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LINGUIST List 21.44

Tue Jan 05 2010

Review: Morphology; Sociolinguistics; Syntax; English: Rasinger (2007)

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        1.    Joshua Nash, Bengali-English in East London

Message 1: Bengali-English in East London
Date: 05-Jan-2010
From: Joshua Nash <joshua.nashadelaide.edu.au>
Subject: Bengali-English in East London
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Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/18/18-2733.html
AUTHOR: Sebastian M. Rasinger
TITLE: Bengali-English in East London
SUBTITLE: A study in urban multilingualism
SERIES TITLE: Contemporary Studies in Descriptive Linguistics, Volume 11
PUBLISHER: Peter Lang
YEAR: 2007

Joshua Nash, Discipline of Linguistics, University of Adelaide, Australia

INTRODUCTION

This monograph sheds light on a specific area of sociolinguistic research,
namely multilingualism in an urban setting, using the example of the
Bengali-English spoken in the Tower Hamlets area of East London as a case study.
It comprises the eleventh volume in a series of publications in contemporary
descriptive linguistics with a pronounced sociolinguistic bent. It
contextualizes research into dialectology in England using the example of a
specific bi/tri-lingual community in an urban setting and also contributes to
understanding the demographics and sociocultural status of Bangladeshis in
London. In addition this book offers a fair deal of insight, though
inadvertently at times and often not made explicit, into understanding the
linguistic nature of this Bengali minority in East London, the relationship and
nature of Bengali-English syntactic crossover, and analysis of the status of
Bangladeshi Bengali and the closely-related Sylheti in London.

SUMMARY

In the introductory three chapters the author explores a range of relevant
theory and literature applicable to such an analysis of bilingualism,
particularly in the urban context. General notions and definitions of speech
community, ethnolinguistic vitality, and multilingualism are treated to a
reasonable level, although it is often not clear in the early chapters the
extent or depth to be expected in the overall analysis. It is thus difficult to
deem whether the reviewed literature is broad enough or not for the expected
results that are to follow. Chapter Four presents a very brief yet water-tight
account of methods used in obtaining spontaneous speech data as well as
addressing issues involved in participant observation and the position of the
researcher in the interview situation.

The five research questions presented on page 73 are long awaited in the text
and the author could have benefited by providing these in a brief form much
earlier in the book, if only to give the reader a taste of what is to come. It
is only at this stage in the volume that the author (a) places his literature
review into a current theoretical argument, and (b) explains what the rest of
the study involves.

The analytical component of the book comprising the middle four chapters deals
with syntactic analysis, syntactic development and performance, a
sociolinguistic analysis of Bengali-English, and analysis of ethnolinguistic
vitality respectively. Rasinger gives a reasonable account of aspects of
syntactic performance via analysis of copulas, auxiliaries, prepositions,
determiners, and pronouns in his data on Bengali-English. One of the major
findings and implications for sociolinguistics is that L1 transfer to L2, i.e.
from Bengali/Sylheti to English, is not the only effect on L2 acquisition or
performance, and suggests that Standard English, the various vernaculars of
English, and foreigner talk all exist in a complex linguistic relationship with
each other. This is, of course, not in any way a new realization for
sociolinguistics but Rasinger has shown this quite competently using a
well-defined and focused corpus of Bengali-English.

The syntactic analysis moves into an attempt to ascertain the relationship
between the sentence and non-linguistic data, i.e. informants' social and
psychological background. Age, age of arrival in Britain, length of residence,
and the ability to predict performance from these factors culminate in a model
describing the relationship between syntactic performance, interlanguage
influence, and non-linguistic factors for Bengali-English in Tower Hamlets. One
of the most interesting though not surprising outcomes from the author's data is
the suggestion that community structure in the Bengali-speaking community in
East London bears very strong and similar resemblance to that in non-urban
Bangladesh. This insight has great significance for the further categories of
analysis, namely gender, language use, language choice and language contact,
motivation, integration, and social distance. Here the analysis leads to the
general conclusion that the social landscape of Bengali-speaking Londoners is
generally focussed on linguistic and social interaction with Bengali/Sylheti
speakers, resulting in their rather Bengali-centric linguistic and cultural
perspective. This naturally has ramifications for the learning of L2 and
furthermore for ethnolinguistic vitality and questions of linguistic
assimilation of Bengali-English speakers into British society. Data gathered
from questionnaires suggest that Bengali/Sylheti speakers engage in limited
linguistic contact with ethnic British English and that the speaking of English
generally takes place outside the home environment. This contact is limited to
few domains, e.g. shopping and health based dealings. Of interest to the
sociolinguistics of Bengali-English speakers, Rasinger's data suggests that if
respondents have a choice there is a general tendency to choose interlocutors of
Bengali stock.

To sum up, the author argues that for the Bengali community the preferred
language at home is Bengali/Sylheti and that English is used for administrative
purposes and to varying degrees across age, gender, social status, and degree of
assimilation into greater British society. The possible development of a unique
speech variety of Bengali-English (''Benglish'') in a similar mould to London
Jamaican and its role in the potential encapsulation and isolation of this
sub-section of British society is proposed, rounding off the work with food for
thought for researchers interested in analysing the sociolinguistic status of
subcontinental diaspora in Britain.

EVALUATION

In the introductory chapters the author states and presents many of the
problems, questions, and inadequacies of sociolinguistics and doing
sociolinguistic research, while not necessarily offering any adequate or
applicable alternative to the proposed theories and research methods. An
explicit statement of this study's methodological and thus theoretical
contribution to Bengali-English sociolinguistics would have stationed the work
much more strongly in the modern sociolinguistic canon and would have opened up
the study to broader application and replication.

Another general criticism is that during the analysis chapters the author often
confusingly refers to theory and interprets his results in light of previous
studies rather than synthesizing such arguments more precisely in the concluding
chapter. By doing so, the two major theoretical models resulting from the study
(p. 178 and p. 252) would have been offered contextually with much stronger
reference to the already presented theory in the initial theoretical explication
in the opening three chapters. This practical oversight often bleaches the
theoretical weight of the implications of the study, and thus leads the reader
away from identifying its relationship to possible future research and the
overall placement of the research within the sociolinguistics of Bengali
diaspora around the world.

It also seems surprising that although Baker and Eversley (2000) have discussed
the state of multilingualism of London's schoolchildren and further mapped the
language ecology and extent of child linguistic diversity in London and in
particular the distribution of Bengali/Sylheti speakers, a distinction the
author makes clear, no reference is made to this work.

This research is warranted within sociolinguistics and is indeed valuable to the
subfield of studies into ethnolinguistic vitality in multicultural Britain. More
welcomed would have been a presentation of several expanded journal articles
pinpointing and dealing in depth and in a much sharper fashion with the pressing
aspects addressed herein such as syntax, the sociolinguistics status of
Bengali-English and the Bengali-English speaking community, and empirical
ethnolinguistic vitality. Although the monograph might have been much briefer,
more condensed, and more pointed, it contributes to understanding aspects of
Bengali sociolinguistics and varieties of subcontinental English.

REFERENCE

Baker, Philip & Eversley, John (eds.). 2000. ''Multilingual Capital: The
languages of London’s schoolchildren and their relevance to economic, social and
educational policies''. London: Battlebridge.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER

Joshua Nash is a PhD candidate at the University of Adelaide, Australia. His current project involves an analysis of the Norf’k language of Norfolk Island, South Pacific, from an ecolinguistic perspective and in particular the history of placenaming on the island. He has worked with Danish linguists Jørgen Bang, Jørgen Døør and Sune Vork Steffensen in developing their theory and practice of Dialectical Linguistics and has a great interest in the languages of India.


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