (which she treats as locally
constructed, something that speakers do, rather than something that
speakers are, following West & Fenstermaker 1995, and West & Zimmerman
1987 among others) and ideology (which she uses in the plural as a
synonym of discourses to refer to ''any belief that mediates the
linguistic practices of the participants'' p. 15).

In Chapter 2, the author reviews the literature on linguistic
intermarriage as it relates to language maintenance and shift.

In Chapter 3, the corpus is described in detail, as the author
attempts in this work to avoid the anecdotalism which has
characterized much of the research on couples talk. The author's
corpus comprises 18 hours and 44 minutes of taped dialogue and
monologue (responses to a 'discussion paper' composed of questions
written by the research) from 36 bilingual couples whose participation
was solicited through newsletters and listserves addressed to
bilinguals in Germany and throughout Europe. Supplementary data
includes questionnaires with demographic information, letters from
participants, and postings on a listserve for bilingual families which
the author monitored for one year. The author's understanding of the
ideologies of bilingualism, bilingual parenting and linguistic
intermarriage were informed by popular publications such as newspapers
and newsmagazines addressed to the general public, as well as
newsletters and handbooks addressed to bilingual parents.

In Chapter 4, each couple is described with the ''intention to provide
a sense of the 'whole people' who participated in the research''
(p. 59). The brief sketch, including information culled from the
conversations and questionnaires, describes participants' ages,
nationalies, linguistic and ethnic backgrounds, country of residence
(past, present and, in some cases, future), employment, reported
language practices, actual language practices observed on tape, length
of the relationship, existence and ages of children, and how they
became involved in the study (contact researcher or contacted by
researcher). The chapter is a useful reference, as is the couples
index included after the references.

In Chapter 5, the author describes the language background of
participants, and how ideologies of language relate to participants'
first language (L1) claiming/ownership and evaluation of their second
language (L2) success/proficiency. She finds that while 2/3 of
participants regard themselves as successful L2 learners and take a
positive view of their L2 proficiency, significant facework was
involved in the reporting of proficiency and lack of same in
participants' L2. Additionally, she finds that 1/2 of her
participants came from a language background that could be considered
mixed or hybrid, and that this complexity led to a blurring of
particpants' notions of L1/L2 and conflicting reports of L1s in
conversation and on questionnaires.

In Chapter 6, the author reports on participants' language choice,
especially within the relationship domain. She found that choice of
the majority language (reported by 7 of 24 couples living in Germany)
was considered a default or natural choice not worthy of discussion or
explanation by participants, while couples' choice of the minority
language tended to trigger an explanation, which tended to relate to
either habit or compensation for the partner living away from his/her
home country. The author also found that the 11 (of 36) couples who
described their language choice as mixed nevertheless internalized
negative evaluations of mixing which led them to justify their
practice in a variety of ways. In this chapter the author also
explores language choice for the couples' disputes and language choice
as a source of conflict, as well as language choice outside the couple

In Chapters 7 & 8, the author examines couples' joint identity. In the
former, the author uses a discourse analytic approach to explore how
couples position themselves vis-a-vis the discourse of intermarriage
as a problem through the construction of similarity and the
deconstruction of difference. In the latter, the author relies on a
conversation analytic approach to uncover how couples perform
cross-cultural couplehood.

In Chapter 9, the author discusses the couples' ''private language
planning'', or their plans and strategies for raising their children
bilingually. She finds that couples expressed a strong commitment to
raising their children bilingually, and that they drew on popularized
notions of childhood bilingualism research to inform their
practices. She also finds that the couples' negative evaluation of
language mixing contributed to their very high expectations for their
children's proficiency (what Heller 2000 called ''double
monolingualism'') and often led to a sense of failure.

Finally, in Chapter 10, the various elements of the author's argument
come together as she relates her findings based on the corpus of
German/English bilingual couples to broader concepts of hybridity,
language desire and language status. She ends the monograph by
arguing for a polyphonic sociolinguistics that ''accepts the very
complexity of multiple and hybrid social identities and intersecting
discourses as a central characteristic of its subject matter,
including an approach that goes beyond description to include
critique'' (p. 265).


The book is well-written and accessible to a wide range of
audiences. It is an important contribution to the study of
bilingualism and of couples talk specifically, but also, more
generally, to the study of second language acquisition and language
and identity. In this book, the author manages to design a viable
methodology without essentializing the complexity of the
sociolinguistic situation in which the couples live. One important
way the author achieves this is through the inclusion of the voices of
the participants themselves, and another is through use of an eclectic
mix of data collection procedures and approaches to data analysis.�
However, one type of data not used by the researcher, spontaneous
conversation, would have enhanced the study, especially the discussion
of performing a joint couple identity. Although the author takes a
conversation analytic approach to analyzing the couples' taped
dialogues (responses to 'discussion paper' or list of questions
provided by the author) in chapter 8, no analysis of spontaneous
conversation between the couples was included. While the author
explains the difficulty of collecting this data, it would have been a
worthwhile addition.

Finally, the diversity of the participant couples is an asset to the
book; participants represent a diversity of ages and life stages, from
students to retirees, and a the length of participants' relationships
range from just a few years to over forty. The study also includes
one same-sex couple. However, a greater exploration of that
diversity would have enhanced the book.


Holly R. Cashman is an assistant professor of Spanish linguistics in
the Department of Languages and Literatures at Arizona State
University. Focusing on Spanish in the Southwestern United States, she
is interested in code-switching in conversation, language maintenance
and shift, media language, bilingual education, and minority language
rights. She is currently researching bilingual language practices in
two second grade classrooms in a central Phoenix dual language
immersion elementary school.
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