LINGUIST List 14.6

Tue Jan 7 2003

Review: Sociolinguistics: Gubbins and Holt (2002)

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  1. Guido Oebel, Gubbins and Holt (2002) Beyond Boundaries

Message 1: Gubbins and Holt (2002) Beyond Boundaries

Date: Fri, 27 Dec 2002 17:53:08 +0000
From: Guido Oebel <>
Subject: Gubbins and Holt (2002) Beyond Boundaries

Gubbins, Paul and Mike Holt, eds. (2002) 
Beyond Boundaries: Language and Identity in Contemporary Europe. 
Multilingual Matters, paperback ISBN 1-85359-555-1, vi+162pp, 
Multilingual Matters 122.

Book Announcement on Linguist:

Guido Oebel, Saga National University (Japan)

It is not only from outside Britain that national identity is
challenged. Even from within the state, linguistic, ethnic and other
social phenomena seek constantly to question identity and to redefine
it. As language -- and to a similar extent identity -- is complex and
manifold it is continually pushing at the boundaries defined for it by
society and state. Due to this fact and considering the old saying
that we are what we speak, then it should be true that what we are is
undergoing constant changes. As many of the contributions to the
present volume evidence 'multiple identity as well as linguistic
allegiance are increasingly questioning the cosy assumptions of
traditional homogeneity'. One theme running through this volume is
'that identity is not a mere reflection of reality ... but rather a
socially constructed phenomenon'.


Chapter 1: Stephen Barbour: Language, Nationalism and Globalism:
Educational Consequences of Changing Patterns of Language Use, pp
11-18. Barbour adopts a broad approach examining nationalist and
internationalist discourse. By doing so, he regards language and
national identity as allies assuming every nation should have its own
nation-state in which the national language should dominate. According
to Barbour, international discourse, however, demonstrates awareness
not only of languages spoken by small groups but also of English as a
globally spoken lingua franca. Nevertheless, much internationalist
discourse overstates the dominance of English in international
exchanges. Bearing this in mind, Barbour examines policies at both
national and international level in order to bring education into line
with the need for effective communication across language boundaries.

Chapter 2: Jenny Cheshire: Who We Are and Where We're Going: Language
and Identities in the New Europe, pp 19-34. In this chapter, Cheshire
continues the debate about English and emphasizing on shifts in the
spoken language that reflect changes in young adults' identity. That's
why she draws on research on dialect levelling in contrastive English
towns where young people - through the variable use of certain vowels
and certain non-standard grammatical features -- construct both
regional and class identity. Cheshire compares the situation with
mainland Europe where English in daily life is increasingly invading
young people's expression or construction, respectively, of their
multiple identities. According to Cheshire, this target group responds
emotionally to English even incorporating it in their language rather
than just learning it. By doing so, English tends to become a language
separated from association with native speakers of British English and
elsewhere. Despite the just concern about an English dominance in a
multilingual Europe -- particularly voiced by non-native English
speakers -- the present situation augurs well for the development of
an original European identity.

Chapter 3: Richard Trim: The Lexicon in European Languages Today:
Unification or Diversification, pp 35-45. Richard Trim's paper, too,
deals with dominance by a particular language and its impact on other
languages. Trim suggests that, despite the ongoing
internationalization of lexis and technology, business and politics,
and unifying trends in borrowing processes, the meanings of words, at
least in the figurative lexicon, are unlikely to become uniform. This,
Trim continues, appears particularly true because cross-fertilisation
of meaning has not prevented a proportion of the lexicon choosing
paths specific to either one language or groups of languages. He
impressively illustrates his findings analysing the shared metaphor
'dryness' in English and French.

Chapter 4: Paul Gubbins: Lost in Translation: EU Language Policy in an
Expanded Europe, pp 46-58. Paul Gubbins' contribution is about
language policy and its confusion causing linguistic identity within
the European Union (EU) claiming the EU is ill-prepared for the
linguistic challenges owing to the enlargement to possibly 25
nations. By looking at the gap between EU-policy and its practice in
reality Gubbins considers some of the options suitable for bridging it
including proposals tabled by the 'Italian Radical Party' such as
calling for Latin and Esperanto as lingua franca. Despite Gubbins'
conclusion the EU had a long way to go before reaching consensus on a
democratic language policy it may yet avoid the fate envisaged by the
Radical Party that the 'lack of a lasting solution for the language
problem may threaten long term political cohesion of the EU'.

Chapter 5: Harald Haarmann: Identity in Transition: Cultural Memory,
Language and Symbolic Russianness, pp 59-72. Haarmann applies himself
to a more specific approach examining the implications of the feminine
gender in determining Russian identity in the post-Soviet era. He
highlights the efforts of leaders such as Lenin to play down
nationalistic overtones in a concept such as 'Mother Russia'. Despite
prevailing communist doctrine, the linguistic pull of feminism as a
form of national identity proved so strong that even in the 1960s it
was reflected in national documents. In 1991, however, a significant
change occurred when many non-Russians decided to abandon 'Mother
Russia' in favour of separation from the former Soviet Union as they
considered the idea of 'Mother Russia' an obsolete one. Some of them
such as Chechens, to a less extent among peoples in southern Siberia
and the far north (Slezkine, 1994), associate an enemy vision, a
somehow disguise of covert colonialism. Haarmann comes to the
conclusion that owing to the current stalemate between the conflicting
ideologies of moderates and reformers and to incursions into the
Russian language by English there is a yearning at least in Russia for
the historical security of the past epitomised by 'Mother Russia'.

Chapter 6: Brendan Murphy, Cristina Diaz-Varela and Salvatore
Coluccello: Transformation of the State in Western Europe: Regionalism
in Catalonia and Northern Italy, pp 73-90. The three co-authors'
paper is about the distinction between policies in Spain (Catalonia)
and Italy (Padania). According to them, Catalonia's coherent national
identity has grown over centuries of distinct development from the
central state whereas Padania might be regarded a political construct
rather than a social reality. In comparison with Catalonia,
achievements of the Padanian separatists remain disparate and elusive,
both most prosperous regions of Spain and Italy, however, continue to
press for increased autonomy and even secession. Despite the
separatist tendencies standing in contradiction to national unity at a
quick glance, the federalist direction of the EU seems to facilitate
the construction of alternative identities, particularly by weakening
the prestige of established states (Keating, 1998).

Chapter 7: Sue Wright: Fixing National Borders: Language and Loyalty
in Nice, pp 91-100. Sue Wright examines border regions and the
identity changes they almost inevitably go through. According to her,
many of these regions are spearheading cross-frontier initiatives in
the context of a Europe of the regions. To illustrate her theory, she
analyses the relations between Nice and Italy, in particular between
1855 and 1865, suggesting the alignment from the House of Savoy to
incorporation in the French state was so swift and at the same time so
comprehensive that it cut Nice from its old links and
networks. Despite today's politicians serious efforts to restore
Nissart -- the autochthonous language of the Nicois -- to life again
it obviously means only little to the present Nicois as a research
conducted in early 1999 revealed when merely 10% of those using the
Nice bus service recognized that the timetable was given in French and
Nissart. Wright concludes a similar process of shifting identity as in
the Nice area can be seen to some extent in the rest of present-day
Europe through 'colonisation' by English.

Chapter 8: Mike Holt: The French Language, Universalism and
Post-colonial Identity, pp 101-110. Mike Holt's contribution deals
with French as a 'colonising' language, too. He picks out as a central
theme the increasingly violent conflict between the proponents of
French and Arabic for the right to represent Algerian identity. Holt
argues that despite Algeria being often portrayed as a country
assimilated into French culture and language, this was never truly the
case. Although universalist claims for French provide strong cultural
identity the same claims enabled Algeria after independence to seek
another universalism, one associated not with French language and
culture but with Arab nationalism. However, French still plays a role
in national life and, according to Holt, yet can make no claims to
represent national identity. Instead standard Arabic tends to take
over the role of representing Algerian identity even though it also
has no specifically Algerian pedigree.

Chapter 9: Michael Anderson: 'It's a Culture Thing': Children,
Language and 'Boundary' in the Bicultural Family, pp 111-125. Michael
Anderson's paper is about identity and raising issues concerning
children from parents of different European nationalities. He takes a
social anthropological perspective and offers an insight into cultural
'boundaries' in domestic family settings. Referring to fieldwork from
Greek-British bicultural families Anderson notes that children can
sometimes be co-creators of their own hybrid identities rather than a
receptacle of parental beliefs. He supports his findings by giving
illustrating examples from children's use of language in their home
and beyond.

Chapter 10: Lerleen Willis: Language Use and Identity Among
African-Caribbean Young People in Sheffield, pp 126-144. Lerleen
Willis maintains the bilingual debate examining Creole-English
bilingualism and the manner in which second- and third-generation
African-Caribbeans in Britain overcome the constraints of societal
attitudes and prejudice. According to Willis, these young people
manage to define a personal and group identity based on in-group
language despite the fact their mother tongue being often a Creole and
thus regarded a low-status language complicating recognition of
bilingual competence. Supposedly, many young African-Caribbeans are
reluctant to embrace the culture and identity of Britain into which
they were born. By doing so, they support the desire to maintain a
separate black African identity within a wider British and as a
consequence European context.

Chapter 11: Mike Reynolds: Punjabi/Urdu in Sheffield: Language
Maintenance and Loss and Development of a Mixed Code, pp 145-162.
Mike Reynolds presents the findings of a three-year study carried out
in Sheffield dealing offering a different perspective on minority
language use. It is about bilingual speakers of Punjabi/Urdu focusing
on mixed code and thus examining its causality within the framework of
social network membership, code-switching behaviours and language
maintenance or shift, respectively.


Most of the chapters summarized above illustrate the complex and
multifaceted nature of language identity. What becomes clear from all
the contributions in the present volume is that language identity in
Europe is diverse, complex and ever changing. Some chapters focus on
the territorial and regional issues and others on the multiple
identities associated with migration and urban environments. Some are
concerned with identity in relation to the state and others with the
individual's sense of identity. What they all have in common is
somehow a kaleidoscope of shifting identities and loyalties in Western
Europe and beyond. Although to some readers and especially to members
of ethnic groups affected born and bred into the relative stability of
white-class Britain it might appear that much of the discussion in
this book is distant and irrelevant. I take the liberty to dispel such
criticism as depicted in each single chapter change -- no matter
whether at transitional, national, regional or local level -- is
manifest in a variety of linguistic and other ways. Even though this
change takes place gradually and seldom immediately apparent, in my
opinion, this book represents an essential contribution to sharpen
awareness of acknowledging linguistic borders' fluidity, i.e.
atrophying them -- highly recommendable, hopefully not only for those
interested in sociolinguistics!


Keating, M. (1998) The New Regionalism in Western Europe. Cheltenham:
Edward Elgar.

Slezkine, Y. (1994) Arctic Mirrors: Russia and the Small Peoples
of the North. Ithaca/London: Cornell University Press.


Guido Oebel (PhD in linguistics) is a native German currently teaching
German as A Foreign Language (DaF) and FLL at Saga National University
and Kurume University, both on the Southern island of Kyushu (Japan).
His main areas of research are: DaF, sociolinguistics, bilinguism and
autonomous learning and teaching approaches, respectively,
particularly Learning by Teaching (LdL).
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