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Review of  Multilingualism

Reviewer: Valeria Buttini-Bailey
Book Title: Multilingualism
Book Author: Adrian Blackledge Angela Creese
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing (formerly The Continuum International Publishing Group)
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Language Acquisition
Issue Number: 22.50

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AUTHORS: Blackledge, Adrian and Angela Creese
TITLE: Multilingualism
SUBTITLE: A Critical Perspective
SERIES TITLE: Advances in Sociolinguistics Series
PUBLISHER: Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd
YEAR: 2010

Valeria Buttini, University of Basel/University of Turin


Blackledge and Creese carry out an investigation of multilingualism from a critical perspective,
based on the analysis of classroom linguistic practices in Gujarati, Bengali, Chinese, and
Turkish complementary schools in Britain. The book contains 11 chapters.

In the first chapter, ''Opening up multilingual spaces,'' the authors discuss the importance of a
critical perspective on multilingualism and raise some questions -- What does it mean to young
people to be multilingual? What do multilingual speakers' linguistic resources mean to them? Are
they happy to discard their languages, and assimilate to English, or are there other issues at
stake? What does it mean if speakers appropriate and make use of linguistic practices not
typically associated with their ''ethnic'' or ''heritage'' group? -- that will later be answered. The
eight schools where they conducted the investigations are introduced, and some of the social
and linguistic issues important to participants in these schools are presented.

In the second chapter, ''Multilingualism, ideology and practice,'' Blackledge and Creese present
the theoretical base of their investigation while reviewing previous research in the fields of
multilingualism, multilingualism in education and complementary schools. The authors argue that
languages are social constructs. They do not share the idea of bilingualism as ''double
monolingualism'' (Heller 2006:83), and state their view of multilingualism as the appropriation and
incorporation for meaning-making of any and all linguistic resources which come to hand. They
argue that, however, many people's identity is inexorably linked to their language. Thus,
linguistic practices are always shaped by language ideology, and language ideologies are
shaped by linguistic practices.

In the third chapter, ''Ethnography of multilingualism,'' the authors discuss the notion of
ethnography of multilingualism as a means to tell their story of the multilingual practices of
young people and their teachers in complementary schools. They argue that this is a critical
approach that shows how languages practices are connected to the very real conditions of
people's lives, and to discover how and why language matters to people in their own terms
(Heller 2008:250). The principle research methods used in the investigation are described.

In the fourth chapter, ''A multilingual research team,'' Blackledge and Creese try to give an
account of working in a multilingual team of researchers and to describe how identity politics
influenced relations in the field and within the team. Through a series of vignettes authored by
the members of the research team, they represent the voices of the nine researchers as they
reflected on their relationship to their participants, and the way they were able to negotiate their
identities as researchers within them. Three themes that emerge in the researchers' accounts
are then discussed: insiders/outsiders positionality; language and cultural background; issues of
position and privilege.

In the fifth chapter, ''Separate and flexible bilingualism in complementary schools,'' the two
seemingly contradictory yet co-existing sets of beliefs and practices relating to bilingualism in
the complementary schools are described by the authors through extracts. Participants, usually
teachers, on one hand argue for language ''separation'' in complementary schools. This position
is named ''separate bilingualism'', otherwise referred as ''double monolingualism'' (Heller 2006:83)
or ''bilingualism with diglossia'' (Baker 2003; Fishman 1967). On the other hand, both teachers
and young people practice what Blackledge and Creese call a ''flexible bilingualism'', during
which they call into play diverse sets of linguistic resources. ''Flexible bilingualism'' corresponds
to the terms ''translanguaging'' (Garcia 2007:xiii) and ''heteroglossia'' (Bailey 2007). The authors
argue that there are links between these two different sets of beliefs and practices relating to
bilingualism and conflicting political, pedagogical and sociolinguistic discourse on language. In
particular, the propose that an ideology of ''separate bilingualism'' is upheld in some of their
participants' discourses through recourse to powerful and pervasive political and academic
discourses, which view languages as discrete and tied to nation and culture in simplified and
coherent ways. An ideology and practice of separate bilingualism allows teachers to articulate,
organize and assemble resources to counter the hegemony of other ''mainstream'' institutional
accounts of nation, history, culture and language. However, in doing so the schools themselves
sometimes settle on simplified cultural narratives.

In the sixth chapter, ''Official and carnival lives in the classroom,'' the authors conduct a
Bakhtinian analysis to identify how meaning-making emerges as an ongoing dialogic process at
a number of different levels. Focusing on the Turkish and Chinese schools, they argue that
using ''carnivalesque'' language, students introduce new voices into classroom discourse and
create ''second lives'' which provide alternatives to the official worlds of their teachers.

In the seventh chapter, ''Multilingual literacies across space and time,'' the authors' focus is on
the use of folk stories as a resource to negotiate identity, culture and heritage. The teachers see
folk stories as symbolic footprints of a culture and a community, and use them to invoke
features of the collective memory of community, or sometimes to endorse traditions, values and
beliefs. However, young people often challenge and question some of their core elements: folk
stories offer them a context in which they can both share constructions of culture and resist

In the eighth chapter, ''Contesting 'language' as 'heritage','' Blackledge and Creese investigate in
greater depth the negotiations involved in the teaching and learning of ''heritage''. They find out
that multilingual young people in the complementary school classrooms use linguistic resources
in creative ways in order to negotiate subject positions that often appear to subvert school's
attempts to impose them ''heritage'' identities.

In the ninth chapter, ''Inventing and disinventing the national,'' the meaning of ''nationalism'' in
the context of complementary school classrooms is investigated. The students, mainly born and
raised in the UK, do not always accept their teachers' positioning of them for example as
''Bangladeshi'' or ''Chinese.'' In fact, they sometimes contest the notion that they should accept
national belonging and affiliation to the territory of their familial ancestors.

In the tenth chapter, ''Translanguaging in the bilingual classroom,'' the authors adopt a language-
ecological perspective (Van Lier 2008) in order to describe the ideological, interrelational and
interactional opportunities and constraints in complementary school classrooms. Teachers and
students construct and participate in a flexible bilingual pedagogy, adopting a translanguaging
approach to pedagogy: Both languages (English and Gujarati, for instance, or English and
Chinese) are used simultaneously to convey the full message, and they are both needed in
connection to one another (Lopez 2008).

In the eleventh chapter, ''Multilingualism: future trajectories,'' the authors raise new questions
about which direction will be taken by research in multilingualism when old ethnicities interact
with new possibilities, when linguistic practices get more diverse, and when the increasing
mobility of people and global communication accelerate linguistic change. They do not think that
multilingualism is always in itself an important feature of the social word, it is however worthy of
investigation, if only because it provides a lens through which we can see more clearly the ways
in which language practices are socially and politically embedded and the ways in which some
linguistic practices become the basis of social differentiation.


Overall I found Blackledge and Creese's book to be quite manageable and pleasant to read. The
book has a very clear structure that would make the reading accessible even to a reader who
does not have a detailed knowledge of this field. The review provided of prior research is
coherent and quite detailed, and I also find their innovative approach outlined well and presented

I think this book should be of interest to a large group of people interested in the intersection of
language, sociology, and culture. It should work for both researchers and advanced students as
a way to acquaint oneself with the more recent work in the field. I also think it would probably
work in an introductory course to multilingualism for students: All the steps of a well-conducted
research are clearly presented (see for instance chapter 3 on research questions and research
methods). However, students may wish for the inclusion of a glossary of terms.


Bailey, B. (2007), ''Heteroglossia and boundaries'', in M. Heller (ed.), Bilingualism: a social
Approach. Basingstoke: Palgrave, pp. 257-76.

Baker, C. (2003), ''Biliteracy and transliteracy in Wales: Language planning and the Welsh
national curriculum'', in N. Hornberger (ed.), Continua of Biliteracy. Clevedon: Multilingual
Matters, pp. 71-90.

Fishman, J. (1967), ''Bilingualism with and without diglossia; diglossia with and without
bilingualism''. Journal of Social Issues, 23, pp. 29-38.

Garcia, O. (2007), ''Foreword'', in S. Makoni and A. Pennycook (eds.), Disinventing and
Reconstituting Languages. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, pp. xi-xv.

Heller, M. (2006), Linguistic Minorities and Modernity, 2nd ed. London: Continuum.

Heller, M. (2008), ''Doing Ethnography'', in W. Li Wei and M. Moyer (eds.), The Blackwell Guide
to Research Methods in Bilingualism and Multilingualism, pp. 249-62. Oxford: Blackwell.

Lopez, L. E. (2008), ''Indigenous contributions to an ecology of language learning in Latin
America'', in A. Creese, P.W. Martin and N. H. Hornberger (eds.), Encyclopedia of Language and
Education, 9, Ecology of Language. New York: Springer Science+Business Media LLC., pp.

Van Lier, L. (2008), ''The ecology of language learning and sociolcultural theory'', in A. Creese,
P. Martin and N. H. Hornberger (eds.), Encyclopedia of Language and Education, 9, Ecology of
Language. New York: Springer Science+Business Media LLC., pp. 53-65.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Valeria Buttini is in her second year of PhD study in Italian Linguistics at the University of Basel. Her research interests lie in the fields of sociolinguistics, multilingualism, second language acquisition, text linguistics, and syntax. At the University of Basel she has taught a course on 'An Introduction to Second Language Acquisition' and is currently teaching 'Argumentative writing'. She also teaches Italian as a Second Language.

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