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Review of  The Sociolinguistics of Globalization

Reviewer: Tyler Kimball Anderson
Book Title: The Sociolinguistics of Globalization
Book Author: Jan Blommaert
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Issue Number: 22.501

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AUTHOR: Blommaert, Jan
TITLE: The Sociolinguistics of Globalization
SERIES TITLE: Cambridge approaches to language contact
PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press
YEAR: 2010

Tyler K. Anderson, Department of Languages, Literature, and Mass Communication,
Mesa State College.


Jan Blommaert's monograph ''The Sociolinguistics of Globalization'' aims to
provide a new approach to the study of sociolinguistics in a world impacted by
globalization. The challenge, he proposes, is that the majority of
sociolinguistic theories treat language from the perspective of the village, but
with the current loosening of borders, the linguistic world has burst from these
confines, thus necessitating a new theory to deal with these changes. The book
is divided into seven chapters, beginning with an introduction to the challenge
at hand, and then turning to the proposed theoretical solution. Subsequent
chapters provide concrete examples of how Blommaert has applied his theory to
various linguistic situations, from Africa to Asia to Europe. The book concludes
by issuing a call to arms to other sociolinguists to apply this theoretical
framework to other areas of research, in order to advance the understanding of
the impact of globalization on language.

Chapter 1 begins by providing an in depth perspective on the theoretical
challenge for today's sociolinguistics. In our modern world of increased
mobility and communication, the world has moved from the community perspective
(where sociolinguistics is at ease, especially with static variation) to a
''complex world of villages, towns, neighborhoods, settlements connected by
material and symbolic ties in often unpredictable ways'' (p. 1). Due to this
complexity, there currently exists a need to examine and understand the impact
of these mobile resources of networks, flows and movements on language. In this
chapter we find new metaphors, new vocabulary and new arguments to explain these
'new' phenomena, and the author proposes a new theory to address changing
languages in a changing society. The winners and losers of these changes are
discussed in detail, focusing on how the changes bring with them ''new
opportunities as well as constraints, new possibilities as well as new problems,
progress as well as regression'' (p. 4). Included in this chapter is a discussion
of two research paradigms, one established and one emerging. (These are treated
in more detail in chapter 2.) The chapter also touches on the multilingual
effects of globalization. The bulk of the chapter is then dedicated to a
critical discussion of works by various authors (i.e., Fairclough, Clavet and
Pennycook) who have taken on the intersection of language and globalization,
wherein Blommaert points out the strengths and weaknesses of each authors' approach.

In chapter 2 the author provides some concrete examples of the sociolinguistics
of globalization. His first case in point includes the use of French (Nina's
derrière) in a chocolate shop in Japan, where it is noted that the example is
only French in a minimal, semiotic sense; the shop owner was using the
Frenchness of the sign to portray a chic environment, with no regards to
linguistic French. The sign, argues the author, is only linguistically French
when someone with competence in French reads it as such. This, he asserts, is
evidence of the mobility of language material in a globalized world. ''In the
context of globalization, linguistic resources change value, function, ownership
and so on'' (p. 32). The chapter then enters into the theory of sociolinguistic
scales (i.e. graduated systems), orders of indexicality (e.g. signaling of
particular social personae and roles through language use), and polycentricity
(with various manifestations of centers and peripheries). The chapter also
includes a theoretical discussion on the sociolinguistics of mobile resources,
wherein the linguistic tools of one location can be transferred and receive
different meaning in another location. Entering in the discussion is a critical
evaluation of the literature on language rights and linguicide. The chapter then
concludes with an ample discussion on websites that sell accents (specifically
American accents) to non-native English speakers who seek jobs in customer
service call centers (located in India, among other locations).

Chapter 3 takes the theory of polycentricity to a concrete example: a Tanzanian
novel, written from the United States in Swahili for Tanzanians. The author
provides a lengthy literary analysis of the novel, as well as the use of briefer
examples of other situations (e.g. a photo of a Tanzanian standing in front of a
radiator in England; a rather mundane pose for a Briton, but not for a
Tanzanian) to illustrate how globalization has influenced the loosening of
connections between culture and a particular territory. The second half of the
chapter focuses on language issues in a South African high school, located at
the periphery of society, where the members of this area ''fail to meet the
norms''' and are ''rapidly qualified as problems, 'abnormals', 'marginals', etc.''
(p. 80). In this high school, then, while the language of instruction is
English, the speakers use different norms than those held by those who live in
the 'center' of society. Those from the periphery have adopted the norms from
the center, and modified them for their purposes, thus establishing a new set of
peripheral norms. These globalized materials (i.e. the norms from the center)
enter and become ''adapted to a local sociolinguistic environment, and [begin] to
function there as a local resource, only loosely connected to its globalized
origins'' (p. 81). The author illustrates this by delineating how Standard
English norms have been modified by peripheral teachers and learners who have
taken on a 'good enough' attitude where ''doing 'well' at school means doing well
by local standards; it is about doing well in [the local high school], not in an
abstract universe of learning'' (p. 95).

In chapter 4 the topic focuses on language repertoires and competence. The
concept of truncated repertoires is discussed in detail, wherein Blommaert notes
that even native speakers of a language are not perfect speakers, due to the
fact that no speaker possesses (nor needs) all the resources that a language
potentially provides. The concept of ranges of domains is fitting here, and
Blommaert touches on the idea that while a speaker (native or non-native) may be
fluent in one domain, that same speaker in the same language may be considerably
limited in another domain. With this in mind, he then takes language tests to
task, noting that they in reality are measuring specific resources, not language
ability, per se. In order to further illustrate these concepts, he looks at a
corpus of 56 samples of email fraud, all sent from the periphery. He shows how
ranges of competence are manifest in these samples, including what he calls
checkered competence: very competent in one area but incompetent in others. This
he offers as a manifestation of globalization.

Turning again to theory, chapter 5 confronts the idea of including history in an
approach to sociolinguistics. As a basis of this argument, the author cites
Fairclough, who notes that ''we can only observe globalization synchronically,
while we can only understand it historically'' (p. 137). By doing so we can see
that ''every act of language is an act that is grounded in historical connections
between current statements and prior ones -- connections that are related to the
social order and are thus not random but ordered'' (p. 138). The chapter then
shifts slightly to a discussion on the worlds of golf. Here the author applies
the concepts of previous chapters (i.e., polycentricity, scales) to address
golfing advertisements in various parts of the world, and briefly discusses how
different histories make one poster from Beijing considerably different from a
golf advertisement found in a Belgian magazine. His main point here is that
there is a need to de-synchronize our approach to sociolinguistics in favor of
historicizing the way we look at language.

Chapter 6 returns to the notion of power as the author discusses old and new
inequalities, highlighting the fact that globalization has created immense
wealth for more people than any other era in history, but also has generated
immense misery for others. The chapter focuses on the inequality of states, and
how such disparity creates a division of labor. In order to illustrate this
concept, Blommaert discusses the case of 'Joseph', a Rwandan refugee seeking
asylum in the UK. His application is denied due to deviations from the state's
linguistic profile for a typical Rwandan. In the bulk of the chapter, the author
argues on Joseph's behalf, using his social history and linguistic repertoires
in his defense. Following this discussion, the chapter concludes with a
treatment on the inequalities that a migrant learner faces in the Dutch
classroom. The author focuses on how the linguistic products created by these
learners are silenced due to the fact that their language does not reach the
normative standard; from this viewpoint the products are simply full of errors,
void of any linguistic ability. This chapter may provide the book's main point:
that these (and similar) conditions ''characterize much of what we understand by
globalization for many people who are part of globalization processes: they are
disabling rather than enabling, excluding rather than including, and repressing
rather than liberating'' (p. 177).

The final chapter may be seen as recruitment material for encouraging
sociolinguists to take on this new approach to sociolinguistics. In the chapter,
the author provides a summary of the main points: locality, truncated
repertoires, resources, mobility, space, time, history. In his final case study,
Blommaert discusses the linguistic situation of postcolonial Tanzania, where
Swahili was introduced as the language of the nation, of the educational system,
and of African-socialist ideas, with the spread of the language being seen as
going hand in hand with the spread of political ideals. However, while the
spread of Swahili was somewhat successful, its counterpart failed. Blommaert
shows how in spite of the flourishing of the indigenous language, English
remained the language of instruction in post-secondary education; the chapter
delves into the linguistic impacts of this reality, with special attention to
the use of English in public signs.


Overall, Blommaert's ''The Sociolinguistics of Globalization'' is a well-written,
thought provoking book. The theoretical implications stimulate research
questions that go above and beyond the linguistic situations the author uses for
illustrative purposes. Of particular interest is applying the theories posited
in this tome to the linguistic situation in the Western Hemisphere, an area that
was only briefly considered in the book.

The author provides the reader with excellent background information on the
linguistic/social issues at hand. For example, the discussion on the language
situation in Africa was thorough and well researched, which allows readers with
little training on these linguistic situations to participate in the dialogue.
One minor oversight with regards to this setting came in the use of the terms
'coloured' vs. 'black' in the South African experience. While the context aided
in the deduction of the difference between these terms -- terms that have more
diachronic/historic than racially distinguishing significance in other settings
(i.e. the United States) -- some background information on the use of these two
terms could possibly aid the reader. Similarly, the discussion on the notion of
'asylum seekers' deserves more background information.

In spite of the overall high quality, some comments are in order. In many cases
it was unclear when the book was clarifying a previously developed theoretical
point, and when the author was advancing his own theory. The chapter breakdown
do not help readers follow the author's plan of attack. Similarly, in some
chapters the author exemplified one theoretical point with cases that would have
been more appropriate for another. For example, in his chapter on the inclusion
of history in a theory on sociolinguistics, his examples seem more appropriate
for his discussion on centers and peripheries (a topic that was treated in
previous chapters).

While this book purportedly deals with sociolinguistics, it was at times
difficult to see this. For example, in the discussion of polycentricity, the
author uses a literary text as illustration of his focus terms. While the
example was effective, the inclusion of a literary review seems questionable,
especially in light of the fact that several other linguistic examples
throughout the book illustrate this point successfully. This reader had to ask
himself what the literary example had to do with linguistics; not until after
reading some 10 pages of comparative literature was there an apparent connection
to linguistics.

The discussion on language, globalization and history (chapter 5) shows a
notable lack of reference to work done in Linguistic Landscape (e.g. Shohamy &
Gorter 2009). While this research paradigm may have been seen as a detractor
from the theoretical postulations presented by Blommaert, its inclusion is
merited in the discussion.

An interesting oversight by the author concerns the title. In his introductory
chapter the author states that ''This book proposes a sociolinguistics of
globalization, not the sociolinguistics of globalization'' (p. 20, emphasis in
original). However, the title uses the definite article.

These minor omissions aside, ''The Sociolinguistics of Globalization'' is a
wonderful addition to the changing field of sociolinguistics, and a must for any
serious student of sociolinguistics. It should be clear that the research
methodology presented therein is inspiring, and the need for further application
is apparent. This reader plans to incorporate this line of thinking to future
studies dealing with identity and language learning.


E. Shohamy & D. Gorter (2009). Linguistic landscape: Expanding the scenery.
London: Routledge.
Tyler K. Anderson is Assistant Professor of Spanish at Mesa State College. His research interests include language use and identity, and language attitudes toward manifestations of contact linguistics. He is currently researching the perceptions of phonetic interference in second language acquisition and the attitudes toward Spanish language variation among Latinos living in western Colorado.

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