By Sari Pietikäinen, Alexandra Jaffe, Helen Kelly-Holmes, Nik Coupland
Sociolinguistics from the Periphery "presents a fascinating book about change: shifting political, economic and cultural conditions; ephemeral, sometimes even seasonal, multilingualism; and altered imaginaries for minority and indigenous languages and their users"
Date: Fri, 4 Jun 2004 13:49:48 -0700 (PDT) From: Brianna Rauschuber Subject: Languages in America: A Pluralist View
AUTHOR: Dicker, Susan J. TITLE: Languages in America SUBTITLE: A Pluralist View PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters YEAR: 2003
Brianna Grohman Rauschuber, University of Texas at Arlington
OVERVIEW The primary purposes of this book are (a) to debunk the arguments that language restrictionists in the U.S. use to support English-only; and (b) to show the advantages of linguistic pluralism. The book is especially intended for the non-linguist, although it may serve as an introduction to language politics and policy in the U.S. for students of linguistics as well. The author, a professor of English at Hostos Community College at the City University of New York, became interested in language policy as a result of growing up in a multilingual home. The book makes a case for linguistic pluralism in the U.S. by drawing upon linguistic, sociological, and historical evidence.
SUMMARY Chapter 1 discusses how language shapes personal and cultural identity. The author discusses the term 'mother tongue' and describes the pain that many immigrants feel upon loosing their native language. She submits that while immigrants must learn the majority language required for participation in public life, they can at the same time develop their skills in their mother tongue in order to maintain their own distinct personal and cultural identity. A significant portion of Chapter 1 is devoted to the topic of cultural stereotypes formed along language group lines. The author observes that prejudice against the speakers of Spanish and African American Vernacular English (AAVE) leads to stigmatization of the languages themselves. As Dicker points out, language varieties are stigmatized due to prejudices against its speakers; speakers in turn are judged by the character of their speech. Chapter 1 also includes a discussion of the Oakland School Board decision of December 1996 to recognize AAVE and use it to teach standard English.
Chapter 2 distinguishes among different paradigms for immigrant adaptation, including acculturation, assimilation, the melting pot, and cultural pluralism, which Dicker clearly favors. The author shows that the popular notion of a melting pot, a kind of immigrant adaptation in which all immigrants are assimilated and transformed into a new people, probably never existed in the U.S. Dicker presents a brief linguistic history of the U.S. to support her claim. She discusses the lasting linguistic influence of the three major colonial powers in North America: England, France, and Spain. She also provides a comprehensive account of immigration from 1820 to 1924. Among the many groups of people who immigrated to the U.S. during this century were large numbers of Irish, Germans, Swedes, Norwegians, Italians, Greeks, Polish, Jews, Chinese, Japanese, and Canadians. Dicker notes that many different factors affected the extent to which each of these groups maintained its native language and culture. Internal factors affecting language maintenance included the size of the immigrant group, the length and pattern of its migration, and its relations with the homeland. External factors affecting language maintenance included pressures from the larger society to assimilate, such as racism and religious prejudice, government policies on immigration and minority language use, public education, and the press.
Chapter 3 presents and then debunks eight widespread myths about first- and second-language learning. Myth 1 is that children acquire their first language quickly and effortlessly. Relying on support from McLaughlin 1978 and Holzman 1997, the author explains that first-language acquisition is ''a time-consuming and demanding task that children work at throughout their formative years'' (p. 86). Children gradually move from the babbling stage to produce two-word utterances around the age of eighteen months, and then more complex utterances by age three; a child's first-language skills are still developing when he enters school around age five or six. Myth 2 is that younger learners are better at acquiring a second language than older learners. Lenneberg's (1967) critical period hypothesis is questioned on the basis of evidence from Singleton 1989, Genesee 1981, Ervin-Tripp 1974, and several others. Myth 3 is that second languages are best learned in the same way as first languages; myth 4 is that people who fail to master a second language are not trying hard enough to learn it; myth 5 is that it is necessary for someone learning a second language to use it as soon as possible and as much as possible.
The sixth myth about language acquisition discussed in Chapter 3 is that children acquiring two languages at once confuse the two and learn neither language well. While Dicker allows that most bilingual children go through a phase in which they mix the two languages, she maintains that skillful bilingualism develops ''when children have ample opportunity to use each language in clearly-defined situations'' (p. 107). Myth 7 is that children who come into the American education system with little to no literacy in their native language should be placed immediately in all-English instruction. The findings of Cummins (1979) on the relationship between native-language literacy and second-language literacy are discussed at length. Dicker suggests that Cummins's developmental interdependence hypothesis (ibid., 233) explains why many minority children who are placed in submersion programs without the opportunity to develop literacy in their first language perform so poorly in school. Dicker also describes the difference between immersion and submersion bilingual education programs, as well as the difference between additive and subtractive bilingualism. Myth 8 is that bilingual programs should be transitory, with the first language being phased out as soon as possible. By debunking these eight common myths about language acquisition, Dicker hopes to convince the reader that language learning is more complex than is commonly assumed, and to provide the reader with information about bilingualism that he may not already know.
Chapter 4 examines the place of language in the schools as an object of study and as a means of instruction. The primary claim of this chapter is that ''society supports different educational goals for different kinds of students'' (p. 115). (Additive) bilingualism is highly valued for English-dominant students, whereas minority-language students are expected to abandon their native language in favor of English. Evidence from Skutnabb-Kangas 1990, Kjolseth 1973, and Fishman 1966 supports Dicker's analysis. Dicker offers the two-way immersion model for bilingual education as a means of ensuring that both majority- and minority-language students obtain high levels of bilingualism.
Chapter 5 deals with the modern Official-English movement in the U.S. history, factors that have led to a resurgence in the language-restrictionist movement, description of the US English organization. Dicker first presents a brief history of general attitudes toward the use of languages other than English in the U.S. She observes that the nation had largely a tolerant attitude toward other languages from 1770 to 1880, with the government translating literature into French during the War for Independence and the Articles of Confederation into German after the war. Dicker characterizes language attitudes in the U.S. from the 1880s to the 1950s as primarily restrictionist, with the notable exception of the Supreme Court case Meyer v. Nebraska in 1923 (pp.165-166). Following Garcia (1992), Dicker characterizes the period from 1958 to 1980 as a period of foreign language promotion, and the period from 1980 to the early 1990s as a period of tolerance toward minority languages. The recent resurgence in language-restrictionist attitudes is attributed to growing nativist sentiment, racial prejudice, the declining economic status of large numbers of Americans, and political turmoil abroad (p. 169).
In addition, Chapter 5 contains a scathing analysis of the origin and underlying ideology of US English, a national organization that lobbies for official-English legislation at the state and federal levels. Dicker explains that US English was founded on and largely still operates on anti-immigrant and anti-Hispanic principles, despite the organization's stated goal of helping immigrants acquire English (pp. 186-192). The last part of Chapter 5 is devoted to current language-restrictionist legislation.
Chapter 6 describes the opposition to language restrictionism in the U.S. Dicker shows that state laws in Hawaii, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Texas provide for some official use of languages other than English (pp. 217-224), and that Puerto Rico has so far successfully resisted the official-English movement. A discussion of organized activities against official English in the U.S. follows, along with a detailed description of the 1990 court case Yniguez v. Mofford, which successfully challenged an official English law in Arizona. The chapter details two other court cases that challenged English-only rules in the workplace (Gutierrez v. Municipal Court of the Southeast Judicial District, County of Los Angeles; and Garcia v. Spun Steak Company, San Francisco). The chapter concludes with a brief discussion of the connections among state official-English legislation, workplace English-only rules, and wage discrimination against minority-language speakers.
Chapter 7 describes how other countries, such as Canada and Switzerland, France, and India, deal with language diversity. Dicker wishes to show that linguistic pluralism does not itself lead to civil unrest; instead repression of minority languages leads to friction. Chapter 8 serves as a conclusion to the book, describing how multilingualism may be fostered among both children and adults, and outlining the advantages that linguistic diversity could offer to Americans.
In the epilogue to the book, Dicker explicitly states the underlying premise behind the book: ''language is power'' (p. 322). She notes that language policy is never solely about language, and that the language policies of a nation often reveal how those in power value and treat ethnic minorities (p. 321).
The book also includes acknowledgments (p. vii), an introduction (pp. viii-xvi), a full list of references (pp. 323-347), and an index (pp. 348-363).
DISCUSSION Languages in America is an admirable effort to treat the general lack of linguistics literature available to non-linguists. It is essential that scholarship on bilingual education and language policy be made available to non-linguists, as they are most often the ones who make government policy on language and education, and as there has recently been a reappearance of efforts to restrict minority-language use in large ethnic and religious communities in the U.S. However, as with any other work, the book has some weaknesses in addition to its strengths.
In the introduction, Dicker draws an interesting analogy between the loss of linguistic diversity and the loss of biodiversity, but does not discuss the parallels between the two phenomena anywhere else in the book. Perhaps a chapter on the burgeoning area of ecolinguistics (e.g. Fill & Muhlhausler 2001) would have strengthened her argument for linguistic pluralism.
In a section titled 'Language and Making Connections' in Chapter 1, the author attempts to distinguish 'style' and 'register'. Register, she writes, ''refers to the type of language used in a particular context...by the people functioning in that context,'' while style ''is defined as a situational variation of language'' (p. 12). However, there seems to be little difference between 'the type of language used in a particular context' and 'a situational variation of language'. Indeed, the distinction between style and register is still up for debate in the literature: In any case, the distinction between 'style' and 'register' that the author wishes to make is unclear. Since neither of the two terms figures prominently into subsequent sections of the book, it would probably have been better not to raise an issue that will be, at best, confusing to the non-linguist.
Finally, Dicker might have included more information on language contact phenomena in the U.S. The public has as much need for a scientific perspective on Spanish-English code-switching in the U.S., for example, as it does for the language issues addressed in the book.
Despite these minor drawbacks, the book is a well-written synthesis of previous work on multilingualism and language policy in the U.S., and is highly recommended to the author's intended audience, viz. non-linguists interested in learning about the arguments for linguistic pluralism.
REFERENCES Cummins, J. 1979. Linguistic interdependence and the educational development of bilingual children. Review of Educational Research 49.222-51.
Ervin-Tripp, S.M. 1974. Is second language learning like the first? TESOL Quarterly 8(2).111-127.
Fill, A. and P. Muhlhausler (eds.) 2001. The ecolinguistics reader: language, ecology and environment. New York: Continuum.
Fishman, J.A. 1966. Planned reinforcement of language maintenance in the United States: suggestions for the conservation of a neglected national resource. In J.A. Fishman (ed.) Language loyalty in the United States: the maintenance and perpetuation of non-English mother tongues by American ethnic and religious groups, 369-91. The Hague: Mouton.
Genesee, F. 1981. A comparison of early and late second language learning. Canadian Journal of Behavioral Science 13(2).115-28.
Holzman, M. 1997. The language of children: evolution and development of secondary consciousness and language. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.
Kjolseth, R. 1973. Bilingual education programs in the United States: for assimilation or pluralism? In P.R. Turner (ed.) Bilingualism in the Southwest, 3-27. Tucson: University of Arizona.
Lenneberg, E.H. 1967. Biological foundations of language. New York: Wiley.
McLaughlin, B. 1978. Second-language acquisition in childhood. Hillsdale: Laurence Erlbaum.
Singleton, D. 1989. Language acquisition: the age factor. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
Skutnabb-Kangas, T. 1990. Language, literacy, and minorities. London: The Minority Rights Group.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Brianna Grohman Rauschuber completed an M.A. in linguistics at the University of Texas at Arlington in May 2004. She plans to begin work on a Ph.D. in linguistics at the University of Texas at Austin in Fall 2004. Her research interests include socio-historical linguistics, contact linguistics, bilingualism, and code-switching.