AUTHOR: Heller, Monica
TITLE: Linguistic Minorities and Modernity
SUBTITLE: A Sociolinguistic Ethnography, Second Edition
SERIES TITLE: Advances in Sociolinguistics
PUBLISHER: Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd
Judith M. S. Pine, Ph.D., Department of Anthropology, Pacific Lutheran University
This second edition of Heller's ethnography of L'École Champlain, a
French-language school in Ontario, Canada, is an important contribution to a
wide variety of discourses, is timely, and will be useful for scholars
interested in the intersection between language use and power in a context which
Heller, following Giddens (1990), refers to as hypermodernity. Based on
fieldwork carried out from 1991-95, the volume is part of an important body of
work based on participant-observation in and around the school (as exemplified
in such classics as Eckert 1989; Heath 1983; Philips 1983; Willis 1977). As a
sociolinguistic ethnography, the book is of interest to linguistic and cultural
anthropologists more generally, and could easily be incorporated into upper
division courses. It will be of interest, as well, to those concerned with the
future of linguistic nationalism, the impact and process of bilingual education,
linguistic capital and the value of language as commodity, and the use of
language as a tool for constructing identity.
Heller approaches hypermodernity as a potentially positive condition of
linguistic minorities, providing a means of escape from what Sissons (2005), in
a related context, refers to as ''oppressive authenticity'', where pragmatic
choices allow for internal diversity without diluting political legitimacy. This
new bilingual interface with the world gains value, however, from the existence
of some monolingual populations who become a source of authenticity and also a
source of potential clients dependent on a bilingual elite. Bilingual education,
as Heller reveals, does not create a level playing field, or result in
harmonious, egalitarian multiculturalism, but rather inscribes a new set of
norms and a new hypermodern hierarchy.
In organizing this book, Heller argues that the situation of linguistic
minorities, the ecology of language ideology if you will, can best be imagined
as kaleidoscope with shifting pieces which nevertheless tend to form discernable
patterns. The book itself is then seen as a kaleidoscope, with each chapter
representing the view after a twist of the lens. Through this kaleidoscope, we
are given a glimpse of the discursive relationship between students and the
school, where the school includes teachers, administrators, government agencies
making policies affecting the school, and the communities which brought the
school into existence and which continue to support it, while being constantly
reminded of the diversity within each side of the discourse. The first half
section of the book comes from the school's perspective, while the second
section provides a view from the student side of the discourse.
In the first chapter, Heller provides a thick discussion of the theoretical
conclusions which she reached as a result of considerable ethnographic work. She
introduces the idea of the voyageur, the archetypical French Canadian fur
trapper whose role has been taken up by Francophone students in a bilingual high
school in Ontario. Casting these voyegeurs as heroes, who ''show us how to find
new paths across unknown territory, how to find what we want, and how to create
what we might become'', Heller intends not only an ethnography of bilingual
education but also a road map of sorts, sketched on the back of an envelope,
which may guide anyone once the familiar road signs of the politics of identity
have lost their meaning.
The second chapter provides a detailed discussion of the context within which
L'École Champlain came into existence. A focus on the structural conditions
which underpin practice is congruent with the central argument of the book,
which illustrates the impact of changes in local, national and international
economic structures on both ideology and practice. In this chapter, Heller
continues the theme of sustained ideological tension, pointing to the
contradictory implications of the school's motto - Unity in Diversity - where
diversity may describe a plural society which includes francophones but also the
diversity of the francophone world.
The school's own linguistic ideology is examined in the third chapter, and
another aspect of the tension between homogeneity and heterogeneity comes into
view, this time between the unifying force of a policy of French monolingualism
in the school and the implicit diversity of French language inherent in an
explicit emphasis on the production of français de qualité (quality French).
Extended transcripts of code-switching and code-mixing speech events in this
chapter are especially useful illustrations of the impact of ideological
contradictions on actual practice.
The diversity of the student body is the focus of the fourth chapter. Looking at
the situation of specific students, Heller explores the significance of
bilingualism, as opposed to francophony, which forms the linguistic capital
(Bourdieu 1994) to which students at L'École Champlain have access. This chapter
explores the hierarchy within the school where, as Heller notes, ''bilinguals
rule'', in great part through the manipulation of linguistic capital within the
context of a clear division between public (francophone) space and private or
backstage (bilingual, multilingual) space, which Heller calls ''playing the
game''. Her documentation of struggles between the bilinguals and recent
francophone immigrants for control of public space provides a nuanced view of a
situation which might otherwise have been oversimplified in terms of either race
In the fifth chapter, as the lens turns to click on the topic of gender,
Heller's ethnographic approach again provides a level of nuance that illustrates
the complexity within which the students re-produce hegemonic gender norms,
while in Chapter Six detailed examples illustrate the discourses through which
some immigrant students, using the tools made available by formal policies of
racial and ethnocultural inclusiveness in North America, resist the homogenizing
forces of both the school and the student body and create yet another position
whose voices must be listened to.
Chapter 6, based on collaborative work in a drama class conducted by Mark
Campbell, a member of Heller's research team, explores the role for francophony
in the development of an ideology of diversity in the school, involving
francophone African students whose experience does not fit well within the
dichotomous tensions which had formerly defined the school. Peripheral to the
struggles within which white students found themselves, the francophone Africans
(or ''multiculturals'') challenged the European and Canadian oriented hegemonies
of the school using the language of hip hop and a sense of shared political
identity, becoming, Heller and Campbell argue, a new core exemplified by a
political organization which came into existence during the student council
elections of 1994.
In Heller's final chapter she develops a connection between Canadian language
politics and what she refers to as the trajectory of the school and the
trajectories of its social actors, made visible to us in the extensive
ethnographic material in the book. She proposes the book as a model of the sort
of work needed to give us a better understanding of the way that language
operates in the construction and maintenance of political identity, and the
potential for a politically stable pragmatic linguistic pluralism.
Heller closes the book with a reiteration of her contention that the structure
of the politics of identity masks internal diversity, but increased value of
minority languages [she seems to imply all rather than only some]. Authenticity
moves from the political to economic realm, and the discursive practices which
masked contradictions to political solidarity come into play to mask those
dissonances as minority languages become valuable linguistic capital in an
''internationalizing political and economic order''.
The decision to ground this book firmly in ethnographic data is an excellent
one, and examples gleaned through participant-observation and through interviews
provide an invaluable foundation for the theoretical argument of the book.
However, this close focus may contribute to the fact that the First Nations
population of Canada is invisible. The sense of precariousness and endangerment
surrounding Canadian French, the reason the school came into existence, has the
unfortunate consequence of rendering invisible those speakers of minority
languages with no state affiliation - namely First Nations peoples. Heller's
contention that this book will be useful to speakers of minority languages in
general is weakened by the absence of a discussion of the situation of speakers
of First Nations languages in Canada the introduction and the conclusion.
The problem of authenticity, a problem which is central to the ethnography, has
been a topic of considerable discussion in the on-going scholarly discourse on
indigeneity (see, for example, Sissons 2005). While Heller touches on the
homogenizing force of authenticity inherent in the school's desire to protect
and reproduce Canadian French, the existence of privileged forms of French
provide alternatives not available to speakers of what, for want of a better
term, I will call indigenous languages, or, perhaps better, languages without
nations. For these speakers, the condition Sissons (ibid) refers to as
''oppressive authenticity'', where culture and language are indelibly .linked in a
national or global discourse to ''traditional'', ''native'', ''pre-modern''
conditions, is much more sharply defined. With no privileged form, speakers of
nation-less languages must either assimilate to a dominant language or struggle
to maintain a bilingualism which acquires value only in restricted markets.
The sense of linguistic and cultural endangerment which is experienced by French
Candian francophones, and particularly by Québécois, is a vital element of the
conditions described in this ethnography. However, the value of bilingualism
which forms the counterbalance to this sense of endangerment rests, as Heller
notes, on the fact that French is spoken elsewhere, that French is, in fact, not
endangered at all. I hope to see, in the third edition of this book, a brief
discussion of the position of bilingual speakers of minority languages such as
Inuit, Tlingit or Kwakiutl, whose bilingualism won't enhance their chances to
attend university or to get good jobs with multinational corporations, if only
as a contrast to the situation of francophone Canadians.
Bourdieu, Pierre. 1994. _Language and Symbolic Power_. G.R.a.M. Anderson,
transl. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Eckert, Penelope. 1989. _Jocks and Burnouts: Social Categories and Identity in
High School_. New York: Teachers College Press.
Giddens, A. 1990. _The consequences of Modernity_. Cambridge: Cambridge
Heath, Shirley Brice. 1983. _Ways With Words: Language, life and work in
communities and classrooms_. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Philips, Susan U. 1983. _The Invisible Culture: Communication in Classroom and
Community on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation_. New York: Longman, Inc.
Sissons, Jeffrey. 2005. _First peoples: indigenous cultures and their futures_.
Willis, Paul. 1977. _Learning to Labor: How Working Class Kids Get Working Class
Jobs_. New York: Columbia University Press.
Judith M.S. Pine, Ph.D. (University of Washington), is currently Visiting
Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma, WA.
She works with speakers of Lahu in northern Thailand. Lahu, a Tibeto-Burman
language, is the language of a heterogeneous group people who live primarily in
the mountains of Southeast Asia and southwest China, held together in great part
by their common language, of which there are several dialects. Her dissertation
research focused on the relationship between rural Lahu in northern Thailand and
the literacies at their disposal. She is currently working on a project which
examines the way that Lahu language media is used in the construction of a
transnational modern Lahu identity.