Language Evolution: The Windows Approach addresses the question: "How can we unravel the evolution of language, given that there is no direct evidence about it?"
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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 University.
INTRODUCTION 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).
SYNOPSIS 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.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
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.