LINGUIST List 24.963|
Sat Feb 23 2013
Review: Applied Ling.; Language Acq.; Sociolinguistics: Fogle (2012)
Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons
From: Amanda Temples <amandatemplesgmail.com>
Subject: Second Language Socialization and Learner Agency
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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/23/23-3307.html
AUTHOR: Lyn Fogle
TITLE: Second Language Socialization and Learner Agency
SUBTITLE: Adoptive Family Talk
SERIES TITLE: Bilingual Education and Bilingualism
PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters
REVIEWER: Amanda Lanier Temples, Georgia State University
Lyn Fogle’s “Second Language Socialization and Learner Agency: Adoptive Family
Talk” offers a window into the daily bilingual interactions of families that
have adopted children from Russia and Ukraine and opens up important
theoretical space in regard to learner agency. She draws on conversation
analysis of daily interactions in these transnational adoptive families and
interviews in order to demonstrate the negotiated and bidirectional nature of
language socialization. In each of three separate but thematically and
contextually related case studies, she offers evidence that the ostensibly
less-powerful participants, the children, achieve agency through a range of
strategies and thus shape their interactional context. Further, she argues
that as parents and children negotiate participation and power through the use
of English and the children’s native Russian at home, they also engage in the
construction of an identity as a cohesive family unit and lay foundations for
effective interactions in other contexts including school. The volume
concludes with implications for parents, teachers, and adoption professionals
as well as scholars interested in social and cultural aspects of second
This monograph hews close to the content and structure of Fogle’s dissertation
(2009), though significant changes have been made in the published volume. The
volume opens with an introduction (Chapter 1) and a general literature review
that effectively locates this research in regard to language socialization and
particularly agency and identity construction in language learners (Chapter
2). These chapters are followed by a discussion of issues and empirical
findings regarding language, bilingualism, and transnational adoption (Chapter
3). While this discussion of current literature is somewhat shorter and less
technical than the comparable sections of the dissertation, it is nevertheless
thoroughly grounded and clearly articulates complex concepts and issues
relating to agency, identity, and adoption.
The following three chapters each focus on a different family case and
specific L2 socialization practices that were apparent in that individual
family’s data: Ch 4 on narratives, Ch 5 on languaging or metalinguistic talk,
and Ch 6 on codeswitching. Likewise, each chapter focuses on a different
aspect of learner agency: resistance, participation, and negotiation.
Beginning in 2004, Fogle recruited families in one large metropolitan area in
the eastern U.S. who had decided to adopt older children from Russia and
Ukraine. Here “older” is defined as children about 4 years old and above who
had learned to communicate in their first language and most of whom began to
acquire English as a second language upon arrival in the U.S. Her three focal
families are similar in that their adoptees had arrived in the U.S. shortly
before or even after data collection began and that they had all adopted
sibling pairs. She asked each of these families to record instances of family
talk from mealtimes and other gatherings at their own discretion over the
course of several months, and she conducted concomitant interviews with the
parents and, in one family, the adoptees themselves. This process yielded 56
recordings and several hours of interviews, excerpts of which appear
throughout the results chapters with bilingual transcription helpfully
presented in Cyrillic script, transliterated Russian, and English.
In Chapter 4, “‘I Got Nothin’!’: Resistance, Routine and Narrative,” the
analysis focuses on narratives in the recorded family talk, and specifically
on the 7- and 8-year-old brothers’ resistance to a practice that Fogle labels
the “Bad Thing/Good Thing Routine.” Fogle demonstrates that the children’s
achievement of agency through resistance led to the gradual abandonment of a
routine initiated by their father but also opened up a greater breadth of
topics in parent-child interactions. Through more spontaneous narratives,
Fogle proposes that the two boys “gradually begin to construct life stories”
(p. 68) that link the transnational trajectories of their lives from their
early experience in Ukraine to their current life in the U.S.
Chapter 5, “‘But Now We’re Your Daughter and Son!’: Participation, Questions
and Languaging” attends to languaging (as defined by Swain, 2006) and the role
it played in English learning for the 3- and 5-year-old adoptees. The
interactional routines on which this analysis centers involved parent- and
child-initiated “what-questions.” A brief table comparing their frequency at
mealtime, while reading books together, and during homeschooling sessions
provides one of the few quantitative elements of this study. This routine
initially allowed the parents to ascertain what vocabulary and concepts the
children knew and allowed the children to gain further knowledge. However,
over time the children took up this practice as a means of requesting
information and also appropriated it as a means of gaining the floor and vying
for their mother’s attention.
Ch 6, like the previous chapters, is titled with an evocative quote: “‘We’ll
Help Them in Russian, and They’ll Help Us in English.’” This chapter discusses
a family who differed from those in Chapters 4 and 5 in that they had adopted
a total of six children from Russia and their two most recent adoptees,
sisters aged 15 and 16, were much older than the children in previous
chapters. As this family used a higher proportion of Russian at home, Ch 6
focuses on patterns of codeswitching in various family groupings and
highlights the role of language choice in communicating subtle shifts in
alignment and power among family members. Drawing on interviews conducted with
these teen girls in Russian, interviews with the parents in English, and
conversation analysis of interaction in various family groupings and settings,
Fogle claims that the older girls were attempting to negotiate more dominant
roles in the family through persisting in their use of Russian and encouraging
their siblings to use it. In response, the parents began to view Russian use
as a disruption and to discourage bilingual interactions. As they drew
attention to the power that children can wield in language socialization, this
family’s patterns of communication led Fogle to attend further to learner
agency in the other two cases.
Following these case study chapters are “Conclusions and Implications” (Ch 7)
and an “Epilogue” (Ch 8), which includes reflections from the parents in these
three cases taken from additional interviews conducted some years after the
initial data collection. Among the conclusions are Fogle’s assertions that
“the affordance of individual agency makes a difference in learning processes
for children” (p. 170) and that children undergoing L2 socialization in her
study “construct discursive identities” through three sets of practices:
“through taking on different speaker roles, through the repetitions of these
roles and stances in everyday interactions, and through reference to distant
times and places” (p. 171). All of these processes, she proposes, contribute
over time to a “unified adoptee self identity that can have benefits in
schooling and post-school careers” (p. 172).
In this monograph, Fogle sets out to make two important contributions to the
increasingly prominent and expansive field of social and cultural approaches
to second language acquisition. First, she seeks to offer insights into a
particular context of second language socialization, that constituted by
families that have adopted children from Russia and Ukraine. Second, in so
doing she seeks to extend and add theoretical heft to the construct of agency
as it is used in research that follows the language socialization paradigm.
Each of these aspects will be discussed below.
Adoptive Family Talk
This study instantiates an important characteristic of language socialization
research in that it “looks not at discrete linguistic items at the level of
lexis and morphology, but at interactional or sociolinguistic routines that
become part of language learners’ and users’ communicative repertoires” (Duff
& Talmy, 2011, p. 96). In my view, the monograph’s greatest strength is the
clarity with which Fogle identifies such routines in the interactions between
the adoptive children and their parents in these separate but harmonized case
studies. In the conversation that yielded the title of Chapter 5 (pp.125-127),
for example, Fogle analyzes several fragments of a family discussion about
Thanksgiving cumulatively to explain how a straightforward series of
“what-questions” eventually opens the way to building a shared family history
linking past to future. Explaining that Thanksgiving occurs annually, the
parents recall the prior Thanksgiving, when they were thinking of the children
but had not yet adopted them. Their 4-year-old daughter then makes the
connection that they can expect to celebrate Thanksgiving together in the
future, because “now we’re your daughter and son!” This metalinguistic
discussion not only defines the lexical item “Thanksgiving” but also
“constructs the significance of Thanksgiving as an event closely related to
the children’s membership in the new family” (p. 126).
This excerpt, among others, illustrates Fogle’s argument that family identity
is constructed discursively through everyday conversations and offers an
example of the emotional power that this work sometimes wields. While the
analysis is rigorous, Fogle does not let us lose sight of the fact that these
individuals, adoptive parents and children who have crossed national,
cultural, and linguistic borders, are not only learning to communicate
effectively but also negotiating how to be a family unit.
At the same time, she stops short of painting more ethnographically rich
portraits of the families and the contexts in which these interactions take
place. Though this investigation does not purport to use ethnographic methods,
greater reliance on thorough content analysis of interview data and a more
narrative approach in the writing of the report would help the reader
appreciate the trajectory of each family’s recent history. The epilogue, in
extending these families’ narratives, sheds light on and expands the preceding
analyses. Drawing on interviews conducted some years after the primary data
collection, it delves further into the tensions that arose between each set of
parents and their adopted children. Thus the epilogue may also reveal some of
the tension that the researcher herself apparently faced between opening a
window on these intimate and sometimes fraught family interactions and
demonstrating that the challenges inherent in constructing a family through
transnational adoption are not insurmountable.
Fogle explains that she did not focus on the parents’ reasons for adoption or
the children’s backgrounds prior to adoption because she “did not want to
perpetuate stereotypes that circulate about transnational adoptees that might
influence the parents’ practices” (p. 56). Perhaps analyzing and discrediting
these stereotypes would be the task of a different study. Nevertheless, a
greater effort to present each family not only as participants in this study
but as participants in their own emerging narrative would lend further support
to Fogle’s conclusions and implications. Additionally, it might increase the
accessibility of this work to the broader audience who might look to this
volume for insight and guidance in regard to transnational adoption.
L2 Socialization and Learner Agency
Fogle does not attempt to define the parameters of agency, as do Bucholtz and
Hall (2005), for example, in regard to related constructs, identity and
interaction. However, she does attempt to illustrate three modes of achieving
agency in the three results chapters: resistance, participation, and
negotiation. In each case study, she demonstrates that children are not merely
the subjects of L2 socialization; rather, they actively seek and achieve
agency in their interactions with adults. Thus, they are able to change their
learning contexts through encounters with experts (their parents) and even to
change those experts’ beliefs and practices. Importantly for scholars,
adoption professionals, and parents alike, these analyses show how parents’
intentions and ideologies play out in ways that defy their own expectations
and shift in response to children’s agency. Although the assertion that L2
socialization is bidirectional and that children’s agency plays an important
role in their language learning processes is not new (Hawkins, 2005; McKay &
Wong, 1996; Willett, 1995), Fogle’s work contributes significant evidence to
The differences among the three focal families rendered comparison difficult
and may raise questions about generalizability and the theoretical
implications of this work. However, Fogle explains that she “resist[ed]
comparisons of the three families as an analytic tool” (p. 52). As a result,
she proposes that these analyses should be interpreted “as ‘possibilities’ of
what can happen in transnational adoptive families, but not what does happen
in all families or what all adoptive families do” (p. 53). This collective
case study structure allows the reader to grasp the thematic similarities in
the children’s achievement of agency across these three families despite the
variation in the specific patterns that instantiate this overarching theme.
While Fogle’s treatment of “agency” and “identity” as constructs are
well-grounded in the literature and well-developed in the analysis, she makes
frequent use of other terms, particularly “transnational” and “heritage”,
without addressing the growing body of potentially relevant research that has
used these concepts in regard to language learners. In this volume,
“transnational” is most frequently used to refer to “transnational adoption”
or “transnational adoptees,” functioning as a modifier to express that these
adoptees have been born in countries other than the U.S. and adopted by
U.S.-based parents. Other scholars, in contrast, use “transnational” to refer
to people and practices that remain rooted in multiple nations or that involve
ongoing movement across national boundaries (Kanno & Norton, 2003; Risager,
2007; Warriner, 2007). There is room here to argue that these learners’ lives
are transnational and that this will be important for their identity
construction, as does Yi (2009), for example. However, the reader should not
expect this volume to address transnational theory (in the sense of Basch,
Glick Schiller, & Blanc, 1994).
As for “heritage language”, it can be argued based on prevailing definitions
of heritage learners (Carreira, 2004; Valdes, 2005; Van Deusen-Scholl, 2003;
Wiley, 2001) that these children are heritage learners in that their families
of origin use Russian and their adoptive parents may view preservation of
Russian language skills as a means of strengthening ties to these children’s
family and national heritage. The Implications section in Ch 7 focuses almost
exclusively on arguments for maintaining and promoting the “heritage language”
of older adoptees as a means of helping them negotiate the transition to the
U.S. and develop stable bilingual or transnational identities. While her
arguments are tenable and may be beneficial to parents and educators, they do
constitute an inductive leap from the empirical data in her studies. They are
also presented with little reference to the growing body of literature on
heritage learners (e.g., Brinton, Kagan, & Bauckus, 2008; Peyton, Ranard, &
McGinnis, 2001; etc.). Given that most heritage learner research focuses on
children of immigrants and few researchers in this area use similar methods,
particularly conversational analysis (with the notable exception of He, 2006,
2010), Fogle’s work nevertheless can and should contribute to our
understanding and characterization of heritage learners and their language use
In summary, “Second Language Socialization and Learner Agency: Adoptive Family
Talk” makes important contributions to the field of bilingual education and
bilingualism: it deals with a little-studied context and population
(transnational adoptees and their families), and it offers a rigorous analysis
of family talk and interviews from three families that links everyday routines
to parents’ and children’s perceptions of their language use. Furthermore, it
engages with, clarifies, and argues for the construct of agency in language
learning research. In so doing, Fogle generates truly poignant accounts that
reflect the challenges of crossing linguistic, cultural, and national
boundaries as these adoptees and adoptive parents develop family identities
through everyday talk.
This lucid account of an ambitious investigation may also serve well to inform
emerging researchers in PhD programs and more senior scholars who wish to
engage in comparable projects. In gathering the many hours of family
interaction and interview data that she discusses here, Fogle clearly
negotiated a range of methodological challenges in regard to recruitment,
recording, scheduling interviews, bilingual transcription, maintaining access
over time, and moderating her own influence as a researcher on her informants.
Her response to these challenges, as revealed explicitly and implicitly here,
would make this volume a stimulating supplemental text in a graduate course on
qualitative methods, bilingualism, discourse analysis, or language learner
identity. This work will be most accessible to readers with a solid
theoretical background in second language acquisition and particularly social
and cultural approaches to SLA, but it also offers valuable insights and
suggestions to parents, teachers, social workers, and other professionals who
may encounter such families.
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ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Amanda Lanier Temples recently defended her dissertation on investment,
identity, and literacy in young learners of Arabic at Georgia State
University, where she is a fellow in the Language & Literacy Initiative. Her
research focuses on social and cultural aspects of second language learning
and teaching, particularly in regard to less-commonly-taught languages, and
she has a secondary interest in discourse and communities of practice in
online learning environments. From 2002-2006, she taught EFL and theatre
seminars in the Czech Republic and Serbia, and she continues to teach courses
in English for academic purposes and applied linguistics.
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