LINGUIST List 15.838

Thu Mar 11 2004

Review: Discourse: Androutsopoulos & Georgakopoulou

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  1. Janet Fuller, Discourse Construction of Youth Identities

Message 1: Discourse Construction of Youth Identities

Date: Wed, 10 Mar 2004 15:14:34 -0500 (EST)
From: Janet Fuller <>
Subject: Discourse Construction of Youth Identities

EDITORS: Androutsopoulos, Jannis K. and Alexandra Georgakopoulou
TITLE: Discourse Construction of Youth Identities
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins Publishing Company
YEAR: 2003

Announced at

Janet M. Fuller, Department of Linguistics, Southern Illinois
University at Carbondale.

The purpose of this volume is to apply major themes in research on the
construction of identity through language to youth culture. To this
end, it contains an introduction and twelve chapters on youth
interactions in a variety of European settings. The introduction
frames the studies included in the volume by discussing major themes
in research on the construction of identity in general and youth
identity and language in particular. The assumption for all of the
chapters is that identity is not a fixed characteristic, but something
which is locally created in interactions. Beyond this common thread,
the research methods are many and varied.

The editors address the use of the term 'youth', and state that in
these studies, it is operationalized not only through a comparison to
adult and child categories, but also by membership in certain group
activities. That is, the status of an individual as a 'youth' is
ethnographically derived, and/or based on their participation in
situated communities emerging from shared interests or activities,
i.e., 'communities of practice.'. These sub-cultures are viewed as
important practices in their own right, and not as a substitute, or
practice, for adult culture.

The chapters in this volume link these youth (sub)cultures to
linguistic choices or devices which they use to express their
identities. While youth culture often departs from the mainstream, it
is also shaped by macro-culture, and thus the youths use linguistic
resources to position themselves in relation to both societal norms
and interactional negotiations of self.

The book is comprised of three sections, each of which contains four
chapters. The studies in Part I all deal with children in face-to-face
interactions within a community of practice which provides them the
linguistic resources with which they create and display their
identities. The first, Werner Kallmeyer and Inken Keim's study titled
'Linguistic variation and the construction of social identity in a
German-Turkish setting: A case study of an immigrant youth group in
Mannheim, Germany', illustrates how teen-age girls in a youth center
use language choice to index various aspects of their identities. The
codes discussed are Turkish, German, Turkish-German codeswitching, and
'district talk', a simplified colloquial variety of German associated
with tough youth culture.

Vally Lytra's contribution, 'Nicknames and teasing: a case study of a
linguistically and culturally mixed peer-group', examines the
linguistic behavior of five Greek-Turkish bilingual 4th graders (two
girls and three boys) who are part of a larger peer group comprised
largely of monolingual Greek speakers. Teasing was used to indicate
both alignment and conflict with the recipient of the teasing. The
most interesting aspect of this work is how teasing -- which clearly
functions to negotiate group identity -- also functions to renegotiate
gender roles. In particular, the girls' behavior in teasing sequences
positioned them in a non-traditional, assertive female role, in which
they proved themselves to be as capable as boys in teasing

The third chapter, 'Looking back when looking ahead: On adolescents'
identity management in narrative practices', by Alexandra
Georgakopoulou, looks at spontaneously occurring personal experience
stories among four Greek 17-year-old women who are close friends. The
author links the roles in narration to social identities. In the main
sequence analyzed, one speaker is the 'teller', focused on relating
past events, and the other the 'assessor', who is focused on potential
future events. These roles in the narrative form part of their
respective identities as a young woman in a more traditional, passive
female role and a street-wise, assertive woman.
Anna-Brita Stenstrom's comparison of male and female same-sex
conversation, 'It's not that I really care about him personally you
know: The construction of gender identity in London teenage talk' is
the final chapter of Part I. This is an analysis of four
conversations from the Bergen Corpus of London Teenage Language.
Gender differences were found solely in the content of talk: girls
talked about feelings and people (especially boys), and boys talked
about events and activities. Previous findings on the tendency for
male speakers to use more taboo words, and female speakers to be more
interactionally cooperative, were not corroborated.

Part II addresses the tension between mainstream norms/rules and the
negotiation of personal identities. All of these articles show how
youths use language to carve out identities for themselves in ways
that transcend institutional or standard language restrictions.
Kuniyoshi Kataoka's chapter titled 'Emotion and youth identities in
personal letter writing: An analysis of pictorial signs and
unconventional punctuation' looks at letters of Japanese women aged
16-25 and claims that a diverse set of letter shapes and invented
signs are used by these women. The members of a community of practice
using these signs recognize them as affective markers which mark the
discourse as important for its own sake -- i.e., the main purpose of
the letter writing is not to convey important information, but to
establish and maintain relationships.
'Spelling Rebellion', Mark Sebba's contribution to the volume, looks
at English-language graffiti and the writing of a non-standardized
language, Jamaican Creole, used in a variety of media in urban Britain
(published poems, dub poetry, dialogue in prose, personal letters, and
graffiti). He shows how writers use non-conventionalized spellings to
create a symbolic distance from the mainstream. For adolescents, this
is one way of rebelling against adult norms, and expressing an 'inner
life' which is set apart from traditional forms of communication.

Anita Wilson's chapter, 'Nike trainers, my one true love -- without
you I am nothing: Youth, identity and the language of trainers for
young men in prison', focuses on how incarcerated young men use
discourse to create a 'third space', i.e., a world which sits between
prison and outside societies. In particular, messages associated with
Nike trainers are used by these young men to construct personal
identities to hold on to within the confines of prison --
specifically, it indexes their lives as youths, not prisoners.

The final chapter of Part II is by Jan Berns and Peter Schlobinski:
'Construction of identity in German hip-hop culture'. This selection
deals with the expression of group membership for hip-hop performers.
Primarily, these performers stress 'being real', which means being
part of the underground, as opposed to the commercial, hip-hop
movement; being relevant for their (German) audience; and showing
knowledge of former hip-hop artists. If performers -- and fans --
succeed in conveying their allegiance to 'being real', then and only
then do they belong to the culture. The demands of membership to this
youth culture index its importance to its members as part of their
socio-political identity.

Part III of the volume includes four chapters which look at the
multiplicity of meanings of code choices. Peter Auer and Inci Dirim's
contribution, 'Socio-cultural orientation, urban youth styles and the
spontaneous acquisition of Turkish by non-Turkish adolescents in
Germany' describes how youths in Hamburg use Turkish to index youth
culture, ethnic or cultural affiliation with Turks, or 'street'
culture. The particularly interesting finding in this study is that
some speakers embrace one of these aspects of identity, but reject the
others. Thus, the same code can be used to mark very different
identities, which overlap only in that they are alternatives to
mainstream culture.

Catrin Norrby and Karolina Wirdenas' chapter, 'Swedish youth
discourse: On performing relevant selves in interaction' examines the
use of pragmatic devices in mixed-sex informal interviews. They find
that the use of certain pragmatic devices can be linked to particular
discourse roles (particularly, Mitigator and Supporter) taken on by
the participants, while those who put themselves in the roles of
Expert and Contradictor use few of these pragmatic devices. In
addition, certain pragmatic devices, as markers of adolescent speech,
are used to establish group solidarity when a topic dealing with youth
culture is discussed. Thus, both individual and group identities are
constructed through the use of the same pragmatic devices.

In Tore Kristiansen's, 'The youth and the gatekeepers: Reproduction
and change in language norm and variation', the attitudes and use of
three varieties of Danish are examined. The three varieties are a
'high' Copenhagen variety, a 'low' Copenhagen variety, and a local
variety. It is shown that while youths assign covert prestige to
their local variety, they accept that this way of speaking does not
have high social status. They are much more open to use of the 'low'
version of the Copenhagan dialect. However, this reflects their
participation in the national re-evaluation of this variety across
Danish society, and thus the overall picture is one of loyalty to, and
not challenge of, standard language ideology.

The final chapter, 'Mediated experience and youth identities in a
post-traditional order', by Lilie Chouliaraki, is a critical discourse
analysis of two group interviews with Greek youths. She examines how
they position themselves in relation to a political event based on
media representations of that event. She finds that they construct
identities for themselves which include both traditional and
post-traditional stances, which both accept and reject nationalist
media discourses.

Overall, the volume is thematically coherent while covering a broad
range of perspectives and methodologies. As is to be expected, along
with this diversity in approaches comes variation in the strength of
the contributions. While several of the articles are based on
comprehensive ethnographic fieldwork which indicates a clear
understanding of the micro- and macro-issues the speakers face when
making choices about how to use their linguistic resources (e.g.,
Kallmeyre and Keim, Wilson), some chapters are much less ambitious in
its both their analyses and claims (e.g., Stenstrom, Kataoka). This
is not to say that ethnographic studies are, overall, to be more
highly valued; some of the best chapters of the volume are those which
assess public discourse (Berns and Schlobinski), present results of
task-based studies (Kristiansen, Norrby and Wirdenas), and use both
observation and interviews to assess acts of identity (Auer and Dirim,
Georgakopoulou). The variety of methods employed by the researchers
is a strength of the volume, although overall I would prefer more
explicit discussion of the research methodologies used, and their
goals and limitations.

A minor criticism of the volume is that the organization of the
articles into three neat sections of four is somewhat artificial, and
the internal coherence of the sections is not complete. The first
section ('Peer Group Identities') deals with discourse between
intimates in peer groups, but since this could be said for several of
the articles in the other two sections, it is not a feature which
clearly unites these chapters. Nonetheless, these four chapters do
complement each other in their approaches and start the book off well.

Part II ('Recasting Literacy Practices') is also somewhat inaptly
named, as only the first two articles truly deal with an analysis of
literary practices. While Wilson's analysis does involve written
communication, its real focus transcends this aspect of the analysis,
and Berns and Schlobinski's article has little if anything to do with
literacy. In addition, Kataoka's article, which analyzes letters and
thus clearly fits the title of the section, unfortunately only
minimally addresses the issue of youth identity, simply linking the
symbols used to youth culture because they are part of youth

Finally, the last four articles are introduced with the title,
'Representation and Positionings', a title which seems to be missing a
valuable perspective. In my opinion, the fascinating thread which
links these four studies is that they all deal with the different
meanings of particular code choices or linguistic devices. Viewed
from this perspective, these last four chapters complement each other
admirably well, and leave the reader well satisfied.

These organizational issues are relatively minor, however, and overall
the volume reads well, has a clear focus, and treats youth identities
seriously and as an important part of the cultures in which they
develop. It should be required reading for scholars with interests in
language and identity and those who focus on youth culture.


Janet M. Fuller is an Associate Professor of Linguistics and
Anthropology at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. Her
research interests include bilingualism and language contact,
discourse analysis, and language and gender. She is currently involved
in a project examining the language choices and identity negotiation
of Mexican-American youths.
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