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Review of  Ethnolinguistic Chicago

Reviewer: Steven Gross
Book Title: Ethnolinguistic Chicago
Book Author: Marcia Farr
Publisher: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Anthropological Linguistics
Book Announcement: 15.2040

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Date: Fri, 9 Jul 2004 10:24:51 -0400
From: Steven Gross <>
Subject: Ethnolinguistic Chicago

EDITOR: Farr, Marcia
TITLE: Ethnolinguistic Chicago
SUBTITLE: Language and Literacy in the City's Neighborhoods
PUBLISHER: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
YEAR: 2004

Steven Gross, Department of English, East Tennessee State

This book and its forthcoming companion, Latino Language
and Literacy in Ethnolinguistic Chicago, are welcome
additions to the literature on language use in multiethnic
metropolitan communities. This collection of papers, most
based on ethnographic studies of language, emphasizes
language use as central to ethnic, class, and gender
identities. Although the neighborhoods that these studies
examine are all located in the Chicagoland area, how the
studies' participants use language to construct identity is
typical of language use patterns in multicultural
communities elsewhere in the U.S. The editor's Preface
notes that this book should be of value to linguists,
anthropologists, sociologists, historians, educators, and
educational researchers (p. x).

Following the Foreward written by Dell Hymes and the
editor's Preface, Chapter 1, 'Introduction: Language and
Identity in a Global City' by Marcia and Rachel Reynolds,
sets out to situate the studies in this volume within the
context of group responses to globalization and the
establishment of a global monoculture. The introduction
provides an excellent overview of the methodology and scope
of the following studies. The thirteen chapters that
follow are a diverse collection in terms of their general
subject matter and presentation: some focus on oral
language, others on written language; some are historical
surveys, some descriptive, and some analytical; some focus
on gender, others on ethnicity or social class; some
examine recent immigrant groups, some consider the
descendents of those who arrived in America much earlier.
Nevertheless, what unify these studies are their
methodology - ethnographic, in the sense of participant
observations -- and their emphasis on how people use
language to construct, or reconstruct, identity.

Chapter 2, 'Language Policy in Illinois: Past and Present'
by Elliot Judd, is a highly informative chapter that
presents the history of Illinois language policy from
initial statehood to the present. Although English has been
the dominant language in Illinois since statehood in 1818,
state officials have generally been accommodating to the
use of minority languages. In fact, historically the state
has provided for the printing of official documents in
several languages and allowed bilingual education programs.
However, Illinois language policy has been flexible enough
to be influenced by larger political and social forces. For
example, when groups have been perceived as a threat, as
with Germans before and after WWI, then linguistic freedoms
were curtailed. Yet, today when the role of English is
secure, the use of minority languages in Illinois is
tolerated in many spheres. This chapter provides an
appropriate prelude to the studies that follow.

In Chapter 3, 'Signifying Laughter and the Subtleties of
Loud-Talking: Memory and Meaning in African American
Discourse', Marcyliena Morgan focuses on certain discourse
patterns displayed in the speech of two generations of
women in Chicago's African American community. Morgan
examines how these women use direct and indirect discourse
and other strategies such as instigating, signifying, and
signifying laughter in their stories to negotiate race,
gender, class, and sexuality. Morgan shows that a speaker'
intent (i.e. her attitude and assessment) is revealed in
the dialogic relation between linguistic style and content.

In Chapter 4, 'Personal Storytelling: Working-Class and
Middle-Class Mothers in Comparative Perspective', Grace Cho
and Peggy Miller present a comparative analysis of the
stories told by middle-class and working-class mothers and
the attitudes that these mothers express about personal
storytelling. The results of this study show that although
mothers in both communities expressed positive attitude
toward personal storytelling, the stories produced by the
working-class mothers were richer, more numerous, and more
complex than those told by middle-class mothers. Although
Cho and Miller found no interviewer bias in their study,
they caution that interviewing guidelines may have
unintended results: allowing the interviewee to define the
interview may be more accommodating to working-class
communicative norms, while rigidly standardized interviews
may work against those same working-class speakers.

In Chapter 5, 'Identity Construction in Discourse: Gender
Tensions Among Greek Americans in Chicago', Lukia Koliussi
focuses on the issues of gender role negotiation, gender
expectations, and gender attitudes revealed in the
conversations of three elderly Greek American women in the
presence of one 'passive' male participant, the husband of
one of the women. The speech event that Koliussi observes
is 'gynaikoloi', one of the frequent gatherings where these
women can 'let loose'. One of the women leads the others in
rejecting their globally predetermined gender roles and
reconstructing a new gender identity that breaks free of
traditional gender roles. Although the husband disapproves,
the woman, with the support of the other women, uses her
linguistic skills, e.g. switching to the regional
vernacular to align herself with the higher (i.e. male)
status identity of the man, to challenge and transform
traditional norms of communication.

In Chapter 6, 'A Literacy Event in African American
Churches: The Sermon as a Community Text', Beverly Moss
examines African American sermons delivered by two
different ministers in two congregations as literate texts.
She notes that the textual features that contribute to the
dialogic quality of these sermons and hence, a blurring of
the boundary between text and audience, are what
distinguish the African American sermon from the dominant
textual form in the academic world, the essay. As such, the
sermon can be seen as a community text. The author suggests
that the academic world needs to broaden its definition of
literacy and its conception of ownership of text.

Chapter 7, '''Bless this little time we stayed here'':
Prayers of Invocation As Mediation of Immigrant Experience
Among Nigerians in Chicago' written by Rachel Reynolds,
looks at a formulaic speech event, the invocational prayer,
that occurs in the meetings of the ONI (Organization for
Ndi Igbo [a pseudonym]) immigrant group. Reynolds reports
that these prayers help to create a community with a
transnational identity in that they express the immigrant
experience, and they provide a means for the members of the
group to imagine their lives as intimately connected to the
home community in Nigeria. The prayers use poetic speech in
such a way so as to minimize the distance between the
United States and Nigeria. The invocations emphasize family
ties and reaffirm faith in the decision to immigrate as
ways to unify the group. Reynolds argues that occasional
codeswitching between Standard English and Nigerian Pidgin
expresses solidarity and deepens the connection with those
left behind in Nigeria.

Chapter 8, 'The Arab Accountant As Language Mediator'
written by Sharon Radloff, is a descriptive account of the
problems that a Palestinian Arab accounting office
experiences in mediating between its clients and various
layers of government agencies. Radloff describes a clash
between two cultures that differ in terms of language,
orthography, and perceptions of the relationship between
the individual and the state. Unlike other accounting
firms, this one has the additional burden of linguistically
mediating between these two very different systems. This
article also indicates the need for culturally competent
individuals and firms in immigrant communities.

Chapter 9, 'They Did Not Forget Their Swedish: Class
Markers in the Swedish American Community' by Carl
Isaacson, examines the Swedish American experience in
Chicago through the use of historical documents such as
newspapers, letters, novels, etc. During the peak of
European immigration (1881-1920), these Swedish immigrants
were faced with three linguistic choices, which each had
consequences in terms of social class identity: Standard
Swedish, regional Swedish varieties, or a newly created
blend of regional varieties of Swedish, Standard Swedish,
and American English. Although this newly minted American
Swedish reflected a certain American egalitarianism that
transcended class boundaries, it was nevertheless
associated with the lower classes. The rejection of
American Swedish by the intellectual elite of the community
led to the battle against the use of this hybrid language
and for the preservation of 'proper' Swedish. In the end,
however, language shift wins out in the Swedish community,
and in this way, the immigrant evades Swedish class
politics and emerges as representative of middle class
success in America.

Like Koliussi's chapter on Greek women reconstructing their
gender identity through their linguistic virtuosity, Gloria
Nardini shows how the women of an Italian American social
club challenge the power dynamics inherent in traditional
gender identities in Chapter 10, 'Italian Patterns in the
American Collandia Ladies' Club: How Do Women Make ''Bella
Figura''?' In this chapter, Nardini offers us a glimpse into
the workings of the Collandia Ladies' Club during a
financial meeting with the president of the Collandia Men's
Club. Nardini illustrates how the women of this club claim
social power through a dazzling linguistic performance,
referred to as making 'bella figura', by the treasurer of
the Ladies' Club. She gains the upper hand primarily
through the use of indirection, the shared knowledge of the
centrality of 'bella figura' to Italian identity, and the
shared knowledge of the gendered norms of conversation.

Chapter 11, 'Lithuanian and English Use Among Early
Twentieth Century Lithuanian Immigrants in Chicago' written
by Daiva Markelis, is a historical portrait of Lithuanian
immigrant life in Chicago focusing on efforts at language
maintenance and some of the factors that led to eventual
language shift. Like Isaacson's account of the Swedish
American experience in Chapter 9, Markelis relies on
letters and Lithuanian newspapers published in Chicago in
the early part of the twentieth century, as well as
ethnographic interviews with children of Lithuanian
immigrants. Despite conscious efforts to foster Lithuanian
language and culture, in large part politically motivated,
the establishment of a politically independent Lithuania in
1918 along with U.S. restrictions on immigration in 1920-21
saw a marked decline in the use of Lithuanian in the home.
Thus, Markelis argues that political concerns were the main
reason why Lithuanian was maintained as long as it was and
a major factor in its decline.

Chapter 12, 'Class Identity and the Politics of Dissent:
The Culture of Argument in a Chicago Neighborhood Bar' by
Julie Lindquist, focuses on the analysis of the social uses
of argument in a south suburban Chicago working-class bar.
Lindquist notes that arguments allow patrons of the bar to
express working class solidarity. Lindquist's presence in
the bar as a symbolic opposition to the prevailing working
class ideology provided an opportunity for the bar's
patrons to 'practice' class even if they do not acknowledge
the notion of class as an ideology.

In Chapter 13, 'Chinese Language Use in Chicagoland', John
S. Rohsenow offers a rich descriptive account of several
waves of Chinese immigration to Chicago. He notes that
Chinese language variation in the Chicagoland area is the
result of both history and contemporary politics. Even the
choice of scripts taught in local heritage language schools
depends on these sociopolitical forces.

Chapter 14, 'Consuming Japanese Print Media in Chicago' by
Laura Miller, focuses on those Japanese who are in Chicago
temporarily as part of their professional responsibilities.
She takes us on a tour of the Asahiya bookstore in suburban
Chicago where these professionals can maintain their
cultural and linguistic identity. Miller also shows how
Japanese immigrants differ from these temporary residents
by the types of print media they read.


These studies and the insightful discourse analyses in the
chapters that are analytical in nature contribute greatly
to our understanding of the dynamics of
multicultural/multilingual contacts in urban settings like
Chicago. Ironically, one of the strengths of this volume,
its coverage and diversity, may also be one of its
shortcomings. Combining discourse and conversation analytic
studies with descriptive/historical accounts of
multicultural contacts under one tent seems problematic.
Yes, it is true that all the contributions here come out of
research done in the Chicago area. Yes, it is true that all
the contributions here deal with the intersection of
language use and ethnicity. Still, reading this collection
of articles as a unified whole leads one to ponder over the
organizing principle behind this effort. However, for those
who value the rich insights gained by ethnographic,
participant observer research, then this volume is an
invaluable resource. Furthermore, Farr and Reynolds do
indicate in the introduction that this ethnographic
approach may be what gives this volume the cohesive glue
that holds it together.

While it is true that a volume such as this one cannot be
all things to all people, some may see the omission of some
of Chicago's historically more influential immigrant
groups, for example, Germans, Poles, and more recently
Russians and South Asian Indians, as a potential weakness
of this book. However, Farr and Reynolds acknowledge this
omission in their introduction and express their hope that
the publication of this volume will stimulate efforts to
fill these gaps. In any case, this volume should be
congratulated for its breadth of coverage, its use of
thought-provoking examples, and its insightful analyses.

Finally, in the Afterword, 'Words and Lives: Language,
Literacy, and Culture in Multilingual Chicago', Robert
Gundlach argues that the studies in this volume highlight
the fact that in addition to learning words and the rules
for combining those words into well-formed utterances, a
crucial part of knowing a language involves embedding that
linguistic knowledge into cultural practice. The articles
in this work take an important stride forward in offering
us a valuable look into how various ethnic populations rely
on this communicative competence that Grundlach discusses
to negotiate and renegotiate identity in multicultural
settings like Chicago. These studies reveal, from a
personal perspective, a sensitive portrait of the struggles
of various ethnolinguistic groups to maintain their
individual identities in the face of the homogenizing
effects of globalization.

Steven Gross is Assistant Professor of Linguistics in the
Department of English at East Tennessee State University. His research interests include bilingualism and language contact, language change, and discourse analysis. He is currently involved in research examining the structural outcomes of first language attrition among elderly German immigrants.

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