LINGUIST List 15.2045

Sun Jul 11 2004

Review: Socioling/Lang Acquisition: Kanno (2003)

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  1. Orna Ferenz, Negotiating Bilingual and Bicultural Identities: Japanese Returnees

Message 1: Negotiating Bilingual and Bicultural Identities: Japanese Returnees

Date: Sun, 11 Jul 2004 15:52:48 +0200
From: Orna Ferenz <>
Subject: Negotiating Bilingual and Bicultural Identities: Japanese Returnees


AUTHOR: Kanno, Yasuko
TITLE: Negotiating Bilingual and Bicultural Identities
SUBTITLE: Japanese Returnees Betwixt Two Worlds
PUBLISHER: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
YEAR: 2003
Announced at

Orna Ferenz, Bar Ilan University, Israel

Negotiating Bilingual and Bicultural Identities examines the
development of bilingual and bicultural identities of four teenage
second language learners as they mature into adulthood. It is a
longitudinal study, tracing the participants' sense of identity from
their initial marginalization as minority language speakers in North
America to their return to Japan and their inclusion in the dominant
language as bilingual speakers. Furthermore, the book documents the
students' perspectives on their educational experiences, both in North
America and Japan, and its impact on their developing sense of
identity. Finally, the impact of the sociocultural environment on the
bilingual youths' identities is considered within two cultures: as
ethnic / language minority students in North America and as members of
the dominant group in Japan. These changes in social status are said
to affect the participants' identities and relationship with their two
languages and cultures.

The book is divided into three sections. Chapter One develops the
motivational, theoretical and methodological framework. The author
presents her own narrative describing her transition from an English
as a Second Language (ESL) student to a bilingual and bicultural
adult. The identity transition she underwent is her personal
motivation for the study, which is based on her PhD
dissertation. Kanno continues with a review of studies on bilingual
and bicultural identities in the field of second language acquisition
and bilingualism. One of her points is that the cited identity studies
focus on the process of learning English while her study focuses on
the evolution ESL learners undergo in becoming bilingual and
bicultural young adults. Framing the issue of identity in two
perspectives, narrative inquiry and communities of practice, Kanno
traces the role of the learners' social environment in their
developing identities. I found it interesting that despite a clear
focus on sociocultural and identity-related issues, the author does
not cite social psychological theories of language in order to show
how language is used in the learners' social environments to emphasize
particular identities. The second section, Chapters Two ~V Five,
presents the stories of the four students. It is through these stories
that we learn of their motivation, integration into society, attitudes
toward their languages and cultures, and their efforts in developing
an identity and in becoming a member of society. The third section,
Chapters Six-Eight, presents an analysis of the four narratives,
identifying the common themes and relating them to the broader issues
of bilingual and bicultural identities.

In presenting the main themes related to the development of the 
participants' identities, Chapter Six organizes them in relation to the 
learners' three phases of movement: sojourn to North America, return to 
Japan, and later reconciliation. It appears that the language learners' 
social environment had the greatest impact in each phase. As teenagers 
in Canada, they were enrolled in their schools' ESL programs. The ESL 
programs divided the student body, creating a physical and 
psychological distance between the ESL and native-speaking students. In 
essence, the academic social environment, the schools and their ESL 
programs, marginalized the language learners, limiting their 
interaction with native speakers. In addition to public school 
attendance, the language learners also attended 'hoshuko', Japanese 
supplementary school, where once a week they were immersed in Japanese 
language and culture thereby strengthening their Japanese identity. 
Their home provided an additional social environment where Japanese 
language and culture was valued. Thus, it appears that the four 
language learners were immersed in two different types of social 
environments in North America, their schools' ESL programs which 
reinforced their minority status, and the 'hoshuko' and their homes 
which reinforced their Japanese identity. With their return to Japan, 
the language learners' underwent readjustment strategies. Despite their 
immersion in Japanese language and culture while abroad, upon return to 
Japan they felt as strangers entering a homogeneous society. On the one 
hand, they were self-conscious of the difference between themselves and 
their Japanese peers. On the other, they were aware of a change in 
their linguistic status. In Canada, they were ESL students or non-
native speakers while in Japan they became bilingual speakers. In the 
third phase, reconciliation, the language learners' came to terms with 
their hybrid identities. About one and a half years after returning to 
Japan, the participants began to expand their social networks thereby 
encountering more people with heterogeneous values. This change in 
social networks made the participants feel more comfortable with their 
own past experience and more accepting of their own bilingual / 
bicultural identities. Chapter Seven considers the theoretical 
implications of the study, namely the influence of the sociocultural 
context on identity development. In terms of the learners' level of 
participation in society, in Canada they were peripheral members while 
in Japan they were legitimate members enjoying high prestige for their 
knowledge of English. The high prestige associated with English 
knowledge in Japan, in contrast to the low prestige of Japanese 
knowledge in Canada, is attributed to the learners' positive 
development of bilingual / bicultural identity.

The book concludes with a number of educational suggestions. First,
there is a need to address ESL students' needs for participation in
the native-speaking social environment. Where a student's native
language (L1) is a minority language, successful L1 maintenance is
possible through separate ethnic schools. Third, not all second
language learners maintain immigrant status, as a result bilingual /
multicultural education should consider reintegration issues of
returnee students. In terms of identity, students' identities emerge
out of social interaction therefore educators should avoid labeling
students. Finally, teachers should listen to students' stories in
order to aid their adjustment process.

Kanno presents an innovative study focusing on important issues of
bilingual / bicultural identity, process of identity development, and
immersion in L1 and L2 of non-immigrant populations. Reading the four
learners' stories of their experiences both in North America and Japan
raises our awareness of the problems non-native language learners,
especially teenagers, encounter in their social environment. Since
social environment impacts identity development, both for non-native
and native speakers, I would have valued a more detailed analysis of
the learners' social networks in Canada and Japan. For example, in
Chapter Three, Kenji describes how on his first day in a Canadian
school, and without knowing English, two of his classmates helped him
find his way home. Kenji then goes on to say, ''Those two became my
first friends'' (p. 49). It is through practices of interactions with
people that our identity develops. However, no further information is
provided on whether the two friends are native or non-native English
speakers, what type of relationship was formed and what impact this
relationship, among others, had upon Kenji in terms of his language
learning, developing identity, and participation in his social

While the communities of practice perspective highlights the learning
process people undergo in order to become members of a community,
Kanno attempts to show that the learners' communities of practice,
i.e., the schools in Canada, may not have sufficiently initiated the
teenagers into its own particular practices. My difficulty in relying
solely on the concept of communities of practice as a framework for
exploring the processes by which people become members of a community
and acquiring the community's sociolinguistic features (Holmes &
Meyerhoff, 1999) is that it considers the broader social
environment. For example, one would use the concept of communities of
practice to refer to a school, an ESL program, or even a classroom
environment, yet most people interact not with social environments but
with other people in social settings. The relationships formed with
people are more clearly defined as social networks. Social networks
have a direct impact upon its members' developing identity as outlined
in social identity theory (Hogg& Terry, 2000). A clearer understanding
of the social environments' role in bilingual identity development
would have been possible if the social environments had been analyzed
for social networks as well.

Another difficulty I encountered, basic to the book, is with Kanno's
definition of identity. Although she states that her use of the term
'identity' refers to ''our sense of who we are and our relationship to
the world'' (p. 3), the question arises whether identity refers to the
social nature of self as constituted by society, and or is identity
treated as self as independent of and prior to society. The difference
in the two definitions affects analysis of the social environment's
role in identity development. If identity refers to self as
constituted by society, then social context makes different identities
meaningful. In such a situation, one would expect that each of the
learners' different social environments would make salient a different
social identity. Yet, this does not become apparent in all the
narratives. If identity refers to the self as independent of and prior
to society, then this implies a person's level of commitment to a
certain identity and thus to particular social behaviors. This
coincides with Kanno's conclusion that the bilingual youths' identity
development followed a trajectory of initial identification with one
culture to gradual acceptance of both cultures. In other words, they
were committed to a particular identity, as in the case of Rui who had
''a strong attachment to his Japanese identity'' (p. 85). It appears
that this second definition of identity, self as independent of and
prior to society, is the one most often used in the book. If this is
the case, then what role does the social environment play in the
learners' identity development?

In conclusion, Kanno's book provides an interesting perspective on the
sociocultural and identity problems encountered by second language
learners and on the process of bilingual / bicultural identity
development. Second language educators and graduate students should
find it worthwhile reading.

Hogg, M. A., & Terry, D. J. (2000). Social identity and self-
categorization processes in organizational contexts. The Academy of
Management Review 25, 121-141.

Holmes, J., and Meyerhoff, M. (1999). The community of practice:
Theories and methodologies in language and gender. Language in Society
28, 173-183.

Orna Ferenz, a full time EFL lecturer at Bar Ilan University,
completed her PhD studies at Bar Ilan University. Her doctoral
dissertation, Planning Processes and Language Choice In Research-based
EFL Academic Writing, investigates the psycholinguistic and
sociolinguistic components of planning and language use among advanced
English as a Foreign Language (EFL) academic student writers. The
study is focused on the interface between language use, cognitive
processes, and social networks during the EFL academic planning
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