LINGUIST List 15.2040

Fri Jul 9 2004

Review: Socioling/Anthro Ling: Farr (2004)

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  1. Steven Gross, Ethnolinguistic Chicago

Message 1: Ethnolinguistic Chicago

Date: Fri, 9 Jul 2004 10:24:51 -0400
From: Steven Gross <GROSSSmail.etsu.edu>
Subject: Ethnolinguistic Chicago



EDITOR: Farr, Marcia
TITLE: Ethnolinguistic Chicago
SUBTITLE: Language and Literacy in the City's Neighborhoods
PUBLISHER: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
YEAR: 2004
Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/15/15-1442.html

Steven Gross, Department of English, East Tennessee State University.

INTRODUCTION
This book and its forthcoming companion, Latino Language and Literacy
in Ethnolinguistic Chicago, are welcome additions to the literature on
language use in multiethnic metropolitan communities. This collection
of papers, most based on ethnographic studies of language, emphasizes
language use as central to ethnic, class, and gender
identities. Although the neighborhoods that these studies examine are
all located in the Chicagoland area, how the studies' participants use
language to construct identity is typical of language use patterns in
multicultural communities elsewhere in the U.S. The editor's Preface
notes that this book should be of value to linguists, anthropologists,
sociologists, historians, educators, and educational researchers
(p. x).

SYNOPSIS
Following the Foreward written by Dell Hymes and the editor's Preface,
Chapter 1, 'Introduction: Language and Identity in a Global City' by
Marcia and Rachel Reynolds, sets out to situate the studies in this
volume within the context of group responses to globalization and the
establishment of a global monoculture. The introduction provides an
excellent overview of the methodology and scope of the following
studies. The thirteen chapters that follow are a diverse collection
in terms of their general subject matter and presentation: some focus
on oral language, others on written language; some are historical
surveys, some descriptive, and some analytical; some focus on gender,
others on ethnicity or social class; some examine recent immigrant
groups, some consider the descendents of those who arrived in America
much earlier. Nevertheless, what unify these studies are their
methodology - ethnographic, in the sense of participant observations
- and their emphasis on how people use language to construct, or
reconstruct, identity.

Chapter 2, 'Language Policy in Illinois: Past and Present' by Elliot
Judd, is a highly informative chapter that presents the history of
Illinois language policy from initial statehood to the
present. Although English has been the dominant language in Illinois
since statehood in 1818, state officials have generally been
accommodating to the use of minority languages. In fact, historically
the state has provided for the printing of official documents in
several languages and allowed bilingual education programs. However,
Illinois language policy has been flexible enough to be influenced by
larger political and social forces. For example, when groups have been
perceived as a threat, as with Germans before and after WWI, then
linguistic freedoms were curtailed. Yet, today when the role of
English is secure, the use of minority languages in Illinois is
tolerated in many spheres. This chapter provides an appropriate
prelude to the studies that follow.

In Chapter 3, 'Signifying Laughter and the Subtleties of Loud-Talking:
Memory and Meaning in African American Discourse', Marcyliena Morgan
focuses on certain discourse patterns displayed in the speech of two
generations of women in Chicago's African American community. Morgan
examines how these women use direct and indirect discourse and other
strategies such as instigating, signifying, and signifying laughter in
their stories to negotiate race, gender, class, and sexuality. Morgan
shows that a speaker' intent (i.e. her attitude and assessment) is
revealed in the dialogic relation between linguistic style and
content.

In Chapter 4, 'Personal Storytelling: Working-Class and Middle-Class
Mothers in Comparative Perspective', Grace Cho and Peggy Miller
present a comparative analysis of the stories told by middle-class and
working-class mothers and the attitudes that these mothers express
about personal storytelling. The results of this study show that
although mothers in both communities expressed positive attitude
toward personal storytelling, the stories produced by the
working-class mothers were richer, more numerous, and more complex
than those told by middle-class mothers. Although Cho and Miller found
no interviewer bias in their study, they caution that interviewing
guidelines may have unintended results: allowing the interviewee to
define the interview may be more accommodating to working-class
communicative norms, while rigidly standardized interviews may work
against those same working-class speakers.

In Chapter 5, 'Identity Construction in Discourse: Gender Tensions
Among Greek Americans in Chicago', Lukia Koliussi focuses on the
issues of gender role negotiation, gender expectations, and gender
attitudes revealed in the conversations of three elderly Greek
American women in the presence of one 'passive' male participant, the
husband of one of the women. The speech event that Koliussi observes
is 'gynaikoloi', one of the frequent gatherings where these women can
'let loose'. One of the women leads the others in rejecting their
globally predetermined gender roles and reconstructing a new gender
identity that breaks free of traditional gender roles. Although the
husband disapproves, the woman, with the support of the other women,
uses her linguistic skills, e.g. switching to the regional vernacular
to align herself with the higher (i.e. male) status identity of the
man, to challenge and transform traditional norms of communication.

In Chapter 6, 'A Literacy Event in African American Churches: The
Sermon as a Community Text', Beverly Moss examines African American
sermons delivered by two different ministers in two congregations as
literate texts. She notes that the textual features that contribute
to the dialogic quality of these sermons and hence, a blurring of the
boundary between text and audience, are what distinguish the African
American sermon from the dominant textual form in the academic world,
the essay. As such, the sermon can be seen as a community text. The
author suggests that the academic world needs to broaden its
definition of literacy and its conception of ownership of text.

Chapter 7, '''Bless this little time we stayed here'': Prayers of
Invocation As Mediation of Immigrant Experience Among Nigerians in
Chicago' written by Rachel Reynolds, looks at a formulaic speech
event, the invocational prayer, that occurs in the meetings of the ONI
(Organization for Ndi Igbo [a pseudonym]) immigrant group. Reynolds
reports that these prayers help to create a community with a
transnational identity in that they express the immigrant experience,
and they provide a means for the members of the group to imagine their
lives as intimately connected to the home community in Nigeria. The
prayers use poetic speech in such a way so as to minimize the distance
between the United States and Nigeria. The invocations emphasize
family ties and reaffirm faith in the decision to immigrate as ways to
unify the group. Reynolds argues that occasional codeswitching between
Standard English and Nigerian Pidgin expresses solidarity and deepens
the connection with those left behind in Nigeria.

Chapter 8, 'The Arab Accountant As Language Mediator' written by
Sharon Radloff, is a descriptive account of the problems that a
Palestinian Arab accounting office experiences in mediating between
its clients and various layers of government agencies. Radloff
describes a clash between two cultures that differ in terms of
language, orthography, and perceptions of the relationship between the
individual and the state. Unlike other accounting firms, this one has
the additional burden of linguistically mediating between these two
very different systems. This article also indicates the need for
culturally competent individuals and firms in immigrant communities.

Chapter 9, 'They Did Not Forget Their Swedish: Class Markers in the
Swedish American Community' by Carl Isaacson, examines the Swedish
American experience in Chicago through the use of historical documents
such as newspapers, letters, novels, etc. During the peak of European
immigration (1881-1920), these Swedish immigrants were faced with
three linguistic choices, which each had consequences in terms of
social class identity: Standard Swedish, regional Swedish varieties,
or a newly created blend of regional varieties of Swedish, Standard
Swedish, and American English. Although this newly minted American
Swedish reflected a certain American egalitarianism that transcended
class boundaries, it was nevertheless associated with the lower
classes. The rejection of American Swedish by the intellectual elite
of the community led to the battle against the use of this hybrid
language and for the preservation of 'proper' Swedish. In the end,
however, language shift wins out in the Swedish community, and in this
way, the immigrant evades Swedish class politics and emerges as
representative of middle class success in America.

Like Koliussi's chapter on Greek women reconstructing their gender
identity through their linguistic virtuosity, Gloria Nardini shows how
the women of an Italian American social club challenge the power
dynamics inherent in traditional gender identities in Chapter 10,
'Italian Patterns in the American Collandia Ladies' Club: How Do Women
Make ''Bella Figura''?' In this chapter, Nardini offers us a glimpse
into the workings of the Collandia Ladies' Club during a financial
meeting with the president of the Collandia Men's Club. Nardini
illustrates how the women of this club claim social power through a
dazzling linguistic performance, referred to as making 'bella figura',
by the treasurer of the Ladies' Club. She gains the upper hand
primarily through the use of indirection, the shared knowledge of the
centrality of 'bella figura' to Italian identity, and the shared
knowledge of the gendered norms of conversation.

Chapter 11, 'Lithuanian and English Use Among Early Twentieth Century
Lithuanian Immigrants in Chicago' written by Daiva Markelis, is a
historical portrait of Lithuanian immigrant life in Chicago focusing
on efforts at language maintenance and some of the factors that led to
eventual language shift. Like Isaacson's account of the Swedish
American experience in Chapter 9, Markelis relies on letters and
Lithuanian newspapers published in Chicago in the early part of the
twentieth century, as well as ethnographic interviews with children of
Lithuanian immigrants. Despite conscious efforts to foster Lithuanian
language and culture, in large part politically motivated, the
establishment of a politically independent Lithuania in 1918 along
with U.S. restrictions on immigration in 1920-21 saw a marked decline
in the use of Lithuanian in the home. Thus, Markelis argues that
political concerns were the main reason why Lithuanian was maintained
as long as it was and a major factor in its decline.

Chapter 12, 'Class Identity and the Politics of Dissent: The Culture
of Argument in a Chicago Neighborhood Bar' by Julie Lindquist, focuses
on the analysis of the social uses of argument in a south suburban
Chicago working-class bar. Lindquist notes that arguments allow
patrons of the bar to express working class solidarity. Lindquist's
presence in the bar as a symbolic opposition to the prevailing working
class ideology provided an opportunity for the bar's patrons to
'practice' class even if they do not acknowledge the notion of class
as an ideology.

In Chapter 13, 'Chinese Language Use in Chicagoland', John S. Rohsenow
offers a rich descriptive account of several waves of Chinese
immigration to Chicago. He notes that Chinese language variation in
the Chicagoland area is the result of both history and contemporary
politics. Even the choice of scripts taught in local heritage language
schools depends on these sociopolitical forces.

Chapter 14, 'Consuming Japanese Print Media in Chicago' by Laura
Miller, focuses on those Japanese who are in Chicago temporarily as
part of their professional responsibilities. She takes us on a tour
of the Asahiya bookstore in suburban Chicago where these professionals
can maintain their cultural and linguistic identity. Miller also shows
how Japanese immigrants differ from these temporary residents by the
types of print media they read.

EVALUATION

These studies and the insightful discourse analyses in the chapters
that are analytical in nature contribute greatly to our understanding
of the dynamics of multicultural/multilingual contacts in urban
settings like Chicago. Ironically, one of the strengths of this
volume, its coverage and diversity, may also be one of its
shortcomings. Combining discourse and conversation analytic studies
with descriptive/historical accounts of multicultural contacts under
one tent seems problematic. Yes, it is true that all the
contributions here come out of research done in the Chicago area. Yes,
it is true that all the contributions here deal with the intersection
of language use and ethnicity. Still, reading this collection of
articles as a unified whole leads one to ponder over the organizing
principle behind this effort. However, for those who value the rich
insights gained by ethnographic, participant observer research, then
this volume is an invaluable resource. Furthermore, Farr and Reynolds
do indicate in the introduction that this ethnographic approach may be
what gives this volume the cohesive glue that holds it together.

While it is true that a volume such as this one cannot be all things
to all people, some may see the omission of some of Chicago's
historically more influential immigrant groups, for example, Germans,
Poles, and more recently Russians and South Asian Indians, as a
potential weakness of this book. However, Farr and Reynolds
acknowledge this omission in their introduction and express their hope
that the publication of this volume will stimulate efforts to fill
these gaps. In any case, this volume should be congratulated for its
breadth of coverage, its use of thought-provoking examples, and its
insightful analyses.

Finally, in the Afterword, 'Words and Lives: Language, Literacy, and
Culture in Multilingual Chicago', Robert Gundlach argues that the
studies in this volume highlight the fact that in addition to learning
words and the rules for combining those words into well-formed
utterances, a crucial part of knowing a language involves embedding
that linguistic knowledge into cultural practice. The articles in this
work take an important stride forward in offering us a valuable look
into how various ethnic populations rely on this communicative
competence that Grundlach discusses to negotiate and renegotiate
identity in multicultural settings like Chicago. These studies reveal,
from a personal perspective, a sensitive portrait of the struggles of
various ethnolinguistic groups to maintain their individual identities
in the face of the homogenizing effects of globalization.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER

Steven Gross is Assistant Professor of Linguistics in the Department
of English at East Tennessee State University. His research interests
include bilingualism and language contact, language change, and
discourse analysis. He is currently involved in research examining the
structural outcomes of first language attrition among elderly German
immigrants.
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